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Joe Belanger / Shutterstock

When I hear about horrible things that happen to people, I often come up with some reason why it wouldn’t happen to me. I’d be smarter, more aggressive, more collected. When I do this I use the same part of my brain that thinks of awesome come backs after I’ve been left sputtering at the end of an argument. I’d like to think that I wouldn’t be as helpless and terrified as everyone else.

Of course, I would be. I have no training in managing hostile situations. I write about vaginas and stuff for the Internet; this does not lend itself to savvy survival tactics.

I’m also not physically intimidating in anyway; there are children who can pick me up. I go about my day-to-day life assuming most people can kick my ass, but that they simply choose not to.

So when people talk about owning a gun for protection, I kind of understand where they’re coming from. “Victim” has become a dirty word, even when it comes to things like cancer. Helplessness and vulnerability is un-American. We’re supposed to do everything in our power to not become a victim. We’re supposed to be self-sufficient and independent no matter the odds.

Having a gun shifts the odds. It can make you feel more powerful, more in control. Like having a large dog, traveling with a group of tough-looking friends, or even using a flimsy lock on a stall door, having a gun is associated with personal safety. It feels good to feel safe. It feels right.

Yet I’m reminded of the self-defense courses I’ve taken. I’ve been told to always check under my car and in the back seat, to take neither stairs nor elevators (escalators it is!), to find an alternative exit in every room I enter, how to get violent with people, to never help others, how to wear my hair, nails, shoes, the list goes on.

I took these courses to feel safer, and it felt empowering at the time. I was doing something to protect myself! I wouldn’t be a victim! But once I left these classes there was danger everywhere – under my car, in a stairwell, in a request for directions – and with it came the question of when I would need to use physical force, potentially anywhere, anytime, on anyone. The world at large had not changed during the brief training time, but suddenly I always needed to be on my guard, especially around those who were bigger and stronger than me (nearly everyone.) It was exhausting.

Carrying a gun not only means being prepared for dangerous situations, but also being watchful for one. It’s a mindset that both cultivates a sense of safety and, paradoxically, a sense of fear. If your gun is the only thing between you and your family and a hostile world, then you’re prepared… and framing the world as you and yours versus Them. The nebulous, faceless Them. They can be a particular demographic or even a hostile government. The danger is out there and safety is where you are armed. Of course you’d be against gun free zones, that’s like having a no self-defense zone. After all, They are irrationally hostile, driven by hate, and uncontrollable by law or man. Only violence equal to their violence will save you and yours.

I was checking for Them and preparing for Them when I went through my “self-defense” ritual. I was waiting for Them, thinking of Them, and most of all, fearing Them – the people who would harm me and mine. In this frame of mind, we are the good guys, the heroes of our own stories. When we can only trust ourselves, we must trust ourselves to make the right decisions, even in a life or death situation. Even if your only training is hitting a guy in a padded suit and writing about vaginas and stuff for the Internet.

Yet, we often fail to realize this is true of most people. Even Them. Who are these vigilantes and murderers except those who decided to take matters of life and death into their own hands because they believed it was them against the world? They are people who believe many things, but especially that their actions are justified.

When we look for Them to take a stand against Them, we are looking in the wrong places. The fact is that the vast majority of violence happens between people who know each other, yet we rarely load and carry a gun because we’re putting a specific person’s name and face to our fear. Despite our exacting standards to be on our guard, we usually miss the real danger.

So what now? Do we trim down our social groups? Limit our family gatherings? Stop going out entirely?

I think to live in a way we actually want to live we must let go of the idea of perfect safety coupled with perfect responsibility. I’m not saying we should dispense with safety and security measures all together, but to live constantly waiting for danger is what people do in war zones, and they have the mental scars to prove it.

I no longer go through my useless self-defense checklist, and I do not own or carry a gun. I continue to be small and weak and, so far, I’m fine. Strangers approach me for directions, help in the produce section, and, on one memorable occasion, tearfully, frightened, and alone. Perhaps it is because I’m non-threatening, and I prefer to be so. I don’t feel safe necessarily, but feeling safe may never be an option. Rather than setting myself up to fight against the world, I’m trying to be a part of it.

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Men's Life

What Every Man Should Know About Feminism

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When I was in my last semester of college, I took a class in American History after 1950. One of the first subjects we covered was the social movements of the 1960’s. Chief among them, of course, was the birth of modern feminism. The teacher began the class by asking everyone who considered themselves a feminist to raise their hands. This being a small liberal arts school, all the girls’ hands shot straight up. I was one of only two men in the class and both of us kept our hands down. The teacher asked why the two of us didn’t consider ourselves feminists. I answered that honestly I didn’t really know anything about feminism except for images of women burning bras and complaining about being oppressed. I admit to being a little ignorant about the issue. It seemed crazy to me to hear affluent, young white women complaining about being subjected to oppression when you compared it to the African-American marchers who were having dogs sicced on them and being sprayed down with high-powered hoses. How oppressed could they be really? The answer, as I would come to learn, is that women were and continue to be discriminated against to a degree that you would find shocking if you had really taken the time to think about it. To circle back to my original point, I didn’t raise my hand because I didn’t really know much about Feminism. So what is Feminism? Is it just affluent 19 year old girls seeing the dark hand of the patriarchy everywhere, or are there some very real issues that the movement seeks to address? And why, as men, should we care?

When trying to understand Feminism, you first have to have a little empathy for how hard it has always been to be a woman. From some of the earliest days of Western cultures, women have been regarded as property more than as people. A woman had little to no say in public affairs, no legal ownership of her children, and no form of agency against an abusive husband. Though we decry how often marriages end in divorce today, the availability of divorce was once almost non-existent to women. Regardless of how abusive a woman’s husband was, once they were married she was legally unable to get away from him. It wasn’t until 1993 (looking at you Oklahoma and North Carolina) that a man raping his wife was ruled illegal in all 50 states. Before then the view of many courts was once you married a man, you had no right to not have sex with him.

For the entirety of democratic history up until the early 20th century, women had no right to cast a vote. Imagine, as a man, that you lived in a society where you were not allowed to vote because the prevailing opinion was that you couldn’t be trusted with it and your spouse already spoke for you with their vote. Anyone regrettably married to a Trump supporter will realize what a load of bullshit that is. It took years of long, hard protests and civil disobedience before the United States, which prides itself as a beacon of democracy, extended the vote to over half of its citizens. Even the right to vote didn’t ensure that women were treated on the same basis of men. Women still earned less than men, and were effectively barred from the most prestigious occupations.

Feminism is divided by a lot of scholars into three “waves”. The first was the fight for the vote, when women began to take an active voice in politics en-masse. The second wave of Feminism is the traditional 60’s Feminism that I alluded to earlier. The second wave feminists took issue with the cultural stigmas that continued to ensure that women didn’t have the same rights as men. They fought against unequal wages and legal discrimination for women. In addition, most of the theories of patriarchy and culture-based discrimination dates from this era. This movement won a number of victories in addressing the rights of a woman to work outside the home and to retain legal custody of her children in a divorce.

Third-wave Feminism is in many ways a step back from the Feminism of the 60’s. It attempted to address criticism of second wave Feminism as being too militant and excluding women of color from the movement. It came of age in the 90’s to address the increasing visibility of issues like homosexuality and non-fluid gender roles. It also is in a lot of ways a movement that says women should not be expected to assume the responsibilities traditionally associated with men if they don’t want to. Where the movement of the 60’s would say a woman should work outside the home, the third wave feminists say “it’s up to you”.

So what is Feminism? Put simply it is the belief that a person’s gender should in no way subject them to unequal treatment, either deliberate or subconscious.  It challenges traditional assumptions of a male dominated culture that leads to that unequal treatment. It’s something that everyone should embrace. So where does that leave you, my penis-swinging brother? Hopefully, right where you were. Take a minute and consider whether, what I hope is, your desire to treat everyone fairly extends to women too. Ask, on some level, whether you have been making assumptions about what a woman can or should do based on gender. If so, consider how you can correct those  attitudes. Ask yourself how you can be part of the solution to the fact that women still make 70% of what a man does for doing the same job. If you can do that, you might just find that you are a feminist too.

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Health

Scientists Develop New Type of Cell That Could Revolutionize the Treatment of Heart Disease

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Heart disease has consistently been one of the biggest killers of both men and women, with hundreds of thousands of families losing loved ones to the condition every year. But now a new study published in the journal Cell Stem Cell has identified a possible breakthrough in the treatment of heart disease, offering hope to anyone suffering from a dodgy ticker. The study was conducted by a team of researchers from the Gladstones Institutes, who have discovered a way to make a remarkable new type of cell that could help damaged hearts repair themselves.

Heart failure occurs when the heart is overworked or the supply of oxygen is too low. A sudden attack can cause the loss of huge amounts of important muscle cells known as cardiomyocytes (CMs). These CMs cannot regenerate by themselves, nor can they be replaced because transplanted heart cells tend not to survive in the patient’s body. As you can imagine, this makes the treatment of heart disease quite tricky; since heart cells can’t regenerate or be replaced, the damage is usually irreversible. “Scientists have tried for decades to treat heart failure by transplanting adult heart cells, but these cells cannot reproduce themselves, and so they do not survive in the damaged heart,” said Yu Zhang, MD, PhD, one of the lead authors of the study.

To overcome this dilemma, the team investigated the possibility of regenerating the heart using progenitors—stem cells that have already been programmed to develop into a specific type of cell. In this case, they targeted cardiovascular progenitor cells (CPCs), which are produced as the heart begins to form within the embryo. Using a revolutionary technique, the team were able to produce CPCs in the lab and halt their development so the cells remained effectively “frozen” until use. They called these lab-grown cells “induced expandable CPCs,” or ieCPCs.

Unlike adult heart cells, ieCPCs have the ability to replicate. If transplanted successfully, they could replace a patient’s damaged heart cells and possibly continue to self-repair. “Our generated ieCPCs can prolifically replicate and reliably mature into the three types of cells in the heart, which makes them a very promising potential treatment for heart failure,” said Zhang. To test this theory, the team injected some of the cells into a mouse that had suffered a heart attack. Remarkably, most of the cells transformed into functioning heart cells, generating new muscle tissue and blood vessels and improving the mouse’s overall heart function.

So what does all this mean for the treatment of heart disease? Well, it’s definitely big news. The cells used to treat the mouse were derived from skin cells, which means a patient’s own cells could potentially be used to treat their heart disease. The next step is to try and form human ieCPCs in the lab, and then follow up with human trials to see if the method is as effective. All going well, this could be a viable treatment for heart disease patients within the next few years.

Q: Is this the most important breakthrough yet in the field of heart disease research? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Copyright 2016 David Carroll

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Sex & Relationships

Is Chivalry Dead? If it is, Good Riddance

The idea that (certain) men are noble protectors comes from the eras of rigid hierarchy. From the Middle Ages to the Victorian era and later, being a woman, a child, or poor meant having almost no power, which was a feature, not a bug. A chivalrous man believed that this situation made him responsible for those who couldn’t care for themselves.

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If you want to get technical (and who doesn’t?!) chivalry went out of style in about the 15th century when cheaper professional armies and gunpowder replaced knights as the standard for warfare. Nevertheless, we like to hearken back to days when being a gentleman meant avoiding your lady’s seductive advances and wearing plate armor. Good times.

Image: GIPHY

Okay, I’m being facetious. Being kind and considerate to fellow humans should always be encouraged, and it can overlap with what is regarded as chivalrous behavior.

However, the idea that (certain) men are noble protectors comes from the eras of rigid hierarchy. From the Middle Ages to the Victorian era and later, being a woman, a child, or poor meant having almost no power, which was a feature, not a bug. A chivalrous man believed that this situation made him responsible for those who couldn’t care for themselves. It is honorable all things considered, but better than the relief that the person controlling your life is a decent guy is the ability to control your own person and property.

The concept of chivalry seems to exist in the hazy past, like how the 1950s were the good old days instead of the days of potential nuclear annihilation. There’s this idea that once upon a time men were gentleman, women were ladies, and various behaviors underscored a more genteel way of living. What’s left out of this daydream is all the people who don’t neatly fit into the simplistic boxes of what manhood and womanhood are “supposed” to look like.

It turns out living in the present has its perks, including no longer having to adhere to crushingly rigid social and gender norms. We still have a long way to go, but in general it has become more okay to be who we are instead of following prescribed roles. Men can be primary caregivers, and women can be primary breadwinners. Men can be soft-spoken and abhor violence, and Ronda Rousey is a household name.

LGBTQ people are especially left out when it comes to chivalry. If you’re not part of a heterosexual gender binary, it’s hard to see how some of these rules are supposed to apply or make sense. Even if you are cis and straight, the rules of chivalry have become muddied.

Does it indicate a lack of respect if a man doesn’t stand when a butch lesbian enters a room?

What about a trans woman? Is there a threshold for how feminine she is perceived before you pull a chair out for her?
How old does a man have to be before giving up your seat on the bus is welcome instead of emasculating? If a young man with a cane, a female athlete, and a mumbling bag lady all get to a door at once, who’s responsible for holding it and who should go through first? Does this question even matter if it’s an automatic door (that vile aperture, creator of anarchy and vehicle of the breakdown of everything we as a society hold dear, that is, the importance of proper-door-holding proceedings)?

Despite what manners websites may say, there aren’t actually any solid answers because if chivalry were solely about consideration and good behavior it wouldn’t be so damn confusing. People wouldn’t be so pissed off if it were simply about being kind to each other. (Well, maybe pissed off differently.)

In some ways, chivalry is a way to reinforce gender roles under the guise of refined behavior. But we simply don’t have the same expectations anymore. A man picking up the tab for a date made sense when women’s earnings were severely limited (instead of just limited.) Opening doors and providing a steadying arm made sense when even sensible women’s wear was difficult to move in. Men providing jackets, holding umbrellas, and carrying heavy bags made sense when male physical weakness, especially compared to women, was a great source of shame. Making all the rules for courtship about straight people made sense when queerness was unspeakable.

I’m not saying that we live in a magical, accepting world or that the inequalities that made chivalrous behavior make sense are gone. That much is obvious, and perhaps that’s why there are those who insist it’s still necessary. But as we focus more on achieving equality and we open our eyes to the full spectrum of humanity instead of just “respectable” straight people, the rituals that soften inequality and shore-up outdated ideas have begun to fall away. That’s a good thing.

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