The Politics of Penetration

The clichéd mantra of the straight man in a gay bar – “keep your backs to the wall, boys” – did not evolve, let’s be clear, from an observance of Feng Shui.

image: www.telegraph.co.uk
image: http://www.telegraph.co.uk

When a man feels controlled or dominated by another man – usually his boss – he feels ‘screwed’ or ‘shafted’. If he needs the job badly enough he’ll ‘bend over and take it’ and when he can’t take it anymore he might just tell his boss to ‘get fucked’. Because apparently ‘getting fucked’ is the worst fate we can think of to wish upon another human being.

When did the potentially transcendent act of sexual penetration become a battlefield of male ego and the ultimate symbol of aggression? And who decided that the act of giving oneself sexually to another was an expression of weakness and defeat? Surely the acceptance of our ultimate vulnerability is a strength, a triumph over fear and insecurity.

But man’s pathological penetration panic is primordial (reader warning: More gratuitous alliteration to follow). At the head of the food chain, your average fit, able-bodied male has no natural predator, other than – ah, yes – another fit, able-bodied male. And he would sooner be violently beaten to within an inch of his life by another bloke, than tenderly caressed by him. If I weren’t on a linguistic crusade I’d say that’s just a little bit fucked.

Penile penetration paranoia (Ah, there it is!) lies at the very root of homophobia, which is endemic to mainstream male culture just about everywhere. The clichéd mantra of the straight man in a gay bar – “keep your backs to the wall, boys” – did not evolve, let’s be clear, from an observance of Feng Shui.

Paradoxically perhaps, the act of giving oneself sexually to another, when entered into with affection, respect and informed consent, is indeed an act of emotional strength. It demands of the receiver the courage and self-assuredness to be vulnerable and allow oneself to be seen as such. Perhaps if every man could just once in his life experience being consensually dominated by a trusted intimate partner, he might have the opportunity to truly understand the rich complexities of trust, vulnerability, submission and the relinquishment of power.

Otherwise, I fear that our cultural conceptualisation of sexual penetration is disturbingly bound up with the exercise of power and, too often, the abuse of it. If being penetrated is the domain of the weak and the subjugated, what does this say about the way men view their own sexual relationships? Are they ‘screwing’ and ‘shafting’ their sexual partners, just as they have been ‘screwed’ and ‘shafted’ by the boss? Do they experience their partners as ‘bending over and taking it’? Can sexual penetration ever be completely extricated from issues of male power and dominance?

Our cultural obsession with intercourse promotes the silly idea that this is all that people do in bed. And perhaps many men would be quite happy with that. And yet, women with whom I’ve spoken on this issue rate it pretty low on the desirability scale, compared with a range of other acts of sexual intimacy. So, beyond our youthful years of exploration and procreation, is the place of penetration in a respectful and mutually satisfying intimate relationship grossly overstated?

Winter Crept In

image: hazaraasylumseekers.wordpress.com
image: hazaraasylumseekers.wordpress.com

Winter crept in while we slept.
With stealth it skulks, that cunning frost.
A dark new season draws first air
Then vomits forth its bitter breath.
It oozes in with silken tones,
Through cultured airs and hands concealed.
It seeps through television screens,
A blossom-scented noxious draft.

Or was the bleakness always here?
Did we not exorcise the spite?
The child of privilege and fear
That sponsored genocide of black, by white?
Was it hidden in our nation’s soul,
Still and silent, yet intent?
And when did this parasite awake from sloth
To unleash such malevolence?

Was it at the century’s turn,
With children stole from mother’s breast?
And then again in ninety-two
When razor-wire replaced kind hearts?
Perhaps it stirred much later still
As Cronulla sands were stained in red.
Then frolicked in the Tampa’s wake,
entombing innocents in salty brine and bitter lies.

But must we don the lambskin coat
That hides our wolfish skin beneath?
Must we hunker down and bear
These frigid and polluted winds?
Or might we, in good time, disrobe
And cast away this bloodstained shroud?
And face our history’s bitter squall,
Once more wise and kind, not proud.

Yes, Winter crept in while we slept.
I don’t believe it is innate.
But fear did leave the door unlatched,
That paved the way for hate.

Rainy Days And Mondays

I love Mondays so much, I am considering coming into work on Sundays and calling it pre-Monday, just so that I can get more Monday into the week.

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image: http://dumebie.com

Monday mornings make up one fourteenth of your life. It took all of my available mathematical acumen to bring you that groundbreaker. But think about it. That’s a lot of time to squander away with over-used platitudes, reinforcing the idea that Monday morning is akin to plunging one’s head repeatedly into a bucket of mammalian offal.

After working as a freelancer for years, I returned, eight years ago, to the traditional workforce and encountered a social narrative that promotes the following two precepts:

  1. The period between 5pm on a Friday afternoon and 9am on a Monday morning – we will refer to this as ‘freedom’ – is the brief interlude into which we compress all things that represent pleasure, free will and the pursuit of happiness
  1. The hours from 9am on Monday morning until 5pm on Friday afternoon – we will refer to this period as ‘the working week’ – are an exercise in endurance, through which we accrue enough good karma and financial remuneration to earn our brief encounters with ‘freedom’

Monday morning is the faithless tyrant that drags us from our Sunday sanctuary, like innocent children wrenched from slumber to endure a six-hour car ordeal to Grandpa’s house, where we must earnestly attempt to appear charming and not at all furious about the gross injustice of it all.

Tuesday slips under the radar, largely because we are distracted by the euphoria of no longer being in the barbarous grip of Monday. Wednesday is joyfully celebrated as the summit of a merciless ascent, from which we can glimpse blessed Friday, gateway to the green pastures of the weekend.

I spent the first few months of my employment dodging the Monday morning gauntlet of well-meaning office small talk, the staple of workplace social intercourse. I was determined not to be drawn into a dominant narrative, at odds with my philosophy of finding adventure in the everyday:

“How was your weekend?”                                                                                               “Not long enough.”                                                                                                                 “I know, it never is, right?”                                                                                               “Oh, well. Only five days to go”

 AAGH!! Will it only be a matter of time before I’m reciting the same robotic dialogue, like a character from a B-grade dystopia? I can’t hold out forever, so I’m mounting a campaign of rejection right now. NO, Karen Carpenter, rainy days and Mondays do not always get me down. I happen to like my job and I am not opposed to the occasional precipitation, which brings untold joy to all the lovely flowers in my garden. Let us rise up against this social malaise, which stifles the creativity of the proletariat, rendering us slaves to the dollar and marionettes to the ruling-class puppeteers. I love Mondays so much, I am considering coming into work on Sundays and calling it pre-Monday, just so that I can get more Monday into the week. Who’s with me??? …Are you with me?? …Hello?

Boy Band Blues

I don’t care who you are
Where you’re from
What you did
As long as you love me

The boyband phenomenon of the 1980s & 90s may not have been the paragon of contemporary musical artistry, but its back-catalogue of melodic musings left us with fascinating insights into the male psyche.

The profusion of monologues, directed to an audience of prospective girlfriends, filled the vacuum left by an inability of the average bloke to express the rich palette of his emotional vocabulary with any more variety than Picasso’s blue period.

In 1984’s The Kinda’ Girls We Like, New Edition introduced themselves with a wanted ad for future soul mates:

I’m Ronnie D and I’d love to meet                                                                                       A girl that would knock me off my feet.
A girl that’s fine and divine.
A girl that wants to be all mine.
A girl that can grant my every wish.

I sense that Ronnie’s ideal partner is probably not Jeanie from next door, but the genie from Aladdin. Incidentally, no mention from Ronnie of what he plans to contribute to the relationship. Male privilege starts early in boy band land.

image: www.allmusic.com
image: http://www.allmusic.com

And when a boy band member’s expectations prove a tad unrealistic, he can adjust those expectations, or simply bully the girl into compliance. Boys to Men showed how it was done in 1991, with End Of The Road.

Girl, you know we belong together
I have no time for you to be playing with my heart like this
You’ll be mine forever, baby, you just see

Two words of advice for girl in question: ‘restraining order’.

Quite conversely, Take That realised that there was a place for nice boys, who bring your daughter home by 11pm, in roughly the same state as when she left. But, if the chorus of Want You Back For Good, in 1995, was any indication of the boys’ level of emotional intelligence, a wise girl would probably keep her options open.

What ever I did, what ever I said, I didn’t mean it, I just want you back for good.

It’s the quintessential male damage-mitigation strategy: I am going to apologise because I have a strong suspicion that it’s my best hope for getting sex again this week, but frankly I have absolutely no idea what just happened.

All this heightened emotion can drive a young boy band member to ultimate despair. That’s the state in which we find New Kids On The Block, in 1997, as they plead their way though the chorus of As Long As You Love Me. The lyrics might have suggested unconditional love to the thirteen-year-old target audience, but they don’t fool me for one little second.

I don’t care who you are
Where you’re from
What you did
As long as you love me

Translation: I have absolutely no interest in you or your personal history. As far as I’m concerned, you may have filleted your last boyfriend and consumed his giblets with a nice Chianti. My sole requirement is undying love from anyone who will tolerate the stench of my desperation for longer than the duration of this fatuous song.

Overpopulation

There is a reason why videos of kittens in sombreros get ten thousand hits on Youtube

When it comes to the environment, population control is the big fat elephant in an increasingly squishy room. It links to every environmental crisis we could mention but you’ll not hear a peep about it on any political campaign trails.

It has precipitated the devastation of natural habitats, causing the instability of ecosystems. It places ever-increasing pressures on food producers, leading to inevitable increases in genetic modification. But you won’t read about it on the front page of your daily rag, nor is the subject likely to arise around the office water-cooler.

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Image: https://twitter.com/lailahrahm

But there is no denying that our rapidly depleting natural resources are being stretched across an ever-burgeoning population, as the world’s have-nots scramble desperately for the things that most of us currently take for granted – like the office water-cooler.

Already the scarcity of the earth’s two percent or so of fresh, drinkable water is prompting desperate conflicts – think Somalia – and it’s estimated that we now have just thirty years of oil, sixty years of natural gas and a hundred years of phosphorus, before we’ve used it all up.

So why aren’t we talking about this? Because it’s a great big buzz-kill, that’s why. There is a reason why videos of kittens in sombreros get ten thousand hits on Youtube and your Facebook post celebrating that perfect pavlova gets fifty more hits than the link you shared about chocolate being a leading cause of Alzheimer’s. Nobody likes a party-pooper!

I made up the bit about chocolate and Alzheimer’s, by the way.

Even if we were ready to have a conversation about overpopulation, what would we say? I’d propose voluntary euthanasia as one solution, except that the result would most likely be a slight reduction in the number of cuddly old people in the world and I like cuddly old people. Euthanasia would do nothing to reduce the number of tossers who fail to give me a wave when I let them into the flow of traffic on a Monday morning.

No public official is ever going to get elected suggesting that we curb our ferocious appetite for reproduction. It would negate our primordial purpose, let alone our civil liberty. The idea would immediately manifest thoughts of China’s one-child policy and in politics, the only colour more reviled than green is red.

If there is one thing that capitalism and the free market stand for, it is that we can do whatever the hell we want, as long as we can pay for it. I think that’s the general gist, anyway. And, let’s face it, privileged middle-class white folks simply don’t like being told what to do.

Yes, any politician seeking to curb our genetic proliferations will need to employ some political fast-talking to successfully conceal their intent. I suggest a program called the Child Rationalisation Assistance Program. It’s suitably obscure, with an acronym that offers an alternative interpretation of the bureaucratic double-speak. I’ll be announcing my candidacy on Monday.

White Privilege

We must recognise our social privilege for the simple reason that recognition is the prerequisite first step to personal responsibility and choice.

I was twenty-seven and a youth worker in training. My course convener was a woman who believed that white men were inherently racist and could aspire, at best, to understand and accept this reality. I was one of just a small handful of white males in a racially diverse cohort of twenty-three students that year. Charlie was the colleague I had the most in common with on the surface. He was white, middle-class and verbally articulate. He inhabited a confidence that lurched frequently and recklessly into arrogance. He bore the classic hallmarks of white male privilege. In a sense, Charlie was my reflection.

Our lecturers frequently reminded us to confront our social privilege and the shadow it cast across the lives of those afforded less value in our society. Charlie seemed emboldened by their attacks and railed against them, becoming ever more strident. It was my first lesson in what happens when truth is spoken to power. I witnessed an otherwise intelligent man sooner defend the indefensible than relinquish an inch of the power upon which he had grown dependent.

I grew up in a white, middle-class family. My father – in some ways the embodiment of British colonialism – believed in the intellectual superiority of one race over another. He was a charming and charismatic man, who was careful in his concealment of these beliefs in mixed company. To me, this only demonstrated an incongruence that gradually diminished the man in my devoted young eyes.

Perhaps my father’s homophobia, which found more free expression than his racism, helped me to begin a process of dissociation that saw me challenge and distance myself from the fear-based xenophobia, which peppered my father’s language and limited his personal growth.

White privilege was a concept I could get. I understood it on some level because I had grown up on the wrong side of heterosexual privilege and had felt what it meant to be marginalised and oppressed by a dominant culture. I could recognise the advantages afforded me daily as a member of this elite club of white men and I wondered how on earth I would survive if the tables were turned.

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Image: https://lockerdome.com/

White privilege is built on the foundations of slavery and genocide and reinforced by corruption and political slight-of-hand. Decades on from the social apartheids of Australia, South Africa and America, white privilege is more insidiously maintained by secret handshakes and the skillful cultivation of fear and distrust. It is as much alive today as it was when Captain James Cook landed in Australia in seventeen-seventy and claimed the ‘uninhabited’ continent for the British Empire.

If we eat steak, we should know that we do so at the cost of a cow’s life. If we buy Three-hundred dollar running shoes, we must do so in the expectation that somewhere in the world a fourteen-year-old girl is working a twelve-hour day, under minimum wage, to make that happen. We must recognise our social privilege for the simple reason that recognition is the prerequisite first step to personal responsibility and choice.

Thank you for your Service

The pawn of American imperialism – the humble patriot – has become a sanctified figure, alongside George Washington, Paul Revere and that guy who loved his electric shaver so much he bought the company.

In North Korea, any reference to the leader, Kim Jong-un, must be prefaced by the words ‘Respected Comrade and supreme leader’. It is well documented that any public official who omits to do this is taken out into the woods, stripped to their standard-issue KJU boxer shorts and slapped about the face with a wet sturgeon. I swear I am not making this up.

Such ridiculousness would never prevail in a Western democracy, where expression of free will is defended to the death, right? Think again, comrades. It was the post-2001, McCarthy-like rhetoric of George W Bush, with its ‘with us or against us’ battle-cry, that ushered into American life a new era of linguistic straight-jacketing, to rival the most repressive of fascist regimes. Even after the Iraq war was recognised as illegal – the most embarrassing foreign policy screw-up since the war in Vietnam – Americans continued to assert that, despite the incompetence of the corporate neo-cons in charge, the honest men and women of the military – the boots on the ground – were forever beyond reproach.

‘Thank you for your service’  became the obligatory mantra of the American talk-show host and practically anyone in public life, on the occasion of meeting a member of the armed forces. Despite the dubious reputation of American military aggressions around the globe, the pawn of American imperialism – the humble patriot – has become a sanctified figure, alongside George Washington, Paul Revere and that guy who loved his electric shaver so much he bought the company.

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Image: https://www.pinterest.com/elinorflorence

But let’s be honest, your average twelve-year-old boy is not called to a life of military service by an innate commitment to the defense of liberty against the threat of fascism. Surely, it’s got a little more to do with riding around in a big tank with his buddies, wearing cool camo gear and randomly shooting at stuff. It’s a 12-year-old boy’s wet dream! And – check this out – they freakin’ pay you for this shit, too, man! I am totally not bullshitting you.

I’m not suggesting that there are not those whose contribution to their nation’s military is motivated by true aspirations of making the world a better place for us all, but surely there are other options, which don’t involve charging into sovereign lands with a loaded automatic weapon. Ideas that come to mind: Joining Peace Corps, volunteering at your local thrift store, helping an old lady across the road and being slightly less of an arse-hole to Afzul, father of three, who asks you how your day has been as he flicks the meter to ‘on’ at the tail-end of another twelve-hour shift. Ok, he’s not one of the beatified saints of your national defense, but he’s doing his bit for American capitalism all the same. Thank you for your service, Afzul.