Guyside: An honorable man

Posted by on Apr 23, 2014 in Guyside, men, musings, politics, relationships, Uncategorized | 0 comments

If I needed proof I was getting older, it came when I started into a level of crankiness that gradually built to the point where all I needed was a pair of reading glasses on the end of my nose and a walking stick to shake while inveighing against “those kids.”

Whether it’s bad luck, the randomness of the universe, or some sign of an actual trend, I’ve been seeing a lot of things lately about sexual assault in online or “geek” culture recently, and it’s getting me angry. There seems a predictable pattern to it: first, a woman writes or says something about … well, it could be almost anything. One example is Janelle Asselin’s critique of a comic book called Teen Titans.  Then, a dense cloud of misogyny and ad feminem attacks follows like a cloud of gnats around a hiker. In this case, here’s an essay about what happened to Asselin after she wrote the critique.What happens after that? Usually, we all (we being neither the woman it’s happening to, nor her friends, nor the misogynists who are being misogynist) forget about it.

This hasn’t come out of nowhere. I remember when one of my favorite bloggers went underground after truly horrifying threats and comments were rained down upon her. But as the years go by, I’m finding it more and more difficult to forget about this stuff, to “get past it.” The words and threats that pop up online exist in the “real world.” There’s no shortage of men who seem to hate and fear women. But when you combine these attitudes with the anonymity that can be offered up by the online world, it can be utterly heinous.

So what is to be done? A few things, I think. The first is to not propagate these attitudes. To think about the way in which you as a man interact with women, how you agree, how you disagree, and how you debate. I disagree with women all the time, and I have a remarkable range of ways I can do that without reducing them to their genitalia or threatening them with sexual assault.

The second thing you can do is support women in your life who are subjected to this behavior. At the very least, those of us who are not trolls need to be there for our friends when they are being threatened and harassed.

The third step is the one that seems more difficult for many people: speak out. When you see this happening, tell the person that what they’re doing is wrong. If a woman is being threatened with rape for having the temerity to voice an opinion — that’s wrong. Say so. Publicly.

There are lots of attitudes that I would prefer didn’t exist at all in this world. But that can’t happen with the snap of a finger. If our society is going to become more egalitarian, laws won’t do it; changing minds will. One step in that is telling the trolls that we see them and we won’t tolerate their behavior. Edmund Burke wrote “When bad men combine, the good must associate.”

When I was a younger man, I suspect I was a bit more reticent about my views. But now? I give much less of a shit. I plan on being as vocal as I can when I see women being silenced by threats of rape and violence. I hope you will too.

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Friday Folly: He Said. She Said.

Posted by on Apr 18, 2014 in relationships, Uncategorized | 0 comments



Now that we’ve got some guys sharing their side of the midlife equation, it’s time to focus on some communication between the sexes. I’ll be putting Bob LeDrew and Danny Brown and possibly a few more good men to the task in the coming weeks. In the interim? Let’s not bite of the heads of those who feed us!

Cheers for a Friday!

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Guyside: men and rape culture

Posted by on Mar 12, 2014 in Guyside, men, Uncategorized, women's health | 2 comments

Two incidents have me thinking about serious and distressing things these days.

In the space of a few days, a university in my city had two “sex scandals” hit its campus. The first involved a private online conversation among four male executive members of the university’s student federation. The conversation centred on the female president of the student federation, and contained some quite vile words and sentiments. When the president was made aware of the conversation, she brought it to an executive meeting, where she was threatened with legal action by those she’d exposed. The conversation was then leaked to a blogger who wrote a post called “Rape Culture at the University of Ottawa.” Shortly, the four men resigned in the wake of public outcry.

Within a few days of this story becoming public, the same university suspended its men’s hockey program for the remainder of the season after it was announced that several members of the team were being investigated after an alleged sexual assault that took place on a road trip.

The university undoubtedly had a bad week. But I think that it was an up-and-down week for anyone thinking about sex and gender and sex roles who was aware of the discussion around these incidents, which to a great extent centred on “rape culture.”

Some people heard the term and recoiled. One talk radio host responded with the question “Are feminists saying the 20,000 men at this university are all rapists?” Others (myself included) tried to learn what exactly was meant by the term and what we could do. The best definition that I’ve heard of what rape culture is came from a friend and centres on the idea that rape, or sexual assault, is simply a part of life, and can be seen in behaviour like victim-blaming, minimizing, and objectifying.

I was a sometime participant in the “men’s movement” of the 1990s. While I never bought in to the whole “Iron John” thing, I did — and do — spend some time thinking about my role as a man and its relationship to the roles women play in society. It seems impossible to completely separate incidents of sexual assault, of online harassment, and, in the end, of the murder of women, from the social factors that form the expectations and behaviours of men.

And my horrified reaction to the online chat of supposed student leaders led me to wonder if I was turning into one of those curmudgeons who thinks that everything’s wrong with these kids today. But I don’t think that; human beings are probably a bit better today than they have been in the past, overall.

What I do think is that there needs to be a social change around the elements of rape culture similar to what’s happened around drunk driving. One example of how that has been done well is the “Don’t be that guy” campaign, first created by an Alberta-based coalition of community organizations and since used across the country.

The idea behind “Don’t be that guy” is simply stated: “put the onus on the ones responsible for the assault to be responsible for stopping it.” And as I’ve gotten to this ripe old age, I think that not only do I have an obligation to “not be that guy”, I want to help younger men to understand that sexual assault isn’t EVER okay. How do I do that? For me, there are two ways. The first is to model GOOD behaviour. To not make the rape joke (how can that be a joke?!), to not use actions or language to make women into sexual objects.

The second is to call out BAD behaviour. I think it’s incumbent on good guys (I count myself in that group) to act when someone starts to act out. It could be as dramatic as interrupting a physical assault, or speaking up when a construction worker catcalls a woman walking past. If nobody reacts to an action or a word, it can be interpreted as apathy at best, or approval at worst. I don’t want that. And if it means I have to shake myself out of my shyness or my comfort zone, that’s a small price to pay. The grandparent of all these movements is Hollaback!, and thankfully, there’s an active group here in my city.

What else can men do to combat this problem? There’s a lot of worthwhile thinking about this at The Good Men Project. What are your thoughts?

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Guyside: Who’s MY cougar?

Posted by on Feb 26, 2014 in Guyside, men, sexual desire, sexual health, Uncategorized | 0 comments

My kindly employer here asked the provocative question “Who’s your cougar?” earlier this week. When you read Liz’s post, you get a sense of the complex set of meanings surrounding the term “cougar”, as well as the minefield of assumptions and sexual mores that surround the people who are identified by self or others as cougars. So I thought I’d take on the question of the cougar from the guyside.

(Cougar not exactly as shown in video)

If you had asked me as a teenager whether cougars were good or bad — I likely would have been heartily in favour of them (if I would have believed they existed, as opposed to being mythological creatures like the Sirens). Anything that would have increased the chance of a little lovin’ would have been okay with me at that point. And being as timid a young man as I was, it would have taken more than the average amount of sexual aggression to turn me into “prey.” But by now, from the perspective of a long-term monogamous relationship, I see the term and those who bear it a bit differently (and, I hope, with a bit more subtlety).

Certainly, I think that there’s a double standard. I’ve seen some men I know move towards dating younger women as they age; it seems as if the age of the women they pursue remains static while their age advances year by year. Most of the time, that behavior is accepted without a second thought. A woman doing the same thing would quite likely not be given the same pass.

It also seems to me that the term “cougar” is very much tied to straight women. Some googling (which turned up some rather, er, explicit results) left me with one example of someone referring to a lesbian cougar. The person singled out? Ellen Degeneres. A quick search of Degeneres found that she had had a relationship with a woman 1o years younger than her, then later married a woman 15 years younger. Not exactly predatory, by my judgement.

What I think as I approach my sixth decade on the planet is this: there’s a big, complicated world out there. If two people find each other, and want to spend some fun-time together, good for them. If they want to spend a life together, good for them too. If you’re both adults (heck, I don’t even much care if three people or four or more are involved; that’s not my thing, but …) and  not hurting anyone else in the process, then seek out whatever type of relationship provides you with fulfillment and happiness.

If calling a woman a “cougar” is simply a way to characterize her choice of younger sexual partners, that’s fine. But I think the levels of judgement that seem to accrue to those women make me more than a little uncomfortable using that term. Maybe I’m naive or idealistic, but I think we’re all a little bit more than our genitals.

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Guyside: Who says prevention is worse than the cure?!

Posted by on Jan 29, 2014 in Uncategorized | 0 comments

Hey Guyz…

My partner in crime, Bob LeDrew is off paving his own preventive highway. He’ll be back next week with another edition of Guyside. Meanwhile?

Just a thought to ponder on a Wednesday….



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The Kindness of Strangers

Posted by on Jan 13, 2014 in Uncategorized | 3 comments

Black and white TV screen noise texture pattern“Whoever you are, I have always depended on the kindness of strangers.” Tennessee Williams, A Streetcar Named Desire, 1947

This quote is one of the most widely used and widely recognized quotes in the world. I imagine that one of the reasons for its recognition (besides the brilliance of Williams’ writing) is that kindness, particularly random kindness, is such an unexpected gift. And when it occurs, it affects individuals on a cellular level. Yet, so many of us are caught up in our daily lives, our challenges, our joys and our sorrows, that we often need to be reminded that an extended hand can alter another person’s day. Most importantly, kindness does not need be tangible; bestowing a simple smile, a wave or wishing another well is one of the most valuable acts of self that can be shared.

It strikes me that the more crowded our lives become, the less likely we are to recognize the degree to which we are self involved and how it may affect the people we encounter very day. No more is this evident than on social networks, where, the endless ‘me me me’ updates have simply become white noise. Ironically, that white noise may actually be detrimental to our health, but not for the most obvious reasons.


Help others. Help yourself.

Research has shown that there is a link between positive emotions and physical health. And while experts have not yet fully teased out the ‘how’ and ‘why,’ they have been able to demonstrate that positive social connections beget positive emotions, which beget increases in vagal tone,  a proxy for physical health.

Vagal tone reflects how well or how poorly the vagus nerve is functioning. And importantly, the vagus nerve is directly linked to nerves that control and coordinate where our eyes focus, how we express emotions on our faces and how our ears respond and tune to human voice. While vagal tone is mostly stable, there is evidence that sustained positive emotions and social perceptions may actually promote its functioning. This is important because when vagal tone is optimized, it boosts activity in the nervous system that helps slow heart rate, and calms and relaxes. Recent study findings also suggest that people can actually steer themselves toward greater health by harnessing, if you will, the power of vagal tone, simply by learning to generate positive emotions through loving-kindness meditation.

Loving-kindness meditation is a type of meditation practice that focuses on developing positive intention and kindness and warmth toward others. In women, it has been shown to significantly lengthen telomeres, the DNA structures at the ends of chromosomes that scientists consider markers for aging. Over a lifetime, telomeres shorten and this shortening is often accelerated by cellular inflammation and chronic psychological stress. While meditation practice has generally been associated with positive health benefits, the benefits of this particular form of meditation that focuses on the well-being of others appears to be especially strong in women, perhaps because they are inherently more empathetic or tend to focus on caregiving.

Want to break through the white noise? Today, I challenge you to practice one act of kindness toward a stranger or someone who you don’t know very well. Tomorrow, I challenge you to do the same. Not only will your gift of kindness benefit the recipient, but you may find that it changes your physical and mental wellbeing in ways that are not immediately tangible.




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