Political discourse is at a place where it’s hard — if not impossible — to see it as productive. Most times, it doesn’t even seem like folks who are arguing have a vision for anything being accomplished by that argument, other than hearing words yelled.

Facts have been weaponized and are lobbed as projectiles, not used as tools to build a bridge from one perspective to another. Opinions are worn like armor, used to protect ourselves from the bombardment of facts. We scream for our ideas to drown out the screams of others for theirs.

If sports are modeled after war, as many people say, our political discourse has taken a form modeled after the way we talk about sports.

Politics as Sports

Let me first draw the parallels, and highlight how this mentality can be harmful, before I suggest an alternative way of approaching things. In sports, and in politics-as-sports…

We’re loyal to a team.

Sometimes that loyalty comes from our family, sometimes we pick our team to piss off our family. Sometimes we study the statistics and pick a team based on who we like the most, and other times we choose based on our favorite color.

But what’s important is we have a team — a team. Just one. And that you cheer for that team loud and clear, win or lose, year after year.

We chide people for changing team loyalties.

We despise “fair-weather” fans. That is, we despise people who like a team because it’s good. In fact, we go so far in that direction that we celebrate attachment to a losing team to the point where it’s sadomasochistic:

Oh, you’re a Cubs fan… now? I was born a Cubs fan. I was a Cubs fan when they lost — year after year. I come from a family of Cubs fans. Three generations of watching them lose. Three generations of depressing seasons, losing records, heartbreaking but-this-is-the-one-shit-no-it’s-not seasons. I drank myself out of a job because of the Cubs. Do you still have your job? You’re no Cubs fan.

Even more, we hold people to things they’ve supported in the past forever (“Yeah, but you used to be a fan of _____.”), make no room for them to grow or change, and attack them when they do — even when they change because they didn’t want to keep being loyal to something terrible.

We use “we” language even though we’re not playing.

We’re not actually on the team, but we think of ourselves as part of it. When our team loses, we lost. When the team wins, we won. The team’s mood is our mood, the team’s beliefs are our beliefs, and the team’s sponsors are our sponsors.

It’s possessive and maybe should be creepy (the way we take ownership of other people, of their actions, and attach ourselves to strangers), but it’s not. It’s fantastical and maybe should feel childish (the way we imagine ourselves as the players, and allow our moods to be dictated by their decisions), but it doesn’t.

Sometimes, when our team loses we’ll take it out on other people, or an entire town. We’ll riot, burn things down, flip cars, scream at strangers. Actually, we do that when we win, too.

And we have rivals, and we hate them because we hate them.

The team we’re loyal to has a team that they hate. They might hate them because of some past contest, some lore from decades ago, or something else (they’re the only other team in our area). It doesn’t really matter why we hate them; it matters how much.

And we hate them a lot.

We hate the rival team so much we curse the very idea of them: don’t you dare mention that name in this house. We hate them so much we hate their supporters. We’ll scream at them, just for wearing the other team’s colors. We’ll disown someone in our life for becoming one of them. Hell, we’ll even fight them in a bar, or on the street, or in a stadium — physically punish a stranger for liking something different from us. And people will cheer.

Politics as Something Different from Sports

The parallels between how we treat politics and how we treat sports could be further elucidated. In fact, they’ve grown so similar it’s unsettling, especially to someone (like me) who doesn’t care much for sports (read: at all) but cares deeply about politics.

It’s unsettling because, to the outsider, deep-set, irrational loyalties in sports (to the point of bloodshed) may seem foolish, but it’s a self-contained foolishness. It doesn’t much leave the arena. Let those people work themselves up (and beat themselves up).

But deep-set, irrational loyalties in politics affect all of us, even those who don’t have a team. There is no leaving the arena when the arena is the world, and angry, mindless, passionate political superfans have the capacity to burn the world down, just to see their rivals in pain.

So what’s the fix?

We need to cultivate a political discourse that is everything the above isn’t. To get out of this quagmire, we need a political playing field where:

  • The team doesn’t matter as much as what that team is doing, what they are standing for or against, and the platform they’re standing on.
  • We support people growing, learning, and evolving, as society grows, learns, and evolves. Where we don’t chide people because they have a new perspective, but celebrate that they’ve expanded their viewpoint in light of evidence.
  • We distance ourselves from the politicians we support, such that we can hold them accountable to their failures without burdening ourselves with that failure, and recognize when they’ve done wrong without having to view ourselves as wrong. We need to see them as our employees, our “civil servants.” We need to start to see them, not us.
  • And we don’t see people who support different politicians from ours as inherently, irrevocably, and irredeemably bad. More importantly, we recognize that the most important alliance is amongst the electorate as a whole, allied against a political class that works against their interests.

And how do we enact it?

We can think small, on the interpersonal level, while thinking more systemically. Both can be done at once.

We might start to recognize the harmful similarities between politics and sports, and call the out when we notice them. Point out, or ask questions, when we think someone is rallying for their team, instead of supporting an idea they think will make the world better.

And we might consider the role of the free press, as well as elections and referenda, to hold this same line on the system level. Push journalists to throw away the sports fan mindset, and to stop asking questions, producing headlines, and publications that foster it. As well as voting based on platforms, ideas, and outcomes; instead of matching the colors of our face paint to the party logo.

But first we need to start with ourselves. Even as I write this, I’m recalling dozens of examples where I’ve been more sports fan than informed citizen, more hooligan than suffragist.

This, for me, starts by putting away the pennant and retiring my jersey. Before we try to change the harmful ways someone else might be approaching political discourse, it’s helpful for us to investigate our own.

Hey NOM,

Sam Killermann here. Or, as I’m being described on your Facebook Page, “Sin with Colored Pencils” here. I read the “blog post” you wrote about me and my “Genderbread Person.” To be “honest,” I couldn’t put together exactly what you were “trying” to say. But I know you, you “know” me, I know me, and we both know it was meant to be a “hate” piece.

(To others reading: sorry for all the confusing and unnecessary quotation marks. I’m trying to speak NOM’s language, because it’s important to me that this message gets through.)

Y’all, we need to talk. You’re a terrible organization and you stand for terrible things and I hate you. See how clear that is? Speaking of which, first on the block, let’s clear up just how inept your wholly-unprovoked attack on me was.

Gourmet Craziness: My Recipe for How To Effectively Talk Trash

Other than the title “Gourmet Craziness: The ‘Genderbread Person 2.0‘” (which was clearly offensive on multiple levels — congrats) your entire blog post is an irreconcilable mess, like the first time I tried to make cookies and swapped the measurements for baking powder and sugar (people almost died). Clearly, you need a new recipe for Trash Talking. Allow me to help.

Ingredients:

  • 1 Thesis statement, derived from Jibberish Root
  • 1 Introduction
  • 1 Body
  • 1 Conclusion
  • Grammar and Syntax Rules, applied regularly
  • One Measure of Hyperbole (be sure to separate out the small heaping of oxymoron)
  • A Garnish of Humor, only if organic and locally available

Procedure:

Grind Jibberish Root until Thesis is present in pure, unalterated form. Combine with Introduction and add to Essay. Add Body and Conclusion and bring to a chatter on low heat over Peer Feedback, constantly mixing in Grammar and Syntax Rules. Before Essay begins to solidify, fold in the measure of Hyperbole, and garnish with Humor (but only if organic — chemically synthesized Humor will taint the dish, and is best left out).

Serves one Punk. (But you do not, under any circumstances, utter “You got served, Punk!”)

I can imagine how desperate it must feel writing blog posts aboard a sinking ship.

You’re like that band in The Titanic, but instead of playing beautiful music while a bunch of people die meaninglessly, you’re meaninglessly screeching while drowning yourselves in 3-foot deep water. This is not a time of desperation. Your life doesn’t have to end. Just stand up on your own two feet, instead of constantly trying to support yourself upon imaginary platforms like “this is about families” and “civilization is going to end if…” Plant your feet on the ground with the honest and understandable “I’m afraid of what I don’t understand” and the rest of us will be happy to help.

You don’t have to drown, and your tantrum in the shore break isn’t going to slow the current from moving in the direction it’s always moved: forward.

BUT WHY IN THE HELL ARE YOU PICKING A FIGHT WITH ME? Are you that desperate? Actually, screw that. Say what you want about me, but don’t you dare insult the Genderbread Person. The Genderbread Person has done nothing to you, is bigger than me or you, has saved lives, and has existed longer in some form or fashion than either of us have as competing organizations (your goal of being a force for horribleness and ignorance; my goal of people not being assholes to each other); and it will exist long after your ship has sunk and (in response to the stress of this life I’ve chosen) I’ve developed a relationship with a Volleyball after stranding myself on a beach somewhere.

I read that you just updated your website? Seriously? That’s like putting rims and a spoiler on a Chevy Nova that’s on cinderblocks. Get it? Because “Nova” is spanish for “F*ck You.” (Now that’s how you talk trash). But in all seriousness, your new website is garbage. I hope you paid a lot for it. WWJD? Donate to the Trevor Project because their site has a salient mission and is actively promoting good in the world. (Trash. Talked).

But I can’t imagine being as desperate as you’ve become.

Guess what. I’m from Indiana. I went to high school and college there. Let me give you a bit of advice, one former Hoosier to an organization currently campaigning in the Hoosier State: if you’re struggling to get people in Indiana to oppose marriage equality, the war is over. Don’t think of Indiana as another battle in your War for Hate in 50 States™. It’s over. It’s done. Pack it up, y’all.

But I know you know that, or you wouldn’t’ve redirected your hate-spewing at a whole new vulnerable, oppressed group of people. And that’s where the Genderbread Person comes in, an innocent bystander in your misdirected campaign against the trans* population, yet another marginalized and misunderstood personhood you can vilify and manipulate to coerce Fear Dollars™ from ignorant, exploited Middle Americans.

Hell, your very first move, naming yourselves the “National Organization for Marriage” was an act of desperation, already smelling that “National Organization for Hate” or “National Organization for Putting Our Noses Into Other People’s Business” is too rotten. Knowing that the majority of Americans stand behind their loved ones, friends, and family, even if they happened to have been born into a gender or sexual minority. You were born (actually, I think “spawned” is a better term) in desperation — “Who would stand against marriage? We’re so clever. Now let’s get to the oppressing!”

You know who ruined marriage? Straight people. You know who keeps making gay people? Straight people. Maybe same-sex marriage is the inoculation marriage needs against an ever-spreading plague of divorce. The Lord works in mysterious ways.

NOM, if want to be in disbelief, disbelieve this.

The Genderbread Person is just the tip of the iceberg in my campaign to “indoctrinate” people in better understanding and relating to themselves and others. And it’s been gobbled up by hundreds of millions of people. And I’m not the only person baking them.

But more than that, I wrote an entire book about gender, and a lot of people are reading it. Like, a lot a lot. And people can get it for free (like a Bible in a hotel night table), which I bet freaks you out. It’s okay. Take a breath. You’re going to need it: I’ve been told by dozens of formerly anti “gender diversity” people that it opened their eyes to be more affirming and loving to people of all genders. Watch out.

And I gave a TEDx talk about gender that’s being watched right now and shared by people who’ve been infected by its message: that people deserve to be understood, and that a core value of humanity should be doing whatever is in your power to make the individuals in your life feel unashamed of who they are.

What’s worse: I’m not the only one doing this, or who has these “radical” beliefs. Pretty much everyone I know (and I live in Texas, y’all) has jumped on the “treat people with basic decency” radical bandwagon, and when I’m on the road I hear from people of all walks of life about how they are working, struggling, and grinding to unlearn the prejudice groups like yours have poisoned our waters with in order to be more loving, sincere, and compassionate to the people in their lives.

Really, I think you have two options:

1. You can keep drowning in 3-foot deep waters, scraping money out of the few blue pills left whose minds We haven’t freed; or

2. You can start living the Christian values you espouse by loving more, judging less, and living in a way that serves others (instead of your outmoded, stubborn, vile egos).

I meant it when I said the rest of us are here for you if you need our help. Just ask.

Yours in unconditional love and peace,

Sam “Sin with Colored Pencils” Killermann

P.S. I didn’t want this, but if you wanna keep this tête-à-tête going, I’m not going to back down. I’m a quick, passionate, socially-conscious comedian with no day job and an internet at my disposal. You’re a bully with a dead cause. I don’t see this ending well for you.

***

A Few Corrections From Your Article, NOM:

My name has two Ns. Killermann. It’s German, it’s not just the combination of the English words “Killer” and “Man.” That’d be terrifying. In German, it means “one who kills men.”

And my show doesn’t “implicitly paint Christians and ‘cisgender’ persons as oblivious bullies.” Ironically, it’s about snap judgments (i.e., what your blog post about me is laden with), identity, and oppression. It’s not anti-Christian at all, other than the fact that I do denounce the Golden Rule (in lieu of the much shinier Platinum Rule). I would argue that what I advocate in the show is incredibly Christian: love your neighbor, abstain from judgment, live a selfless life focused on helping others. Maybe you should see it sometime. I’d be happy to perform it free for you and yours.

Yo. I just saw Her. It’s cray. It’s powerfully well-written and brings up a lot of thoughts about how we might relate to technology and one another in the future. But it also made me think a lot about how we relate to technology and one another right now. If you have a smart phone and you’ve seen Her, you’ve likely had a lot of these thoughts already.

It’s hard to convince myself that we’re not already dating our phones.Keep Reading

Sorry, Internet, but my mind isn’t, has never been, and will likely remain unblown. But every time you trick me into clicking on one of your linkbaity lists or videos I die a little inside. Because I want to care. I do care. A lot. But there’s only so much someone can actually care, let’s call it the Caring Tolerance™. I’m starting to worry that you’re abusing people’s attention and increasing our Caring Tolerance™ the way a college student treats their liver first semester.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve rage-read “my last” Buzzfeed article swearing I’d never go back to the site for anything but good ol’ fashioned America’s Funniest Home Videos style laughs. But then I see an article with “faith in humanity” in the title and my mouse hand moves faster than my brain. Then I’m back to rage-reading.

How many times can I read THIS WILL CHANGE YOUR LIFE and have it do absolutely nothing, before I start to think nothing will? Or, worse, how much empathy can I be coerced into experiencing by over-the-top, SPCA Sara McLachlan wannabe videos on Upworthy before I can’t experience genuine empathy for the people in my immediate life (who aren’t soon-to-be-executed dogs, but still need love)?Keep Reading

Yep. That’s a real headline. I was gonna write a thought today. I think it was going to be about traveling and New Orleans and friendship and adventures, but after reading that headline/article I realized I have nothing to add to the internet today. The internet is done for the day. I know when I’m not needed.

Oh, and here’s the guy:

frey

 

Dear Disney Channel,

Please stop ruining today’s children.

I would love to stop there, because I think the sassiness of one sentence is an appropriate response to the hollowness of your programming, but I refuse to stoop to your level. Earlier tonight, while at a laundromat, I was subjected to an hour of your work, a show called JessieI don’t think I’m overstating it when I say that I would have rather spent that hour inside the washing machine.

Let’s recap the highlights of two back-to-back episodes of Jessie: boys should settle their disagreements in physical fights (because that’s the closest thing to being “real men” [seriously, this is almost a full quote] they can muster) and girls should let their emotions out in crying and fragility (and be mocked for it with a laugh track while the masculine characters in the show comfort them).

Dude. 2013 called. Really?

I grew up on your bullshit princesses constantly being rescued by princes broken record, but I thought we were past that. I thought we were ready for the whole “people can be people, let’s stop smushing them into restrictive and unhealthy boxes and ruining their chances at a fulfilling and affirming futures…” type thing. What happened to the Mulan spirit?

Now, I can’t be sure that this is representative of your overall programming. I’m willing to admit that. But even if that hopeful scapegoat is the case, someone okaying this one hour of this one show is damning enough that it had me ragetweeting (something I almost never do) in order to keep myself from shoving myself inside a dryer and setting it to “cotton” (That’s the highest heat setting. I somehow know that, even though I have a penis). Why, Disney, are you actively reinforcing the most harmful outmoded gender norms? IT’S 2013 AND YOU ARE STILL DOING THIS. DO YOU REALIZE YOU ARE LITERALLY CONTRIBUTING TO THE DEATHS OF CHILDREN?!

Fact: in the U.S. alone, at least three boys kill themselves every day.

Boys are told that they shouldn’t have to ask for help. Boys are told that they should be strong. Boys are told they should be independent. That they should fight. That violence is the best answer. That being a man means hiding emotions and expressing yourself physically. They’re told this by you. You’re telling them this. And you’re telling everyone else that this is the behavior they should reinforce in boys. You’re killing our boys.

And, on the other hand, girls are affirmed in showing emotions while showing emotions is simultaneously vilified. Femininity in any form is presented as weakness. You’re telling girls that they should cry, while reinforcing the shame incurred by crying by laugh-tracking it. And you top it all off with a patriarchal figure being forced to cope with the emotional (10 year old?) feminine figure. “Bitches, amiright?”

Disney Channel, it might be too early in our relationship for me to say this, but I’m going to say it anyway: I hate you. If a parent ever asks me, “Hey Sam, do you know of any ways to destroy my children with zero effort on my part but a near-100% likelihood of emotional and psychic annihilation?”

“Why yes,” I’ll reply, “Let me take them to the laundromat. There’s this show they play on the television. A real technicolor motion picture talkie! I bet they’ll love it!”

Honorary Mickey Mouse Clubber,

sK

P.S. Bee-tee-dubs, that quote up top of you defending Cinderella by highlighting how she got her prince is horrifying. I really, really hope you didn’t say that. But I’m including it as the epigraph for this letter because I’m angry and don’t have any interest in fact-checking.

I saw this wonderful commercial earlier today and shared it on Facebook immediately. Watch it, then let’s talk about it.

 

Obviously, these aren’t new ideas to me. I talk a lot about the proverbial boxes we are all smushed into. But the way that it’s portrayed in this video highlights an aspect of the relationship between who we are and who society says we should be that I rarely talk about: how abusive it is.

The abusive relationship most of us don’t realize we’re in.

Ever heard of the term microaggression? On Wikipedia, microaggressions are defined as “specific interactions between those of different races, cultures, or genders [that] can be interpreted as small acts of mostly non-physical aggression.” When people (like me) say things like “society tells us we are supposed to be like ___” one of the ways “society tells us” is through microagressions. Microaggressions are to gender roles what heat is to general rolls.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard “What do you mean you don’t like watching sports. You’re a man, aren’t you?” Are you asking if I have a penis? If so, this is a really weird way to hit on me. If I show it to you will you leave me alone? This quiche isn’t going to bake itself.

I’m not going to list all the microaggressions and microassaults I experience because of my gender. You have a gender. You know how it works. And I don’t generally blame the people who say those things. They’re behaving how they’ve been taught to behave and saying things they’ve been taught to say. They’re doing what — in a [depressingly] huge percentage of people’s eyes — is healthy and good, reinforcing what they believe is necessary for a stable society. “IT WASN’T ADAM AND FLANNEL-WEARING EVE!” No, no, no. I don’t blame them. I blame society.

The abusive relationship we’re all in is with society. We’re abused on a daily, constant basis. We’re told we’re not good enough, not right, not how we’re supposed to be; we’re corrected and forced and threatened to be something we’re not; and it’s a relationship we can’t safely remove ourselves from without facing dangerous consequences.

Getting out of the box

A parent recently wrote me because their child came out as trans* and requested that everyone start using gender neutral pronouns to describe them. The parent was, for the most part, incredibly understanding and wanted to be supportive, but wanted to draw the line at the gender neutral pronouns, saying something to the effect of “She’s a she. She’s not a they. They is plural. Can’t we just expand the gender roles we have and make more room for people to fit within them? Do we really need to start creating all these new labels?”

We totally could make the boxes bigger and less restrictive and more people would fit in them. We could add some windows, too. And maybe an air conditioner? Absolutely. Oh, and a mini fridge!

You know those huge spaces they have for some of the big animals at fancier zoos? They have trees and little ponds and they resemble the natural habitat the animal would be living in if it weren’t trapped in a cage — oops, not a cage, they call them “habitats.” This is what I think of when people say things like “can’t we just expand the gender roles we have.” It’ll be better, for sure, and incredibly preferred over the little jar with the stick and leaf we have now, but a habitat is a cage is a box is a fox. Whoops, went a little Dr. Seuss there.

We don’t have to get rid of the boxes. We can still have them, I guess, if people really want to have them. Some people like boxes. Fine. But the way out of this abusive relationship is allowing people to live outside of their boxes. By not forcing people into boxes to begin with, and not forcing people to be anything but themselves. By empowering individuals to choose who they want to be, and what box (if any) they might fit into.

You can’t choose if you’re not aware of any other options. That’s not consent; it’s coercion. The way we do gender, from birth to death, is abusive. It’s bullying. It’s harmful. And I’d venture that, given the choice, a person will choose the wild over a habitat, no matter how large it might be. It’s time we start giving people that choice.

***

Huge thanks to the Texas Association Against Sexual Assault for that video. Take a moment and pledge your support to their Break the Box Campaign.

Today I read a fantastic interview with Bills Clinton and Gates on Wired. I highly recommend reading the whole thing, because a lot of great things were said. These are two people who lived incredible, noteworthy lives, retired, then, for no other reason than because, proceeded to start second incredible, noteworthy lives.

Because they know there are people in the world who could benefit from their help.

Because they have a short time on Earth, and want to fill that time with meaning.

Because they care about humanity.

Because they can.

Of the things I took away from the interview — that hit me the hardest — was this concept of Us and Them, often thought of us “Us versus Them.” The idea was brought up when Bill Clinton was responding to the question “Clearly, both of you are optimists. In the past few years, when it’s been tough politically and economically, has that optimism been challenged?” This was part of Clinton’s response:

The whole history of humanity is just one long battle between conflict and cooperation and between us and them. Bill Gates made the money that enabled him to do this magnificent work today, because we kept expanding the definition of us, whoever the us was, and shrinking the definition of them. Yeah, this is tough, and there are a lot of complex psychological identity questions in American politics today, aggravated by this long-stagnant economy for most people. But we’ve had a lot of periods of bitter conflict. We’re going to get through it.

And then he went on to say other wonderful things, as if he didn’t just say the most remarkable thing I’ve ever read on Wired.com (no offense, Wired).

Anthropologists will tell you that we socially evolved to be tribal creatures. As a byproduct of this, there’s this number limit (I can’t think of it off the top of my head) at which we are no longer able to effectively empathize with other humans. If 10 people tragically die, we’re able to effectively feel that pain and empathize with their loved ones. But if, say, the number increases to 500 (I don’t even think it’s close to this many) we are no longer able to process it. Our brains aren’t wired that way. We won’t even feel the empathy that we might have for 10. It’ll just wash over us.

Another byproduct of our tribal evolution is the abstract feeling of attachment to those with whom we identify — we could call these the Us. Thousands of years ago, Us meant family. We traveled in extended family packs, protecting our immediate relatives from harm, living with and from one another. Us meant blood.

As time went on, Us evolved from family, to groups of families called clans, to groups of clans called tribes, then to towns, and cities. With organized religion came a religious Us, and with the establishment of formal nation-states and borders came nationality Us.

With the evolution of Us came the evolution of Them.

The original Them was anyone who wasn’t blood related — Them was pretty much everyone. Over time, as the number of people in Us got bigger, Them got smaller. Them now might mean anyone in any other country. This is a common Them in America, and a Them that only (light use of this word) consists of 95% of the world. Another common Them in America is anyone who isn’t Christian, which is a measly 68% of the world, or roughly 4.8 Billion Thems.

In a relatively short amount of time, Us went from being a fraction of a percent of humanity and Them the rest, to some people experiencing an Us of more than two billion other people, far more than were ever alive at the onset of Us and Them.

Most people experience varying degrees of connection to a variety of the Us in their life, from their immediate family, to their tribe or town, state, country, and, if they have one, religion. Sometimes one Us conflicts with another, as in cases where national identities persecute religious identities (a Christian in Kenya; a Muslim living in the United States). Some people have no perspective of Us, and see only Them. My heart hurts for those people. And some people are constantly trying to expand their internal understanding of Us, and diminish their Them. You might call these people humanists. I am one of them (phrasing?).

Reading that interview with Bill and Bill, two people who have so much, and who have experienced so much, it is incredibly hard to think of them as an Us. They are a Them — an elite, wealthy, powerful Them. But are they? That’s the trap of Us and Them, and the ways our minds have been tricked to think after thousands of years of socio-biological evolution. We don’t need to be afraid any more. In fact, it’s that fear, that manifests in xenophobia and ethnocentrism, that is the only thing left we are justified in being afraid of.

The world is getting too small for both an Us and a Them. Us and Them have become codependent, intertwined, fixed to one another. We have no separate fates, but are bound together in one. And our fear of one another is the only thing capable of our undoing.

***

Update Nov. 14, 2013 10:47pm — I stumbled upon a mini-documentary called Overview by The Planetary Collective that does an amazing job of presenting the gist of what I talk about in this post, and left this idea even more firmly impressed upon my brain. I hope you’ll take the 20 minutes to watch this, and another couple hours to let it rattle around your mind.

There’s this article, “Why Chivalry is Dead, From a Man’s Perspective,” from John Picciuto on Elite Daily that’s popped up in my Facebook newsfeed a lot. It’s been shared by my friends of varying genders with captions like “Amen” and “FTW” and “Finally.”

Up front, I want to say I don’t normally write reactive, angry things, but I guess I finally got pushed to the point where I had to say something, and I now have this wonderful new site where I committed to sharing a thought a day. It didn’t seem wise to pass up a thought that’s reeling around in my mind.

Also, I want to apologize to John for the headline I wrote, because it’s laced with prejudice and preconceptions. I actually took a moment before publishing this to look into John a bit more and see some other things he’s written and said, and I don’t necessarily think he hates women (sorry, John). But I’m leaving the headline as is because this is a response focused on the article itself, and everyone sharing it — and all the horribleness that is perpetuating.

Oh, and I’m not even going to approach this from a non-binary gender, there are more than two genders and two sexes, angle. Because while that’s true, and this article ignores all of that, there’s plenty here to tackle just on the men vs. women front.

Chivalry Was Never Alive

Do you know where the word, and idea, “chivalry” comes from? It comes from the middle ages in a time where knights rode steeds and women wore chastity belts. Fun fact: did you know that historically chastity belts are most notably remembered as devices crusaders would put on their damsels to prevent them from having sex with other men while they were off fighting a holy war? Fun actual fact: did you know there’s not actually evidence to support that? Less fun fact (more of an opinion): did you know that it’s really sad that the metaphor for “being a good man” is rooted in our glorified and incorrect memory of how knights treated women, despite a bad part we made up (chastity belts) that we all know and all the actual bad things they did that we ignore?

But chivalry is about much more than protecting your partner’s junk from the advances of other men, right? Totally. Knights were known for all of their kindnesses. They kindly didn’t allow women to own property, while still kindly forcing them to work 12 hour days doing manual labor, then kindly treated as them chattel (a fancy, legal-y word for property). Nowadays, we talk about how horrible it is that some men treat women like property, which is terrible, I guess, because, unlike our chivalrous knights of the middle ages, they don’t have the paperwork to back it up.

But let’s not just talk about how great of role models knights were for treating their women. That’s doing this whole conversation a disservice. Chivalry is about how you treat all women, right? Kinda. While the language of the Code of Chivalry might suggest that, what it really meant was to treat noble women with courtesy. Poor women? You should totally rape them. But, to be fair, that’s not necessarily because they hated poor women: they hated all poor people.

You probably knew all this, so why am I telling you again? Because we all know all this, yet so many of us still mourn this so-called “dead chivarly” that they believe society is yearning for.

But it’s the idea that counts!

Okay, we can pretend that all those terrible anti-women-but-still-chivalrous things that happened didn’t really happen, and live in this alternative future where knights really did treat women with respect and courtesy and ride off into the sunsets to fight damsel-abducting dragons. I can get onboard. I’ve played Mario games.

The idea of treating women with respect and kindness, with the chivalrous values we learned as kids, is what’s really be argued to be a good idea, and that should be worth something. Well, it is, but it’s not what that article is allegedly arguing.

It’s the idea of all of this that frustrates me the most. Because whenever we say all these nice things, all of the wonderful ways we’re supposed to treat people — by opening doors for them, buying them meals, walking curbside to protect them from splashes or runaway cars (I’m not really sure what that one is about, to be honest) — it’s because they weren’t born with penises. Warning: the following paragraph is packed with a lot of graphic penis-related imagery to make a point.

If you weren’t born with a penis, people who were should open doors for you, because we wouldn’t want your non-penis fingers touching any dirty door knobs. Let me, a person with a penis, help. I’ll also buy your dinner, because thanks to the penis I was born with I have more dollars (but no thanks to my penis, which has been unemployed for most of my life). Oh, and don’t you dare walk closer to the street. If a drunk driver loses control and skips the curb our way I will simply clobber it out of the way. Yes, with my penis.

Yes, that all sounds ridiculous. Because it is. If every time we established our differing sex-based expectations we had of people by including “because penis” or “because no penis” it would help us all realize how ridiculous they are. “Sam, don’t you mean to say ‘because penis’ or ‘because vagina?'” Nope, unfortunately, I think my way of describing it is more accurate, because being perceived to have a penis is all that really matters. Because society.

So We Should Treat Women Poorly?

No. Absolutely not. My argument is that we shouldn’t treat anyone poorly. Or, on the flip side, we should treat all human beings with decency, courtesy, respect, and love. “Well that’s what the original article was saying!” No. Absolutely not.

The general message of the article is the same as all the “back in the good ol’ days” bullshit I hear every day. It’s romanticizing an era that never existed, where men treated women in X great way, and people treated their elders in Y great way, and everyone was happy, healthy, and life was good. Welp, sorry, but things aren’t great now, but they are far, far better than they have ever been in the history of time. For pretty much everyone, other than people who are sexist, racist, classist, heterosexist… just about any form of bigots and supremacists. Sorry, bigots.

Articles like the one I’m responding to here, while they might be well-intentioned, are rallying against all the progress we’ve made, while painting their flag as being for it. “I’m not sexist, but I miss the days when guys bought dinner” is tantamount to saying “I’m not sexist, but I miss the days when differing sex-based behavior and expectations were better curbed and reinforced by society.”

If you’re “just a girl who wants a guy who will buy me dinner and treat me like a lady,” fine. Assuming the “me” there is really you, and you don’t want a guy who will buy me dinner and treat me like a lady, because — actually, now that I think about it, that sounds delightful. Anyway, it’s totally okay to want someone who will take care of you. What’s less okay is for you to impose that want on all the people in the world who happened to have been born with similar genitals to you.

I was brought up by a mom who all but beat “chivalry” into me. This is something I struggled with for a long time, when I realized how problematic it is to treat people how I assume they want to be treated (back when I was starting to try to live the Platinum Rule life). I’ve since translated that chivalry into trying to treat everyone in my life with decency, courtesy, respect, and love. I try to hold the door for people because it’s a nice thing to do for people, not just people I want to have sex with. I’ll buy dinner and drinks, offer my coat on a cold night, and give my seat up on the bus for people, not just people I want to have sex with on the bus.

By treating women “like ladies,” we’re inherently making a TON of assumptions about how they, as individuals, want to be treated, based on a historically oppressive lens that has shaped who we think they are. If you actually care about the women in your life, you’ll stop treating them like women, or ladies, and start treating them how they, as individuals, want to be treated.

For some people, this might align with your assumptions. Try your best not to let that reinforce them. For other people, the way they want to be treated will fly in the face of everything you assume. Try your best not to diagnose these people as “problematic.” And for most, it will be a mix of the two.

If you want to uphold the spirit of chivalry, the best thing you can do is to stop treating women like ladies, and start treating them like people.

But Hook-Up Culture, and Women Being Poorly Treated, and Blurgh Blah Blegh

There were so many individual things about the article that really angered me that weren’t necessarily addressed above, so here they are. Blurgh-by-blurgh.

“In the hookup culture we now live in, it’s pretty obvious that chivalry is completely dead.”

Hookup culture is a clever way of saying it’s not okay for women to have sex with multiple partners, but it’s totally okay for dudes to. Men have been promiscuous forever, but now that women are up for casual sex (and apparently having it all the time, all of them, every night) it’s bad, and it’s a “culture” now. The amount of self-contradictory brain pudding inherent in this sentence makes we want to swallow a pencil with my ear.

“Dating is done. Seriously, who goes on dates anymore? It’s all about hooking up, getting a number, grabbing a drink and getting down.”

I do! And literally all of my friends, those with and without penises, do, too!

“I think I’m the only single guy I know that actually takes a girl out to a restaurant on a first date.”

I think there are two possibilities for what’s happening in your life: you hang out with shitty people, or all of the people you know aren’t looking for emotional relationships, but are still interested in sexual intimacy, which should be okay.

“If you take a girl out and show her you’re more than some douche looking to just get in her pants…”

Oh, cool, so it’s the shitty people thing. You hang out with shitty people. But there’s more to that sentence.

“…odds are, you’re going to get a second date, at least. Call me old fashioned, but a nice dinner is worth the money to get to know someone to some extent.”

And then she’ll let you get into her pants? Damnit, John. Now you’re sounding like the shitty person you’re denouncing in the FIRST HALF OF THAT SENTENCE. It’s this kind of stuff that made me so upset by this piece. And I realized I’m now dissecting this piece line-by-line. It turns out just about every sentence makes me angry. I’m going to skip ahead a bit.

“Women, for one reason or another, have become complacent and allowed men to get away with adhering to the bare minimum.” 

Oh, yep, good, because I wasn’t completely sure we were blaming women for the “hookup culture” bit. I guess the votes women have at their annual meeting for “Minimum Effort Necessary To Let Men Have Sex To Us” have been slipping up. Maybe we should rescue them from themselves. I suggest a filibuster. Ugh. I can’t keep re-reading this. I’m going to jump to the end.

“It’s pretty obvious that women own the cards, and when they start acting like it, they’ll finally start getting dinner from places that don’t deliver.”

I’m going to go find that pencil to shove into my ear now.