In 1981, after a tense and hot summer, President Ronald Reagan fired the nation’s air traffic controllers. I was ten years old at the time. Well, not quite. My tenth birthday was about a month away, and that was a Very Bad Time in my life. My parents were getting divorced. It was a Big Bad Divorce. Divorce in the late 70s/early 80s was weird, and in my family it was devastatingly weird, because until that point in my life, which I had conveniently convinced myself was completely normal but was anything but, the familial unit was comprised of a father who abused his wife and daughter (only child) and every other living thing around him with a level of brutality and wanton cruelty that today would be considered utterly psychopathic and sociopathic. Should a man (or woman) be seen doing to his (or her) wife and child any of the things he did to us, today, by a friend or neighbor (or stranger), that person would be obligated as a human to call the authorities and report them for it. And the law would find them guilty; a juror of their peers would find them guilty, and they would be in prison. Those are just facts. He has a public record in San Bernardino County family court (I believe; I am not sure on the particulars of which court this record resides in) for the molestation charges against me, and my mother probably documented her physical assaults with her divorce lawyer, who is now deceased. I have no idea what a dead lawyer does with their case files. Sperm donor was in the San Bernardino Sun paper when he paid my mother’s lawyer in pennies. Her lawyer’s entire fee, which he had to pay him, he paid to this guy in pennies. He LOVES to tell this story, about how in the early 80s when divorce became so “fashionable” for “feminists” that they all went out and found these slimeball lawyers, who in actuality were swingers who just wanted to get in their pants so they had this con going by advertising in slick suits where they put themselves out there to hire out to desperate housewives who wanted to ditch their husbands and steal their husbands’ money (believe me, I had to pay strict attention to this “logic” of his or else I got a beating if I didn’t follow along). And these “feminists” would believe their slick lawyer speeches even though all the husbands were innocent of everything and the “feminists” were just lying bitches and the slick lawyers were lying bastards. It didn’t matter that he had had to go to court a bunch of times and was not allowed to come to the house, apparently, and a bunch of other stuff, like paying my mother’s lawyer all that money. If I didn’t agree with him I got hurt. These ditched husbands would end up having to pay these lawyers their hard-earned paychecks. Sperm donor had to pay my mother’s divorce lawyer something like $300-something. So he went down to HIS bank, got that money in pennies, put it in his huge honking truck, and delivered it via wheelbarrow to my mother’s lawyer. Some were in plastic cases the bank held rolled coin in to ship. Some were in the canvas sacks banks had miscellaneous coin in. Some were just in the paper rolls folks take rolled coins to the bank in to exchange. Some were LOOSE COIN. And he had actually called the San Bernardino Sun to come down to the bank and take a picture of him with all this copper coin loot in his wheelbarrow, with him holding it up like a goddamn old miner coming out of an abandoned mine finding a lost hoard, an honest-to-god vindictive grin on his face. I would go to the Sun archives and pull it up, except I refuse to taint my blog with his face and presence like that. Nope, not gonna happen. It’s bad enough it’s stuck in my memory, ick.
Anyway, that is just the lead-in to the whole premise of Modern Problems. And 1981 being the lead in to 2019. You see, 1981 was such a chaotic year. For me personally, I was all sorts of messed up. My Granny was living with us that year, because my mom needed her mom in a bad way, and I absolutely loved having my Granny there. I formed an amazing bond with my Granny that year, and to this day I love and honour and respect my Granny with a deepness in my core that I don’t think my mother understands. My mother is a narcissist, and I don’t think she can form those kinds of deep bonds with anyone, and that makes me very sad. I am constantly urging her to seek help from a professional, but she shies away every time. In 1981, I sure could have used her help, but at least I had my Granny. In the big wide world, Reagan made a disastrous error and fired those air traffic controllers. It brought to light some really messed-up stuff in our nation’s infrastructure we needed to fix, and we ultimately did. Not before Reagan put his foot in his mouth, though. That giant bungle made our air traffic controllers grow some nice sharp teeth, and labour laws in our nation get mighty tough. The 80s saw some really powerful progressive change for the people, and even though I was only ten I felt a mighty sense of victory surge through me when I realised what a tromping Reagan took over the air traffic controllers. Because I knew it wasn’t just about air travel, or airplanes maybe crashing because the air traffic controllers were crazy people working crazy shifts. That’s why my Granny took the train from Ohio to California to see us; she wasn’t going to risk flying at all during that debacle. I thought it was kind of romantic and retro that she was forced to take the train, because we had to drive to Barstow to pick her up, and Barstow had a really cool old train station that smelled neat like old places do, and had fascinating architecture. My Granny and I talked about those things, and my mom and I did, a little, but whenever I tried to get her to open up and talk more, she would get sullen and withdrawn, and snap at me if I pushed her or cajoled her to come out of her shell and participate in more talk. So I was forced to always give up and let her be silent and sad. I did learn, when I was ten, from my Granny, that Amtrak was owned by the government so she found it ironic that through the great tension of 1981 her roundabout travel plans still put funds in the government coffers and paid government workers. And there were a lot of people at that Barstow train station, traveling the Amtrak lines in the early 80s, because we took the train around that same time to San Diego, and it was packed. As in, almost as packed as some regular city buses are these days. I also learned what the word ironic means, because I had to look it up in the dictionary.
Remember, I grew up in the military, and specifically the Air Force. And this was during the time sperm donor was transferring from military to civilian life…sort of. Because he wasn’t going full civilian, he was moving from Air Force to aerospace. Specifically NASA. But not directly NASA. He wanted to go straight NASA but he failed in some background checks. So he had to settle as a contractor. Government contractors are not as “elite” as straight government workers, and in NASA it is even more snobby. The hierarchy is stark and very delineated. It is much akin to the way academia is stratified because it is, in essence, very academia-oriented work. Science of the maths. Just like if you worked in the museum world or the university world, the world of NASA and Lockheed-Martin and Bell and all those other aerospace contractors is vicious and tight and stratified. And in the early 80s sperm donor (former Air Force tech staff sergeant) was low man on the totem because he failed something in his background checks or testing parameters or something for their hierarchical pyramid structure. Still, I paid attention and knew the pilots association and the aeronautics associations were not so happy with Reagan either and he was getting tromped on by them as well. And my rebellious little heart rejoiced. While still getting beat on and abused and programmed by this awful man who told me he loved me and cared for me and just wanted the absolute best for me all the time the end amen. Let’s go to the movies.
When we saw Chevy Chase in Modern Problems for Christmas in 1981, I thought it was the greatest. All the evils of the world wrapped up into one stunning exposition. Afterwards we went out for pizza. When we got back to the trailer, there was a legendary explosion, because sperm donor did not like the love story in the movie at all. He thought the movie should have been only about Chevy Chase going off on his boss and all the stupid shit that goes wrong all the time, not him getting involved with some stupid feminist. There is not much to remember after that.
Sociology In Action
Now. Isn’t it ironic that this movie came out 37 years and 3 months ago? That’s almost forty years! Two generations! It’s basically an era. And if you look at things from a sociological perspective, as I have been for the past many moons, you get a sort of whooshy feeling in your solar plexus region. Because the characters in that movie exemplify some of the most archetypal features of our current sociological era in really stark ways.
When I started putting this post together I didn’t mean to make an exposition upon an exposition, but I seem to end up pontificating a lot on everything with a sort of pop culture framework filled in with tons of metaphorical snark and memory. Oh well, that’s fun. My favourite character in this movie has always been Nell Carter’s Dorita, for too many reasons to list, but I am not going to start there because that is way too complex. No, I’ll start with something much easier and safer to contain in context: Dabney Coleman’s Mark Winslow. In 1981 this type of guy was being called out as the machismo huckster they were, trying too hard to maintain that dominant authority in a world where women had obviously proven their capabilities in a post-ERA environment. The dust was still settling, though, and these older men were still very touchy and proud and women respected that pride. That time of history was really bumpy. And creating caricatures of the people of the times was the literal job of people like Chevy Chase and Nell Carter and Dabney Coleman and such. They were masters and mistresses at their craft. They made a lot of money and got a lot of publicity for it, good and bad. Dabney Coleman played Mark wonderfully. That last scene where he decides NOT to kill himself because his CAR is brand-new, after all else has failed to bring him back, is just delicious. But now, an era later, when society should have purged this trait from itself as undesirable, toxic masculinity is still not only prevalent but has given rise to an entire host of even more undesirable traits such as incels, red pillers, MRAs, and rapists being given the legal right to represent aborted fetuses against their victims. See https://www.usnews.com/news/us/articles/2019-03-08/wrongful-death-lawsuit-filed-on-behalf-of-aborted-embryo
“I’m not a freak. He’s a freak. I’m a goddam good-lookin man.”
Toxic masculinity has now been defined by the American Psychological Association, a pretty huge step. Read about it here: https://www.apa.org/monitor/2019/01/ce-corner
Needless to say, this announcement has had quite a stir. Defining the phrase toxic masculinity was of course going to have an impact. It has been in the cultural lexicon for a while now, but not officially defined by any formal group. It was necessary for it to have an official definition. Humans need things to have definition, because we do not like things to be vague and unformed. It’s why the Impressionist style of art was seen as vulgar, actually: because it was not clearly defined, but done in a deliberately vague and unformed manner so as to seem misty and undefined. In Paris of the time, it was considered scandalous. Imagine Paris being scandalised. Well, the American Psychological Association, an American-based but worldwide institution unlike any other and which is looked toward by everyone else in the world as the guiding force and principle behind psychiatric care and treatment, has scandalised the men of the world by daring to define toxic masculinity. And not only that, but to say that toxic masculinity is “traditional masculinity” taken to extremes, without the input from listening to others and considering their feelings, because the toxic masculine one was never allowed to express and feel their own feelings. That’s it, in a nutshell. After decades of research, study, and data correlation; using basically all of human history and every science known, that is what the APA came up with. And the vast majority of those in the field agree. The vast majority of scientists in general agree. The vast majority of the public laypeople agree. In fact, the only people who seem to not agree are those suffering from this condition themselves. And that includes both men and women, because women suffer from toxic masculinity as well. Through enabling and teaching the behaviour and emotional elements of the “toxic” part.
When psychologists and psychiatrists study human emotions and behaviours, they have to use measurement tools that are not quantifiable, like a geologist measures core samples and the minerals from them. My cousin is a geologist. A very fancy one. His major took him extra time to complete, and he got discouraged a couple of times, because he is an archaeo-geologist. That’s right. He double majored in archaeology and geology, and a lot of people thought he was pretty crazy, but I didn’t because I saw what he was getting at immediately and thought it was brilliant. He is a full Doctor now, doing Doctor things. Very spiffy. He is in Sudan right now, where he did his field work for his doctorate, because of some exciting new discoveries that would probably only excite geologists and other people studying climate change and other things particular to that kind of field of study. But when he said he was going to Sudan because exciting new find, I of course got excited and happy for him. He gets to play in the dirt with fun tools. Sometimes he shares his data and I get to nerd out. The tools psychology uses are the dry and boring data statistics sociologists collect from census polls and police reports and Neilsen ratings and all sorts of things. They read tons of ancient crumbling newspaper articles. In Greeley, Colorado, the University of Northern Colorado has a room in the basement of it’s library (which is named after the novelist James Michner) that is just full of old Colorado state records. It is in the process of being digitised, but that costs money and the state doesn’t have a lot of it to spend on this monumental task, so it takes time. It also takes a lot of time to actually do the task. And if you have never handled old, fragile documents, let me tell you that it can be pretty hazardous sometimes because they can fall apart. They smell nice, though. After the documents are digitised they are destroyed. They take up so much room, you see, and they are fire hazards. Beautiful treasures, but digital lasts forever. And a lot of them are just junk: old survey plot diagrams and lists of requisitions and things like that. It makes me sad to lose those old maps because boy, what you could decoupage out of those…But I digress again. Sociologists spend a lot of time in old libraries like that, or their digital archives.
So when people get antsy and say “psychology is garbage” or “I am a manly man and don’t need some flowery therapist to tell me how to feel”, perhaps remind them that it’s not a psychologist or flowery therapist suggesting these things, but the painful history of the Great Depression, or the Trail of Tears, or the Lorraine in Memphis…or even the Two Towers. Because when we remember not only those events but the hard and brutal and wrenching lessons of afterward we see what toxic masculinity really is, and how blinding and binding it is.
But men are not the only toxic ones.
A good satire expositionist is always fair in their treatment, and I have tried my whole life to be fair. Of course I haven’t always succeeded, which is why I have occasionally fallen flat on my face, gotten addicted to meth, ended up in jail, gone into debt, stuck my foot in my mouth, ended up in a hospital, turned into an alcoholic, or otherwise had a shitty outcome. But in such cases, I took my lumps and swallowed the bitters and said, “hey self, that was really crappy, so what do you say we never do that again?” and so far I have rarely made the same mistake twice. When I have, in fact, made the same mistake twice, the second mistake has always been worse. So much worse. I am sure many people reading this can empathise. I call those Cosmic Clue-By-Fours. Someone said that to me once to describe those sorts of life lessons that come along repeatedly and just knock you on your ass. I can’t remember who it was, but the name stuck, and since I really HATE being hit by a Cosmic Clue-By-Four, I stopped getting hit by them a while ago. I pay attention to my mistakes because if I pay attention, I don’t get blindsided by the big mistakes that end up turning into Cosmic Clue-By-Fours, and thank goodness. I managed to mostly rid myself of this bad habit by doing my best not to be a toxic female. Toxic femininity is a real thing just as much as toxic masculinity is, and it is no surprise that once women got the freedom to be, well, women, it would come out from under the skirts and bonnets and be just as loud as the women themselves. It’s always been there, but now it is wearing a new face, and it has new permissions and legal authority to exist. As women and feminists, it’s our duty to act like LADIES and not be toxic when it isn’t appropriate, and to use our new rights to be appropriately toxic when necessary. As women we are equipped to be calculating and devious and wickedly sharp; men have created that trait in us because of their oppression of us throughout history, or encouraged it depending on how they saw us. Mostly they used us. Only a few tribal societies used the woman’s gift of calculation and cleverness as a collaborative tool. And then most of those perverted it when western culture took over.
Throughout time, women have been the nurturers, for obvious reasons. It is a feminine gift to empathise with those we nurture, because it makes nurturing more efficient. The human organic machine quite literally operates at peak performance when the innate facility to empathise and nurture together, naturally, proceed without hindrance. You can thank a bunch of mad scientists in Germany and Russia for figuring that out by doing a ton of horrendous experiments on women and babies with the approval and sanction of sick and twisted authoritarian regimes like the Nazis and Stalin. Have a Google, because this entry is not about that. But when a human has too much empathy and wants to nurture too much, it is toxic just like when a human’s masculine traits like aggression and stoicism turn toxic when there is too much. Like if a human has too much alcohol they get drunk, and too much too often, or in a human susceptible to such, alcoholism comes along and causes all sorts of unhappy havoc. Science does not understand all the variables yet, but scientists are busy little bees. In women, the feminine ones, toxic femininity becomes presentable in what I like to call “helicopter people”. Because the term “helicopter parent” is so common in the lexicon these days, in this era. And I can hear the collective eyerolls. Helicopter parenting is a perfect example of empathy/nurturing gone off the deep end and failing at treading water. It creates anti-vaxxers and parents who are oblivious to the fact that their eleven year old is going to shoot state trooper dad in the back because they took their video games away the day before.
Helicopter people want to know all about everything, but tend to ignore what is right in front of their face. What is inside themselves. They get so busy taking care of everyone around them in one way or another they neglect what really matters, in just the same way toxicity eats everything else from the inside out. A good article on the subject I found browsing around writing this post comes out of India from a local news station there. https://www.news18.com/news/buzz/women-vs-women-toxic-femininity-is-real-and-its-time-to-talk-about-it-1952023.html
There is no psychological definition or suggested course of action or treatment for toxic femininity like there is for toxic masculinity, and that is a grave oversight and ridiculous flaw in a release by a large group of scientists that study human behaviour. Especially behaviour based specifically on the balance of the masculine and feminine. Why release a set of guidelines for men and boys if not one for women and girls? Why go to the great lengths of outlining toxic masculinity if not also do the same for toxic femininity? The baseline in all the studies is the opposite, balancing effect of the empathetic and nurturing element of the human psyche, ie the feminine in all of us whether male or female. That is a basic tenet of psychology in general because it is an element of gender and sexuality. It is a lot more complex than basic plumbing. A lot of people don’t want to admit that, but it really is. More cultures than the Monotheistic ones of the west have come to terms with this.
I am going to close this with a bow to my lovely state of Colorado. The above is a picture I took last year up in Nederland, at the annual festival of Frozen Dead Guy Days during the supercalifragilistic Coffin Races. I will leave a link at the bottom of the page to the festival, because it is pretty famous and everyone should check it out. I was scrolling through my photos (and there are a lot of them, and I had a hard time choosing which one to pick) trying to pick which one to use, because this weekend is FDGD but for the first time in a while we couldn’t go. We have no vehicle and due to historic avalanche conditions and icy roads we decided not to risk it. I bet it’s amazing up there, though, because it’s always snowing a little bit, and the mountains have been getting pounded. This year’s Coffin Races were probably epic. When you watch these races, you laugh so hard you cry. And then the tears freeze on your face. And your sides hurt. But you can’t stop laughing because the races continue. These men and women work together to build these coffins out of crazy materials and then they race them around this snowy, frozen, muddy, wet, cold, insane obstacle course. Inside is the lightest crewmember, male or female, because the coffin must be occupied. At some point that person will get out and perform a complicated task and then get back in. There is much chaos. And falling. Costumes tear and disintegrate. The course monitors have to put the course back together a LOT. The announcers are hilarious. Sometimes they stop and someone jumps into the frozen pool. And the people on these teams are anyone from casual bowling league friends to scientists at NOAA. Spontaneous goers to the festival sign up sometimes. Almost all of the money raised goes to local good stuff in Nederland like the food bank or repairing the covered bridge or the animal shelter, things like that. Ned is a good town and always has been. And if you want to know more about Frozen Dead Guy Days you will just have to check out the link, because it is my favourite local festival (that’s saying a lot because Colorado is not suffering a dearth of wonderful festivals) and I am sad I missed it this year.
PS…As I was proofing this, I realised several passages of this are good for my book, so if you like what you read, let me know one way or another.