Curing Masculinism

You do occasional here about so called ‘masculinism’ these days as a ‘response’ to feminism, from people who don’t appear to understand feminism in the slightest. As a male myself, collectively men seem so far behind women in getting over trying to be something expected of us by our birth gender role. Both men and women are swamped by images of how what our gender should dress like, behave, enjoy etc. and if you don’t quite fit within this definition or at least play along with it, tough, you’re an outcast. Not only is this limiting and destructive, it is so boring and limiting. For example the idea that I grew up with that ‘Boys don’t cry’, beautifully parodied by my favourite band ‘The Cure’. It took me years before I regained the ability to cry when I was upset. How is it great and ‘manly’ to not feel sad about sad things because we are ‘tough’ that we are don’t want to be affected by anything or have to actually deal with it. So many men, never get over this restriction.

Children very quickly pick up these gender stereotypes and very quickly conform to them. There is evidence to suggest that this conformity is the child demonstrating that they have understood. Society does indeed seem to encourage the development of ‘masculine’ traits for boys and ‘feminine’ ones for girls. However in Western culture particularly we have started to question these gender roles. Really, back in ‘cavemen’ times [or should it be cavepeople? oh wait they didn’t actually live in caves (sic)] it helped society together than the generally larger stronger sex went out hunting. However in an increasingly urban world, there is no need to encourage hunting skills, so why does society have this tendency to stick with these traditions?

Then there is a form of sexism that some men have of expecting women to behave in a ‘feminine’ way, which I don’t get at all. The logic seems to be well I have chosen to conform to a definition of masculinity, so I expect everyone else to conform this way too, even the other gender.Or is it more than this, there is this idea to teach people to conform as the idea as doing this will make your life easier, you will fit in and not stand out. However, it seems that these days success is achieved by the people who do stand out, who do take a different direction.

Often other men ask me “But don’t you like women wearing pretty dresses?” because what I find attractive in women, doesn’t fit the algorithm for how it seems most mean assess or a woman’s attractiveness.

Well I do like women wearing pretty dresses, wearing make up and having done something with their hair, but, only if I have seen them wearing normal clothes first. I like to see the change, the difference. Because most of the time the most attractive thing to me a lady can wear is jeans and a woolly jumper.

As a biologist I have spent some time working in jungles. Working in a jungle is hot and damp and in order to protect the ecosystem we don’t wash clothes in ‘modern’ detergents and th eonly way of gettign them dry is for them to get very smoky drying by a fire. So our clothes are always stained, and holey (from brushing past spiky plants regularly). This did not prevent me from finding some of my female companions attractive. When the project was over and everyone returns to a city, there is often a final social get together in a restaurant before everyone goes home. There is an opportunity to wash properly, wear clean clothes and often the women put on make-up. For me these are special times, to be able to see women I’ve been working for for several weeks in a completely new light. They are not more attractive than they were before, it’s just nice to see them having done something with their appearance. However I gather from other men that they suddenly notice how attractive these women are, I don’t get this at all.

I visited Germany last year. In a sense it was wonderful as the women in Germany dress normally (dress down?) most of the time and usually only have a few dresses for dressing up once in a while. I did indeed think that this was a place I would like to live, a society where my preferences were less different. Having said that a guy shoulder charged me for wearing a floral shirt, anyway German men dress appallingly, stripes everywhere) However some people complain that such Northern European women are somehow ‘less feminine’. They are just as feminine as women anywhere else, what perhaps they mean is that such women do not conform to some traditional view of femininity as in other places.

There are some obvious avenues to explore to explain this. Firstly Northern Europe is densely populated and industrialised a long time ago, so there is a bigger gap to a world where hunting was possible, the culture has had time to develop in new post-industrial ways. Secondly there is language. I’m been learning Welsh recently. Welsh like many other Indo-European languages assigns nouns a gender, masculine and feminine. So the language itself encourages speakers to view things in a gendered way. It is interesting that each language assigns these slightly differently, but there is a broadish conformity with traditional ideas of gender. However, in the Germanic languages of English and I believe the Scandinavian languages, this focus on gender has been lost or is rapidly disappearing. For example we now use ‘they’ for a person of unknown gender, or when the gender is not important (even in Welsh nowadays), whereas in Spanish, such a ‘they’ is masculine, unless the group only consists of females (‘ninos’ (male or mixed group of children) and ‘ninas’ (female only group of children).

How gender is dealt with is hugely complicated. We still live in a world where there are gender expectations. If for whatever reason you don’t fit the traditional roles, you have to find a way to deal with the stereotyping. Personally I have got myself into difficulties with women  who have misinterpreted my attention as seeking a relationship with them. I don’t know whether it is always a mistake to let women know that you find them attractive and then quickly ascertain that they are not interested in exploring a relationship with myself or not. However I often find that some women continue to believe I am seeking a relationship when continuing a non-sexual relationship. It is difficult, because I now see how much negative attention women get from men that is pursuing a relationship. It’s kind of like I had to come to terms with being different and to not be concerned that I was being treated in a seemingly strange way.

I think my conclusion that a traditional model of what masculinity and femininity is not wrong, or something that needs to be cured or got over, however not thinking about it at all can have negative consequences. If you happen to fit in, that is a wonderful gift, yet it is still worth understanding how much of that is really you, how much you are happy to conform and find out where you are different. What I would suggest though is that we do all need to discover who we are for ourselves and not blindly adopt roles. Even if you are an outsider, to function socially you require an understanding of the way the majority behave; which is perhaps why children learn gender roles at a young age. Essentially what I am saying that understanding is good and that we need to understand ourselves better and also find what grounds us, what roots us to ourselves and our communities, to realise that everyone else may be on such a journey too.  We should not criticise others for their choices in how they ground themselves, but we should be wary when others try and pressure people to behave to conform.



TTIP and the Threat to Democracy

Currently discussions are taking place between the EU and the United States to ‘agree’ a trade treaty (TTIP), along side a similar treaty with Canada (CETA).  The issue is that such trade agreements are going too far and making the world a less reasonable and less democratic place. These treaties are not about opening up international trade, they aim to restrict it, though removing control over laws and regulations from the democratic control of people. Laws and regulations are the oil that keeps society running. They are vital to industrial and post-industrial economies.

A pre-industrial economy is largely based on self sufficient communities where almost all goods and services are produced locally by the community for the community. Excess production is then traded with other communities for luxuries. In such a society there is no real need for laws and regulations, the community polices itself, it is essentially an anarchy.

With industrialisation, comes specialisation, a community specialises its production, increasing efficiency and quantity of production, it then trades almost of of its production to fund buying in its other needs. With such a system , laws and regulations are needed as there is no longer a community based based system ensuring standards, rules are required to ensure trade is fair. A community is generally happy with this arrangement as the overall quality of life improves.

Furthermore, it becomes more efficient to standardise, the apply the same regulations and standards across wider economic areas, to include more and more communities. Often the best standards aren’t adopted, but there is nonetheless a net benefit to every participating community. The gain from adopting the standard is greater than the benefit of maintaining a local standard. Such a system works because it is consensual, a community voluntarily gives up some of its local decision making for a net benefit, it accepts and adapts to the new standards. Rules also ensure the environment is protected, that communities have such things as safe water to drink and access to facilities.

The problem with international trade agreements, such as GATT, TTIP and CETA is that communities have no say, no opt out in the standards set by such arrangements. There is no democratic control if  changes in rules or standards start to lead to the net detriment of a community. Essentially there is a trust that standards are acceptable to a community. However if an outside body, or the effect of a trade arrangement, changes the standards in a way unacceptable to a community, the community is left in a difficult position. Accept the changes to standards, but resort to local production to maintain the standards the community wants, effectively decreasing the production capacity of the community. Its a step backwards in the world economy. The standards, the regulations, the laws are no longer the oil that keeps society going, but something every individual has waste time and thus productivity finding ways to  work around the rules, in effect the standards become worse than having standards in the first place.

Then there is ISDS, a system of international courts where corporations can sue governments if it enacts rules that can be established as being detrimental to access to markets for international corporations. for a government to adapt regulations to suit a changing world, it may have to pay a fine to the corporation, so governments will tend not to change regulations. The result being that the regulations become meaningless.

Historically ISDS clauses were placed in international trade agreements to prevent governments exploiting a foreign companies investment by ceasing assets or changes the terms of an agreement. This justification does not apply to the EU, Canada or the US, which already have domestic court systems to prevent such arbitrary decisions. ISDS in TTIP or CETA can only work against democracy, or the will of people in communities.

For example, food regulations, to a large degree regulations exist to ensure that any food you buy is safe to eat, or has a label to tell you that the product is Kosher, Halal, GM-free, free-range, etc informing you that you can eat such a labelled product. So, if this trust in regulations is lost, people will no longer be happy to buy food (or indeed any product) from all over the world, but individually seek to find producers they can trust locally. Its just a massive retrograde step. It’s creating an anarchy on a global scale, without the benefit of policing by the community of the world.

What is especially worrying is that these problems are well known, especially the lack of democratic accountability, but the political establishment has done nothing to address these concerns. Democracy has to work from the bottom (the people who live in communities) upwards, with law making powers given to the centralised establishment rather than the other way around. rather than be imposed from a centralised establishment, a top-down approach is profoundly undemocratic, it’s essentially the feudal system the world had thought it had seen the last of. All the gains that society has made on the last two centuries will be lost unless these arrangements are halted and power returned to the people, democracy.


To TMO or not to TMO

There have been a couple of incidents at the rugby world cup where use non-use of the TMO (referring referreeing decisons to video evidence) seem to be influencing the game in a way they shouldn’t be.

The fact that video replays are shown within the stadium when play has stopped, allowing players and fans to see if a referee has made a wrong decision is wrong, refereeing is a hard enough job as it is without such scrutiny.

TMO is used at the world cup and the six nations and has become part of the game at international fixtures. However, it should not change the way the game is played and make it different to playing at club or amateur level.

The first incident occured in the opening match between England and Fiji. Fiji appeared to score a try, the ref and the linesman were behind the ball and a try was awarded. This is normal at club level as the the probability is that a try has been legally scored. Then, a slow motion replay was shown on the big screen which clearly showed the Fijian player knocking on just before the try line. The ref then (as the kicker was preparing for the conversion attempt) stopped play and referred to the TMO, and the decision to award the try was reversed. Even though technically it wasn’t a try, it only wasn’t due to the TMO rules, hence changing the game. TMO should only be used for marginal decisions where the ref is in doubt or unsighted. To be consistent then  every try would have to go to TMO.

The TMO rules need changing as at the moment the TMO can only be used in specific circumstances such as  to pick up foul and dangerous play, which is good for ensuring player safety. However TMO can’t be used for penalty decisions, this has an affect on the game as  teams are then encouraged to take penalties instead of pushing for a try. There are too mnay penalties in the game as it is in my opinion, more should not be encouraged.

Which brings me to the other incident, in yesterdays quarter final match between Scotland and Australia. It was a superb match, with 1 point separating the teams with 90 seconds to go. Scotland messed up their own lineout, it appeared to be an accidental knock on followed by an accidental offside. Everyone expected an excitign final scrum with an Australian put in. Instead the ref awarded a penalty, a wrong decision, that affected the outcome of the game in the final minute. The ref has to make an on the spot decision, but couldn’t be certain it was a penalty or not, if it’s not clear a penalty shouldn’t be awarded. Here was a situation where whether it was a penalty was unclear, so perhaps should have been referred to the TMO. The ref could, however, have asked the linesman if they had seen anything.

As a supporter of the Welsh national team I have seen the odd wrong decision lose us games. Having said that, watching at home on the telly I’ve also seen penalties awarded to Wales, we shouldn’t have, Refereeing is tough and wrong decisions are simply part of the game. However again thsi incident was shown on the big screens at the game, the crowd and the ref watched it and saw that a wrong decision had been made. This time the ref couldn’t refer to the TMO and potentially reverse the decision. This is the inconsistency, why TMO for a try and not a penalty? It will be interesting to see how the IRB respond to the use of TMO in this world cup.

As a fan of rugby, such things do ruin games as a spectacle for the supporters. It was a great contest to watch. For Scotland, coming close to getting to the semi-finals is heartbreaking, to lose the match in the final minute by a wrong refereeing decision, doubly so. It’s tough on the victors, Australia, too, as they are seen as not progressing by winning the game, but by being lucky with a refereeing decision, celebrations are then muted. It leaves a sour taste in the mouth for the neutral too ( I was of course supporting our comrades in Scotland).

Finally and incidentally, I do not condone the abuse the referee has received online. Completely uncalled for, as i said a very tough job and in a game such as rugby you are never going to get every decision right. So, use the TMO where there is doubt and don’t show replays in the stadium (part of the fun is watching a replay at home after a match and seeing what happened at all the breakdowns.

The 50% Rule

Whilst attending a Q&A with Sir Steve Redgrave, the multiple Olympic gold medallist and thoroughly nice bloke, he discussed ‘the 50% rule’. He gave this discussion in response to the question of why put yourself through the sacrifice of training.

The answer is simple. He kept doing it because he enjoyed it at least 50% of the time and stated that he would give up rowing if he ever dipped below this level. Really any successful sportsperson or artist doesn’t undergo some huge personal sacrifice in order to achieve success, they do it because they enjoy the training 50% of the time. Of course he forced himself through many gruelling ERG session which he hated, nothing can be enjoyed everytime, but less than half of sessions were like this.

Really, the 50% rule can be applied to everything that we choose to get ourselves involved with as humans. It can also be applied to understand the difference between happy and unhappy people. Simply, unhappy people either persist in doing things they don’t enjoy, haven’t yet found something they really enjoy or are suffering some form of depression which prevents them enjoying life. Why 50%? why not 10% or 30%?

No-one is happy or sad most of the time, generally most people spend most of their lives in a state of neutrality, neither being happy or sad. People have moments of being happy or sad, also these states can linger for a while. A healthy person will allow feelings of happiness to persist and unhappy thought to be forgotten quickly.

So, if the peturbations away from neutrality are mainly happy, then the memory of happiness will pervade the neutral state and the person can generally be described as happy and content with themselves. Even if the majority of peturbations are sad ones, this can be outweighed by the lingering happiness increasing the influence of happy. Conversely the unhappy person will have their neutrality burdened by the memory of sadness.

I think that this is particularly hard on the depressed person, who has insufficient experience of happy to understand what it is. To the depressed person, the moments of happiness are so rare, they seem artificial and instead of enjoying them they agonise over how this came about and whether it would be possible to find this state again soon. Of course the agonising only serves to dispel the happiness, it is lingering in sadness, which only makes things worse.

For example I like to read about the news, I like to know what is going on in the world, however most of this news tends to be very sad and often this sadness effects me after I have stopped reading. Really by the logic of this, I should stop reading the news! so sometimes I do stop. Stopping allows me to be free of cynicism with the world, I’ll be aware it’s there but have actively chosen to be free of it, at least for a short while. so to be happy,one has to break your own rules, some of the time, to be happy.

I would say, being someone who only discovered happiness relatively recently is that understanding happiness is important as you only truly experience happiness when you know what it is and how you got there, an analogy is knowing where the state of happines is on a map. Humans naturally, know what happiness is, but long periods of depression serve to make people forget where happiness is. It also required lateral thinking. One cannot simply arrive at happiness in a linear logical way, it has to be felt rather than thought.

Literalism and Authority

The recent tragic death of Leelah Acorn, and her suicide note plea, published on tumblr to ‘fix society’, is something for us, as human beings to reflect upon.

I am not a parent, but I know that parenting is a tough challenge as someone is brought into this world for whom you have unconditional love, but that someone is their own person. Parents are people who are in a position of authority over their children. Children have an insatiable curiosity about the world and themselves and often, especially with younger children the role of the parent is often to curtail the childs freedom to explore, to prevent them getting into danger, for example keeping knives and matches away and telling children not to play with them.

As children grow decisions about what behaviour to restrict become more complicated as young people become capable of making their own decisions. One of the hardest lessons to teach children concerns authority.

The lesson being to respect authority, whilst developing a healthy disrespect for authority itself. This seeming contradiction is a challenge as parents are an authority figure themselves. It is important to distinguish that authorities do make the wrong decisions, but that such poor decisions are not a reason to completely reject the authority entirely. The territory of grey areas and compromise is a difficult arena for developing people to appreciate.

As adults we live in countries with systems of laws created by governments. Most people are aware that governments generally don’t make the best decisions. Government decisions should be the result of compromises and the production of laws that are at least an improvement on previous laws. As citizens we have to obey/ respect the law of the land even when we know some laws are unjust, that our economic systems are imperfect. As individuals we learn to accept the imperfection of laws. For example, when homosexuality was illegal and homosexuals had to respect this law by not expressing their sexuality publicly.

I have a disdain for those who take a fundamentalist literal interpretation of the Bible. This is overly simplistic and restricts the ability of the individual to interpret Gods love for themselves. For example the creation story of Genesis that the world was created in seven days whilst containing truth, is not literally true, it seems that some people, the ‘creationists’, have difficulty with this distinction. There is immortality for good souls in Heaven, but Heaven is not a realm where souls have corporeal existence, there is no sense in attempting to define literally what heaven is as a single concept. The concept of heaven is not a literal one but a spiritual one. As a scientist, I am aware of the distinction between the scientific method of testing of theories in a logical manner and the personal subjective view of existence. The teachings of Christianity are not about a dogmatic adherance to a set of rules, but provide the means for accessing the tools with which to help make decisions.

Generally there seems to be too much literalism in the world. For example the pop star,Charli XCX has recently released a track with the lyric: “I don’t wanna go to school I just want to break the rules”. Some of the YouTube comments of the video suggest that the singer is being irresponsible in encouraging young people not to go to school. Such comments demonstrate how pervasive literalism is, for the message of the song is not discouraging people from attending school, but rather an expression of the importance of questioning authority. This is very similar to Pink Floyds “we don’t need no education, we don’t need no thought control”, the members of Pink Floyd, themselves University educated.

Parents wish their children’s lives to be perfect and for their children not to suffer from issues that they themselves struggled with as young people. It could be argued that people spend their teenage years and 20’s in getting over their parents, to continue to love and respect their parents for trying to be good parents whilst acknowledging their parents imperfections and mistakes. The struggles an individual person has growing up to realise themselves and find a workable compromise with various ‘authorities’ will be different to the individual experiences of their parents. Sometimes parents need to take the time to reflect that their children are different, that society has changed and whatever the rules are, they are in a continuing state of flux.

Basically, as humanity we need to be less literal, appreciate the fussiness that there are no absolute authorities for individual experience in the real world outside of scientific laws and learn to love and respect each individual person for who they are, especially as everyone continues to better define and be more at ease with themselves through reflection and interaction with other voices. For all authorities to be open and honest about their limitations.