Category Archives: Love

Two Librarians Discuss: The Fault In Our Stars – Okay?

Alyssa Vincent (Twitter, Tumblr) and I go way back to our college days, where we were fellow English majors and worked as co-editors-in-chief of our school newspaper. When we were emailing about her contributing to the second issue of the Simba Life Quarterly, I made an allusion to The Fault In Our Stars, which elicited a strongly worded retort very much in the negative about the John Green mega-best-selling book. Intrigued, I suggested we hash it out over Google Chat. What follows is a lightly edited transcript of our (slightly obscene) conversation, which powered through a few bouts of spotty WiFi to touch on the effects and implications of the TFIOS phenomenon.


tfios

Alyssa Vincent: IT BEGINS.

Chad Comello: Okay… First question: Is Gus a Manic Pixie Dream Boy?

Alyssa: No. He is not. It’s impossible for a boy to be a manic pixie, because a manic pixie fulfills someone else’s destiny, or helps them achieve it. Gus could be a manic pixie dream boy for himself, but I don’t know if that could actually work. I already sound like a kooky feminist (HUZZAH), but in literature, male characters are rarely going to help female characters get along. Unless it’s Peeta in Hunger Games.

Chad: But isn’t that what happened? Poor (Understandably) Sad Hazel has her spirits lifted by goofy, positive cute boy who helps her discover the meaning of life.

Alyssa: But her spirits aren’t lifted! HE DIES. OK, they’re temporarily lifted, but a manic pixie never leaves their mark unhappy. She may be ~**happy**~ because she has felt love, but she’s immediately sad because it’s been taken from her. (Quick note: have you read the book or seen the movie? I’ve done the book but not the movie.)

Chad: I’ve consumed both. I realized after watching it, though, that in the future I think I’ll pass on reading books before seeing the movie if I can help it. Since I knew what was coming, it was hard to fully engage with the film and let it be what it wanted to be. As librarians we know that the book is always better than the movie, so I think both should get their fair shake. I’m curious as to what triggered your very visceral, expletive-laden reaction to it.

Alyssa: PEOPLE THINK HE IS ROMANTIC BUT HE IS JUST SAYING ROMANTIC SHIT AT HER RATHER THAN ENGAGING WITH HER. That is not love. Love is not saying someone’s full name and pushing yourself on her even though it’s pretty clear she doesn’t want a relationship. But fuck her boundaries! She wants love, she JUST DOESN’T KNOW IT. And EVEN WHEN HE DIES, he’s basically just like “Ugh, my life meant nothing because all I did was nothing.” All while Hazel’s like “My life meant everything because of you!” CLASSIC.

Chad: I think this book/movie suffered from the Twilight Syndrome: a plain, depressed girl with low self-esteem and a charisma vacuum has a shallow yet (to her) powerful encounter with a supposedly charming, good-looking dude who notices her. While Hazel’s transition to True Love took a bit longer than Bella’s, it seemed like an equally low bar that she needed to hit.

Alyssa: Exactly. And thank you for saying “supposedly” charming. Because that’s exactly what he is. He’s well-read—good for him! I’m not about to be like “OMG WHAT HIGH SCHOOLER EVEN SAYS THE SHIT HE DOES,” but what bothered me was her complete lack of engagement with it. She smiles, and that’s great, but we’re treated to such a clever girl who’s basically downgraded to fun retorts every so often in Gus’ wake.

Chad: Which causes me to wonder whether this is another example of adolescent girl wish-fulfillment in disguise of a putative love story. They’re high schoolers! Like Romeo and Juliet, if they had survived I’m guessing they wouldn’t have lasted long.

Alyssa: Ooooo, good call. I guess on a bigger level that’s what worries me about these books. Not like books are the only way for kids to learn things, but how are girls supposed to have real relationships when they’re presented with this shit?

Chad: And your quibble about Gus’s charm and eloquence is on point, though perhaps directed at the wrong target. From the little young adult literature I’ve read, teens who talk way more eloquently than in real life seems to be the status quo.

Alyssa: I think it was exacerbated in this book. I’ve read a bit of YA, and while the kids are clever, they’re never this blasé about it. And we can’t chalk that all up to “Well, he had CANCER so he’s so mature.”

Chad: While he did seem to be a better-than-life character, I recognized his type as the goofy, likable guy in high school that everyone pretty much liked, including the teachers. As was the case with Sutter in The Spectacular Now, I was glad to see an un-Edward-like male character.

Alyssa: Really? I have to see TSN, but I feel like Gus would look down his nose at Sutter. But that’s neither here nor there, since I can’t back that up with actual facts. Yes, it’s awesome to see a diversity (at least in personality) of male characters as they relate to women. And I will applaud John Green on the book-realistic sex scene. I think that if you really love the person you first have sex with, that’s basically how it goes down.

Chad: Clearly I’m not the target audience for this property, but I’m baffled by its mega-success. Perhaps John Green’s deep cult following helped elevate it. It hit a nerve somewhere for the legions of tween and teen girls who eat this stuff up. What’s the appeal in this book specifically?

Alyssa: I’m wondering the same thing. I picked the book up because it came out right near the tail end of my MLS schoolin’, and all the YA librarians were LOSING THEIR SHIT OVER IT. I think the appeal might lie in the fact that he’s a funny, nice, super-cute guy who is into a “plain” girl who’s very smart. And if there’s something that plain tweens comfort themselves with, it’s a) that they’re smarter than the pretty girls, and b) that a boy will finally notice them for that before college. That sounds so mean, but I would also sign that comment with “xoxo, a plain former middle-schooler.” Really, I think it’s the idea of a boy wanting to talk to you about what you’re interested in. For all the shit I give Gus, he read a book that was very important to her. For girls of all ages, that is total catnip.

Chad: How would Middle School Alyssa have reacted to it?

Alyssa: I WOULD HAVE LOVED IT. Honestly, I really think I would have. I’m a little cynical to his comments now, but I think I would have told my stuffed animals “See! He’s out there! There’s a funny, nice boy who likes reading as much as I do who’s going to love me forever!”

Chad: Naturally I see things from the male perspective, and as a young lad I think I would have seen Gus as a cool, nice, fun guy who got the girl because he was himself and actively sought her. Big difference from the angsty bad-boy types who were terrible role models yet still got the hot babes. Sure, he was pretty driven in his quest, but what did Hazel lose from being with him? (Aside from him.)

Alyssa: I don’t disagree with you. It is great to see two people who are honestly being themselves come together. That’s hard enough to have happen in real life. I guess I just feel for Hazel because Gus needed to be the star. Hazel is the type of person that would happily hold the spotlight, but I guess I wish she wasn’t? That she somehow also wanted to be the star? But then that’s total projection, and not fair to the story.

Chad: I also saw a bit of myself in Hazel. For a long time I tended to be a “no” person, preferring to do more solitary things and enjoy being introverted. But it was, of all things, watching the Jim Carrey movie Yes Man that helped to jumpstart me out of that. He was the same way: always saying no to things out of fear, worry, or boredom. But that leads to a small, lonely life. Though it was the Queen of the Manic Pixie Dream Girls herself, Zooey Deschanel, who helped pull him out of his existential funk, I sympathized with his, and likewise Hazel’s, journey from a sedentary, insular person to someone who would do crazy things like go to Amsterdam.

Alyssa: I think I just can’t get over their supposed “banter.” I’m not against a driven dude, but I guess I viewed early-book Gus the same way I view a cocky guy at a bar. Like, Cool it, dude. I know I’m hot and funny. Maybe give me a chance to know you before you launch into another soliloquy?

Chad: I struggled with the banter too. Again, that seems endemic to YA. I really struggled with Eleanor & Park for that reason. (I also struggled with Eleanor’s very tortured inner monologue, yet TFIOS was a much easier read for me despite still having a female protagonist.)

Alyssa: Another one I have to pick up. And I applaud that reading of it—that who cares if he’s a little grandiose—she came out of her shell and she’s better for letting her life be touched by someone. I guess I just wish the genre could fast forward to a time where we see a teen girl opened up by something other than a boy. Why can’t it be a movie? Or a book? For a few moments, I thought the book that meant so much to her would… do more? Be more? But it just ends up being a device in her relationship. I’m not trying to be like “down with people!”, but I do think it’s super dangerous to have girls think that the only way their worlds can be shaken (in a good way) is by romantic love. It’s not the only thing. That’s something I tell myself a lot, because I met Kurt (fairly) young, and it changed so many things in my life that I find myself trying to remember the other ways in which life changes. And I think more girls need to know those ways.

Chad: Clearly as a culture we’re still trying to shake off the Disney pixie dust that has clogged romantic storytelling for decades. But like glitter, that stuff does not come out easily. I thought having the book being central to her identity was a great step forward. Who was the last young female protagonist for whom that was the case? Belle loved reading, but it’s not like the Beast helped her reenact scenes from Shakespeare. Hazel had a very keen interest, Gus (sincerely) took effort to share in it, and they were both better for it, despite being grenades.

Alyssa: OH MY GOD CAN WE STOP WITH THE GRENADES.

Chad: It’s a metaphor. Get it?

Alyssa: UGH YES. You do not have exploding cancer. I appreciate that that was probably the most teenager-y thing either of them thought, but still. I definitely agree that it’s important that a book played a central role in her identity! It’s great! But it’s not enough.

Chad: You don’t think people with terminal illnesses worry about their effect on their loved ones?

Alyssa: Honestly, I don’t know how younger people with terminal illnesses react. I’m not saying that they don’t worry about their effect, but I don’t think it becomes their whole lives. Now, do I think Hazel has a personality that lends itself more to that more solitary “I’m gonna hurt everyone so I should keep to myself” assumption? Yes. But I don’t think that’s true of all people.

Chad: I do hope more female-driven, non-romantic stories get made in every medium. Frozen had the romantic element, but at least the sister dynamic was front and center. (A conversation for another day, to be sure.) TFIOS didn’t break through as far as you would have liked, but to me it went a little farther than you give it credit for. Though maybe a little far at the Anne Frank museum.

Alyssa: RIGHT OH MY GOD. Though again, I thought that that might be something teens would do. I sound so old. I’ll admit that this conversation has me seeing it a little more fairly, but my first (and likely only) read just had me sort of thinking “Um, I can’t take this smooth of a talker-atter seriously.” And I probably should have, but it’s just a tic I have. Boys: STOP TALKING AT GIRLS.

Chad: I’m with you there. I’m suspicious of anyone who talks that much with that much eloquent banter, let alone a high school athlete who loves violent books. I knew those types of guys. Some of those guys were friends of mine. Gus, you’re not one of those guys.

Alyssa: Exactly. So that’s where the book lost me from start to finish.

Chad: I had to keep saying to myself that “This movie is not for me.” This shouldn’t excuse the filmmakers and John Green from making something excellent, but there’s a difference, from goal and execution, between TFIOS and 12 Years A Slave. Same with the book too. The recent “Should adults read YA?” debate brought all this out onto the Internet. Should we hold YA to a different standard?

Alyssa: I had such a hard time with that article. Because the core of her argument is ridiculous: just like 13-year-olds probably won’t get a lot out of Anna Karenina (though they could technically read it), adults may not get a lot out of 13 Reasons Why. I don’t know if it’s about a different standard. I mean, I think it’s more about why you’re reading a book. More often than not, I’m reading a book to be a) challenged or b) entertained, or c) both. As long as a book does that, it’s been worth my time. But I do understand that people have much more developed standards than me. In terms of 12 Years A Slave and Anna Karenina, I worry that those types of works get credit immediately because they’re about difficult subject matter. Do they really deserve credit? Or are people just nervous about “not getting it”?

Chad: Yeah, there’s plenty of material for adults that just sucks.

Alyssa: I think that’s why adults reading YA is such an easy target—like, how could “kids books” teach you ANYTHING or be good at all unless you’re simple?

Chad: Whatever I’m reading, I want to learn from it. I’ve also concluded that I’ll read for myself, because I want to. Reading TFIOS allowed me to learn what young people (pass my false teeth, grandma) want to read. Even if it sucks, it tells us something about them. My response to the article was that adults should definitely read YA, the good stuff at least, but that they shouldn’t stay in it. There are SO MANY BOOKS out there, especially for adults. Expand your horizon!

Alyssa: No, absolutely. I find it weird when people are like “Well, I only read mysteries/YA/chick lit/ETC.” Um, really?

Chad: I felt compelled to read Eleanor & Park and TFIOS because they were high in the zeitgeist and I wanted to challenge myself to read something other than history or nonfiction. But I don’t see myself going down that road. They are also easy reads, so after a hefty history tome they are welcome palette cleaners.

Alyssa: I dip my toes into YA every so often, but I feel like I need something more to chew on. That makes me sound like the insufferable Slate writer, but I didn’t really read YA when I was a young adult, so it makes sense to me that I wouldn’t be drawn to it now.

Chad: Which is why I’m generally OK with TFIOS selling a bajillion copies. If young’uns or even adults read it, who knows where it could lead them?

Alyssa: Exactly! And like you said, the characters are better than what’s been going on in the past, so at least it’s forward motion.

Why Wait?: The Adventure Of Marrying Young

Previously published in the North Central Chronicle on April 23, 2010. The PDF version of this article as it originally appeared in the Chronicle is at the end of the story.

Antonia and Brian bought a wedding planning book for $14. But sometime later Antonia’s maid of honor bought them a $4 wedding planning book as a gift.

They returned the $14 book.

Such is the way of things when college students are trying to get married.

Once commonplace, young marriage has now become the exception to the rule of waiting to get married until after college, when couples can achieve financial stability and emotional maturity before diving into a lifetime commitment. Data from the 2000 U.S. Census shows that the average age at first marriage for American women was 26, up from 21.5 in 1970. The average for men also jumped: from 23.5 in 1970 to 27.8 in 2000. Yet many of these Millennials – young adults reared by overprotective Baby Boomer parents in an increasingly “me first” culture – are still choosing to buck the trend of postponing marriage until their late 20s and take the very unselfish step of getting married during their already stressful college years.

So what’s the motivation? Most young people today don’t expect to get married during college, so the desire to get hitched and to hell with the statistics goes beyond finances or merely settling down earlier than usual. According to four students from North Central College in Naperville, Ill. – all at different points of the engagement-wedding-marriage path – it’s about what feels right.

Brian, a junior engaged to Antonia (Tone), a senior, said he didn’t expect to get married until after college. “But then Tone happened,” he said. Continue reading

My Hometown

“I’m going back to my hometown. Gonna sit right down and take a look around. Tall trees talking all around the shore where the wood meets the river at the forest floor. … Does a true heart change or does it stay the same? I think I’ll go on back to from where I came.”
–Blitzen Trapper’s “My Home Town”

On the bus. I’ve taken this very path many times in the last five-some years as a carless one. It takes a little longer, but you get stuff done and you can think. Lord knows I’ve done a lot of thinking in these years, especially of late. But there’s a point when all the thinking you do doesn’t actually result in anything but more thoughts.

So what to do? Does a true heart (as mind I suppose), as the above song asks, change or stay the same? Will you know its truth evidently or does it seek you out to knock your head? I’d like to say this bus ride to my hometown can answer the question, but these days I’m not so sure.

Twilight Bites: How Dazzling Vampires Distort Masculinity

Published in the North Central Chronicle on April 24, 2009.

Let’s pretend I’m a teenage girl and that you’re my best friend. I’ve just told you about this guy I started dating. He’s perfect in every way, I say. He stares at me while I sleep, he alienates me from my friends and, among other things, he drives a wedge between me and my single dad.

Wait…what?T-09126.jpg

Oh, you mean that those aren’t actually good things? Edward Cullen, the lead vampire from Twilight, does all of those things to Bella, the main character in the film, and yet women swoon over him. Why?

Let’s start with the superficial. The novel describes Edward as “impossibly beautiful,” his body as hard and cold as marble. He’s impossibly smart too: he plays and composes classical music and has two degrees from Harvard. And, like any good bad boy, he drives really, really nice cars really, really fast.

Bella goes on and on about how mysterious and seducing and perfect he is. But once they actually get together, she wholeheartedly submits herself to his every whim. The fact that Edward can read people’s minds (though not Bella’s for some reason-presumably because she doesn’t really have that much going on up there) shows that he is all about control. This becomes evident as the two grow closer;they become inseparable (though not in the cute way), and when a rival vampire clan jeopardizes Bella’s life, Edward tells her to abandon her sweet, thoughtful and lonely dad to skip town. Bella was indeed in danger, but Edward didn’t have to force her to blow off her dad.

What makes me cringe more than the film’s lessons is the viewer response to them. We talk so much about how pornography and advertising and television are giving young girls unrealistic expectations about body image and relationships, but what about crazes for a novel that promotes the suppression of self-confidence and identity and creates a steamy hero out of a cold and brooding vampire?

My sisters are obsessed with the series; one so much so that she read one of the books in church, hiding it in the hymnal she was supposed to be using. And she’s not alone. Fan groups and forums have sprung up all over the place with readers confessing their undying love and unhealthy addiction for Edward and the vampire saga. On one such site called “Twilight Moms,” a poster admitted: “I have no desires to be part of the real world right now. Nothing I was doing before holds any interest to me.”

Granted, it’s not just vampire romance novels that can pull people in so seductively. But the fact that some women may expect, if only secretly, that their boyfriend or husband will start acting like Edward is alarming and wholly unfair. It’s like when a man expects his girlfriend or wife to perform like a porn star in bed. Pornography is not real sex, and Edward is not a real man.

I don’t want to completely destroy what many women see as an ideal man. It’s good for men to look out for what is best for their significant other. But I still struggle with the thought of trying to become someone like Edward Cullen, because he’s really not someone any man should want to be, or any woman should want to love.

A blogger at Salon.com summed up well the lesson being told to young men through the movie:

“Don’t be fun, thoughtful, quirky or smart if you want to get the girl. Be a d—. But be a d— who can stop cars with your bare hands.  And look depressed. But be good looking while you’re depressed. And express your desire to be with the girl of your dreams but be vague about why you can’t be with her. Confuse her, make her crazy, change your moods by the hour and make sure your hair looks like Johnny Depp in the mid-90s.”

I don’t have two Harvard degrees or chiseled, marble-like features. I don’t drive sports cars or live in a mansion. I don’t have immortal life or superhuman strength. What does that mean for me? If I want to be in a relationship with a girl but I know that when she thinks of the “perfect man” she thinks of Edward Cullen, I lose. Because I am impossibly imperfect.

But who isn’t? That’s why unrealistic expectations, even if they are gleaned from fiction, are so destructive: they don’t allow us to be real, to be human.

But then, Edward Cullen isn’t human. He’s a vampire. So, ladies, dream away, I guess. But when you wake up, don’t tell me what you dreamt about. I have a feeling I will be sorely disappointed.

Macho, Macho Men: Vulnerability In ‘Casino Royale’ And ‘The Bourne Identity’

Originally published in the North Central Chronicle on April 25, 2008.

John McClane, Rambo, the Terminator. They are the American Action Hero: muscular, terse, a killing machine. They favor spouting clever catchphrases and blowing stuff up over expressing emotion. To them, women are hors d’oeuvres best enjoyed while they serve cold dishes of revenge to bad guys. In recent years, Hollywood has deconstructed this action hero archetype and rebuilt it into the more complicated and affected man.

Two such characters, Jason Bourne in The Bourne Identity (2002) and James Bond in Casino Royale (2006), inhabit the stereotypical macho man role but confront emotional walls typical in males and discover the pain that can come with true vulnerability. These men, however, are not just movie characters. They share the same struggle with identity and masculinity with males in the real world.

The James Bond movie lovers have come to know is a suave, martini-drinking womanizer who effortlessly shoots bad guys and jets around in sports cars. But the Bond in Casino Royaleis different. He’s still rough around the edges, an arrogant thug who cannot control his emotions or his actions. When he meets Vesper Lynd, the ravishing femme fatale, she sees through him easily: “You think of women as disposable pleasures, rather than meaningful pursuits,” she says.

After Bond realizes his transparency, he treats Lynd as a meaningful pursuit rather than a disposable pleasure. He begins to trust her. Eventually, he gives in to her. “I have no armor left. You’ve stripped it from me. Whatever is left of me, whatever I am, I’m yours,” says Bond. He finally drops his emotional armor and allows a woman in, becoming vulnerable for the first time.

But his vulnerability did not serve him well. He learns that she was using him all along for money. The one person for whom he opened his heart carves it up, so he closes it again and takes up the armor. “You don’t trust anyone, do you?” asks his boss. “No,” he says. “Then you’ve learned your lesson,” she replies.

Jason Bourne fights a different battle. When we first meet him he floats unconscious on the ocean with bullets in his back and a tracking device in his hip. When he comes to, he doesn’t know who he is or remember anything until that point, but does know several languages and hand-to-hand combat. He slowly learns that he is a killing machine that only functions because it cannot do anything else.

Then he meets a woman. She drives him on his journey to self-discovery, first by payment, then on her own accord. She helps him as he follows his animalistic instincts to find his identity and his purpose. Bourne finds the man who knows the answers and he tells Bourne the truth: “I don’t send you to kill. I send you to be invisible. I send you because you don’t exist.” After a death-defying search, he finds out that he is only a shell of a man, a blunt instrument of death.

Bourne’s confrontation with the mysterious man triggers a flashback to right before he was found floating in the ocean. He was ordered to assassinate a dictator but couldn’t pull the trigger because the target’s children were lying next to him. The one time compassion creeps into his heart, he is shot in the back and left for dead in the open sea. That is quite a lesson to learn.

Bond and Bourne experience the same challenges to their masculinity, yet they end up in different places. Bond starts as an emotionless brute, becomes softened by a woman, then is betrayed by said woman and shuts himself off from emotion again. Bourne goes through the same process, except at the end he remains open to Marie and at peace with his existence.

Through both stories run two constants: women and killing. These constants represent two big fears that men have: that if he opens himself up to a woman, she will rip his heart out; and that if he doesn’t fulfill the male stereotype of being tough and emotionless, he will be thought of as less than a man. Not necessarily by women, but by their fellow man.

These fears, at their full effect, can cripple a man’s masculinity and trust in women. They turn them into chauvinistic playboys, forever caught in a perpetual state of arrested development. They are the reason why so many single women claim that ‘there are no more decent guys’—they’ve been taken captive by the fear of being vulnerable.

James Bond and Jason Bourne may be fictional characters, but they have the same dilemma as real men. Not all men are lost causes, however. In fact, none really are. Modern males have a simple choice: remain shadows of men destined for empty relationships and guarded hearts, or fight the temptation to run from intimacy.

First Love Birds: Notes on The Notebook

I watched The Notebook again recently. I still really like it, but now I have some reasons for it. (Though I’m still searching for more.)

There is a bird motif. Birds of some kind appear in 3 obvious time: in the very beginning, when old Allie overlooks a boater we assume is Noah/Duke; on the beach, with the “if you’re a bird, I’m a bird” exchange; and when Noah and Allie visit the bird-filled pond.

The most poignant instance of those three is the last, because when Allie asks Noah about the birds, Noah replies that “they’ll go back where they came from”, just like Allie will presumably go back to where she came from.

There is the issue of identity. Allie says she’s one person when she’s with Lon, and a completely different person when she’s with Noah. This is evident in her interactions with said gentleman. She becomes more like her mother when she’s with Lon, but acts more like “herself” when she’s with Noah.

This also has to do with the idea of “first love.” No matter what Allie’s future would be, she still had Noah as her first love, so everything else would be second-best. This relates to identity because she feels most like “herself” when she’s with Noah, her first love, so it would seem that being with Noah would be the natural choice. But because she had to move on from her first love, she created a new identity in her second love. Which to choose?

I’m sure most of this was obvious to most people on the first viewing, but I just started to pick up on the deeper levels of these issues recently. I’m still trying to figure out exactly why so many people, especially women, responded so strongly to this story. I suppose the idea that Noah stayed with Allie into her old age and dementia resonated with women, but I suspect there is something more.

Of course, the chemistry between the two leads is undeniable. But did you know that they hated each other throughout production of the movie? They started dating immediately afterward, but the chemistry their hate created worked just as well as the romantic kind.

Either way, this film resonated with me more than most other rom-coms. Maybe it was the classic World War II setting, or maybe it was the simple yet effective score. I suppose the story is most compelling (though I read the book and it was dreadful.) Who knows. What is clear to me is that The Notebook made me want to be a good husband, lover, and friend to my future wife. Regardless of what Hollywood or reality may tell me, it’s something I can do if I just try.

The ‘Rite’ Of The Male Gaze

Published in the North Central Chronicle on September 28, 2007.

Imagine: John Q. Student is sitting on a bench outside the Science Center with his friend Billy. John spots a voluptuous, scantily-clad young woman walking their way and takes a long look at her behind his sunglasses. He says to Billy: “Dude, check out that chick’s…personality.”

You mean you’ve never heard that before? Well, replace “personality” with a part of the female anatomy and you’ve got what is commonly referred to as the “male gaze.” The male gaze, according to Dr. Jonathan Schroeder, “signifies a psychological relationship of power, in which the gazer is superior to the object of the gaze.”

It’s about having “the power” to look a woman up and down, see what we want to see, and then move on. Century upon century of male superiority has made this act commonplace and even encouraged. It’s considered a badge of honor within the Brotherhood of Man. But that doesn’t make it right. In fact, it’s something that needs to be changed.

Perpetual use of the male gaze degrades women to mere objects of a man’s desire – pieces of meat, essentially. When we as males check a girl out, be it mindfully or not, we’re saying to the woman: “You are only worth what I’m looking at right now.” That’s quite a message to be sending to a fellow human being.

The male gaze has in a way become a rite of passage into modern manhood. In order to impress our buddies, we have to talk about how hot a girl is or how nice her breasts are. Ladies, odds are you’ve never heard this talk before, but it’s very real. It can happen as soon as you pass a group of rambunctious guys, or as soon as you leave the room at a party, or even right before your eyes. Think Glenn Gulia in The Wedding Singer: “that’s Grade-A top-choice meat.”

The fact that the male gaze has been accepted as normal male behavior disturbs me greatly. Take a typical beer commercial for example: A man is caught checking out a good-looking woman by his girlfriend, but he just shrugs it off. His girlfriend is then forced to surrender to the notion that it’s “just a guy thing.” He will continue to size women up, and she will continue to feel powerless and undesirable. How painful.

A big reason why men utilize the Gaze is because we know women like being desired. The depth of the desire isn’t important so long as it’s desire. That could be a gross generalization, but I know for a fact that many women eat up the attention. Trust me; that attention is fleeting. Your self-esteem cannot survive on lustful looks you absorb from the guy across the room. Do you really want all the good things about you ignored simply because they’re hidden from view?

You are worth more than the looks you receive. Put your self-worth somewhere else, somewhere worthwhile. Guys are admittedly very easy to bait, but I’m challenging you to give us something more than a mini-skirt to value about you. There’s a part in every one of you that deserves to be shared with the world; I dare you to show us that part. Be a mystery that we men have to solve. Flaunt your gifts, not your G-string.

I issued a challenge the women, so I will issue one to my fellow men as well: It’s time to clean up our act. No matter how we try to justify it, the male gaze is just not cool. Just imagine seeing another guy check out your sister, or your mom. That’s no different from what you just did with that girl sitting next to you in class. The women we’re ogling are sisters and mothers as well, so let’s treat them as such. They deserve nothing less.

those three words… part 2

Those words
Those three words
The end all of every phone call
The start of every time apart from you
The definition of what we are
Together apart, either one is better than before
Sitting in neutral, afraid to say more

Those words
Those three words
They flow like a wave away
Crashing on the dock of the bay
With grace and sometimes misplacement
But I’ve faced my demons of sentiment
We stared off until I won the race

They’re my own prophesy fulfilled
The heart-hole I’ve been covering
That wouldn’t stay still
The story of they’re conception:
Oscar-worthy, critical reception
But too sublime to fully realize
Too special for a TV special

Those words
Those three words
We’ve finally met, again and again
Would you meet my family and friends?
They haven’t seen us together
Now is the perfect weather
To say “I love you.”

those three words…

Those words
Those three words
The bane of my existence
The thesis of the paper I’ve never written
The end of the date I never went on
The kiss goodbye I never got or gave

Those words
Those three words
They end every phone call
Every birthday card, every letter home
Except mine
I can’t send these three little words
From my head to an utterance
It’s become an inconvenience

What do they mean anyway?
I can’t be a rank sentimentalist
With every word I say
Now I’m stealing lines
From the only things that make sense to me
Where whatever they say, they mean
No ifs, ands, buts, or truths about it

Those words
Those three words
My finale, my comeuppance
The end of every well-meaning sentence
They’ve become to me a penance, a nuisance
Something I’ve unknowingly stood against
One of these days I’ll learn what love is

weddings and radiance

Ah, weddings. The one event that guarantees complete immunity from all of the stupid, drunken things people do there. The last wedding I went to there was no alcohol, so I got to observe people in their sober states. Naturally, as a quiet observer of people, I picked up on a few things. (As there is no portal into a woman’s mind, whatever I observe is interpreted through the male mind.)

What occupied my thoughts the most was the plethora of women in attendance (not in that way, you with a dirty mind). I concluded that the most obvious and central part of a wedding is the bride; she is completely on her own orbit. The other female attendees know this and expect not to be the center of attention.

Being in this mind frame can lead to one of two general attitudes and feelings women can possess at a wedding: feeling inferior to the bride, inadequate to all those around, and simply unwilling to enjoy being single; or, knowing that you cannot, for etiquette’s sake, top the bride and instead choose to go as you are and not someone you wish you were (read: the bride.)

The women who take the first route should realize that it’s not their wedding, not yet any way. You aren’t inferior; it’s just not your time yet. Don’t get caught up in wishing it was your special day. I know that girls dream about their wedding day starting in their toddler years, but you can’t let it consume you. It’s one day. One 24-hour day full of expensive trivialities and a lot of stress, then it’s over. Then you actually get to be married.

The women who take the second route are simply radiant. They know they cannot and should not be bigger than the bride, so they become the next best thing: themselves. They enjoy the free food, fellowship and fun and don’t depress themselves by coveting a date, any date, or a significant other. This was me at the wedding. Social norms would say that it is way easier for a male to be this way than a female, and I would agree. But that doesn’t mean that women can’t buck the norm and actually think how they want to think.

I confided in a few male compatriots at the wedding about this very issue and they agreed with me wholeheartedly. We agreed that when a woman dresses to impress none other than herself, she does herself, and us, a huge favor. We aren’t necessarily looking for the lowest V-neck or most voluptuous dance moves at a wedding. I’d rather chat with a girl I know is completely sure of herself in body and spirit than dance with a girl who just wants to forget that she’s at a wedding that isn’t hers. Those girls make me look forward to my wedding day even more than I do right now. I love being single, but I know that I will love being married even more (when the time comes).

I know I’ve generalized the crap out of this observation, but again, this is what I think. Feel free to correct me.