Review for “Hell or High Water”

Liskula and Matt

Published: The Good Men Project (August 23, 2016)

co-author Liskula Cohen

2016 has been an especially political year when it comes to the movies. It seems like each of the major presidential candidates has had a major cinematic release to accompany the themes of their campaign: The unapologetically feminist“Ghostbusters” is linked to the same cultural zeitgeist fueling Hillary Clinton’s campaign, schlockmeister Michael Bay’s “13 Hours” exists for the Donald Trump supporters who crave artificial machismo and conspiracy theorizing in equal doses, and “Captain America: Civil War” offers a libertarian view on regulatory state powers that I personally deplored even as I admired the film’s many other strengths.

Now we come to “Hell or High Water,” the upcoming crime drama that feels like a gift to Bernie Sanders supporters.

Directed by David Mackenzie and written by Taylor Sheridan, “Hell or High Water” stars Chris Pine and Ben Foster as a pair of Texas bankrobbers being diligently pursued by Texas Rangers like Jeff Bridges’ Marcus Hamilton. Being a 2016 movie, of course, “Hell or High Water” is replete with references to the economic and social divisions that mark our time. In the first fifteen minutes I counted graffiti that read “3 tours in Iraq but no bailout for people like us”; a racist bystander expressing amazement that the robbers aren’t Mexican; an old man commenting that of course he carries a gun with him; and a billboard advertising “Easy Credit.” Even before we learn that the bankrobbers are motivated by a noble cause – namely, trying to save their family farm from foreclosure – it’s clear that this movie isn’t just about cops and robbers shooting it out in the Old West. It has a message.

To appreciate that message, you must start with the fact that the bad guy in this film is actually the good guy. It isn’t that common a theme to see in movies – antiheroes are often ambiguous, but rarely outright virtuous – but it works well here. The movie is eye-opening in drawing attention to how banks are, in real life, often the villains. While the characters working at the banks aren’t always depicted as malevolent, the institutions themselves are all-powerful and brutally lacking in compassion. It’s a neat inversion of the traditional Old West tale of robbers hitting up banks: In this one, the banks are the robbers.

All of this occurs against the backdrop of lush, gorgeous cinematography. It wasn’t just that the movie was shot beautifully; the visuals themselves are depressing and bleak, as it depicts Texas as a state teetering on the edge of poverty due to economic exploitation. The lighting was beautiful, particularly when they went for panoramic shots, creating a film version of Texas that evokes how many of us imagine it being in real life.

This isn’t to say that the movie is perfect. Racially the film has a bit of a blind spot, particularly during a cringe-inducing scene in which a Texas Ranger compares the banks stealing land to European settlers committing genocide against Native Americans. The analogy, though made with the best intentions, is far too glib in conflating economic exploitation with the mass murder of millions of people. Even when this is happening, though, it’s possible to ignore the flawed logic and just marvel at Jeff Bridges’ performance in the scene. If audiences weren’t familiar with Bridges or didn’t know this was a fictional film, he alone could convince them it was a documentary. Like the best actors, he doesn’t simply play a role, but completely disappears into his character.

In a similar way, some future scholar trying to understand the America of 2016 could – and should – try to completely disappear into this film. We live in an era when the rich are getting richer and the rest of us feel powerless to stop them. In the Great Depression, this climate yielded antiheroes like Bonnie and Clyde. Today, at least in the world of celluloid, we’ve got “Hell or High Water.”

 

A First Amendment Pioneer’s Take on the Second Amendment (republished after the Orlando mass shooting)

Published: GirlieGirlArmy (June 12, 2016, July 3, 2014)

IMG_5416
Liskula Cohen and Matt Rozsa

co-author: Liskula Cohen

Editor’s Note: This was republished because, at a time when the media is fanning the flames of Islamophobia, we need to remember that if it wasn’t for our lax gun control laws and belligerent pro-gun culture, that mass shooter may have never had a firearm in the first place.

I have, shall we say, an interesting relationship with the Constitution. Back in 2009, I was involved in a lawsuit with Google over whether libelous speech (in this case that of a cyberbully against me) was protected by the First Amendment. When a Manhattan Supreme Court judge ruled in my favor, a precedent was established that protected victims of bullying against their attackers.

Now there is another constitutional question that has a direct effect on me – and, indeed, on every mother who fears for her children’s safety. That is the issue of gun control and the Second Amendment.

Over the last month, mass shootings have dominated our national headlines. On May 23rd, a violently misogynistic college student killed seven people and wounded thirteen at the University of California, Santa Barbara; on June 5th, a man who “wanted to feel the hate” killed one person and wounded three at Seattle Pacific University; on June 8th, two right-wing extremists killed three people at a Las Vegas shopping mall; and on June 10th, a high school freshman in Oregon killed two people and wounded another.

And those are simply the stories that make the headlines. Since the December 2012 shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT, there have been 74 school shootings throughout the nation, to say nothing of the hundreds of additional shootings that took place in other locations. As Hillary Clinton put it in a recent live CNN town hall, “We cannot let a minority of people, and that’s what it is, it is a minority of people, hold a viewpoint that terrorizes the majority of people.”

Clinton knows what she’s talking about. When a CBS News/New York Times poll asked Americans whether they would support stricter gun control laws in a general sense, 54% wanted laws made more strict, 36% wanted them kept as they are, and only 9% wanted them weakened. In fact, every CBS News/New York Times poll taken on this subject since 2013 has shown 47-54% of Americans wanting stricter gun laws, with 33-39% wanting them kept as is and 9-12% wanting them weakened. More importantly, Americans who were asked how they felt about the specific gun control policy that President Obama and the Democrats tried to pass last year – one that would have required background checks on all potential gun buyers – a whopping 85-92% supported the regulation throughout 2013 (compared to 7-12% who opposed it), with 69% wanting Congress to pass Obama’s bill (including 58% of Republicans).

In short, Clinton was correct when she observed that the people who claimed Obama’s gun control was un-Constitutional are in the minority. But are they wrong?

Gun-Control1

That depends on who you ask. While the pro-gun lobby acts like their interpretation of the Second Amendment is beyond question, the truth is that judges and legal scholars have been fiercely debating it almost since the Constitution was first ratified. In the 19th century there were cases like Bliss v. Commonwealth in Kentucky (which found that “the right of citizens to bear arms in defense of themselves and the State must be preserved entire”) and State v. Buzzard in Arkansas (which ruled that “the people, neither individually nor collectively, have the right to keep and bear arms”). The 20th century yielded cases like Salina v. Blaksley in Kansas, which determined that the Second Amendment “applies only to the right to bear arms as a member of the state militia, or some other military organization provided by law” (and was later overturned by an amendment to that state’s constitution) and United States v. Miller in the Supreme Court, which declared that unless a weapon “has some reasonable relationship to the preservation or efficiency of a well regulated militia, we cannot say that the Second Amendment guarantees the right to keep and bear such an instrument.” Surprisingly, it wasn’t until District of Columbia v. Heller in 2008 and McDonald v. Chicago in 2010 that the Supreme Court officially recognized an individual “right to bear arms”… and even then pointed out that “the Second Amendment right is not unlimited.”

gun-control-comic-1024x480

As I see it, the Constitution is a wonderful piece of American history, one that should be defended when it is practical and in the best interest of the majority of the population. At the same time, it was written when the national population was less than 4 million (as opposed to more than 300 million today), when women had few legal rights and hundreds of thousands of African Americans were slaves. Even if you believe the Second Amendment was intended to protect an individual’s right to bear arms (which, as already established, is hardly a given), we will cripple ourselves in the eyes of the world if we can’t amend the Constitution as our society evolves. If women still couldn’t vote, and if slavery still existed, there would be no American Dream today.

There are common sense regulations that could effectively address this problem. I don’t have a problem with people wanting to have a gun at home to protect their families… but that should be regulated with background checks similar to those proposed by President Obama last year. Our society needs to view the responsibility of owning a gun in the same way that we treat owning a car: If you loan a car to your friend and he hits someone, you are held responsible. The person who left his machine gun in a Target, or the parents whose children find their weapons and kill themselves or other people, should be held liable. Similarly, just like you can’t buy a car if you don’t have a government-issued driver’s license and insurance, so too should you be unable to buy a gun without some form of regulation. It all comes down to personal accountability – a premise with which conservatives, ostensibly at least, agree.

We should also demand that our media change the way it cover these mass and school shootings. Instead of focusing on the victims, the media sensationalizes the stories of the killers. Their reasoning is obvious: The more salacious they make the story, the more you watch and the higher their ratings will be. While that makes sense from a business standpoint, it is wrong for news stations to glamorize these killers to put money in their own pockets. Young people who are lost and confused, who feel like giving up, can see these stories and believe that a mass shooting offers them a chance to go out with a bang and be famous.

Finally, we need to acknowledge the role of race in this issue. According to a study published last year on the open-access peer-reviewed scientific journal PLOS One, there is a link between gun ownership, opposition to gun control, and what they referred to as “symbolic racism” – or racist attitudes that, though not apparent, influence how they view the world. People who agreed with the prejudiced attitudes posed in the eight questions on the Symbolic Racism Scale (which you can see here) were far more likely to own a gun, support concealed handgun laws, and oppose gun control measures. Not coincidentally, this explains why many minorities feel the “right to bear arms” slogan is explicitly not intended for them (when I told an African American friend of mine about this article, he remarked that “there is no way blacks are allowed to walk around openly with firearms without an immediate challenge from those in authority. We would be labeled and perceived as thieves and dealt with by extreme force… While the Constitution is an amazing document, it has no relevance to the black experience in America as it was originally structured, with blacks being 3/5ths of a human being at the time of the signing and many of the writers being slave owners.”)

3-New-Petitions-Ask-for-Gun-Control-After-Elementary-School-Shooting-2

Just as anyone who has been bullied can understand why I acted as I did during the Google lawsuit, so too can anyone who is a mother understand why I feel the way I do about guns. As a mother, I am afraid to send my child to school. It disturbs me that I have to ask the parents of my child’s friends if they locked up their guns – a question my mother never had to ask when she raised me – and that every week brings the story of another school shooting. Nothing matters more to me than protecting my child, and to paraphrase Clinton, I am tired of being terrorized by the small minority of people who value their guns more than my child’s life.

“Eyeglasses can be fashionable too,” says Liskula Cohen

Liskula

Published: The Good Men Project (September 8, 2015)

Historically, eyeglasses have often been regarded as a fashion faux pas. My co-author for this article, Matthew Rozsa, recalls having to wear them his entire life – and can attest from firsthand experience that his thick-lenses and bulky frames played a major role in the “nerd” persona that he assumed through much of his early childhood (for more on that, see Point #2).

On the other hand, I didn’t discover that I needed eyeglasses until shortly after my fortieth birthday. I had just received an iPhone and fell in love with its sleek and beautiful design…. but damn it, the font was soooo small! After a day or two I found myself having mild dizzy spells and eye strain, so I figured out how to increase the font size and went back to sending and receiving texts with ease. Then one day a few of my friends noticed my larger font. They all made jokes about me getting older. Was my vision changing now that I hit the ripe old age of forty? After speaking to an optometrist I learned that most people’s vision starts to decline a wee bit around that time, and he diagnosed me with what is known in the optical world as Presbyopia, a hardening of the lens inside your eye that makes it a little harder to focus on small things.

So while my friends were having a laugh at me, I took comfort in knowing that they too will have to enlarge their fonts in a little while. Now that I’ve developed a career selling eyewear online, I’ve learned some tips for those of us who want to look good and feel good as our bodies force us to wear eyeglasses:

  1. Find a shape and color that compliments your face and your skin tone.

The first thing you have to do is figure out what shape looks best on you. I knew I had an oval face shape, so I could wear many different frames shapes. Similarly, the frame color is very important; most people just get black or tortoise shell, but personally I wanted something a bit more funky. The basic rules of thumb are if you have olive, bronze or have a golden color to your skin, you are considered a “warm complexion” and you should avoid pastel colors, which will wash out your gorgeous skin; a frame with browns, greens and tortoise will look great on you. If you have a “cool complexion” – that is, with pink or blue undertones in your skin – you will look great in black, blue, gray, silver and purple frames.

After speaking to an optometrist I learned that most people’s vision starts to decline a wee bit around that time, and he diagnosed me with what is known in the optical world as Presbyopia, a hardening of the lens inside your eye that makes it a little harder to focus on small things.
  1. Men can be fashionable too.

As I explain on my website, men’s eyeglasses have evolved considerably over the years. For a while there were only three styles for men (aviator, wayfarer, and nerdy) because the prevailing cultural assumption was that male eyeglasses were tools, not accessories. Over time people realized that this was ridiculous, since men wear their glasses just as often as women – and as such will also have their overall look defined by their eyewear. There are plenty  of options to consider: Big frames are particularly popular right now for men who want to look chic, silver or chrome tiny square frames give off a scholarly look, oversized glasses come across as hipster, and matching round or oval tortoise shell glasses with pullovers and polos perfectly completes a preppy ensemble.

  1. Your glasses won’t last forever, so find frames that are comfortable and affordable.

Being a model for 23 years at the time of my first prescription eyeglass purchase, I knew that this mild loss of vision had a silver lining – now I had a new accessory that I MUST buy. Even so, I did not want to spend $500 on a pair of glasses that I knew would probably need to be replaced in a year or so, even if only to keep up with fashion and stay on trend.  In the fashion industry we have this equation for large purchases known as CPW “cost per wear.” I can easily justify a Gucci purse and break it down to costing less than a dollar per wear, considering how long you will own it and the manufacturer’s quality. I could not justify the same for a pair of eyeglasses. They are small, easy to lose and even easier to break, which basically makes them a liability.

Similarly, nobody wants to wear heavy frames, and some people have the added worry that their lenses will be too heavy. Even if you like how they look, the weight can be uncomfortable and even taxing on your ears and face. Although it may be annoying, you need to make sure when you purchase glasses that you’re wearing something which you can imagine yourself enjoying wearing for large portions of your day.

  1. Make sure you are ethically as well as physically comfortable.

When I first realized I needed glasses, the easiest thing I could have done was just grab a pair of designer label frames. That said, I knew a little bit about how they are made, and where, and that did not sit well with me. I didn’t want to buy anything that was made in China, where worker exploitation is rampant, and that pretty much cut my choices down to only a handful of famous fashion designers and a cool selection of frames that didn’t have a famous designer’s name on them but still had the style and quality. Since they were made in America or Europe and were either handcrafted or made in small quantities, these options sounded great to me, I didn’t want to have the same glasses as everyone else anyway.

The sheer quantity of choices involved in choosing a new pair of glasses may seem overwhelming – it can be a fun, even exhilarating opportunity to redefine your personal fashion sense. There is no reason why you can’t improve your sight and look great while doing it.

Initially when I tried shopping online, I found it was more of the same. Many of the more popular sites were owned by the same companies that own the retail chain stores (they just have different names), and furthermore, some of those companies even own the frame companies or at least the licensing of those major brands, or ALL of the frames were made in China! With my own site, I made sure to source all of the frames myself, with 95% of them being manufactured in Europe (the one Chinese manufacturer was selected because it is a completely eco-friendly manufacturer – with a zero carbon footprint!

The sheer quantity of choices involved in choosing a new pair of glasses may seem overwhelming – it can be a fun, even exhilarating opportunity to redefine your personal fashion sense. There is no reason why you can’t improve your sight and look great while doing it.

Readers of this article will get a 10% discount until the end of October (Just use the coupon code: 10%offmyglasses).

– See more at: http://goodmenproject.com/featured-content/eyeglasses-can-fashionable-says-liskula-cohen-mrzs/#sthash.MqWogKd0.dpuf

Tips for Patients with Multiple Sclerosis: Dietary

Published: Good Men Project (May 16, 2015)

IMG_5416
Liskula Cohen and Matt Rozsa

co-author: Liskula Cohen

Liskula Cohen discusses the dietary changes she’s had to make as a result of being diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis.

On April 10th of this year, I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis.

This may seem like an unorthodox subject for a men’s website – after all, MS impacts two to three times more women than men. That said, there are many male patients with the disease, and what’s more, there are many men who have wives, daughters, sisters, mothers, and friends with the condition. 80% of people who have MS have RRMS (or Relapsing-Remitting Multiple Sclerosis)… which is what I have. It’s sort of the “first stage” of MS – the mildest form, and one that a large percentage of people never move out of. It is not a death sentence, and many have it their whole lives without being debilitated or wheelchair-bound. Initially after my diagnosis, however, I was terrified – my ability to walk and see properly were heavily affected. So I spent weeks stuck in a hospital room with lousy food and an IV drip in my arm. Although there were only a couple days when I couldn’t walk without support, for a while my vision, balance, and gait were severely off-kilter.

That’s why I’ve decided to write articles like this one for The Good Men Project: To spread awareness about the little details that make a difference when you’re living with MS.

We can start with one of the small changes that has had a really big impact on me thus far: My diet.

Before I was diagnosed, I ate everything. I loved ice cream, yogurt, chocolate milk… anything that was dairy and sweet. I didn’t love meat, but I definitely liked it. I never had to watch what I ate, as I was naturally thin.

Once my MS symptoms began to set in, though, those foods left me with a heavy, tired feeling. Before I was diagnosed, I assumed this was a reaction to the food itself – that maybe my poor eating habits were catching up with me after all. My neurologist told me, however, that from now on I had to eat a vegan, gluten free diet (later I found out that I didn’t actually have to give up gluten, for which I’m very grateful).

Although there is no proof that is widely accepted by the medical community that dietary changes can help treat MS, it’s hard to dismiss the experiences of so many who have felt better after making nutritional changes. Among other things, patients with MS are advised to choose foods low in saturated fat and cholesterol, drink eight 8-ounce glasses of water per day, and limit their intake of sugar, salt, and caffeine.

Of course, these guidelines are just as helpful to people who aren’t suffering from MS as those who are; much of it is common sense. That said, whether the changes are helpful due to some as-yet-undiscovered specific effect on MS or simply because they’re good ideas in general, the end result is that they often work. Isn’t that enough?

Now that I’ve changed my diet, I have much more energy. The bloated, heavy feeling that I had before is also gone, as were the stomach pains. Once I got home I also started exercising, which helped me feel stronger and healthier. Among other things, it turns out that MS teaches you that the old expression is true:

You are what you eat.

The Sentencing Gap: Why are Men More Likely to Go to Prison?

Published: Good Men Project (March 17, 2015)

Liskula Cohen and Matt Rozsa
Liskula Cohen and Matt Rozsa

co-author Liskula Cohen

Men are statistically more likely to go to prison than women for the same crime. Feminists and Men’s Rights Activists alike should be outraged.

People forget that prisons aren’t always there to protect us; in fact, they often aren’t there to help us at all. When you have a primarily or entirely privatized penal system, prisons become a business and their primary reason for existing is to make money.

In America today the prison business is booming… and men are disproportionately paying the price.

♦◊♦

According to a recent study by Sonja Starr, an assistant law professor at the University of Michigan, men on average receive 63 percent longer prison sentences than women who commit comparable crimes. Reinforcing data accumulated from numerous other surveys on the subject, Starr also found that women are twice as likely to avoid incarceration if convicted of a crime – which may explain why 90% of the prison population is male – and estimated that the gender gap in sentencing could be as much as six times as large as that between white and non-whites (more on that in a moment). Despite this trend, the existing tendency among progressives has been to push for changes that only exacerbate the problem, such as the concerted effort among British feminists to abolish female prisons altogether.

In America today the prison business is booming… and men are disproportionately paying the price.

These facts put advocates of prison reform in a tricky dilemma. On the one hand, leftists who point out that female convicts “often have poor mental health or are poorly educated, have not committed violence and have children to look after” aren’t wrong. However, because these same traits frequently apply to men who are convicted of crimes (indeed, a compelling case could be made that they describe a considerable fraction of our prison population), it speaks volumes that this data is used to widen the sentencing gender gap instead of confront how our sentencing system is fundamentally draconian.

After all, the gender gap is far from the only problem facing American prisons today. There is also the problem that police are more likely to target non-whites than whites, who are in turn less likely to be able to afford quality legal counsel. As a result, one out of every three black males born today will be incarcerated during their lifetime, as compared to one out of six Latino males and one out of 17 white males. According to the 2010 Census, almost one in ten black men between the ages of 20 and 34 were in prison; by contrast, the numbers for white men in the same bloc was roughly one in fifty. Needless to say, non-whites make up a majority of the more than 2.4 million people living behind bars as of March 2014, a number that is likely to be much higher than 3 million when you take recidivism rates into account.

Of course, because the American prison-industrial complex is incredibly lucrative (as of 2013 it was worth $70 billion), politicians are influenced by lobbyists for groups like the Corrections Corporation of America to create laws that put more people in jail rather than fewer, especially through tighter drug laws. As a result, Americans have been left with a penal system in which poor boys, particularly of color, are more likely to go to prison for the same crime as a rich white girl.

♦◊♦

In short, the issue of the prison-industrial complex is an intersectional one encompassing state corruption, capitalism run amok, race, and – when it comes to the heavier sentencing for men – gender inequality. So why isn’t the last issue receiving more attention?

‘A lot of times these issues will get drowned out because of highly public fighting between Men’s Rights Activists and feminists, which winds up overshadowing the legitimate concerns that many MRAs have,’ explained Adam Hollingsworth… ‘The sentencing gap should be a large issue not only for Men’s Rights Activists, but for feminists. It is a clear example of how our justice system treats women as if they have less agency and are thus less accountable for their actions.’

“A lot of times these issues will get drowned out because of highly public fighting between Men’s Rights Activists and feminists, which winds up overshadowing the legitimate concerns that many MRAs have,” explained Adam Hollingsworth, a Men’s Rights Activist who was interviewed for this article. “The sentencing gap should be a large issue not only for Men’s Rights Activists, but for feminists. It is a clear example of how our justice system treats women as if they have less agency and are thus less accountable for their actions.”

The problem, it seems, is that it is often much easier to put men in jail. As Hollingsworth implicitly pointed out, the conventional assumption is that women can’t hack it in prison, whether because they need to raise families, or are too emotionally frail, or literally lack the physical strength to survive behind bars. Within this zeitgeist, a man who steps up and takes prison time for a woman can be depicted as chivalrous and noble; inversely, a man who expected a woman to do the same thing, meanwhile, would seem dishonorable and cowardly.

It must be emphasized that this story isn’t about calling women out for using the “woman card,” but about making sure that both genders are equally accountable for their actions. In America, the popular cliché among the law-and-order set is that “If you do the crime, you should do the time.” It says nothing about what you have in your pants, and any justice system that factors that into its decisions –knowingly or unknowingly – is reinforcing patriarchal assumptions that simultaneously demean women and are unjust to men. Logically speaking, there is no getting around the fact that in a free society, the same sentences should be meted out regardless of sex.

Instead truly meaningful prison reform should focus on (a) creating racial, gender, and economic equity in the distribution of justice and (b) cranking up pressure on politicians so that they will stop finding reasons to incarcerate people. Certainly we can start with lessening offenses on minor drug charges, particularly those involving marijuana; finding alternative methods of rehabilitation for juvenile offenders convicted of committing petty crimes, particularly those that focus on community participation and remembering that “it takes a village to raise a child”; and making sure that our prisons take the severity of a convict’s mental illness into account when determining how he or she should be treated during their incarceration.

If nothing else, however, any feminist should be outraged to know the statistics about the sentencing gap. It is proof that fellow human beings are receiving unjust and unequal treatment, even as it simultaneously demonstrates that our justice system has a misogynistic mentality based on outdated assumptions about women being the weaker sex. This is a cause in which feminists should find common cause with Men’s Rights Activists, in the same spirit that Emma Watson articulated to the United Nations last September: “Gender equality is your issue too.”

Why do we laugh at male body image issues?

Published: Good Men Project (March 14, 2015)

Liskula Cohen and Matt Rozsa
Liskula Cohen and Matt Rozsa

co-author Liskula Cohen

Liskula Cohen asks an important question: Why do we think it’s okay to body shame men?

It’s hard to argue that we don’t derive a sadistic enjoyment of male sexual humiliation. Prison rape is treated in comedy as a punchline instead of an atrocity; lazy kids’ comedies rely on the trope of a man being injured in the groin as a go-to sight gag; and when studies reveal that men throughout the world suffer from a serious body image disorder, we poke fun at their vanity.

♦◊♦

This was the thought that occurred to me as I – like virtually everyone else who regularly uses the Internet – was bombarded with articles about penis size. Some address serious subjects, like homophobic preconceptions about gay penis sizes; others liked to compare average lengths from every country in the world; one piece offered readers an ability to catch a man in the dastardly deed of lying about his penis size; and a pair of others tried to reassure men that, with rare exceptions, 96% of the male population has a penis between five and six inches in length… so no worries there!

While there are plenty of articles that shame women about their appearance, thankfully feminists have made some progress in identifying this as a problem. Meanwhile, I’ve known women who without shame have relentlessly ridiculed their male partners for their small penises (even though most women can orgasm entirely on their own – i.e., without a penis entirely), not realizing that this is every bit as much a form of emotional abuse as if a man tormented his girlfriend or wife about her weight.

The Internet seems to be catering to mindless teenagers. We seem to have lost sight of the simple fact that concerns about penis size are asinine and stupid. Even as we focus so much on body shaming women and how that is wrong, people don’t bat an eye at body shaming men.

The Internet seems to be catering to mindless teenagers. We seem to have lost sight of the simple fact that concerns about penis size are asinine and stupid. Even as we focus so much on body shaming women and how that is wrong, people don’t bat an eye at body shaming men.

It’s important to note that there are men with abnormally small penises who are suffering from a medical condition called micropenis. When this is the case, the problem isn’t simply that they aren’t “man enough” or can’t satisfy a woman; there are fundamental functional issues that impair their ability to lead normal lives. For these men, they should seek medical attention, because there are options out there that can help them.

♦◊♦

Men need to stop thinking it’s okay to mock one another over their perceived masculinity or lack thereof. If we truly want gender equality to become a reality, we need to protect men from body image abuse just as much as we do women.

People don’t think that men have the same body image issues that women do. I found out years after the fact that a man I knew very well had suffered from an eating disorder as a teenager. He would eat ice cream after every meal because, he told me, that it made it easier for him to vomit. This man was athletic, popular, and successful –  yet growing up, the man we considered the “stud” was desperately insecure. So when the media criticizes women’s body image issues and then transitions to mocking men, it perpetuates the problem by switching the victim.

As a woman, size doesn’t matter. If you’re having intercourse with someone because you’re physically, intellectual, and emotionally attracted to them, the size of the penis isn’t going to make any difference in how you feel. Besides, the majority of woman can squeeze out a six pound baby, so in the grand scheme of things, she isn’t going to be terribly focused on the difference between a five-inch penis and a six-inch one. Any woman – or, for that matter, any man – who is worth having in a relationship isn’t going to care about the size, shape, or color of your various body parts.

As for other men… Well, just like women need to stop tearing each other down based on body image issues (and believe me, an article on that is coming soon), so too do men need to stop thinking it’s okay to mock one another over their perceived masculinity or lack thereof. If we truly want gender equality to become a reality, we need to protect men from body image abuse just as much as we do women.

Why Are People So Upset Over ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’?

Published: The Good Men Project (March 7, 2015)

Liskula and Matt

co-authored with Liskula Cohen

This is an article by two people who haven’t seen or read Fifty Shades of Grey. That’s why—and we can’t stress this enough—this is NOT a review of Fifty Shades of Grey. It is, instead, an attempt to understand the controversy from the perspective of two total outsiders (and written from Liskula Cohen’s perspective).

Moving on …

♦◊♦

The controversy with Fifty Shades of Grey stems from concern within the medical community that it promotes abusive relationships. “Our analysis shows that emotional and sexual violence is pervasive in the relationship,” writes Amy Bonomi, an Associate Professor of Human Development and Family Science at Ohio State University-Columbus and lead author of a recent study in the Journal of Women’s Health, “Double Crap! Abuse and Harmed Identity in Fifty Shades of Grey.” The National Center on Sexual Exploitation—which has launched a Twitter campaign against the film (#FiftyShadesIsAbuse)—shares this view, characterizing both the book and movie as glorifications of “domestic violence and abuse against women.”

It is important to note that medical professionals do not classify all BDSM relationships as inherently abusive. The key is that both partners need to consent and clearly define the boundaries of what each party is willing to do.

It is important to note that medical professionals do not classify all BDSM relationships as inherently abusive. The key is that both partners need to consent and clearly define the boundaries of what each party is willing to do. “BDSM does not involve emotional or physical abuse,” explained Alexis Conason, a researcher at St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital who specializes in body image and sexuality, “Emotional and/or physical abuse is no more common in BDSM relationships than in ‘vanilla’ or any other type of relationships.” Even some film critics—who have panned the film, which currently holds a 24% rating on movie criticism aggregator RottenTomatoes)—have noted that the attempts to make the story’s male protagonist seem less abusive only make him seem manipulative. “Ultimately, though, what’s smuttiest about the movie is the way Christian’s “dominance” involves fewer direct orders than emo pandering,” observed Meghan Daum of Slate. “He may be a slave master, but his commands often suggest he’s been secretly reading Our Bodies, Ourselves.”

♦◊♦

A girlfriend of mine, who is also a mom (in her case of three), read the first “50 Shades” book and raved about how it was “great Mommy Porn, even if it reads like a 15-year old wrote it.” About a year later I bought the trilogy in digital form, read the first eight chapters, and had to put it down.

A girlfriend of mine, who is also a mom (in her case of three), read the first Fifty Shades book and raved about how it was “great Mommy Porn, even if it reads like a 15-year old wrote it.” About a year later I bought the trilogy in digital form, read the first eight chapters, and had to put it down. I didn’t “get it,” which is fine, since I am sure a lot of people just didn’t “get it.”  What I found more interesting was the commentary I was reading about the film before it even came out, weeks before it was even released. The opinions went from disgusted to downright outraged. I questioned some of my friends about their reactions to a film they had yet to see, and still do not truly understand. The two I found most interesting were from very young people, who are among the target demographics for this film.

Youth seemed to bring with it a more casual approach to fiction. “I’ve only read the first one and I did not find it offensive,” explained the 16-year-old model I mentor. “I don’t think it’s offensive at all. Why would I be offended by a fictional book?” Elaborating on ethical criticisms of the film, she argued that while “I understand the movie going against their beliefs/morals but getting offended about a fictional sexual relationship to me is just ridiculous. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion but I just don’t get it.” Her laid back attitude toward sexual morality is hardly unique; the film critic for Playboy pointed out that “the movie doesn’t have the courage of its lurid convictions and its timid sex scenes.” Interestingly, my friend came to a similar conclusion about the film. “To me at least the movie was a toned down version of the book,” she said. “Not nearly as explicit as it could’ve been.”

My 21-year-old friend, meanwhile, had a more complicated relationship with the books (she hasn’t seen the movie). “When I read [the trilogy], I loved them, and only because I found what I sought out in reading them—hot sex scenes,” she told me. “At that time in my life I had just started having sex but I had already developed an interest in human sexuality, desire, and the intricacies of intimacy and pleasure. I found myself intrigued by bondage, and most of the scenes included it, so I look back and feel as though I read with blinders on (well, mostly).” As she became more familiar with healthy BDSM relationships, however, she came to the same conclusion as medical professionals—that Fifty Shades of Grey promoted abuse. “In terms of sex, a healthy BDSM scene is thoroughly discussed beforehand, and is followed by aftercare,” she explained, “In the preceding discussion, limits/boundaries, concrete and flexible, are set, and a safe word is established, among other details. Aftercare includes the Dom ensuring that their partner is all right, physically and emotionally, with questions and reassuring statements. Grey ties/spanks/teases Ana without her consent. Grey threatens to punish her, and does, without her consent. Grey has sex with her without her consent—meaning that he doesn’t, meaning he rapes her.” Unlike my 16-year-old friend, who felt that the stories can be viewed as harmless fun because they’re fiction, she insisted “these books, this story, is real. People in the real world are in abusive relationships disguised as Dom/Sub arrangements. Christian Greys exist, in many forms, and the popularity of the movies/books validates them in their ways and discredits and shames victims and survivors, just like rape jokes have been scientifically proven to.”

♦◊♦

Again, neither Matt nor I have no watched the movie, and we’ll probably wait until it is on demand or on disc. That said, I do find it interesting that there are so many opposing views on a film, and to think people are protesting a fictional story makes me wonder if they protested other movies and or books. The bigger issue here for me is freedom of expression. I would hate to think that we will resort to censorship or silencing an art form.

None of this is meant to minimize the importance of fighting domestic abuse. That said, there is a tendency today to act as if stifling artistic expression in popular culture is an effective way of addressing these issues. If you truly care about addressing these problems, you should volunteer your time, donate your money, or spend your idle hours supporting causes that work toward directly confronting them. Focusing on a book or a movie may be more dramatic, but it may also miss the point.

Dating with Asperger’s: A new documentary follows a lonely Aspie’s search for love

Published: Salon (March 2, 2015)

IMG_5416
Liskula Cohen and Matt Rozsa

co-author: Liskula Cohen

Asperger’s syndrome can make dating a challenge, but loneliness proves more a debilitating hurdle in this new film

This review was written by Matthew Rozsa, who is a high-functioning autistic, and Liskula Cohen, who is not, so that it could incorporate both perspectives.

There is a universality to the suffering captured in “Aspie Seeks Love,” a new documentary by Julie Sokolow that premiered at Cinequest over the weekend. As it chronicles its protagonist’s dogged attempts to enter a successful romantic relationship, the film reveals an agenda much deeper than discussing Asperger’s syndrome or the broader autistic spectrum. At its heart, “Aspie Seeks Love” is a parable about loneliness — a condition which afflicts everyone at some point in their lives and for far too many proves incurable.

That’s the fate David B. Matthews, the titular Aspie, spends the bulk of the film trying to avoid. A Pennsylvania writer and artist who wasn’t diagnosed with AS until he was 41, Matthews possesses all of the tell-tale signs of high-functioning autism — remarkable intelligence, social awkwardness, a wealth of personality tics and other idiosyncrasies. Occasionally a viewer might feel like the film is making him appear more eccentric than he really is (the questioning about his masturbation practices was certainly intrusive and unnecessary), but for the most part Sokolow’s subject comes across as disarmingly relatable.

This is critical to the documentary’s success. By painting his romantic tribulations as akin to a cultural difference (Matthews’ own analogy) instead of a mental condition, the viewer is able to see him as a decent man adapting to strange customs rather than as some ineffably different “other.” Indeed, from its opening frame, the movie practically invites its audience to shout feedback and advice back at the screen. When he posts flyers with personal ads throughout his hometown, one hopes that he realizes even the most handsome guy would have a hard time getting dates through that approach; as he shares a single Halloween party dance with a buxom woman in a Minnie Mouse costume who never reappears in the film, you wonder if he realized that he possibly could have gotten a date with her if he had just asked; and so the pattern goes.

Matthews is funny, intriguing, eccentric, articulate, a talented artist — all qualities that many people find appealing. The problem with having Asperger’s is simply that he doesn’t know how to market himself. He is a quality brand struggling with the economics of the dating marketplace.

In that sense, “Aspie Seeks Love” is as much a critique of American dating culture as it is a portrait of high-functioning autism. Even though Asperger’s causes Matthews to miss social cues and fumble when attempting to cultivate romantic chemistry, it also imbues him with an authenticity and honesty that, theoretically, should benefit someone whose stated goal is to find: “a companion. Someone to converse with. Someone with whom to share my life.” Unfortunately, as the movie painfully demonstrates, the openness necessary to forging deep and meaningful connections too often clashes with the rituals and unspoken rules that govern success or failure in finding love. Matthews can win friends, wow fans, and bond with cats and other Aspies, but in love he is blocked by the layers of artifice that are shown to impede rather than facilitate the meeting of that fundamental human need.

Therein lies the greatness of “Aspie Seeks Love.” Most people don’t have Asperger’s syndrome, but few are capable of leading happy lives without love, and Matthews’ most serious mental health issues stem not from being autistic, but from feeling alone. The stigma and sexual frustration caused by being involuntarily single are certainly painful enough, but the existential anguish of loneliness is perhaps the greatest scourge of the human condition. Asperger’s Syndrome may have been the specific impediment in Matthews’ search for love, but there are millions of other lonely people in the world held back for a wide variety of other reasons — physical unattractiveness, an inability to have the social status necessary to be considered desirable as a mate, the emotional scars of past abuse and rejection. Regardless of its origins, loneliness is usually a far more terrible affliction than any of the variables — internal or external to its victim — that may cause it.
advertisement

Matthews may be dryly humorous about his predicament — if nothing else, he has the good sense to steer clear of whininess or self-pity — but his sadness is unmistakable. As one character in the film puts it, “You can’t escape the playground.” Everyone spends at least some time in the sandbox, and in “Aspie Seeks Love,” you bear witness to one lonely man’s attempt to crawl out.

Liskula Cohen is a Canadian-born former model who has worked in New York, Paris, Milan, Tokyo, and Sydney, among other cities. She is a feminist and loves every second of raising her amazing daughter as a single mother.