Imagine a Tinder-like app where once a woman decides sex is on the table, she gets to set the deposit price. If it isn’t satisfying, the man doesn’t get his deposit back.
But isn’t that just sex work with extra steps?
When we climb into bed with someone, we do the best we can with who we think we are. What I’m focusing on here is the emotional and erotic disconnect that men and women have with each other, and how most people, try to make up for this disconnect through control, the accumulation of power and privilege.
I’m a cis-het identifying man (somewhere on the queer spectrum), former husband, and father. As an author and engineer, my focus is on the intersection between innovation and an open heart. In the process of my own evolution, I’ve found an inner peace that’s extremely difficult to explain or teach.
Bear with me, as I use the gender binary words “male” and “female” as archetypal stand-ins for a much more complex appreciation for gender diversity.
While training men to be more creative, I find they often struggle to question their peers, or make their own independent choices. Tracing this all the way back to its origins, I’ve come to believe questioning WHY is trained out of boys, in order for them to function in our culture.
Boys aren’t shamed for being emotional; they’re shamed for asking WHY. Other than physical pain, the emotions boys experience tends to be byproducts of how what they see, doesn’t match what they know is right in their hearts. When they see someone being bullied, it’s confusing — not because of the violence, but because no one is challenging the bully, or asking WHY he’s acting that way. The shame of “boys don’t cry” comes down to demanding conformity with a threat of disconnection. To ask WHY is to challenge authority — which is exactly what those in charge DON’T want to hear.
In a collaborative group focused on innovation, to question why — and to do so transparently — is at the heart of everything that leads to decision making. However, in a group that’s built on power and a command-control style obedience, men who appear to be in a state of weak emotionality — affected by some inner conflict — fear others will think they’re distracted by the question of WHY, which is a threat to the patriarchy. This is the reason so many adventure movies revolve around the emotional conflict of heroic choices around challenging why.
There’s a certain tragedy to the corrosive and destructive effect of emotional boredom — an insidious form of mental suicide that’s trapped in our over-engineered brain. When men cease to question the social powers that motivate them, they in turn abandon their access to emotions, and their ethical creative discernment. Instead, the desire to “fit in” to the “sameness” becomes not a creative expression, but a conformity, rewarded with power for its loyalty.
I believe the accumulation of power is, at its core, a mask for the anxiety of not having access to primal ways of adding value to a collaborative group.
Being loud, aggressive, using racial slurs, invalidating other people, taking up more space than is needed, are all behaviors that insecure men engage in to try to accumulate power.
This anxiety opens a need to be validated for something meaningful. This need to be validated, this deep desire to be emotionally nourished, is where men — and I suspect anyone who has been marginalized — open themselves to being manipulated. By showing their neediness, people teach others how to feed them candy. Once others are tuned into how to feed that need, anyone can be led off in a new direction. This neediness for attention, is what feels so unsafe to women.
A man who is looking to others for approval cannot stand before the choice between good and evil without first consulting a third party, one of which may not include the woman at hand.
Studying human cognitive evolution, I’m a fan of the concept that it wasn’t a mutation that caused the brain to get bigger; rather, it was a combination of anatomic developments, initially through hand dexterity and gestures, then mimicry, and eventually through words. Along this developmental arc, we needed bigger brains to make sense of it all. From there, overlay the notion that all innovation, and the creative arts for that matter, are an erotic display, or a stand-in for a great plume of feathers.
As our ancestors made erotic displays and other visual art forms with their hands, all while struggling to use the same hands to communicate — not to mention hunt, gather, and build fires — spoken language became essential for survival.
Once spoken language was fully formed, I believe the brain continued to evolve as a more effective erotic instigator, especially as early humans strung words together in the form of poetry, song, and the performing arts. The goal was simple — attract a mate. Language, and especially story, being fluid and malleable (unlike one’s only set of fixed Peacocking feathers), gave the seducer new powers to coerce, entice, or even deceive the object of his or her attention.
Today, the skill to manipulate or flirt differs in each of us. So too, and with varying awareness, does the ability to call bullshit when we see it. Whether we realize it or not, we’re all walking around with a twelve-cylinder super-car in our heads…as we all struggle with the choice between following our dreams, or keeping it all the same.
In my innovation training work, I often refer to the book Acting Right, by Sean Layne. It defines this simple concept: once students are calm in their bodies, focused in their minds, and balanced in their emotions, learning can take place. He has refined a simple two-minute embodiment exercise to motivate students into joining a group voluntarily, and to be ready to learn.
He makes a strong point that in our stressful culture, most kids arrive unready to learn, and incapable of managing their behavior. When kids act out in opposition to the exercise, or choose to be disruptive, they’re doing so to draw attention to themselves. Layne makes the distinction that a conventional discipline model, where the teacher shames or demands the student to be quiet, actually feeds the student’s compulsion to gain individual power. Succeeding in eliciting a reaction from the teacher in front of the group, reinforces the student’s ability to “get the teacher mad,” which elevates his or her position in the conventional group.
I too define a “creative group” as being a calm, focused, and balanced group that is ready to learn, and where participation, honor, and dignity make up the glue that binds. This is the exact opposite of a patriarchy or dominance hierarchy, where people fear those above, and marginalize those below, using shame as its adhesive.
Layne also makes the distinction between a reactive response to a stimulus, and a reflective response that emanates from a calm mind and body. The former is a condition of a living in a fear-based hierarchy; the latter comes when a person thrives in a small creative group.
A reflective man can be as fierce and threatening as a mother protecting her young, while holding that capacity in quiet reserve behind a calm discerning mind, or a steely stare down.
This question of WHY, by its nature, is a creative, generative, and loving inquiry of preservation.
To assure emotions were perceived as “bad” (not a source of empathetic strength) men aligned to power, tied emotions to physical weakness. How? They pointed to the gender we call female, and labeled her as being weak and, as such, emotional. It’s a cunning bait-and-switch. Worse, this female avatar is then systematically marginalized and ostracized from the male-dominated culture, while reminding men to be terrified of being feminized against their will. The trick that most men don’t see is that it’s all to keep the question of WHY as far away as possible.
Over the last few thousand years, the traditional male job of Peacocking has been reversed. Now women are expected to do the feather displays; while a lot of men just sit around and pour concrete around the sameness. Traditionally, when women shared the same access to resources, men had nothing but their theoretical feathers to help them attract a mate. Through their positions of power, men have decided they don’t want to be judged by women. The problem is, as women are now regaining their own autonomy, when men Catcall and get the finger, all men can do is get angrier.
Just look at how many men viciously fear homosexuality, or any other gender fluid embodiments that place the feminine just a bit too close for comfort. Drag queens play an interesting role in hijacking the very attractiveness signaling men expect women to adopt. Drag essentially cranks up the volume to a ten, then plays back in the face of the heteronormative, homophobic culture the very question of WHY as a rebellious explosion, in as many colors as possible. As a result, drag queens are selling out huge theaters across the country because of their positive, liberating, and inclusive messages.
I believe the common narrative that states men want lots of SEX, while women crave access to their emotions, is false. Men are the ones starving for EMOTIONALITY; a man’s usually happy to trade sex to women in order to gain access to his feelings.
Regarding women’s needs, see the data on sex toy sales. Or, for men, check out eye-tracking data that captures where men look while they’re watching porn. It clearly shows that they fixate on the facial expressions of women, while men’s heightened erotic response comes from women’s cries of pleasure.
A week doesn’t go by where a woman doesn’t write about wanting a decent sexual encounter to help self-regulate (while always hoping for something especially magical). Most women say they’re okay with trading their emotional attention to men, if the emotional labor question of “Is it worth it?” doesn’t get too out of balance. What they seem to be asking for is honesty, clarity and purpose from men. This in turn creates safety, helping her open enough to enjoy a stabilizing experience with her self — and with her orgasm.
My heart goes out to anyone who has the courage to open themselves to being topped by a man without knowing ahead of time, where he’s at in his emotional evolution. For men to evolve on their emotional and sexual continuum, it takes a real investment, while at the same time a rebellion against the shame of finding one’s SELF — and the larger challenge of finding one’s own WHY.
The #MeToo movement certainly has drawn attention to the problem, but it hasn’t made much of a dent in affecting men’s behavior. No amount of women’s empowerment around reclaiming agency or atomizing their anger into the ether, can make up for the fact that there is only so much we can learn about each other — until we get on the other side of a sexual encounter.
I’ve met some amazingly influential women. But it wasn’t until I started dating a few equally influential sex workers to know that they too, in their own way, are trying to help men lessen their need to control, quell their impulsive anger, and see the world in a softer, better light — all while getting paid.
Ask any variety of femme sex worker what service she actually provides. By and large, things like therapy, career advice, and emotional support top their lists of services.
Most men hide the fact of how hungry they are to have their emotional needs met — the needs they think live in the middle of a power-hungry sexual encounter. Sadly, any attempt at being vulnerable so often is hijacked by a compulsive need to be right, not knowing being right, has the opposite effect as forming connection. But imagine what would happen if more men focused on offering the honesty for women to share equally in a creative fun sexy romp, from a place of safety, empowerment and collaboration.
I believe the work that needs to be done isn’t to shame bullies or remind everyone how many awesome things men built. To create a feeling of calm and safety in our own bodies, use our words in the pursuit of connection, be ready to learn, and start participating in groups dedicated to building this creative cognitive awareness, is where our effort should go. Think: opulently ornate library. Everyone, come on in. Grab a book and relax.
My hope is through building such a mindset of emotional learning, men may start to recognize the heroic and thankless role women have played in holding the fabric of society together. Through that appreciation, maybe men can offer women the luxury to finally trust what they hear and see, to quiet her bullshit filter, and experience the wide-open magical sexual encounter they deserve.
The benefit, is men may at long last have access to the authentic emotionality they deeply crave and desire, even if they chose to pay for it.