Knapsacking Up: Sticks & Stones

I Am Male… No words or labels can be used to keep me down.

Comedian extraordinaire Louis CK has a great bit about how great it is to be a White male in American society. Go ahead, watch it. I’ll wait… The payoff comes when he muses that you can’t even hurt his feelings. There is no word that can hurt him as a White male. Cracker? Ouch! Taking him back to a time when he “owned land and people.”

That’s pretty incredible to think about. With all the words and phrases in the English language and all the hate in our collective hearts, there is nothing hurtful you can say to a straight White male to remind them of their past or their place.

Words like “bitch” and labels like “ice queen” remind women that they are supposed to be subservient to men. Words like “slut” and “whore” remind women that only men get to have sex with lots of people (By the way, has anyone ever considered the logistics of this? Who are these “pious” men having tons of sex with?). Words like “cunt” remind women that… well… it sucks to be a woman in American society.

What are you going to call me? A dick? An asshole? Meh… That’s my disposition, not my gender.

The only way you can get to a male is by referencing other disadvantaged groups. Call them a “little bitch” or a “woman.” That’ll sting because women are bad and men have no gender identity other than in opposition to women.

Call them “gay” or a “homo” or a “fag.” Then again, masculinity is at the heart of these insults, not sex or gender.

There’s nothing. I can’t think of a single, solitary word that has insulted me with my own gender. Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt men. And it’s too bad. Because men can be real cunts sometimes.

Knapsacking Up: Language

I Am Male… I can assume my own language will include and represent me

As I struggled through the GPA destroyer known as “Spanish Class,” one thing became abundantly clear. Unfortunately, it was not “Learning will always be easy” or “I can express basic competency in anything.”

No, it was that the Spanish language is sexist as hell.

Every word has a specific gender, male or female (It’s not very transsexual-friendly either, I guess). A group of mixed gender composition is always male. 50,000 women are overpowered by one male, presumably through the INCREDIBLE POWER OF THE PENIS!(TM) The word for “wife” is the same as the word for “handcuff.”

You get the idea.

American English isn’t nearly as sexist, although there are still too many phrases and terms that don’t really have a feminine equivalent.

Most of the problems with our modern language can be traced back to our founding documents. There, in the Declaration of Independence, is the noble proposition that “all men are created equal.” To be fair, Jefferson was talking about White, propertied males, if that makes anyone feel better.

And don’t get me started on the religious “He.” I’m sure the eternal, omnipotent creator of everything that exists fits neatly within the confines of our gender system.

From these basic inequities come problems in every other aspect of our society.

We have always elected Congressmen, at first literally, now just figuratively. “Congresswoman” works just fine for specific people, but what about members of Congress as a whole? Congresspeople? Ew. Members of Congress? What are we? British? There really isn’t a great gender-neutral term.

Every company has a Chairman of the Board. Chairwoman? Chairperson? We are so used to “chairman” that we just keep using it. Again, there’s no great gender-neutral term.

I have spent the last five years unsuccessfully trying to come up with a gender-neutral phrase for the start of a pregnancy. Women “get pregnant.” Clearly, we understand that a man was a part of that process somewhere along the line, but there is no phrase that implicates men in the care-taking process. Women “get pregnant,” so women get the problem.

Society could survive a few language-related idiosyncrasies if they didn’t bear such heavy costs. When we picture a Chairman of the Board, we picture a male. When we picture a Congressman, we picture a male. When we talk about pregnancy, we see it as a totally female thing. Our perceptions have a way of becoming reality.

We can’t imagine what we lack the words to describe. You can’t tell me there is no relationship between “Chairman” or “Congressman” and the lack of women in boardrooms or Washington. You can’t tell me there’s no relationship between “getting pregnant” and the total lack of support our society provides pregnant women. Until the language we use is fixed, our society will remain broken.

Unless you are a male, like me. We were created equal.

Knapsacking Up: Default

I Am Male… I am the default.

Most of my early memories revolve around sports. I can’t remember the televised bomb cameras of the Persian Gulf War, but I remember turning a Kleenex into a Homer Hanky for the 1991 World Series. I don’t remember much from 6th grade, but I do remember our perfect baseball season that summer. I can’t remember my family’s birthdays without a text from my sister, but I still remember playing competitive games of football alone, throwing passes to myself and falling to the ground as though I had just been tackled.

What? I grew up on a farm.

I played baseball, football, golf, and basketball. I played sports, which is why I was taken aback listening to the Half-Assed Morning Show on 93X a few weeks ago. The two DJs, Josh and Nick, were interviewing a Fox Sports North correspondent who would soon be covering Hockey Day Minnesota. Nick asked if she was ever injured while playing girls hockey in high school.

That was the moment I came to realize that I was the default. If something seems insulting about the fact that a sport is given a different name simply because of the sex of the athletes, then congratulations! You have at least the deductive reasoning skills of an elm tree.

But, hey! Maybe contact and checking are so integral to the game of hockey for you that women’s hockey isn’t “real” hockey. There’s something to be said for that line of reasoning. However, it still doesn’t take into account the much larger problem with “girl’s hockey.”

Men play in the National Basketball League. Women play in the Women’s National Basketball League. Men play on the PGA Tour. Women play on the Ladies PGA Tour. The message is clear: Men play sports, women play women’s sports. It’s not men’s sports and women’s sports. It’s regular sports and then the female variant of the be-donged default.

There are sports, like volleyball, that do the same thing in reverse. There are sports, like tennis, that get it right. Sadly, these are the exceptions to the rule.

Perhaps the most interesting part is that while men are the societal default, women are the biological default. Every baby is female until a Y chromosome gets involved (Thanks, Wikipedia!). Then, upon birth, that child leaves the relative meritocracy of the womb and enters American society. More like a merit-cock-racy? Amirite?

Maybe one day, after Title IX continues to guarantee athletic access to women, things will even out. Until then, I’ll just keep playing WNBA Live 2008.

Knapsacking Up: Heroes

I Am Male… I have easily accessible heroes.

Growing up, I never had a shortage of heroes. First, when I was really young and determined to be a farmer, it was my dad. When I was introduced to sports, they became athletes like David Robinson, Shane Mack, and Sammy Sosa. Later, when I discovered history, I was drawn towards World War II heroes like Raymond Spruance, Ernest Evans, and Winston Churchill.

We’re in a feminist series, so I won’t insult you by explaining what they all have in common. (Cool first names? You’re not very good at this, are you, nonexistent reader?) I can’t imagine what it would have been like to be a woman growing up at the same time. Where, other than my own life, would I have been able to find childhood heroes?

It wouldn’t have been in sports. The Williams Sisters? Yeah, nothing like tennis talk around the classroom water cooler. Jackie Joyner Kersey? Yay! A hero every four years! Rebecca Lobo? Cool, but it’s not like there’s some sort of women’s version of the NBA in which she can play after college.

It wouldn’t have been in history. What important contributions to history by women are studied in elementary or middle school, other than, perhaps, the requisite Rosa Parks lesson in February? Not to demean the courage or heroism of Mrs. Parks, but her inclusion is much more about tokenism than a genuine exploration of women’s roles in history or the African-American Civil Rights Movement.

It wouldn’t have been in politics. I would imagine little girls were about as interested in growing up to be Madeleine Albright as much as I wanted to be the next James Baker III. Although, to be fair, Dean Acheson’s mustache is something to which every young man should ascribe.

Secretary of State references!

Secretary of State references!

It wouldn’t have been television, where the only strong pre-Buffy leads were… ummmm… (/Wikipedias “90’s television female leads.” No results except “Who searches Wikipedia like that?”) You get the idea.

Hell, there weren’t even great female heroes in comics. You, know? The place that HAS NOTHING BUT HEROES! I suppose Wonder Woman was alright, but she was about it unless you wanted Superman with boobs and a skirt or Batman with boobs and really sensible footwear for a thief.

I’m sure female heroes existed in some obscure comics or television programs that lasted all of a season before cancellation. But you had to work to find them. I didn’t to find any of mine.

You know what? I liked Buffy too.

Knapsacking Up: Athletic Objectification

I Am Male… I do not need to worry about being objectified during athletic competition.

Homecoming is usually an exciting time at any high school. Although my school substitutes a sense of school pride with class rivalries, there remains a general buzz of excitement throughout the week. Homecoming always culminates in a pepfest on Friday which serves to crown Homecoming royalty and promote that evening’s football game.

Two years ago, one of the student emcees was tasked with introducing the school dance team. With a booming voice, he declared, “Hope you’re not wearing sweatpants, guys! Here comes the dance team!”

Project1Rejected introductions presumably included “Try to keep your boners in check! Here’s a bunch of women in tight clothes!” and “Don’t jerk off until you get home, boys! Here’s some things that exist only for your sexual gratification! Meat! Meat! Meat! Meat!”

I never had to worry about this when I was in high school, and not just because I had yet to develop my glorious beard. No matter the game, men can play sports without the fear of objectification.

For women, it’s clearly not the case, regardless of level of competition. High school dance teams are obvious. Beach volleyball players play in bikinis. Indoor volleyball players have those volleyball shorts (It would be inappropriate and hypocritical for me to shout “Damn!” right now, right?). Even female mixed-martial artists have no chance for national exposure unless they possess Gina Carano levels of attractiveness. Bertha the Destroyer doesn’t sell pay-per-views.

Let’s talk about football.

Football players wear giant pads that accentuate strong chests and broad shoulders. Football players wear skin-tight pants. Football players wear a protective cup that transforms any dude into Protruding Junk Man; athlete by day, crotch bulging vigilante by night.

This is not only the most homoerotic description of football ever, but great evidence that football players should be very easy to sexually objectify. I’m a straight dude and I’m flying half-mast right now.

What do you think I meant?

What do you think I meant?

Still, it doesn’t happen. Can you picture a woman saying, “HOLD ON TO YOUR VAGINAS, LADIES! HERE COMES THE FOOTBALL TEAM!”

I can’t. It’s unimaginable to me. And that’s the point. It’s my privilege as an American male to not have to worry about it.

Knapsacking Up Introduction

I remember the exact moment I became a feminist.

I was a junior in college, taking Human Relations a year early because the terrible professor who usually taught the course was on a sabbatical. The professor brought in several excellent speakers who told their story, and in doing so, shared with a bunch of White college kids what it was like to be Black or female or homosexual or Native-American or Asian-American in our society.

In preparation for one speaker, we were asked to read Peggy McIntosh’s “Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack.” Although the version we read for our Human Relations course dealt specifically with race, the connection with sex and gender was not difficult to make.

From that day(ish) forward, I have been a self-described feminist. As a high school educator and coach, I deal with high school students every day, teaching American History and American Government. Most of them think that feminists burn bras and seek to set up a matriarchy in America.

Me? I like bras. They’re fun to take off and keep boobs from getting droopy later in life. (Is that science or am I just making that up?) I really just want two things. First, I want American society to perceive women as worthy of the same basic respect as men. Second, I want women to receive the same opportunities as men.

See? That’s not so much, right?

Once upon a time, a friend of mine set up a feminist website and I was set to contribute. My plan was to provide a male perspective on the inherent advantages we have in America solely because we are men. I would have “unpacked” items in that knapsack through my experiences deep in the heart of BachmannLand, the most terrifying place on earth.

Unfortunately, life happened and the website collapsed after I worked ahead and finished several posts. So, over the next eight weekdays, I’ll be burning through my planned series “Knapsacking Up.”

Street Smarts

I love going home and I hate going home. Beyond the long two and a half hour drive to a loving family lies political discord. Every. Single. Time. Whether it’s out on the porch on Easter, in the living room on Christmas, or in the garage after a round of golf. Every. Single. Time.

On one level, it’s awesome. I don’t have a ton of conservative friends and there’s a lot of value in discussing things with people who have different values and beliefs. I’ve learned to be reflective and the drive home gives me lots of time to chew on things and assess the things they said. This is an example of just such a thing.

On the other hand, it’s awful. Although I’m more moderate than most of my friends, we all operate the same way and have the same broad values. We are generally the same people.

That is not the case with my dad and my uncles. They’ve spent a lifetime doing. I’ve spent mine reading, listening, and reflecting. They’ve, on the whole, lived in rural areas their whole lives. I’ve lived on the farm, in the suburbs, and in the city and have traveled across the country and across the Atlantic. They are distrustful, at best, of science. I (over)zealously embrace it. They purposefully exaggerate while griping. I demand factual accuracy and precise word choice AT ALL TIMES.

This time, my uncle, then my dad, took shots at folks who come onto the job or into a situation with a know-it-all attitude despite not knowing it. Of course, they couldn’t help but phrase it in a way that lumped all college graduates into this category.

Everything I know is useless because it wasn’t learned at the School of Hard Knocks, but no offense? Thanks…

Have I mentioned that Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday? There’s football on Thanksgiving.


Can we stop using the phrase “street smarts?” It, probably along with “common sense,” needs to die.

Let’s use an example my uncle used. His wife, a very intelligent woman who does auditing at universities across the country, expressed surprise that the loon, Minnesota’s state bird, could fly.

Silly, right? Everyone, or at least most people, could sort of figure out that a loon can fly.

On the other hand, Continue reading