Testosterone Time

On Sunday, as Russell and I watched the Browns first soar then sickeningly crash and burn, I was reminded again of how many men can be, well, assholes.

Detroit is only a few hours away from Cleveland, and there were a lot of Detroit fans at the game.  Many of them came by bus, decked out in their jerseys and headpieces and other Lions finery.  In the municipal lot, where the buses park, there was some good-natured ribbing between the fans, and Browns and Detroit supporters posed for friendly pictures.

IMG_5088But then, a few beers later, the game started, and for some fans the good-natured veneer boiled away.  Some Detroit fans were seated in the row behind us, and the men among them started to get into it with the Browns fans below.  When the Lions grabbed an early lead, the Detroit fans started taunting about the game and the Indians, then when Cleveland grabbed the lead Browns fans responded with insults and celebratory dances calculated to provoke — which they did.  By the time more beers had gone down and the game started to go south for the Browns in the second half, one-finger salutes were exchanged, fists were shaken, and the escalating situation seemed one swing away from a melee.

I looked at the men involved.  Each of them was with his wife, and the women were cringing with embarrassment at their middle-aged husbands acting like stupid adolescents.  No doubt they also worried that they might be trapped in a brawl and then have to worry about their spouse being arrested or injured.  I felt sorry for the women — and also felt sorry for the rest of us who had to witness the absurd, testosterone-laden tableau.  Fortunately for everyone in the vicinity, the situation was defused when the principal Browns fans involved meekly stumbled down the stadium stairs after a bonehead play by Brandon Weeden put the game out of reach.

I was glad no fighting occurred, but I found myself wondering:  do those guys, Lions and Browns fans alike, have any perception of how imbecilic they look?  When they wake up the next morning with a hangover, do they burn with shame at their behavior and apologize to their long-suffering wives?  Or is self-awareness and contrition simply inconsistent with acting like a complete jerk?

The Tantalizing Teachings Of Dove’s “Real Beauty Sketches”

If you haven’t seen the Dove Real Beauty Sketches video, above, watch it — it’s fascinating.

The video — which has sparked some controversy — suggests that women are unfairly self-critical about their appearance.  They tend to describe themselves in a way that is much less flattering than others would describe them.  Why?  Could it be that women view themselves as being compared to some ludicrous standard of female perfection, and never quite measuring up . . . and therefore they downplay their own, true attractiveness?

Men don’t seem to have this problem.  Most men don’t seem to think that they should look like the models seen in Abercrombie & Fitch ads.  Why not?

The Impenetrable Female Dancing Circle

Yesterday’s wedding reception for Joe and Laura featured a DJ, a disco ball, and a spacious dance floor.  As a result, we were exposed to one of the worst recent wedding reception developments:  the Impenetrable Female Dancing Circle.

If you’ve been to a wedding in the last five years, you’ve probably seen an IFDC.  It forms when high-spirited young women forsake the need for a partner and rush the dance floor, forming a circle.  They bounce up and down and clap and do some secret dance unknown to anyone over age 30 while one circle member after another moves into the center to cut a rug.  The participation in the circle is 99% female; rare, indeed, is the Y-chromosomed human who has the confidence in his dancing ability to break into the circle.  And so the IFDC goes on and on, unbroken, a living thing, throbbing and shrieking as each new favorite song comes on.

So, what’s the problem?  Why should even a cranky and grizzled veteran of countless weddings care if young women want to band together, empower themselves, and proudly display their dancing chops?

The problem is this:  if you are a crappy dancer — and let’s face it, that description applies to the spastic dancing attempts of the vast majority of American males — you don’t want to try to break into an IFDC or, even worse, dance with your partner on the empty side of the floor, where your fitful and pathetic moves will be exposed for all chuckling wedding guests to see.  The great thing about a crowded dance floor is that it is crowded.  You and your partner can move into the center of the floor and meld into the mass of pulsing humanity so that your lame attempts to get down aren’t the subject of mass derision.

If you’re feeling in a celebratory mood at a wedding reception, therefore, the IFDC might just prevent you from fully expressing your joy with your patented shimmy and shake.  So c’mon, ladies — after you’ve formed that IFDC for a dance or two, break up, fill the floor, and let the rest of us find the dancing anonymity that we so desperately need!

Bridal Shower Avoidance Syndrome

Our nephew is getting married early next year.  Today the women of the family are having a big bridal shower for his lovely fiancee.

https://i1.wp.com/us.123rf.com/400wm/400/400/debstheleo/debstheleo0805/debstheleo080500075/3040337-pink-butterfly-place-setting-for-the-bride.jpgPredictably, no male — except perhaps an unlucky waiter — will be present for the affair.  In fact, if they have any say in the matter, neither the groom nor any man in the family will be anywhere in the vicinity during the shower or for a reasonable interval before and after.  Their Bridal Shower Avoidance Syndrome has kicked in with full, testosterone-laden force.

Why is this so?  Is the urge to avoid any event that features a pink color scheme or “finger sandwiches” linked to the Y chromosome?  Did the evolutionary processes that produced successful male hunter-gatherers also produce an instinctive aversion to squealing and tiny hand claps as a way of expressing glee?  Or, do men simply learn, through bitter experience from the earliest days of boyhood, that they really don’t the slightest idea what is “cute,” or what might be even “cuter” — and, in fact, they really don’t care one way or the other?

Heroic Hairlessness

If you’re a guy and you’re losing your hair, you’ve got a choice:  you can accept it and live with it, or you can take extreme measures, like expensive toupees, hair implants, or Rogaine or other hair growth treatments, to try to deal with the issue.  What to do?

For generations, men have bemoaned baldness.  They think women find bald men unattractive, and third parties think chrome domers are pathetic.  Now experiments conducted by a University of Pennsylvania researcher suggest these concerns are unfounded.  In fact, his experiments indicated that guys with shaved scalps are viewed as more manly, more dominant, and taller, stronger, and having more leadership potential.  According to the experiments, baldies still aren’t considered as physically attractive as men with full heads of hair, but a shaved head still beats the thinning hair and comb-over looks every time.  (Although the linked story doesn’t say so, incidentally, I’m assuming the depilated dudes didn’t have unsightly ridges, bumps, or scars on their heads.)

Why is this so?  I think it’s because people who accept their condition and deal with it are always going to be viewed as stronger and more decisive than people who try to mask the condition or reverse it.  Trying to hide something always seems weak — and trying to hide something as obvious as thinning hair, or wearing a bad toupee, just makes the individual seem ridiculous, too.

Why Must Angela Merkel Always Be Kissed?

Why is it that, whenever you see a photo of German Chancellor Angela Merkel at a meeting with other world leaders, she’s always being kissed on the cheek or even on the lips?

It’s interesting that, even as they talk about gender equality, our world leaders still cling to old-fashioned, sex-specific forms of greetings.  Angela Merkel leads an economic powerhouse that props up countries like Greece and is supposed to figure out a way to bring fiscal sanity to the Eurozone, yet every time she goes to a summit meeting she’s got to put up with getting smacked on the cheek by every head of state in attendance, like she’s their favorite granddaughter.

Merkel’s got to be a tough individual to steel herself to the constant kissing, and she must not be a germaphobe.  Nevertheless, I’ll bet she dreads going to the really big gatherings, like the start of the UN General Assembly, and coming away with chapped cheeks from all of the slobbery pecks she gets.  For every suave kisser on the world stage there have got to be some third-world potentates whose smooching technique closely resembles a dog lick.  Imagine how she feels when she sees Hugo Chavez advancing, with that glint in his eye and his lips pursed for a big smackeroo.

I think it’s high time that the women leaders of the world get a firm handshake, like everybody else.  Let’s give their lips and cheeks a break.

On The Value Of Free Public Toilets

What separates a “first world” country from a second or third world country?  Free and sanitary public toilets would be high on the list of distinguishing features.

In Mumbai, India, a campaign is underway to try to shame public authorities into establishing free public toilets for women.  Currently, women have to pay for the privilege of using a public toilet, while men can do so for free.  Moreover, there is a huge shortage of toilets, both public and private, in India.  Indeed, a recent survey showed that half — half! — of Indian homes do not have toilets.  As a result, it is commonplace for people to relieve themselves in public.  In a nation as crowded as India, that reality has obvious public health consequences, to say nothing of its negative effect on the sights and smells of everyday existence.

Americans take the existence of (relatively) clean and accessible public facilities for granted.  It’s hard to imagine what life would be like if they weren’t available — but in many parts of India that is the way of the world.  As India continues to surge forward to solidify its position as a global economic and military powerhouse, it also should focus on basic decencies like public toilets for its people.  You’re far more likely to be happy, productive, and full of self-respect if the call of nature doesn’t require you to squat, embarrassed, by the side of the road.

Illuminating The Misogyny

The recent incident in which Rush Limbaugh called a woman who spoke out about contraception policy a “slut” could end up being beneficial in many different ways.  I’m keeping my fingers crossed.

Name-calling is inappropriate.  It’s cheap, thoughtless, and dehumanizing. It adds nothing to the discourse and says a lot more — all of it bad — about the name-caller than it does about the subject of the name-calling.  Limbaugh learned his lesson when his comments provoked outrage and he apologized for his crudeness.  He was right to do so, of course, and I think we should accept his apology as sincere.  If Rush Limbaugh becomes a bit more temperate in his language as a result of this episode, that would be a good thing.

I also think, however, that conservatives make a fair point when they note that a lot of misogynistic language emanates from the political left, be it Bill Maher, or bloggers, or rappers, and that no one seems to care about it or criticize it.

There is a subtle but, I think, important distinction to be made, too, in connection with the conservative focus on the likes of Bill Maher and his insulting, sick comments about conservative women like Sarah Palin.  Pointing out the bad conduct of others in order to excuse your own misdeeds because “everybody does it” is a schoolyard ruse, but recognizing the pervasiveness of a problem because your consciousness has been raised by a particular episode is quite another.  I’m hoping that the current dialogue falls into the latter category.

That’s why I think it’s important for people across the spectrum to call out and condemn people who use misogynistic language and imagery, whether we otherwise agree with the speaker’s politics or not.  If people on the left can make gross jokes about the fertility or sexual practices of conservative women in politics with impunity, people on the right will come to view the misogyny issue as mere politicking and tune it out.

Obviously, we want to make sure that doesn’t happen.  Women should be able to participate in politics without people commenting on their appearance or private lives, just as is the case with men.  If Rush Limbaugh’s ill-advised comments ultimately move us closer to that goal, that would be a good thing — but that’s only going to happen if we all maintain a vigilant, and even-handed, intolerance for misogynistic comments.

The Inoculatory Pre-Golf Personal Information Exchange

If you are a married man, you’ve probably experienced this scenario.  You and your wife are friends with a couple.  You innocently mention to your lovely bride that you are going to have lunch, or a beer, or play golf with the male member of the couple.  When you return home afterward, your spouse bombards you with questions.  How is Mike’s mother adjusting to the new iron lung?  Has little Elroy accepted the riflery scholarship to Duke?  How is the family dealing with the mysterious, apparently voodoo-related death of the family cat?

You sheepishly admit that you didn’t talk about any of that stuff — or anything else of significance, besides.  And your wife, arms crossed, fixes you with a withering glare of disbelief — causing you to shrivel inwardly with intense embarrassment, realize for the first time the full and tragic extent of your brutish insensitivity, and vow that you will finally become a decent, nurturing member of human society.

Well, we all know the last part doesn’t really happen.  After your wife gives you her amazed reaction, you actually think:  why would I want to talk about any of that stuff that when I’m playing golf?  Still, the encounter with your wife was somewhat unpleasant, and it would be best to avoid similar occasions in the future.  But how?

Here’s a suggestion.  The next time, spend the first five minutes exchanging high-level family information with your friend.  Nessie has been named citizen of the week at the juvenile detention facility!  Sally’s aunt has developed a powerful rash of unknown origin!  The Jones family had a grand time at their bullfighting camp!  Seize on those drab nuggets of personal information and lock them away in the recesses of your brain, because they will be your lifeline when you get home.  Then, turn to more interesting conversational areas — like sports and which episode of Seinfeld was definitive.

At home that night, when your wife asks the inevitable questions, you can retrieve and the casually throw out the stored personal information, perhaps with a little embellishment.  Sure, your wife will have countless detailed follow-up questions that you can’t possibly answer.  Don’t even try.  Just shrug and say that Ken said he didn’t know — and then add, with a hint of sadness, that you sensed that he really didn’t want to talk about it, and you didn’t want to intrude into what might be an area of intense personal concern for him.  Who knows?  Your wife might actually conclude that you are making progress as a human being and now possess more sensitivity than a gnat.

Gum-Snapping Fashion

When we were in New York City, we noticed many young women who were dressed to the nines.  They were wearing breeches, and knee-high boots, and dainty short white coats, and scarves that were carefully tied so as to look as if they had been casually tied.  A very strong high fashion vibe was in the air, everywhere — but then the whole look was destroyed when you saw the young lady, mouth agape, chomping away on a wad of gum.

You never see Vogue models with gum in their mouths.  There’s a reason for that — the vigorous jaw workout that goes with gum chewing is neither attractive nor classy.  You can put together the most attractive high-fashion clothing ensemble imaginable, one that would fit comfortably on the streets of Paris, and if you’re grinding away on a lump of gum you may as well be wearing ratty, ill-fitting sweats and walk outside with a bad case of “bed head.”  It is simply impossible to look cool and fashionable when you’re chewing gum.

I find this curious.  Anyone who pays as much attention to their appearance as these young women obviously do must be aware of how their unseemly gum-snapping is perceived.  Do they just not care how they look to strangers on the street as they chomp away, and do they then dispose of their gum in some fashionable way when they reach their fashionable destination?  Or is the gum an intentional statement that is designed to convey some kind of ironic message too subtle for me to comprehend?

Curse Of The Purse

The other day I was pondering why Kish’s key ring weighs approximately 30 pounds, and I concluded that purses are to blame.

This began because I needed the key to Russell’s car, which is on Kish’s key ring — along with 50 other keys, tokens, and bric-a-brac.  I think the key to the diary she kept in 7th grade may be on there somewhere.  Her key ring features a small tag, added at the insistence of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, that reads:  “To avoid back injury, please lift with your legs.”  The heft of the key ring is such that, wielded by an expert, it could stun a charging rhino.

Why is this so?  I’m convinced it’s all about purses.  There has been a clear correlation between increasing size of the key ring and the increasing size of the purse.  Long gone are the days of the small clutch.  No, we are in a period of purse proliferation, where women seem to be competing for the largest, roomiest purse.  Kish’s latest skirts the fine line between purse and duffel bag.

If your purse is huge, there is no incentive to edit the key ring and remove the stray key from a car sold five years ago.  With the luxury of near-infinite space, you can lug around every key you’ve ever used — secure in the knowledge that you’ll never be caught embarrassingly keyless at a crucial moment.

Did the need for a weighty key ring lead to the development of gigantic purses, or did advances in purse technology produce hernia-inducing key rings?  Forget the chicken and the egg — what came first, the enormous purse or the heavyweight key ring?

(Not) Thinking About Sex

Here’s something else that makes me proud of my alma mater — researchers at The Ohio State University have studied how often male and female college students think about sex.  Thank God that our scarce scientific resources have finally been directed at that crucial, too-often-ignored topic!

In any case, the study debunks the canard that men think about sex every seven seconds, which would mean that men think about sex 8,000 times in a 16-hour day.  Instead, the study found that the male subjects reported thinking about sex between 1 and 388 times each day, and the female subjects admitted to thinking about sex between 1 and 140 times per day.

On average, the men thought about sex 19 times a day, and the women thought about sex 10 times a day.  By way of comparison, men thought about food an average of 18 times a day and sleeping an average of 11 times a day, and women thought about food an average of 15 times a day and sleeping 8.5 times a day.

So, according to the study, men aren’t thinking about sex every waking second, and women aren’t either.  In fact, sex, food, and sleep account for only 48 of the thousands of the daily thoughts that college men presumably have.  But that just begs the question:  what in the world were these male college students thinking about the rest of the time?  Here’s my guess on some of the likely results:  (1) sports (200 thoughts per day); (2) beer (200 “thoughts” per day); (3) “This class sucks” (50 thoughts per day); (4) “Whoa, this room is trashed!” (40 times per day); (5) “When you think about it, Captain Picard was actually a better starship captain than Captain Kirk” (25 times a day).

The Science Of Fake Smiles

What really distinguishes a fake smile from the genuine article?  And why do people give fake smiles, anyway?  Science offers some answers.

We’ve all seen fake smiles — in school pictures, on the faces of clerks taking orders at Starbucks, from politicians, and in countless other scenarios.  It turns out that people are better at detecting fake smiles in photos than in real life, because we tend to study photos more closely.  And the key indicator of fakiness is not the position of the grinning mouth and bared teeth, but the eyes.  A muscle around the eye called obicularis occuli contracts when a real smile flashes across the face, giving the eyes that crinkle that separates the real deal smile from the pretenders.  Most people who aren’t actors, con men, or psychopaths just can’t control that muscle.

Studies also indicate that women smile more than men.  The theory is that girls are encouraged from an early age to be more expressive emotionally than boys.  Girls also learn faster than boys that a good fake smile can be an appropriate, polite, social response under certain circumstances — like when Gramma gives you a lame gift for your birthday.  In view of that, it also should not be surprising that women tend to be more adept than clueless male brutes at detecting fake smiles in others and accurately determining what a person’s smile really means.

It follows that if people learn to give fake smiles, and then realize that people often can’t tell the difference, they may decide to wear a fake smile as a matter of course.  When you walk down a Midwestern street and see people with smiles on their faces, how many of them are fake?  No way to tell for sure, of course — but studies also show that people smile much more infrequently when they are alone.

Neckties Flapping In The Breeze

In the eternal debate between men and women about which gender is required by convention to wear the most ludicrous and uncomfortable business attire, one point should be beyond dispute — in a windstorm, the men’s necktie takes the prize for the most annoying article of clothing.

Venture outside on a hot, blustery day, and the tie that formerly hung placidly from your neck suddenly turns into a unpredictable, writhing irritant.  One wind gust might cause it to unexpectedly flap up into your face, then another might wrap it around your neck like the scarf worn by a continental swell.  In the meantime, your carefully assembled business outfit has been thrown into utter disarray, and the buttons on your shirt and your expanding midsection have been hideously exposed to an appalled world.

What’s more, there is no good way to deal with the necktie in the windstorm phenomenon.  If you try to hold the end of your tie with your hand, you look stupid.  If you tuck the end of the tie into the shirt pocket, you look like a nerd.  If you try to ignore the flapping, you look comical.  And if you remove the tie altogether, you raise the ultimate question:  why are men expected to wear these ridiculous, non-functional things in the first place?