(I took the header picture of a Common Loon resting on a pond in Utah on its way north in June of 2015. It was in transition from winter to summer plumage.)

Translate - I dare you. Then make a comment on the funny errors the translator made.

Wednesday, June 16, 2021

One take: Objectification

 I wrote this in one sitting.


People talk about objectification like it’s a bad thing.

In order to understand it, first make it value-neutral.  Then you can see how it’s everywhere – how human society depends on it.  Then you can start judging the ethics of objectification with some competence.

To objectify a person is to make that person into an object.  The definition is apparent in the etymology: again, let go of your emotionally-charged moral embellishments to the meaning (if I as an INFP can do this, so can you).  Speaking of etymology, “person” comes from a word meaning “mask,” an object.

What do we do with objects?  We admire them, we may collect them, but we use them, and rely on them.  Think of all the objects you rely on throughout your day, from clothes to utensils to vehicles.  Imagine human beings living in ancient or prehistoric times, crafting their tools with care and detail lacking in mass-produced consumer goods.  Think of how a peasant would use his hoe or ax: strike too harshly and you might starve.

What do we do with each other?  We use each other.  Whenever we relate to another human being in a limited and directed capacity of that human’s being, we are objectifying.  To objectify a human is first to require the human to affect a persona.  Countless well-meaning people pushed English into using “person” in a way that hides the objectification at the root of the word.

Think of the service personnel you rely on, personally and impersonally: servers at a restaurant, mail carriers, plumbers, construction workers, farmers, factory workers (who made your clothes?).  You’re objectifying them: you depend on them to fulfill functions, as a prehistoric human depended on tools.  Do you have a job?  Then you are being objectified.  You’re getting paid for it, but you’re not getting paid to be yourself.  You’re compensated for the time in which you condescend, in which you set the totality of your self aside to fulfill a function to others, most likely through the means of a system that regards you as a replaceable tool, even if the other human beings you work with would like to relate to you as a human being.  Human Resources will put some definite limits as to how far that can go.

I mentioned I’m INFP.  We do poorly at objectification: after all, we’re the ones who are notorious for talking to inanimate objects!  This is why we tend to be so useless to society: we can easily develop value systems and ideals that insist on relating to other human beings in their totality as the only moral way.  And we attach jealously and stubbornly to our value systems – maybe more so than anyone else.  During the past six years or so as I’ve seen and heard reports of institutions and mob mentality growing more dogmatic and unforgiving (in other words, “woke” mentality and “cancel culture”) I’ve half suspected some conspiracy of INFPs behind it all.

So I repeat: if I can strip value judgments from my understanding of objectification as a starting point to competent understanding, anyone can.  Maybe even feminists.

This post was inspired by a conversation my sweetie and I had after she read a narc-med (that’s my term for social media) post about objectifying women.  The OP was enlightened enough to recognize that a man admiring a woman for her beauty is not necessarily objectifying her.

I am glad to see people refuse to shame men for admiring the beauty of women.  But I wonder.  It seems to me that saying “attraction is not objectification” relies on a value judgment which insist that objectification is malevolent and harmful.

If we understand objectification as value-neutral, then we can recognize that to admire a woman for her beauty, or to be attracted to any person because of how that person looks, is objectification, and we can remain at ease.  No need for hand-wringing or sounding the alarm for patriarchy or misogyny.

If we understand objectification as value-neutral, and as a practice that human society depends on, we can make competent ethical judgments about it, and not least that includes considering the degree.  Consent too?  Sure.

If you followed this very far – like into the conceptual mindscapes INFPs inhabit constantly – would it make you more uncomfortable about how our society is structured now, economically?  I expect it would.  Seeing a bigger, messier picture of how humans and our societies function tempers idealism.  When idealism is tempered by an acceptance of the grief of resignation to the inevitable, then a human being has achieved some maturity.


Thursday, April 29, 2021

One take: No, vulnerable men are not sexy

I wrote this in one take.  I post it here with no edits other than one spelling correction.

---

  If a woman can get her man to show him the innermost parts of his emotional world, he is no longer an immediate sexual influence on her.  No longer a threat, maybe.  He loses power of attracting her sexual interest at the most sincere and natural level.  She might want that, because the presence of his sexual influence over her feels dangerous, threatening, or disruptive: maybe she's trying to do other things with her life and the presence of a man who gives off the kind of energy that can turn a woman on is a distraction to her.  Or maybe she feels flustered by the arousal of sexual attraction, from programmed shame or suspicion or antagonism or whatever.

As a man might wish to impose dress standards on a woman working closely with him, because otherwise the sight of her will draw disruptive thoughts and feelings of sexual awareness, interest, desire, arousal: so might a woman want to make a man "safe" to be around by laying bare to her perception his secret feelings.

Make someone safe by securing a level of control over them.

A woman who has sexually neutralized a man by getting him to be vulnerable with her now has more power to take the lead, take the initiative sexually.  Or to keep the sexual part of their life under her supervision.  To control or to lead - maybe she thinks they're the same thing?  Do you think they're the same thing?

Leaders vs. Managers.

To control is to keep from deviating from the course you've set, or to keep from escaping from the boundaries where you've put it.  A woman who does not wish to be very sexual herself is glad if she can control the sex life in her marriage: it's a way of keeping safety.  And telling her husband she would feel more inclined to be intimate with him if he were more vulnerable with her is a perfect way of doing this: it keeps him working hard to get her approval, it puts him in the position where he is more likely to be called on to be apologetic for failing her - compounding even more the uncertainty and passivity that neuter his sexual magnetism.  It gives her that safety and control over the use and expression of sexuality in the marriage, and it justifies her in helping herself to his emotional presence and attention.  What's not to love?

And after all isn't this the higher law of marriage: to be a communion of emotional intimacy rather than a crude license to fuck?  Is she not more entitled to his emotional attention than he is to her sexual attention?

Now maybe a women is more sexually awakened herself, and she still would rather be the one to set the pace, call the tune and shots, lead in the sex life of her marriage.  She might have an even easier time persuading her husband that she finds his vulnerability sexy.  After all, female sexual desire is not spontaneous but reactive.  Maybe she unlocks her own secret door to her solipsistic female sexuality and finds the pleasure of shared expression worthwhile enough to turn herself on and give signals of invitation regularly.  I'm tempted to think that in such a situation a husband might as well go along with her manipulation, allow her to take the lead in the sexual part of their marriage.  As I've written elsewhere, if she isn't going to start the fun out of a sense of generosity, maybe her own selfishness will produce the side effect of enough sex to please him.

But I'm still suspicious: I suspect that the woman in our second example, the one who's awake to her inner vastness of self-generating pleasure, will not really wish to control her husband's sexuality by making him a toy - unless she's a psychopath or narcissist or something.

I rather suspect that a woman who really owns her own enjoyment of sexual pleasure and knows how to turn herself on would rather be married to a man who she can feel safe with, meaning she can look to him, respect him, trust him to keep himself together around her.

Maybe she will feel safer with him if he is vulnerable with her?  She might tell herself that: that's a showing of an urge to control I say.  As in: I wish I could peel back all the layers of this human being and find he is no mere human being but so extraordinary, so super-human that I can count myself blessed among women: I got the best one, I got this incredible superman!  How safe I feel now, to know that he is mine and strong and gentle through and through.

If you say you want your man to be vulnerable, what do you mean?  Do you want him to come to you for comfort?  Cry on your shoulder?  Act as if he's a little boy and you're his mommy?

Don't you know?  Vulnerability is not just admitting to someone that you felt scared, alone, uncertain (as much of a turnoff as those alone may be).  Vulnerability includes full-on panic, inconsolable weeping...

and temper tantrums.  Yes: the loss of control that makes children lash out in such frightful fits of rage - which the discerning adult can well see are only bluster to make up for their feelings of helplessness - well, that's just it.  A fit of shouting and trying to do damage is the most primal expression of vulnerability there is.

Don't call for it unless you're prepared to welcome all of it - including this.

Monday, April 19, 2021

Writing groups and classics

  In 2015 Buzzfeed published "If Jane Austen Got Feedback From Some Guy In A Writing Workshop" by Shannon Reed.  "Tim," a caricature of a young man with a goatee and fedora (not quite a neckbeard, I don't know if that stereotype had emerged yet), pompously lays out what Pride and Prejudice needs to make it a better book.  It was meant as a denunciation of mansplaining but really that's hardly relevant: this is a brilliant satire of the problems with writing groups in general, regardless of the sex of either the writer or critique partner.

I've been in three writers' groups in the past decade, so I don't feel qualified to make general statements about what they're like from my own experience.  But I will point out that two of these have been organized under the auspices of statewide writing organizations, the kind that host conferences and publish anthologies.  I have heard from other writers I know about their experiences in groups.  This Buzzfeed piece reinforces my hunch: my experiences - my frustrations - in writers' groups are typical of the whole institution.

My writers' groups have helped me: mostly they've helped me get over the fear of sharing my work that had me paralyzed for far too long.  Fresh perceptions and perspectives of words I had come to take for granted from long brooding helped me see my tendency toward laziness and guard against it.

Maybe the most valuable lesson I have learned from writers' groups is how subjective judgments of quality can be.  Sifting through critique, I've learned to tell between diagnoses of faults in grammar and clarity, and confessions of wide divergences in taste between the reader and me.  This all has been indispensable exercise in critical thinking.

I thought of all this as I read Anne of Green Gables last year.  It was my first time.  After a lifetime of loving the Canadian TV adaptation from the 1980s with Megan Follows et al, and being moved by the purity of the story and the characters under the surface glamour of the cinematic medium, I decided to go to the source.

I loved it.  And I wondered: could it get published now?  The style has become dated, almost archaic, and I expect that those who have their fingers on the pulse of the book market hold today's writers to standards far removed from any of Montgomery's concern.  But it wasn't any extraordinary refinement of the craft of her writing that held me, though as a writer of that era her craft was of course solid.  What held me was my identification with Anne and other characters.  Montgomery drew me into the setting effectively, agreeably; I was able to make myself quite at home in there through my own skill as a reader and my own life experience.  I would not ask more of her.

What about a typical writers' group today: how would critique or beta readers respond to the first pages of Anne of Green Gables?  I can imagine: "This is a really slow start.  I don't know what's going on.  Look: if you want to grab the reader's attention you have to let them know who the characters are, what they want, what the stakes are.  This just takes too long to get there.  Who has time to stick with your story through all this meandering?"  "Why is this important?"  And so on.

My last writing group felt firmly oriented toward writing stories that would have the widest calculable market appeal.  Tastes have changed greatly in the past century.

    Taking part in the group was an exercise not only in my critical thinking but my morals as well: what are my motivations for writing?  Whom do I serve?  Market?  Self?  Muse or Divine gift?  What is my purpose?  What hardship am I willing to bear with in pursuit of it: rejection, misunderstanding, going without the validation that I crave?  What to make of this advice I'm getting: do I follow it out of a conscious decision to improve my craft or from people-pleasing?  I have long known that to be one of the reigning weaknesses of my character.

In one group meeting, another member mentioned Angle of Repose by Wallace Stegner: a Pulitzer winner, "but I hated it."

As for me, of Stegner I've only read Mormon Country so far but I loved it, and if I could put out something like that I would call myself a writer.  I knew when I heard that dismissal that that writers' group was not the best place for me.

People have called me a good writer.  One of Ursula K. Le Guin's many rejection letters told her "You write well."  Two reviewers of my fiction have compared it to Le Guin, and I have to work hard not to cling to that, since it's about the sweetest praise I've ever received.  One of these readers also called my story "bucolic," and that put me on Cloud Nine.

I wonder what that writing group would have done with Le Guin.  If I join another writing group I think I'll bring a piece by Le Guin or Samuel R. Delany for my first session and try to pass it off as mine, see what they do with it.  See if anybody even catches the deception.

For that matter, I wonder what the average Utah writers' group would do with the first five chapters of The Fellowship of the Ring if it weren't already a classic.  I think they'd rip it to shreds.

Maybe that's unfair.  But one thing I have noticed over the past 25 years in my involvement with the formidable LDS SF/F subculture is an impatience to the point of dismissiveness with writing that is too difficult.

"Literary Fiction" is that pretentious stuff that nobody reads.  They look down on our genres as substandard but we thumb our noses back, because our stuff is better, because it's actually fun to read.  So if you want to write good fantasy, you'd better make it exciting!

Well I don't want to write exciting stories.  I want to write bucolic stories.  I would rather not call my fiction fantasy, but I don't know where else it could come close to fitting.

I fear that the advice an aspiring writer most often finds is nothing more than a weathervane of current trends, in taste, in genre convention, in social norms.  I hope I'm wrong, but...

Back to that Buzzfeed article: it didn't just imagine Austen in some local homebrew writers' group, it imagined her in a graduate program.  You know, the kind you pay tuition for (that you probably have to spend years paying back).

I went to graduate school - in something even more arcane than Creative Writing, but much more practical.  I'm annoyed enough as it with the debt I had to take on; I'm glad I didn't go tens of thousands of dollars in debt for the risk of a Master's Degree in Creative Writing.  I can imagine my younger self doing it though, if I had been in a place where I "believed in my dreams" more strongly.  Maybe I would have been fortunate enough to get in a program that aimed (let alone knew how) to draw forth my vision and gift, gave me the space and support to develop them to their best expression with training of technique (maybe through a classical Trivium model?), and struck the right balance of rigor and inspiration, neither flattering me for work below my ability nor stifling my creativity by forcing me into a mold.  Maybe the more expensive the program I enrolled in, the greater chance I would have had of receiving such quality.  Those who get paid by such teaching have every reason to try to convince us of that.

Maybe I'm being unfair.  Maybe I should take on a regimen of, say, a year of reading the best fiction to come out of MFA Writing programs.  Surely there's a list somewhere of good books produced by these programs that merit such ruinous expense: surely their graduates, trained with such consummate skill, must boast a high rate of success in drawing respectable, comfortable incomes through their writing.  They must produce most of the bestsellers and the Pullitzer Prize winners, right?

Friday, January 22, 2021

Temporal Hours

  Let’s talk about temporal hours.

In the winter I have trouble making a good start to my day. The main reason for this is that during the time when I try to get up (between 5:30 and 6:00 am; most days I do at least manage to get out of bed by 6:30) it’s still dark. I have a much easier time getting up earlier in the summer, when the brightening of the sky makes it easier.

Well, obviously.

Yes: it’s obvious that our bodies, attuned to the natural rhythms of the earth and the length of days, should tend to follow those rhythms most comfortably. And leaving aside the requirements of some livestock, for most of human history this arrangement worked and could be followed – without shame.

Recently I read The Discoverers by Daniel Boorstin and the first part of the book concerns the divisions of time that people have devised, from keeping track of seasons to days to mastering the flow of time during the day by cutting it into hours. I learned more clearly about the scheme of hours that prevailed before the division of a day into 24 regular hours of equal length, that march along mechanically with cold indifference to the positions of the celestial bodies: what state of light or dark prevails outside. The pairing of regular hours with reliable and ubiquitous means of artificial light “liberated” humanity from living in the dependency on natural day length that kept our poor benighted ancestors in lower stages of civilization…

Which means that, living at about 40 degrees latitude, during December and January I not only have the privilege of coming home from work in the dark, but of feeling guilty for lingering in bed after my alarm goes off, and shame for the weakness of my flesh that is so reluctant to keep in tune with the stricture of a regimen of self-improvement I’ve imposed -

which in turn is necessary to fit with the schedule of my paid employment, locked in along with the rest of the world to the ruthless synchronization of regular hours.

Meanwhile those who live in the arctic region are “free” to order their economic activity (and govern their bodies’ natural rhythms along with it) according to the same structure of time that would make more sense in the tropics.

I take for granted my privilege of being granted some semblance of natural normalcy: the daylight for work and leisure, the night for leisure and sleep. Of course in the earlier days of industrialization the promise of squeezing out every drop of productive capacity from a workforce independent of the old limitations of day and night was so exciting as to wholly win over the affections of the owners of the new machines and those who collected the gains from others’ toil, rolling over the gentle wisdom of humane values with the crushing indifference of a steamroller.

Boorstin:

There are few greater revolutions in human experience than this movement from the seasonal or “temporary” hour to the equal hour. Here was man’s declaration of independence from the sun, new proof of his mastery over himself and his surroundings. Only later would it be revealed that he had accomplished this mastery by putting himself under the dominion of a machine with imperious demands all its own.

Through long struggles, those who held onto humane values in some measure succeeded in restraining the hunger of Mammon sufficient to allow enough of us a package of eight or nine hour days with lunch breaks and paid time off and even for some of us yearly salary rather than hourly wage, with all sorts of additional perks distributed here and there so that we feel ourselves making up a fairly stable class of ordinary people who have it better than our ancestors could have dreamed.

And yet, after learning more about the revolution in timekeeping that laid the foundation for all of this, I found myself wishing for a lifestyle marked instead by temporal hours.

In brief, temporal or temporary hours are units of time that divide the day and the night separately. Even if you divide the periods of light and dark – between sunrise and sunset for day, sunset to sunrise for night, say – into exactly equal periods, even if you do this anew each day (and pioneering clockmakers were working towards this), this will still give you “hours” that vary in length through the seasons, if you live outside the tropics.

Boorstin:

The “hours” of their daily lives – their temporary “hour” was one-twelfth the time of daylight or of darkness on that day – were more elastic than we can now imagine.

To a modern mind this seems inconvenient, imprecise, messy. But I found myself wondering: if a civilization, if the societies of an entire world, developed sophisticated mechanized means of production, yet kept a scheme of temporal hours, would that have provided enough of a check to prevent the worst excesses of an industrial revolution?

I have staked the history of my fictional setting on that proposition. This was a crucial link to add to the economic history of Koth. Now I have a better idea of how my characters work, how they use their daylight and nighttime hours, how their institutions work, what those institutions demand -

and what they don’t. 

Thursday, November 19, 2020

Jennifer Finlayson-Fife: a review

 Out of woman comes a man,

Spends the rest of his life getting back when he can.

- Peter Gabriel, “Humdrum”


Jennifer Finlayson-Fife is the star of the LDS sex therapy scene. I first encountered her work over five years ago and was impressed by her enlightened and progressive views on human sexuality and the problem we have with it in the Church.

As a rising star, JFF as I like to call her (because it reminds me of a nickname of an ancestor of mine) has been building up an impressive online presence. If you’re curious I highly recommend browsing the ample archive of media available from her well-kept website:

https://finlayson-fife.com/

Her demeanor is both calming and vivacious, professional and patient. She radiates an aura of confidence, helped, I am sure, by her age. (I would earnestly caution people against trusting any sex therapists under the age of 40 – or who are not parents.)

JFF has helped countless women in the Church and in conservative religious cultures generally to take ownership of their sexual desire and agency, and in this I commend her for doing God’s work. But I am not here to introduce her for a lecture or interview. In fact, because so many of the interviews I have heard with her feature interlocutors whose manner too often is downright obsequious, I have written this essay here to lay out some of the sticking points I have run into as I have spent more time listening to her. Mormons amplify the human tendency to cathect to authority figures and follow them with blind devotion; this is my brake to that when it comes to Jennifer Finlayson-Fife and her philosophy -

especially as it concerns men and our sexuality.

One of JFF’s main talking points is to diagnose – and lament – a particular problem with our cultural conditioning: men feel like our wives have to validate or legitimize our sexuality by their desire. Every time I’ve heard this I’ve been confused: what does she mean? Especially since I’ve heard her launch into it hot off the standard lamentation of the ills of male sexual entitlement.

I have come up with three hypotheses.

1. Most pessimistically: this is doublespeak. She is just continuing her denouncement of the stereotypical male villain: the husband who feels entitled to slake his lusts, barges into his poor wife’s time and space and overrides her autonomy by selfishly demanding that she accommodate his “needs.” Maybe he’s a really archaic “patriarch” and expects her to accommodate his whims whenever he gets them, whether she wants to or not, maybe he’s a bit more sophisticated and thinks that her will should be subordinated to or dependent on his as an appendage (lacking her own agency) so that she should be glad to serve him thus. This is the kind of man we love to hate.

2. Less pessimistically: this is lazy language, amounting to the same meaning as the first hypothesis, but without the conscious intent to disguise it in words that don’t fit. In fact, taking the words at face value I hear the opposite:

3. Men believe that our sexuality is validated or legitimized by our wives’ desire. JFF truly sees this as unfortunate.

But why?

I confess I still doubt what she really means. Putting the “she has to” in there obfuscates, allows a plausible deniability, leaves open the quick escape of “that’s not what I meant” and keeps the previous two interpretations close at hand to step into and between when we’re not looking. But I don’t want to believe she is guilty of either of those. Let’s say that simply calls out a doctrine that a man’s sexuality is made valid and legitimate by his wife’s desire, and that she charges that it is a false doctrine.

Stop, and look closely: a man who believes this doctrine is the exact reverse of the stereotypical male villain sketched above. Instead of the man making demands, this is a man being afraid to make a move unless he gets a clear signal from his wife of her desire, because he feels that to do otherwise is an act of aggression, an invasion, a predatory threat.

Does JFF admit that this is a feminist idea?

Disapproval of male sexuality, making men’s sexual attention and advances predatory and criminal by default unless the woman clearly signals not only her consent but her enthusiastic consent – which amounts to her sincere desire – this is a cherished feminist goal which activists are trying to write into policy and enforce legally. Does JFF admit this?

Does she truly deplore men’s submission to this feminist false doctrine? I hope so. But it opens up a view of the wider issue:

What does make male sexuality valid and legitimate? Is our sexuality really valid on its own, something we should not feel ashamed of or apologize for?

Who really wants to see us LDS men throw off the shackles of our shame and guilt, stride comfortably in our resplendent sexuality without apology? I reserve a great skepticism as to how acceptable that would be: to our wives, to the women who watch our behavior, to the men who watch our behavior, to the standards we have promised to live by.

(I’ll give you a hint: you know those insufferable, creepy men in the Church who like to fantasize about the reinstatement of polygamy? Or is that only what JFF calls the indulgent state of sexuality, not the integrated state?)

I call out two false doctrines that restrict the sexuality of men in the Church:

1. Feminist insistence that men’s sexuality (henceforth by this I mean heterosexuality) can only be validated by women’s desire.

2. Romantic insistence that men’s sexuality can only be validated by depending on and reinforcing emotional intimacy.

They work pretty well together, really: men’s sexuality is made moral by serving women’s wishes. But that’s not the only yoke we men have taken on. Another one is maybe even more important, and maybe here is a cause for the misunderstanding that makes us such attractive targets for accusation.

Before getting to that, I ask: does JFF really want to rock this boat?

She sounds like she does. She has called out feminist inculcation of female hypoagency. She sounds like she does not want to let women get away with using sexual refusal to put their husbands in their place. I hope she is sincere in all this.

Still, I do wonder how many LDS sex therapists who are more or less feminist really are willing to go the distance in:

1. admitting the role of feminism in shaming men for our sexuality,

2. recognizing that as a bad thing, and

3. truly helping men free ourselves from sexual shame, if by doing so we turn away from their feminist ideas – as I have.

I think I ought not hold my breath: part of the standard doctrine of feminist LDS sex therapy is that our sex problems in the Church come from the centering of male sexual experience as the standard, against which women are seen as deficient; and the entitlement men feel to insist on our “needs” being met at our poor wives’ expense. Rigorous diagnosis of whether this is caused more by culture, tradition, policy or doctrine would not be particularly helpful to the feminist LDS sex therapy project: it would weaken the ambiguity and plausible deniability that keep therapists safe in their aura of special expertise whence they are free to throw shade while dispensing their wisdom.

Of course conservative religious culture does place shame on human sexuality, for women and men. Men’s sexual shame is compounded by feminism, but traditional Mormon culture already laid a huge burden of it on us. As an example: women rightly deplore the inhibitions placed on them by the “chewed gum” or “licked cupcake” object lesson (which still has an undeniable grain of truth in cases of extreme promiscuity.  But like so many moral directives, in trying to prevent extreme behavior this analogy catastrophizes common behaviors and human weakness.)

Meanwhile, as women face the prospect of being seen as damaged goods for engaging in certain acts with men (another need for clear and consistent distinction: acting on her own desires or giving in to his predation?), men face the prospect of being seen as damaged goods for what we do in the privacy of our rooms: indulging in masturbation and especially pornography. More than that: an LDS man who looks at porn risks being seen as unholy, an evil-doer … a threat to the safety of women. So again: yes, traditional Mormon culture, the clumsy ways that leaders, teachers and parents (in, I propose, ascending degrees of influence) have taught and tried to preemptively enforce doctrine and policy, that has given men a burden of sexual shame that is unfair, unhelpful and unnecessary.

Feminism is not the antidote to this because it opportunistically misdiagnoses it as patriarchal oppression. Feminism is not an escape route for men from sexual shame in the Church. It has presented itself as such, and I charge that many men have gone through that proffered escape hatch, only to find themselves burdened with a different kind of sexual shame, which is another of JFF’s talking points: the sense of our sexuality being damaging, destructive, corrosive, dangerous to women.

This works to feminist advantage: as men feel more shame, feminism can keep putting the blame for all of it on the religious culture with its supposedly male-centric view, and keep promoting more feminism as men’s salvation. Question this and you can be told off as part of the problem. Every sensitive and enlightened LDS man proves his quality by accepting his share of the collective guilt: until the speaking docket in General Conference has been at a solid 50/50 for a generation, every husband is an oppressor by default, and is under an obligation to solicit more ways to serve his wife in atonement.

I reject that, and I say: if women need to be freed from cultural messages that their sexuality should only serve their husbands’ desires, then men also need to be freed from messages that our sexuality should only serve our wives’ desires.

Now to the more legitimate yoke on male sexuality.

Religions are largely social mechanisms for regulating sex to prosocial ends. Safe reproduction, stable environments for child-raising: these are requirements for a peaceful society. The family (in its variations) is the basic unit of society because it is suited to provide these social needs.

Human sexuality is made moral – is legitimized and validated – by serving prosocial ends. Religious sexual repression can be understood and ameliorated only when it is acknowledged as collateral damage from religion’s essential role of making and keeping the space in which sex builds society – and therefore giving it its meaning. JFF is fond of bringing up her golden question: what are you creating with your sexuality? Societies and civilizations exist because religions have been trying to answer this question for all of human history on this wise: you should be building a family and a social order with it.

Male sexuality is made moral when it is sacrificed, or consecrated, to serve those things.

Do we want to rock that boat? The sexual revolution already capsized it. LDS sex therapists act like they can afford to talk about sexual fulfillment and satisfaction and (most irresponsibly) freedom because our lifestyle in the Church is allegedly still so backwards or insulated from the sexual revolution and its aftermath. But in the Church we do partake of and are shaped by the secular societies we live in. Comic caricatures of homeschooling and no R-rated movies obscure just how beholden First World Latter-Day-Saints are to First World culture. And look at the state of it. As tiresome as it can be for a progressive sensibility to hear about how The World keeps getting wickeder, it does not do to ignore the sexual chaos that prevails in affluent societies: norms of casual sex prevail throughout the secular First World, with a Babel of slut-walks and “rape culture,” praise and condemnation of pornography as liberating and oppressive, liberals and radicals clashing with remarkable hate under the same banner of feminism that continues to proclaim itself as The Way to equality.

Sure, our stubborn stance on sexual sacrifice to marriage has insulated us from all that to some degree. That just gives therapists all the more responsibility to analyze and understand the complexity of influences on our sexual beliefs, practices and problems. It may be only due to time limitations, but I have to report I hear a lack of that in JFF’s talks.

I repeat: feminism insists that male sexuality can only be validated by conforming to women’s desire. The romantic marriage model insists that male sexuality can only be validated by serving emotional intimacy between the husband and wife – the extra-special Best Friend relationship that should make all other friendships obsolete (especially for the husband, who should be getting vulnerable with his wife instead of contaminating himself with sexism by hanging out with the boys).

These two doctrines can and do work together quite well in LDS culture. Let men reject both.

Reject them, I say! We already submit ourselves to a yoke that our sexuality is loath to accept at first. To stay within the Church in any meaningful way we accept a heavy restraint – as JFF says, we domesticate our sexuality. To be sure, I think the guilt laid on young men for masturbating is misguided and harmful: that pressure-reducing mechanism is the most useful tool for helping us resign ourselves to living the Law of Chastity, in other words, bridling our desires to prosocial service.

There’s a third doctrine, which I think is a product of the two I named above. It finds elegant expression in JFF’s words on the romantic idea of marriage in an interview with Greg Reynolds:

“… precisely what would be disgusting to many other people to do with me, to her or him they find it exciting, that I am being welcomed, that I am being received, accepted: we all want that.”

Here she betrays astonishing credulity in subscribing to some of the most incredible wishful thinking promoted by liberal feminists: the conceit that male and female sexual desire really are basically the same, and the obvious differences are due to social conditioning.

In other words, by making her assertion in that gender-inclusive way, JFF implies strongly that normal male sexuality recoils in disgust at the prospect of casual intercourse. I find this hilarious. But the humor evaporates when reflecting on the doctrine implied: male sexuality naturally conforms to feminine reticence and romantic exclusivity. Deviation from this is pathological, a result of patriarchal social conditioning, and it can and should be rectified by feminist intervention.

Is it any wonder men feel their sexuality is dangerous and corrosive? (Is it any wonder men flock to female sex therapists to fix themselves?)

Men should not feel any responsibility to be restricted by such an outrageous delusion. Our sexuality is not validated by its conformity to female sexuality with its radically different (if not opposed) biological warrants.

But this does get pretty close to the truth.

Male sexuality (again, I mean heterosexuality) is defined by an awe of the female body, and the male fascination with the female body far surpasses the reverse. Ask a million married women how they would feel if they woke up in the middle of the night to find their husbands masturbating. Then ask the same number of men how they would feel if they woke up in the middle of the night to find their wives masturbating. I am confident in my prediction that by far the husbands would be more excited, delighted and eager to watch.

Look at the explosion of DiY porn venues in recent years, populated by enthusiastic women entrepreneurs who strip and play with themselves in the comfort of their own homes – paid for by offerings from men they will never meet. Where’s the patriarchal male-centric exploitation here? Men enrich these entrepreneurs by spending money they can’t afford. There’s a word for them: simps. Women don’t simp for men like this. And despite the scorn in the label of “simp,” this continues to grow, because it is an expression of male sexuality in its honest simplicity.

I’m reminded of a famous Patrice O’Neal comedy routine where he imagines women being tempted to throw away a marriage for a chance at Brad Pitt, versus men being tempted by a woman passed out behind a dumpster. I’ve heard a quote that men can get aroused by a chalk drawing of a single breast on the wall of a shed. I’ve got a better idea: just scrawl a capital letter Y.


Do feminist LDS sex therapists have the nerve to confront this unpleasant truth? Do they have the grace to trust any of us to figure out on our own how we can take this raw energy that is the background radiation for our lives and refine it into something that works for good?  How about you keep from pathologizing it, discourage the infamy that our love of the female body is dehumanizing and oppressive, then let us men take it from there?

This is what validates and legitimizes men’s sexuality: that we express and use it in service of loyalty and commitment to … our wives? Better said: to our marriages. We consecrate our sexuality by dedicating it to feed the marriage, as a third entity between husband and wife. This is hard work, this is ruthless pruning.  It belongs to us.  If you're not going to be of help, stay out of it.

This is not the same as subordinating our sexuality to female desire: I should clarify that I mean spontaneous female desire, or in other words, waiting until your wife is in the mood. Maybe this quote by my beloved Camille Paglia will help explain what I mean: “There is such a thing as seduction, and it needs encouragement rather than discouragement in our puritanical Anglo-American world.” (“No Law in the Arena,” 1994)

It’s not the same as emotional intimacy either. JFF acknowledges that men commonly (I dare say typically) express love through sex. “Making love” is a euphemism that turns out to be spot on here (pun intended); maybe “intimacy” as a euphemism for “sex” isn’t entirely misleading either, after all: the kind intimacy of the body's greatest pleasures is the kind we most deeply crave.

Now I believe that emotional intimacy often smothers sexual desire: I believe that the romantic sentimentalization of marriage as the Arch Best Friendship has hobbled the sexual dimension of marriage, and has especially hamstrung wives’ sexual attraction to their husbands. I believe it has set up unrealistic expectations that cause as much resentment as sexual disappointment, if not more. When therapists tell married couples that the way for the husband to get more sex is to be more emotionally vulnerable with his wife, it reminds me of one of those “Demotivator” posters: “If you’re not part of the solution, there’s great money to be made in prolonging the problem.”

Deep emotional connection? Where in the scriptures is that condemned as a grave sin outside of marriage? Think of examples of hearts knit together in love between people of the same sex: David and Jonathan, Naomi and Ruth, entire righteous utopias. Emotional intimacy should be cultivated in several relationships to secure a person more stability and happiness. But if sexual relations are only allowed in marriage, then let’s keep them as the definitive and expected expression of the marriage commitment and covenant. Let’s honor the male act of making love through cherishing a woman’s body. Let’s encourage women to receive that desire for their bodies without laying guilt trips about objectification or crypto-prostitution.

Let me give JFF credit here: I have heard her advocate for such recognition and reception.

Instead of holding teenage boys under suspicion that they’re fantasizing about inflicting their ejaculations on their inert wives (even if we admit they might feel guilty about that), let’s encourage teenage boys to fantasize about pleasing their wives, about becoming expert in blessing a woman through his sexual attention and technique. I’m sure there’s some porn for that – probably feminist porn, in fact. So it’s good for something.

How many men in the Church have arrived at this point already? Do we care to imagine? Do we care to investigate?

A man thinks his sexuality is only validated by his wife’s desire – or her pleasure?

Is his solicitude for her pleasure really just a cloak for his own egotism? Oh, what better way to keep men on our toes than to charge us with that? And I have heard JFF do so.

No wonder men get confused at the diagnosis and advice these women give. Women are so complicated after all. Or, if that’s too patriarchal an idea, maybe it’s just that we men are deficient and need intervention by feminist therapists to think right.

What, do you men not like that? Well that’s what you get for implying that your wife is broken for not serving your selfish so-called needs.

The ongoing contention is sad to see, but I happen to believe that conflict is the natural state between the sexes. I fear it will not be assuaged unless both men and women sacrifice, or dedicate, our sexuality to serve the third party: not feminism, but our marriages.

Let men reject the manipulation of our wives saying “I feel like you only want me for my body!” Let us reject the manipulation of “I feel like sex is a chore!” Women’s right to sexual agency entails the responsibility to share their sexuality in their marriages in generosity; men’s responsibility to attend to our wives’ sexual pleasure entails the right to expect our wives’ willingness to share the blessing of the experience regularly and frequently. I call that fair.

If women feel they need to get more in touch with their authentic sexual desires in order to get better at sharing their sexuality within their marriages, I guess that’s their business. Far be it from me to tell you how to do your job, right? As for men, we learn pretty early on that our authentic sexual desires are not fully acceptable if we want to be seen as righteous, safe, worthy and eligible.

Maybe it’s different for women after all: maybe the reason women need the affirmative action of therapy is not because their desires have been kept down by social conditioning but because their desires don’t press with such natural urgency to penetrate through so many restraints on their own.

I refuse guilt for any social conditioning that repressed the sexual desire of young LDS women, and I call on any LDS man who hoped or hopes for a wife who likes sex to join me in this refusal.

In any case, I’m glad JFF and others like her are working to encourage women to accept sexual relations as essential to the marriage covenant by claiming their female birthright to sexual pleasure, which is obviously superior in the female body.

What if we do judge a man’s sexual validity by the peculiar virility of how well he pleases his wife?  Yeah, you know what? Challenge accepted!

Men thrive on challenge, after all.

JFF has emphasized that her mission is not one of succcor for those “poor husbands” suffering from sexual deprivation, and I believe her.  I remember the dismissal in her voice when I heard her say it. Our comfort is not her priority. I think men should keep that in mind when she undertakes to teach us about our sexuality. Still I applaud her work with women and hope that it prospers. I trust that she won’t begrudge any dividends of sexual gratification that happen to fall on us men. If devotion and generosity are intolerably oppressive motivations for our wives to welcome our attention, then selfishness will do. I for one will not be shocked. Come, women, let’s see just how horny your selfishness makes you. Hit us with your best shot.



Monday, July 23, 2018

First corn

This is the second year in a row that we have planted a garden in the yard of our new house - for which we are and will ever be grateful.  Last year we had some tomato plants and herbs.  This year we have tomatoes, peppers, melons, cucumbers, corn, beans, squash, herbs . . . and a cabbage.  I'm constantly making plans for improving, and since I'm doing a no-till approach for most of it, I've got cardboard boxes laid down over more land to expand.

We have two kinds of corn growing: Painted Mountain and Hopi Blue.  I timed their planting so they wouldn't cross-pollinate, and it worked: the Painted Mountain, which I planted in April, came up in the beginning of May, and its ears are ripening as the Hopi Blue is just starting to pollinate.

This evening I picked the first two ears of the Painted Mountain corn, and here are some pictures.

Thanks to my sweetie for taking this picture.






These were the early birds.  The rest of the ears will probably be ready in a week or so.  We'll hang them up to dry, use some as decorations in the fall (along with the blue), and then . . . 

We will eat it!

If you want to see a little tour of our garden as it looked about three weeks ago, you can watch the video below.  The tomatoes and blue corn have grown a lot since then.