Tag: male gender roles

What Right-wing Radio Reveals About the Shutdown Fiasco and the Republican Party

Learning about views you disagree with

iTunes gives you the ability to tune in to pretty much any radio station across the country, so during the government shutdown I listened in to the right-wing echo chamber that is talk radio, trying to understand what’s going on, what’s driving the Tea Partier rage. Very few activists listen and try to grok the “other side of the aisle,” as we increasingly customize our information diet. The future of the Information Age in general and the news/current events commentary media world in particular tends to limit information instead of broadening it, as we ghettoize ourselves in front of voices we agree with, whether that’s TV and radio—plenty of folks in my hometown of Mobile, AL find themselves going from Fox News on public or office TVs to right-wing talk radio in the car to Fox News at home—or the web, which can give you only the sites that echo your worldview, which could mean you only visit certain sites or have content delivered from your self-curated, self-segregated RSS reader. It’s never been easier to retreat into intellectual ghettos, even limiting our news to only the stories that our party or faction or regional subfaction cares about. This is bad in so many ways. It shelters us from potentially important news. Worse, it disconnects us from the grievances and concerns of half or over-half of our countrymen; I would go so far as to call that dangerous.

So…it’s unusual but I listened and tried to understand what’s driving the right-wing activists push for the federal government shutdown.  I vehemently oppose so much of what these guys spout, the overheated rhetoric and the false premises, but I want to be fair here.  I honestly think much of the rage expressed by the Tea Partiers is either directly springing from legitimate grievances or legitimate anger that’s been misdirected (e.g. people who’re saying essentially “in the 80s-90s neoliberals/neocons offshored the jobs previously available to rural whites like me, everyone I know is marginalized in a post-industrial hellscape and without economic hope, but all the problems are *because Obama*“).

So it was October 14th, the Monday before the nation was due to default on the 17th, and what were the activist talk radio guys saying?  Tuning to WABC Radio NY/NJ, Sean Hannity was expressing disappointment that the Republican leadership is going “to cave” to the Obama and open the government.  None of the talk radio guys were enthusiastic supporters of the Republican leadership (Boehner, McConnell, et al) and the members of Congress that seemed radical in the ’90s “Republican Revolution” are increasingly marginalized as too soft, as “the establishment” that needs to be pushed or overthrown entirely by Republican Revolution II, though the different radio hosts each have very different approaches to the developing political ecosystem.  After Hannity on WABC is The Mark Levin Show, and Levin is very different; he’s one of the most extreme anti-federalists out there, believing that anything not among the enumerated powers in the United States Constitution is out of bounds for the U.S. government.  Given this “strict constructionist” view of the Constitution, the states should control nearly all domestic policy, regulations and services and most of the things that the federal government does at present are unconstitutional and illegitimate.  Mark Levin is a really angry guy, and though his ideology would logically put most Republicans and Republican federal policies beyond the pale as well, his wrath is mostly reserved for the Democrats, and there’s definitely a lot of running-up the partisan scoreboard on his show.  The messages given by each of these hosts is surprisingly different.

"Rage radio," political cartoon, painted by Nick Dupree, October 24th, 2013
“Rage radio,” political cartoon, painted by Nick Dupree, October 24th, 2013

There’s scant unanimity among the right-leaning hosts in general, but they were unanimous that hitting the debt ceiling that following Thursday isn’t so bad.  Sean Hannity said that there are more days before default than advertised by the “scare tactics” allegedly put forward by the administration.  Tuning to NewsRadio KLBJ Austin, Glenn Beck was saying that the worst thing that could happen if we hit the debt ceiling is a cut in runaway entitlement spending, an unambiguous positive in his mind, underpinned by the unspoken assumption we’d keep paying foreign creditors while stiffing pensioners.  Really disturbing to hear such unanimity on being outside of financial reality, up is down and defaulting on your debts somehow “fiscally conservative.”  But note the huge gap between what Hannity was saying “few extra days” before default and what Beck and Levin are saying, “default is good.”

Levin and Beck also are really different from Hannity on the future of the Republican Party too.  While Hannity is exasperated with the GOP leadership and wants to push them, I get the sense the furthest he’d go is elect Ted Cruz-types everywhere, whereas Glenn Beck wants to replace the GOP.  Beck said that the GOP is “over,” to be taken over or displaced because of its corruption and willingness “to cave” on Obamacare and the deficit, replaced like the Whig Party was replaced by the Republican Party in the 1850s.  Beck tends to take you down this rabbit hole of elaborate historical exegesis, an alternate history of the 20th century that casts Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson as villainous “progressives” that ruined the United States.  Both parties are too “progressive,” the Republicans are “progressive lite,” he says, and because of this, he predicts we’re on the verge of our political system being wiped out and America being “reborn” in some sort of financial and/or ACTUAL armageddon, which maybe will include a cleaning out of the immoral; a great purging via apocalyptic violence is certainly hinted at occasionally.  Beck and Levin both emphasize the illegitimacy of our national system and the need for state, local and hyper-local leadership and organizing—and stockpiling food and ammo in your fortified bunker—but Beck actually flames the Republican leadership.  If John Boehner is mentioned at all on The Glenn Beck Program, it’s to call him “awful” or “orange and crusty.”

What I’ve Learned

So, what are the pertinent lessons to take away?

1) I wasn’t entirely correct when, in a previous blog post, I described the House GOP members behind the government shutdown as “regressed from comparably responsible businessman-types to incoherent lunatics so rage-inebriated that they’re about one notch above tantrum-ing toddlers scribbling ‘WHO IS JOHN GALT’ in their own feces on the walls of the Capitol rotunda.”   The current crop of Congress-critters don’t command much respect to be sure, the toddler-esque aspect and the “rage inebriation” certainly is present, but I’ve learned they’re not unhinged ideologues, they’re businessman-types pretending to be unhinged ideologues in order to CYA and look out for #1.  They definitely are convinced they’ll lose their jobs and possibly get pulled down into the political “dustbin of history” with a GOP collapse if they vote for a hike in the debt ceiling.  All these guys, even House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, want immunity from primary challenges, so can’t leave themselves open to accusations they capitulated on the debt ceiling and long-term “deficit catastrophe.” This explains why Cantor supports the shutdown even though it has meant furloughing a broad swath of the working age population of his northern Virginia district. House Republicans are trying to stay relevant to the increasingly radical fundraisers and activists that could oust them.  The government shutdown was ultimately a craven attempt to reassure the activist base that elects and reelects Republican candidates “we’re true believers too.”  The House majority wants to cater to the activist base as the activist base increasingly slides into radical, unhinged Ayn Rand-land.  The credit rating of the United States is getting downgraded because certain Congressmen wanted political cover.

2) the Republican party is rapidly changing.  We’ve not seen a party so in flux in my lifetime.


Guys I didn’t think could be more conservative are being branded as RINOs (Republicans In Name Only) and overthrown in primaries across the U.S..  Such flux could bring about unexpected changes, but it’s doubtful that “the establishment” or more moderate elements of the GOP (like consultant Mike Murphy) is going to win out, for the same reason that John Kerry’s talk about “a cadre of hard core moderates” to fight Assad and steal the jihadists’ thunder in Syria is so ridiculous.  Radicals always are more motivated and the deck is stacked in their favor.  In terms of the establishment GOP pushing back at the Tea Party types, what little there is isn’t covered beyond what Tea Partiers would call “the liberal media.”  In talk radio land, the activist base has monopolized all the megaphones and created a hermetically-sealed echo chamber devoid of non-Tea Party Republicans.  If the only Republicans devoted to fighting back against the Tea Partiers are like Murphy, who doesn’t really engage the underpinning economic pain behind the arguments or offer much substance aside from “shooing away tomorrow’s voters to pander to yesterday’s,” the far-right has already won.

“Teapublican Party” logo

Conclusion: in the most probable scenario, the GOP is all-but-completely transformed into the “Teapublican Party” prior to the key midterm primary elections in 6-9 months and the general elections to seat the 114th Congress in 12 months.  But after the far-right is running the show unopposed, we don’t yet know which direction the party will go or which faction will dominate.

3) Rage radio is symptomatic of real anger, real grievances that spring from a legitimate place, and so I do try to be fair.  Glenn Beck is saying stuff like “don’t let them tell you America is over,” that we will be reborn, that you can still find a place to thrive.  He’s wrong in so many ways but at least he’s responding to the post-industrial agony out there.  When I tuned in last Friday night, Beck was talking about getting suicide emails, men who have lost a job, a home, a wife, a life.  Hannity is helping people find jobs on the air, in a climate where a good job is something you only get if you win a reality show.

Our political and intellectual leaders shouldn’t be dismissive of the despair and desperation driving Tea Partier rage.  Ignoring the economic marginalization of “flyover country” is going to come back to bite us big time. Already our clueless liberal class—I say this as an activist who’s part of said liberal class—is wondering aloud why the heartland is sending radicals to Congress.  Radicalism is always a byproduct of poverty, whether financial, social, or spiritual poverty, and I’d say the U.S. has all three, in spades.  Why they’re going for far-right radicalism instead of far-left radicalism isn’t clear to me, but it’s possible they end up with some far-left ideas because they hurtle so far right on the weird mobius strip that is the political spectrum that they’ve come ’round the other side.where right blurs into left.  I certainly understand why hatred of the federal government is a prominent part of the movement, as federal economic policies have put sustainable livelihoods—and a chance for a positive male role, to be a provider instead of a “loser on food stamps”—out of reach for millions of Americans.    I don’t fully grasp how that anger ends up channeled into a movement to gut food stamps and other economic assistance, but I think that this has a lot to do with how deep-seated the ethos of bootstraps-individualism and self-reliance is in our psychosocial fabric, especially in the red states, and intensely acculturated in men and the male gender roles Americans yearn to retrieve.  There’s a dilemma on how we bring a program of economic inclusion to great swaths of the country that despise the government; it might require a Republican president.  I worry that another decade without a program of economic inclusion to ratchet down the desperation could lead to a future where our pondering on the left could be “how come this Mussolini with a Texas drawl just disbanded Congress?”

To summarize:

• listening to “the opposition” will give you insights you won’t get elsewhere

• Republican Revolution II is transforming the GOP and the country. The Republican party is in revolutionary flux and we don’t yet know what it will become.  Stay tuned!

• we ignore the desperation and despair in the rust belt and heartland, and resulting crisis in healthy male gender roles, at our own peril.



Masculinity, Southern Gentlemen, and the Strange Story of Alabama’s First U.S. Senator, William Rufus DeVane King

OR John Kerry Should’ve Grown A Beard: The North-South Manliness Inversion

A Post That Cites Its Sources…with Footnotes!

As I mentioned in the preceding post, the Nick’s Crusade blog is a history blog too. I think delving into history can be very valuable, not just because the strange doglegs and twists in the American story—history NEVER progresses in a straight line—are infinitely interesting, but because we become better thinkers and citizens the more we understand our prologue, the previous generations, the prior struggles, and what we’ve gained and lost since.

One thing we’ve lost—though we have gained from its absence in many ways—is the whole concept of the elite 19th century Southern Gentleman, the image of Southern aristocrats with smooth, un-calloused hands and clean-shaven plump faces, and the brutal slave-driving that made such lifestyles possible.  A lot of insight into that old image can be gleaned from the strange story of William Rufus deVane King of Alabama (my home state).

Art by Nick Dupree: Unlucky 13th Vice president, William Rufus deVane King, served only 45 days before dying of tuberculosis.  Only a few of the 45 days, his last days, were on American soil, as he returned from Cuba via Mobile, then died on his plantation near Selma. He is the only vice president from Alabama ever elected.
Art by Nick Dupree: Unlucky 13th Vice president, William Rufus deVane King, served only 45 days before dying of tuberculosis. Only a few of the 45 days, his last days, were on American soil, as he returned from Cuba via Mobile, then died on his plantation near Selma. He is the only vice president from Alabama ever elected.

William R. D. King—more typically referred to as just “William R. King”—was the first U.S. Senator from Alabama (alongside John Williams Walker, who was also sent to Washington—the state legislature electing two U.S. Senators per constitutional requirements—after Alabama was admitted to the Union in December 1819).  King also played a major role getting Alabama statehood done, and helped write the constitution of Alabama.  He named the city of Selma “Selma” meaning “high seat” or “throne” in the 18th century Ossianic poem The Songs of Selma, was president pro tem of the United States Senate, got into a Hamilton-Burr-style duel with Henry Clay,¹ and served as U.S. Minister to France and had other diplomatic posts in Naples and St. Petersburg.  As president pro tem of the Senate, he was behind the writing and passage of the Compromise of 1850 and more.  What’s odd is, he did all this while being…while being known by the public as super effeminate and flamboyant, and was re-elected again and again by the hardcore states’ righters in Montgomery (prior to the ratification of the 17th amendment in 1913, state legislatures elected U.S. Senators to represent their state).

I won’t say William R. D. King was gay, though it is very striking that, in a culture that almost never mentioned such things, contemporaries like Andrew Jackson publicly called him by derogatory names like “Miss Nancy,” and

Buchanan, 15th President of the United States (1857-1861) was also Minister to the UK (Court of St. James).
Buchanan, 15th President of the United States (1857-1861) was also Minister to the UK (Court of St. James).

powerful Tennessee Dem Aaron Brown (later appointed postmaster general under Buchanan) referred to him as “she” and “Aunt Fancy” and [Buchanan’s] “better half.”²  The Senators King and Buchanan were reported walking arm in arm around Washington, though that was common for men even in James Garfield‘s time 30 years later.  The rumors of King wearing 18th century powdered wigs and stockings long after they’d been abandoned in the 19th century are false,³ but there was definitely a lot of scandalous gossip in D.C. about his clothes and mannerisms.  And it’s well established that King did have a very intimate relationship with future-president James Buchanan, and something must have been unusual enough to’ve drawn derision. Nelson from the Simpsons, famously pointing out someone deserving derision Buchanan was sometimes ridiculed as “Mr. Fancy Pants” or “Granny Buck.”

Still, the serious historian demands a high standard of proof: the text document equivalent of “pics or it didn’t happen.” Though there is more material suggesting King was seen as gay than almost anyone else in the 19th century, it’d be unwise to say King was a homosexual with certainty.  I agree with the James Buchanan entry in glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer Culture that:

In his The Invention of Heterosexuality Jonathan Ned Katz cautions against the application of contemporary terms regarding sexuality to other times and societies in which “[w]ays of ordering the sexes, genders, and sexualities have varied radically.” He further points out that in the “pre-Freudian world [of early-nineteenth-century America], love did not imply eros”–although neither, of course, was an erotic component excluded.⁴

As King’s effeminate manner is evident beyond a shadow of a doubt, I’ll ask a broader—and, I think, more interesting—question, on gender presentation widely-speaking: how is it that such an effeminate public figure got elected by the legislators in rough-and-tumble frontier Alabama?
The answer is, there was nothing odd about William R. D. King amidst the Southern slaver planter aristocracy of his generation. It only seems strange to us, seeing through the lens of the latter half of the 20th century and its mega-strict gender roles.  In the antebellum South, the elite planter could be flamboyant, his body unmarked by any of the wear and tear associated with daily labor, his beardless, cherubic visage and opulent clothing a sign of plantation riches, heralding social status as much as signaling the success—and therefore rightness—of the Old South.  That kind of presentation harkens back to the aristocratic plantation lifestyles of the 17th and 18th century colonies, when it was, if anything, MORE pronounced. The kind of luxurious appearance and elite manner King exemplified was not uncommon among antebellum aristocrats in cotton country, in fact, flaunting your aristocratic bona fides was cool.

The anti-slavery left, the free soil partisans of the north who were organizing into what would soon be called the Republican Party, had picked up on this. By the time Millard Fillmore—a northerner with pro-slavery sympathies—moved into the White House following President Taylor dying of dysentery in 1850, they had a name for his sort: doughfaces, an obvious allusion to the idle, beardless planter aristocracy.
The best explanation of masculinities of the 19th century and the politics of facial hair I’ve found, is in Adam Goodheart’s amazing book 1861:

It was no accident that Northerners who sympathized with slaveholders were called “doughfaces”: in the American context, beards connoted a certain frank and uncompromising authenticity. Nor was it a coincidence that “Honest Abe” began cultivating his famous beard as he prepared to take over the presidency from “Granny Buck.”⁵

Northern free-soilers began presenting themselves as everything opposed to those they framed as the effete, decadent planter class, or as they referred to them, “the slave party.” They cultivated an image marketed as everything opposite the idle, soft-handed, soft-faced rich Southern aristocrats, they were the candidates of rough-hewn common working men with beards! They [the first decades of Republican Party free soil candidates] were one of the Real ‘Merickens who crawled out of mama and into a log cabin, grew up ridin’ a blue ox and drinking hard cider, and as a man split rails with an axe in one hand while reading law with the other. In the case of Abraham Lincoln, this backstory was kind of true, and his 1860 presidential campaign leveraged that to. the. MAX. The Republican National Convention in Chicago that (unexpectedly) nominated Lincoln for president in 1860 was held in a massive, makeshift wooden “wigwam”—Chicago’s fire marshall didn’t get any sleep that week—and the crowd badgered Honest Abe to tell the convention his “clearing the land with an axe” story…again. The Fall campaign was almost singularly about the image of Lincoln “the rail-splitter,” and was used non-stop; I’m sure some folks didn’t even know his name, just knew “rail-splitter.” To focus on the frontiersmen ethos and related manliness, and all the subtle messages within that, while not mentioning free soil doctrine, abolition, or any of the issues currently boiling over was a brilliant stroke of campaigning genius, and stands out in political history.

Adam Goodheart’s 1861: The Civil War Awakening is the best, most quick-to-understand work of social history I’ve read to date, delving into what Americans lives were really like on the eve of the Civil War. It goes into the BIZARRE social arrangements of 1861 Washington, DC, where free blacks owned slaves, and in Goodheart’s descriptions, those slaves were better off than much of DC’s free black population, who were largely stuck below-subsistence-level in squalid shantytowns, and with no “owner” to vouch for them, they were “undocumented” in a way—my term—and had no real rights to move around in public spaces and were subjected to frequent stops and harassment by police. 1861 has a whole chapter on young James Garfield’s doings at the time, and the way passions were channeled into male friendships in his social circle since expressing emotions was quite circumscribed where women were concerned. I’d like to explore that more in another post.

What I discovered by looking back at William R. King vs. early Republican campaigns—and it’s exciting when you figure something out for the first time—is that the North and South have not only undergone a political transformation, there’s been a cultural inversion alongside it. First, the obvious political inversion. Look at the electoral map following Abraham Lincoln’s 1860 presidential run. The liberal “free soil” north is ruby red, Republican. The South, pro-slavery, is the Democratic Party “solid south,” and with the exception of the fracturing of the Democrats behind several Southern candidates in 1860, then a period of Republican military rule and Republican-elections, “Reconstruction,” the solid Democratic south stays together a remarkably long time, from Andrew Jackson to like… John Kennedy’s run in 1960… Kennedy loses significant votes to Nixon in the Deep South, then in 1972 ALL Southern states peel off—a huge change from the results of the ’68 presidential election just four years before, when the solid south voted for the Dem, Humphrey, and the former-Dem-then-Dem-again, George Wallace—and REALLY break in Nixon’s favor, what with his infamous “southern strategy” and a Dem challenger perceived as wimpy. ’72 clinched the end of realignment, sealed the deal. Ever since, the South has been Republican red, with Dixiecrats like Strom Thurmond and ex-Wallace supporters defecting to the GOP in droves and Lincoln’s states up north increasingly leaning Democratic; it’s a total inversion!

What I’ve realized is, it’s also a North-South inversion of the culture of masculinity. In short, northerners are framed as effete, wimpy, decadent, out-of-touch elites today, similar to the way northerners caricatured southerners in the first decades of Whig and Republican campaigns (1840-1870ish). Now, it’s southerners that seem to treasure uber-rigid common man masculinity, and William Rufus deVane King couldn’t get elected dog catcher in today’s Alabama; despite his great wealth, I doubt he could find a place in Alabama public life due to his…different gender presentation. Southerners of today expect a working man to run for office, someone manly and “like us,” the opposite of William R. King. Thomas Frank explored today’s Republican “backlash” against “elites” in his book What’s The Matter With Kansas. This “backlash” is far more determinative than people realize, and deserves much more examination.

John Kerry got the brunt of this backlash in the 2004 campaign, with Karl Rove using the words “effete, elite Massachusetts liberal!” every day. Kerry got Buchanan’ed! Today’s Republicans are as aware of Americans’ deep-seated resentment of “the idle rich” as their northern founders were!
John Kennedy did a modern version of the “Hard Cider Campaign” in 1960; you could call it the “high-ball glass and scotch campaign.” It worked. The “effete, elite Massachusetts liberal!” line was certainly attempted against Kennedy, but for the most part it failed to stick, and he won a majority of working class voters and held the bulk of the South. Kerry failed…failed BADLY to counter the “effete, wimpy, decadent, out-of-touch” frame employed against him. Maybe John Kerry should’ve tried some form of the Kennedy strategy. Maybe he should have gone full Abe, grown a beard and had the press film him chopping firewood.

What he tried instead, photos and videos of him “huntin” backfired terribly, making him look even more phony and out of touch.

Cartoon by Nick: 2004 Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry, huntin...he says "I too enjoy leisure time practicing as a huntist!"
Cartoon by Nick: 2004 Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry, huntin…he says “I too enjoy leisure time practicing as a huntist!”

Unfortunately, image matters and always has mattered in American politics. Today, it matters disproportionately, and 21st century Democratic candidates like John Kerry have been awful at it. He was completely unable to fight back against the opponent’s framing him as an elite, decadent aristocrat, just as King and Buchanan and other antebellum southern gentlemen were caricatured.

Southern politics and southern masculinity has shifted dramatically, and I wonder if we haven’t lost something important. I wonder if becoming much more rigid in gender expectations isn’t narrowing what’s possible in political life, excluding not just potential 21st century William Rufus Kings, but ANYONE who doesn’t look like a square, iron-jawed working man. We’ve narrowed potential in public life, and I think that’s always bad.



1. Clay “believed the Globe to be an infamous paper, and its chief editor an infamous man.” King responded that Blair’s character would “compare gloriously” to that of Clay. The Kentucky senator jumped to his feet and shouted, “That is false, it is a slanderous base and cowardly declaration and the senator knows it to be so.” King answered ominously, “Mr. President, I have no reply to make—none whatever. But Mr. Clay deserves a response.” King then wrote out a challenge to a duel and had another senator deliver it to Clay, who belatedly realized what trouble his hasty words had unleashed. As Clay and King selected seconds and prepared for the imminent encounter, the Senate sergeant at arms arrested both men and turned them over to a civil authority. Clay posted a five-thousand-dollar bond as assurance that he would keep the peace, “and particularly towards William R. King.” Each wanted the matter behind him, but King insisted on “an unequivocal apology.” On March 14, 1841, Clay apologized…
Senate Historical Office. “William Rufus King, 13th Vice President (1853).” Senate.gov. (accessed May 6, 2013).
2. p. 189: Hernandez, David. Broken Face in the Mirror: Crooks and Fallen Stars That Look Very Much Like Us. Dorrance Publishing, 2010. http://books.google.com/books?id=OJ-0nNPAisgC&pg=PA189 (accessed May 6, 2013).
3. “Vice President King is sometimes confused with [signer of the Constitution in 1787 and Federalist presidential candidate] Senator Rufus King of New York. This confusion with the first King explains the rumors that persist to this day of the latter King’s wearing of ribbons, scarves and powdered wigs long after they were in fashion. Vice President King always wore the contemporary styles of the early-to-mid-1800s and he never wore a wig.” pp 13-14: Stern, Milton. Harriet Lane, America’s First Lady. 2005. http://books.google.com/books?id=5B9ngDFT2vgC&pg=PA14 (accessed May 7, 2013).
4. Rapp, Linda. glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer Culture. Chicago, IL: glbtq, Inc., 2004. http://www.glbtq.com/social-sciences/buchanan_j,2.html (accessed May 6, 2013).
5. p. 113: Goodheart, Adam. 1861: The Civil War Awakening. New York, NY: Vintage Books, 2011. http://books.google.com/books?id=bCPbnsUPhB0C&pg=PA113

The Path of the Disabled Man

I had originally intended to write this for Blogging Against Disablism Day, BADD, 2012. Obviously I’m WAY late for that, over two days after the deadline. But since I’ve participated in BADD in the past, I said hey, why not?! Maybe BADD readers will still find this post, and may, along with other audiences, find “The Path of the Disabled Man” of interest. I’ve never written about gender before. This is an attempt to convey something of the disabled male’s lived experience, and I hope it works.

The Storms Within

People forget, but though humans DO have a spiritual core, they’re coming from tens of thousands of years in the cave as well. Certain things are in-born, hard-wired in the base end of the forebrain, or reptilian brain or whatever you may call it; right next to things like fight or flight, territoriality, hunger and other instincts in the lower brain are our sexuality and some fundamental guides of human attractiveness, passed straight down from the caveman/cavewoman experience.

Those looking for a good cavewoman to pair with, knowing all too well that the pairing would need to produce like eight kids within a decade before the end of your life expectancy at age 30 to have maybe two of your offspring survive in a bleak era of horrendous infant, child and adult mortality—something that would continue to be a huge factor in the everyday lives of humans until the emergence of modern medicine in the 20th century, would automatically look for a cavewoman with a healthy look like she could carry eight babies, full breasts that look like they could feed two babies at once, nice skin signaling health, and a good-looking symmetrical face (a subconscious indicator of good genes in all humans). This is hard-wired in the brain as guideposts pointing toward female attractiveness, as shown by its prevalence today across cultures on all six inhabited continents.  A deep, bedrock thing in the mind; though largely subconscious, it remains ubiquitous.

Those looking for a quality caveman to pair with would automatically seek out the strongest, most battle capable male, who could kill wildebeests and rival tribesmen so the she and the offspring can survive (ironically, with acts of violence, including literally beating an adversary’s brains out, an act of protection and love for the woman). The images of males that women are interested in tend to feature images of strong men, not naked as men like to look at women, but in clothes that convey a status or role as providers and/or protectors, e.g. men in uniform, firemen calendars, etc. What’s attractive in the human male (for most) is more subtle and complicated, but it’s no less hard-wired.

So where does that leave men with permanent disabilities? I’m a guy who’s continually trying to find my way as man, and be a good man alongside severe disabilities in the mix, things like needing a ventilator and intact breathing tubes an inseparable part of my lived experience day-in and day-out and a real barrier. So I’ll speak to that—not meaning to say the path of the disabled male—I include the gay male here, similar challenges—is harder than other paths. And no denying it can be super difficult for women with disabilities given the ableist society we live in, and ambitions today rightfully dwarf the cavewoman’s (and not meaning to discount the struggles of those on transgender or gender queer paths either, which, in my view, is no less hard-wired a position than mine, as evidenced by the cavemen AND the animal kingdom). Of course, regardless of gender, everybody wants the same basic foundational things, to feel safe, wanted, needed, like they matter. This is just “write what you know,” about the lived experience of gender, not “gender theory,” and not intending to say the path of the disabled male is harder, but it is different, very different.

Evidence-Theory cartoon
Cartoon created by Nick, May 2nd, 2012

Women with disabilities, predominately, can still have the fundamental elements of female attractiveness society expects, there is obvious beauty abundant here (I admit, I’m biased in favor of disabled women) while men with disabilities have an incredibly difficult time being providers and protectors. Gimpy RomeoIt’s an uphill battle feeling valuable in any sort of male gender role a disabled guy has attempted to carve out. Men can have physical attractiveness too, no question, we can rock the good-looking symmetrical face with the best of ’em; but while that may open doors, it won’t take you far beyond that because everybody tends to, consciously or unconsciously, want men to be protectors and providers, and frankly so do I.  I don’t think women who want that from men are “superficial,” I see it as a legitimate, totally valid need. And focusing on what the man offers and actually does is, truly, less “superficial” than how men size up women, which, until a guy matures, will heavily tilt toward the body. Anyhow, to be useful in that way, protecting, providing, being a doer, taking specific actions, physical or not, that matter to someone, is a core thing in the male psyche (granted, “writing what I know” here does involve projecting forth my own feelings and perspective, but I do think a lot of this is universal across men).