Archive for March 22nd, 2012
Leader’s Suicide Reveals Frightening, Violent, Organized Misogyny Movement
The suicide brought attention to an underworld of misogynists whose furies include the family court system, domestic violence laws and false rape accusations.
After 10 years of custody battles, court-ordered counseling and imminent imprisonment for non-payment of child support, Thomas James Ball, a leader of the Worcester branch of the Massachusetts-based Fatherhood Coalition, had reached his limit. On June 15, 2011, he doused himself with gasoline and set himself on fire just outside the Cheshire County, N.H., Courthouse. He was dead within minutes.
In a lengthy “Last Statement,” which arrived posthumously at the Keene Sentinel, Tom Ball told his story. All he had done, he said, was smack his 4-year-old daughter and bloody her mouth after she licked his hand as he was putting her to bed. Feminist-crafted anti-domestic violence legislation did the rest. “Twenty-five years ago,” he wrote, “the federal government declared war on men. It is time to see how committed they are to their cause. It is time, boys, to give them a taste of war.” Calling for all-out insurrection, he offered tips on making Molotov cocktails and urged his readers to use them against courthouses and police stations. “There will be some casualties in this war,” he predicted. “Some killed, some wounded, some captured. Some of them will be theirs. Some of the casualties will be ours.”
For people who associate the men’s and fathers’ rights movements with New Age drum circles in the woods, the ferocity of Ball’s rhetoric, the horror of his act, and, in particular, the widespread and blatantly misogynistic reaction to it may come as something of a revelation. When the feminist Amanda Marcotte, a bête noire of the men’s rights movement, remarked that “setting yourself on fire is an extremely effective tool if your goal is to make your ex-wife’s life a living hell,” a poster at the blog Misandry.com went ballistic. “Talk about the pot calling the kettle black,” he raged. “She is evil and such a vile evil that she is a disease that needs to be cut out of the human [consciousness] just like the rest of the femanazi ass harpies.”
It’s not much of a surprise that significant numbers of men in Western societies feel threatened by dramatic changes in their roles and that of the family in recent decades. Similar backlashes, after all, came in response to the civil rights movement, the gay rights movement, and other major societal revolutions. What is something of a shock is the verbal and physical violence of that reaction.
Ball’s suicide brought attention to an underworld of misogynists, woman-haters whose fury goes well beyond criticism of the family court system, domestic violence laws, and false rape accusations. There are literally hundreds of websites, blogs and forums devoted to attacking virtually all women (or, at least, Westernized ones) — the so-called “manosphere,” which now also includes a tribute page for Tom Ball (“He Died For Our Children”). While some of them voice legitimate and sometimes disturbing complaints about the treatment of men, what is most remarkable is the misogynistic tone that pervades so many. Women are routinely maligned as sluts, gold-diggers, temptresses and worse; overly sympathetic men are dubbed “manginas”; and police and other officials are called their armed enablers. Even Ball — who did not directly blame his ex-wife for his troubles, but instead depicted her and their three children as co-victims of the authorities — vilified “man-hating feminists” as evil destroyers of all that is good.
This kind of woman-hatred is increasingly visible in most Western societies, and it tends to be allied with other anti-modern emotions — opposition to same-sex marriage, to non-Christian immigration, to women in the workplace, and even, in some cases, to the advancement of African Americans. Just a few weeks after Ball’s death, while scorch marks were still visible on the sidewalk in Keene, N.H., that was made clear once more by a Norwegian named Anders Behring Breivik.
On July 22, Breivik slaughtered 77 of his countrymen, most of them teenagers, in Oslo and at a summer camp on the island of Utøya, because he thought they or their parents were the kinds of “politically correct” liberals who were enabling Muslim immigration. But Breivik was almost as voluble on the subjects of feminism, the family, and fathers’ rights as he was on Islam. “The most direct threat to the family is ‘divorce on demand,’” he wrote in the manifesto he posted just before he began his deadly spree. “The system must be reformed so that the father will be awarded custody rights by default.”
The manosphere lit up. Said one approving poster at The Spearhead, an online men’s rights magazine for the “defense of ourselves, our families and our fellow men”: “What could be more ‘an eye for an eye’ than to kill the children of those who were so willing to destroy men’s families and destroy the homeland of men?”
‘The Homeland of Men’
The men’s rights movement, also referred to as the fathers’ rights movement, is made up of a number of disparate, often overlapping, types of groups and individuals. Some most certainly do have legitimate grievances, having endured prison, impoverishment or heartrending separations from genuinely loved children.
Jocelyn Crowley, a Rutgers political scientist and the author of Defiant Dads: Fathers’ Rights Activists in America, says that most men who join real (as opposed to virtual) men’s rights groups aren’t seeking to attack the family court system so much as they are simply struggling to navigate it. What they talk most about when they meet face to face, she says, are strategies to deal with their ex-partners and have better relationships with their children.
But Molly Dragiewicz, a criminologist at the University of Ontario Institute of Technology and the author of Equality With a Vengeance: Men’s Rights Groups, Battered Women, and Antifeminist Backlash, argues that cases in which fathers are badly treated by courts and other officials are not remotely the norm. The small percentage of divorces that end up in litigation are disproportionately those where abuse and other issues make joint custody a dubious proposition. Even when a woman can satisfactorily document her ex-husband’s abuse, Dragiewicz says, she is no more likely to receive full custody of her children than if she couldn’t.
The men’s movement also includes mail-order-bride shoppers, unregenerate batterers, and wannabe pickup artists who are eager to learn the secrets of “game”—the psychological tricks that supposedly make it easy to seduce women. George Sodini, who confided his seething rage at women to his blog before shooting 12 women, three of them fatally, was one of the latter. Before his 2009 murder spree at a Pittsburgh-area gym, he was a student — though clearly not a very apt one — of R. Don Steele, the author of How to Date Young Women: For Men Over 35. “I dress good, am clean-shaven, bathe, touch of cologne — yet 30 million women rejected me over an 18 or 25-year period,” Sodini wrote with the kind of pathos presumably typical of Steele’s readers.
Other movement adherents have forsworn sex altogether, or at least romantic relationships and marriage; the acronym they use for themselves is MGTOW, for “Men Going Their Own Way.” “If you are willing to marry a woman — any woman — in the West then you must also be willing to become the next murder-suicide story when she threatens to file for divorce, steal your kids out of your life and extort you for every current and future dollar you will ever earn,” wrote one commenter at The Spearhead. “If a man kidnapped your children, stole your home, your wallet and your bank account, you’d be more than willing to kill him in self defense. Why is it any different when ex-wives do it with the full force of the law behind them?”
Some take an inordinate interest in extremely young women, or fetishize what they see as the ultra-feminine (read: docile) characteristics of South American and Asian women. Others, who have internalized Christian “headship” doctrine, are desperately seeking the “submissive” women such doctrine celebrates. Still others are simply sexually awkward, and nonplussed and befuddled by society’s changing mores. The common denominator is their resentment of feminism and of females in general.
“It’s ironic,” the feminist writer Amanda Marcotte observes. “These [misogynist Web] sites owe their existence to feminism’s successes. At some point in the last couple of years, the zeitgeist hit a tipping point where female power — Hillary Clinton’s, Rachel Maddow’s, even Sarah Palin’s — stopped being questioned. Being sexist has become less acceptable than it used to be. This makes some men particularly anxious.” At the same time, of course, domestic violence and sex crimes are much more likely to be prosecuted than they were even a decade ago. Shelters, social services and legal aid are more available to most battered women than in the past.
But some experts argue that men’s rights groups have been remarkably successful. The groups, says Rita Smith, director of the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, “have taken over the way courts deal with custody issues, particularly when there are allegations of abuse,” largely by convincing them that there is such a thing as “Parental Alienation Syndrome” (PAS). (PAS is a supposed clinical disorder in which a child compulsively belittles one parent due to indoctrination by the other — frequently leveling false allegations of abuse. It is not recognized as a clinical disorder by either the American Psychiatric Association or the World Health Organization.) Citing studies that show that false domestic abuse accusations against men are far less common than men’s groups and PAS enthusiasts claim, Smith says the groups nevertheless have “been able to get custody evaluators, mediators, guardians ad litem and child protective service workers to believe that women and children lie about abuse.”
Threats and Abuse
One kind of abuse that is undeniable is the vilification of individual women on certain men’s group websites. The best example of that may be Register-Her, a registry of women who “have caused significant harm to innocent individuals either by the direct action of crimes like rape, assault, child molestation and murder, or by the false accusation of crimes against others.” The site was set up by Paul Elam, the blogger behind A Voice for Men, less than two weeks after Ball’s suicide. “If Mary Jane Rottencrotch decides to falsely accuse her husband of domestic violence in order to get the upper hand in a divorce,” Elam boasted on his Internet radio show, “we can publish all her personal information on the website, including her name, address, phone number … even her routes to and from work.”
Under a headline reading, “Why are these women not in prison?” the site features photos and information about some 250 alleged malefactors, including notorious women like Lorena Bobbitt and Tonya Harding, although Elam hasn’t made good on his threat to publish home addresses or phone numbers. Many of those listed received prison sentences for various crimes, but large numbers were acquitted in court, while others were never accused of any lawbreaking. A well-known feminist, for example, is listed for “anti-male bigotry,” which is compared to racism.
Elam’s site can be frightening to its targets. In one case, he offered a cash reward to the first reader to ferret out a pseudonymous feminist blogger’s real name. In another, Elam singled out a part-time blogger at ChicagoNow who describes herself as a “vegetarian park activist with two baby girls.” The woman’s mistake was to write about her discomfort with male adults helping female toddlers in the bathroom at her daughter’s preschool. The blogger conceded that she was being sexist, but wrote that “I’d rather be wrong than find out if I’m right.”
After the woman was listed, she was widely attacked on men’s movement sites. “I don’t always use the word ‘cunt’ to describe a woman,” one poster raged, “but when I do it’s because of reasons like these.” Shocked, the “Mommy blogger” took down her original post and apologized for her “demonization of men.”
It wasn’t enough. “You targeted fathers, and just fathers,” Elam rebuked her. “It strikes me that you have never really been held to account for any of your actions in life. It is quite likely that the concept of complete, selfless accountability is just completely foreign to you.” Over at the Reddit Mens Rights forum, another poster fumed: “This entire episode should be a warning to all those male hating feminists out there who believe that they are safe screaming their hate messages on the web. Finally, they are held accountable for their hate messages and finally the rest of the world will find out exactly what type of depraved people they really are.”
Amanda Marcotte, who is a prime Register-Her target, writes about men’s rights activists less than she used to. That’s not because she doesn’t take them seriously — they introduce too many “anti-woman, anti-child, pro-abuse, pro-rape ideas into the public discourse” not to — but because “they’re so doggedly mean. It becomes frightening after a while.” Marcotte says the registry may incite violence against its targets, especially because many angry male activists are active abusers. “They interact with their ideological adversaries online,” she says, “much as they do with their spouses and children: ‘I’ll give you something to cry about!’”
“I don’t know if Thomas James Ball ever visited this site,” Elam wrote on his blog when he started Register-Her. “What I do believe is, though, that he, if convinced to stay alive, would have been a hell of a soldier in this war.”
Soldiers in the War
The first shots in this so-called war on feminism were fired 22 years before Tom Ball’s suicide. On Dec. 6, 1989, Marc Lépine, a troubled 25-year-old computer student, strolled into the Ecole Polytechnique in Montreal, Canada, carrying a Ruger Mini-14 semi-automatic rifle and a hunting knife. He walked into a classroom, ordered the men to leave, and lined the women up against a wall.
“I am fighting feminism,” he announced before opening fire. “You’re women, you’re going to be engineers. You’re all a bunch of feminists. I hate feminists.”
By the time he turned the gun on himself, 14 women were dead and 10 were wounded; four men were hurt as well. The suicide note in Lépine’s pocket contained a list of 19 “radical feminists” he hoped to kill, and this: “I have decided to send the feminists, who have always ruined my life, to their Maker. … They want to keep the advantages of women … while seizing for themselves those of men.”
Today, that kind of rage is often directed at all women, not only perceived feminists. “Women don’t need the powers-that-be to get them to hate and use men,” the blogger Alcuin wrote recently. “They have always used men; maybe they have always hated us too.” Added another blogger, Angry Harry: “There are now, literally, billions of dollars, numerous empires, and millions of jobs that depend on the public swallowing the idea that women need to be defended from men.”
“A word to the wise,” offered the blogger known as Rebuking Feminism. “The animals women have become want one thing, resources and genes. … See them as the animals they have become and plan … accordingly.”
And many are quick to endorse violence against women. “There are women, and plenty of them, for which [sic] a solid ass kicking would be the least they deserve,” Paul Elam wrote in an essay with the provocative title, “When is it OK to Punch Your Wife?” “The real question here is not whether these women deserve the business end of a right hook, they obviously do, and some of them deserve one hard enough to leave them in an unconscious, innocuous pile on the ground if it serves to protect the innocent from imminent harm. The real question is whether men deserve to be able to physically defend themselves from assault … from a woman.”
For some, it’s more than just talk. In 2006, Darren Mack, a member of a fathers’ rights group in Reno, Nev., stabbed his estranged wife to death and then shot and wounded the family court judge who was handling his divorce.
That kind of violence continues right up to the present.
In Seal Beach, Calif. last Oct. 12, a day after Scott Evans Dekraai and his ex-wife had been in court to fight over custody of their 8-year-old son (Dekraai had 56% custody but wanted full custody and “final decision making authority” on matters of the child’s education and medical treatment), Dekraai walked into the hair salon where his ex-wife worked armed with three handguns. There, he allegedly shot seven women, six of them fatally; he also is accused of killing two men — the salon’s owner, as he attempted to flee, and a man in a car outside.
Michelle Fournier, Dekraai’s ex-wife, had testified that Dekraai was not taking his bipolar medicine and that he was suicidal and dangerous. If she had survived his rampage, she might have enjoyed having the last word about his propensity for violence. But she did not, becoming instead the latest in a long, sad line of victims of women-hating men.
© 2012, agentleman.
Beyond The Battlefield: Afghanistan’s Wounded Struggle With Genital Injuries
Before they went off to fight in Afghanistan, the guys of 3rd Battalion, 5th Marines talked quietly about their deepest fear. Not dying. Not losing a leg or an arm.
It was having their genitals ripped off, burned away or crushed in the fiery blast of an improvised explosive device.
This was no idle concern to young men bursting with testosterone. The makeshift bombs known as IEDs are taking a frightening toll in Afghanistan, the blasts shearing off arms and legs, ripping through soft flesh, crushing organs and bone, and driving dirt, rocks and filth deep into torn flesh — often leaving the genitals shredded or missing. Some guys said they’d rather be dead.
Mark Litynski, a 23-year-old rifleman with Lima Company, knew the odds. He’d been married to Heather for almost a year, and children were in the future they planned together.
I ought to freeze my sperm so we could still have kids if something happened, he thought.
The idea nagged at him. But in the rush of last-minute training before they packed their sea bags and weapons and then took a few days of boisterous leave, he kept putting it off. Where do you go to freeze your sperm, anyway? Who would you even ask?
By the time they loaded on the buses at Camp Pendleton, it was too late. Should have done it, Mark thought as they boarded the plane in September 2010.
Weeks later, Mark was on a combat patrol in Sangin, southern Afghanistan, walking behind an engineer sweeping for IEDs, marking their path with yellow spraypaint. IED detectors aren’t foolproof. There came a bright flash and searing heat, then the upward blast ripped off both of Mark’s legs and most of his left arm, slashing into his remaining arm, shattering his pelvis and driving a rock and other debris up into his abdominal cavity.
Amid the bloody carnage, all the skin was ripped from his penis and his testicles were gone.
Days later, after trauma surgeons in Germany finished trimming and suturing his stumps and temporarily closing his abdominal wounds, he managed to say a few words to Heather on the phone.
“I’m so sorry,” he croaked.
“I love you,” she told him, blinking back tears. “We will pull through this together, as a team.”
‘THEY WEREN’T PREPARED FOR THIS’
The decade of U.S. combat in Afghanistan has left Afghans and Americans with a seemingly endless series of woes. But among the most devastating are the blast wounds that have left more than 16,000 young Americans severely wounded.
Several hundred have suffered genital injuries in addition to amputations and burns, leaving them unable to father children and struggling to engage in something resembling the sex they used to have, often without the aid of what many view as the primary symbol of their manhood.
“Who’s going to want to be with me now?” wondered Marine Staff Sgt. Glen Silva, 39, after an IED blast shattered his leg, ripped open his lower torso and severed most of his penis.
It was a legitimate concern. Silva’s girlfriend stayed with him at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., through many of his 42 surgeries. But one day he was wheeled back to his room to find she had gone, leaving a nine-word handwritten note: “I can’t take this any more. I’m outta here.”
Silva, the Litynskis and others agreed to share the painful and intimate details of their ordeals in order to spotlight what they feel is a life-altering but often hidden wound, one that is frequently given inadequate attention and care within the military health care system. Those who cannot regain their sexual function or drive are given little understanding or aid, they say. In Mark and Heather’s case, it took the intervention of The Huffington Post to get them an appointment with Walter Reed’s specialist in sexual dysfunction.
“They weren’t prepared for this,” Silva said of the Walter Reed staff.
Since 2005, more than 1,500 soldiers and Marines have been carried off the battlefield with genital wounds. But since late 2009, when President Barack Obama ordered a “surge” of 30,000 combat troops into Afghanistan and approved a new tactic of increased foot patrols, the pace of genital injuries has accelerated.
In the year before the surge, 170 combat troops suffered genital wounds, mostly from IED blasts. In 2010, according to Pentagon data, that number leapt to 259. Last year, the Defense Department counted 299 cases of genital wounds that James Jezior, a urologist who does genital repair surgery at Walter Reed, characterizes as “devastating.”
“I remember lying on my side, dust everywhere, and I looked down and saw my arms were split open and squirting blood and I had just two bloody stumps above my knees,” said Marine 1st Lt. James Byler, 26, who was blown up a few weeks before Mark Litynski. “My first coherent words to my Marines were, ‘Hey! check my nuts!'” His genitals were severely damaged, but intact.
“It’s the male instinct, the first thing you care about,” Byler said. “In past wars, guys didn’t live if they got injured as badly as me, but we’ve gotten so good at the medevac process now that guys who are catastrophically wounded are surviving. Now you have all these further complications — like, you know, what’s going to happen with my genital wounds?”
Military surgeons and specialists acknowledge that they often don’t know the answer, because, until recently, they had little or no exposure to such injuries.
‘I AIN’T GOING TO NO SEX-CHANGE DOCTOR’
In past wars, most casualties were head and chest wounds caused by shrapnel from mortars and artillery or from bullets. Walter Reed, the nation’s premier military hospital, attracts some of the best talent in military medicine. But doctors there say their only relevant experience with sexual dysfunction had long been with older prostate cancer patients, who obviously have vastly different medical and psychological needs than young men with severe battle injuries.
During the past decade, IED blasts have become the primary cause of U.S. battle casualties, killing or wounding 34,360 American troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to the most recent Pentagon data. One reason for the increasing incidence is that modern body armor protects the chest but leaves the lower torso exposed to the upward blast of buried bombs, a vulnerability that insurgents have exploited.
Many victims end up at Walter Reed, where surgeons are able to repair some damage to the penis. Jezior uses tissue he cuts from inside the patient’s cheek or lip to rebuild the urethra, which carries urine through the penis from the bladder. Oral tissue is used because it is hairless and used to being wet, Jezior explained, and is rolled into a tube to replace the damaged urethra. He grafts skin from the patient’s thigh or groin to rebuild the outer layer of the penis.
But for guys like Staff Sgt. Silva whose penises have been partly or totally destroyed, options are few. Expertise within the military on penis replacement, or phalloplasty, is so limited that some Walter Reed patients have been referred to civilian surgeons who specialize in sex-change operations. It’s an option not well received in the ranks.
“I ain’t going to no sex-change doctor,” Silva growled. Besides, he had seen photos of the penises they had made with surgical flaps from patients’ forearms. “I could do better with Silly Putty,” he snorted.
But there is hope that doctors may soon be able to regrow a penis from the smooth muscle and endothelial cells of patients like Silva. Advances in regenerative medicine have surged during the past decade. At the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine, a team led by Anthony Atala reported last year that they had regenerated the penises of 12 New Zealand white rabbits. Once they healed, the rabbits were placed in cages with female rabbits. All attempted copulation within one minute and four females became impregnated.
Can he grow a penis for Silva? “We are always cautiously optimistic. This still requires a lot of work to make sure it works well,” Atala said in an interview. “As much as it works in the laboratory, it may not work in the human.”
“But,” he added, “we have a good history. Hopefully this holds some promise for the future.”
Atala is seeking regulatory approval to begin experimental penile regeneration in humans. He has met with Silva to discuss the procedure and said he wants to move forward “as expeditiously as possible,” though he declined to provide a more specific timeframe.
Still, even if surgeons can physically rebuild genitals, making them work effectively and pleasurably is vastly more challenging. Achieving erection, orgasm and ejaculation involves a complex interplay of sensory nerves, muscles and blood-vessel functions, any or all of which may have been damaged by an IED blast.
“Even if you can regenerate tissue, it doesn’t mean you can make that tissue function exactly the way it did before — mostly because of nerve function,” said Robert Dean, an andrologist who is Walter Reed’s lone specialist in sexual dysfunction.
‘WHO’S GOING TO WANT TO BE WITH ME?’
A genital wound doesn’t mean the end of pleasurable or productive sex, however, according to Dean and other specialists. It’s a common misconception, Dean said, that sex must include an erection, orgasm and ejaculation. “After an injury, the ejaculation function may be gone, but orgasm isn’t,” he said. “Erections may be difficult to achieve, but orgasms are still possible.”
That’s the theory. But predicting how well individual genital-wound patients will recover is nearly impossible, doctors admit.
Much is unknown about the secondary effects of a powerful blast on human organs. Apart from the obvious physical damage, the concussive blast wave seems to affect sexual function in ways that are not clear. Byler, for instance, suffered little visible physical damage to his genitals, but his testosterone levels and sperm count dropped alarmingly after he was injured.
He and many other genital-wound patients are given replacement doses of testosterone. Low testosterone levels can depress sex drive and decrease energy levels, but the treatment often requires precise dosages and a lengthy process of trial and error. And often, its effects are masked, as many patients are also taking a cocktail of other drugs for pain and anxiety or to control swelling and fight infection.
It’s a situation that breeds intense frustration. Genital-wound patients are anxious to know what their sexual future looks like. But doctors at Walter Reed often are unable to reassure them that their sexual functions will ever return in whole, in part or at all. It can take a year, even two, for answers to begin to emerge, Jezior said.
Even then, he said, “We absolutely do not know how well their reactions will be with what they have remaining, how functional they will be. It takes a lot of time to heal, a lot of recovery, every part of the body has to heal before your erections become what will be their end-state.”
Some patients, he added, “will not get back to a functional state.”
But it can be difficult to determine who will recover, and how much, medical officials said, largely because there is a relative paucity of data on the long-term medical and psychological effects of the available treatments and the wounds themselves.
That uncertainty can add yet another crushing psychological burden for young men already struggling with the loss of arms and legs.
“You hear a lot of, ‘This is the best we can do, but the fact of the matter is, we have never seen this type of injury before, so we [doctors] really don’t know what to tell you,'” said Byler, speaking of his experience as an amputee and genital-injury patient at Walter Reed.
Byler said he never even saw a urologist until four or five months after he was wounded. “There’s a lot of things they can do for limbs that are lost, like my legs — but no one really addresses the genitalia,” he said. “You need someone to come look at the damage and give you an honest assessment of what they think it’s gonna be. Because otherwise you’re left wondering, who’s going to want me? Who’s going to want to be with me?”
Doctors at Walter Reed acknowledge having long failed to recognize that while young men may accept the loss of a limb, even the loss of several limbs, they are often far more devastated by damage to their genitals.
“There certainly was a disconnect,” said Jezior. “It was an eye-opener for us that there is a grieving when it comes to significant injury to the genitalia that needs to be dealt with.” Still, he insisted that the care provided to genital wound patients at Walter Reed is “pretty incredible, with a lot of support.”
‘WE SAVED HIS PENIS’
Mark and Heather Litynski, however, did not feel supported after Mark was wounded. Their experience was bitter, frustrating and far from the future they had imagined.
They grew up two miles apart in the Minneapolis suburb of New Hope. When Mark shipped out to Afghanistan in September 2010, Heather went home to wait for his return.
She was holding down a temporary job at Starbucks in November when two Marines arrived, accompanied by her mother and sister. Mark was alive, they told her, but in critical condition with “severe lower torso injuries.” They handed her a terse medical report describing his wounds. When she read “bilateral [both legs] above-knee amputations,” Heather collapsed to the ground in shock.
It was far worse than she had feared. But he was alive.
“When I found out, I started crying, but very quickly I got over it because you’re just so glad they’re alive and doing well,” Heather said.
Two days passed, an agony of waiting, before doctors could talk to Heather about the extent of Mark’s injuries. There were a lot of other things to worry about — the potential for deadly infection, of possible brain damage, the trauma of losing two legs and his arm. But one thing the doctors said hit home: “We saved his penis!”
“‘Saved his penis!’ Got something!” Heather recalled with a chuckle.
Mark has also accepted his wound, just as he has gotten used to his wheelchair, his prosthetic legs and mechanical arm. “When I found out about it [his testicle loss] I was kind of … you know, ‘Should have done the sperm-freeze thing,”’ he said. “But … we’re making it through. It’s not the end of the world.”
Of course, it wasn’t as simple as that.
As surgeons at Walter Reed were working to repair Mark’s abdominal wounds and shape his leg and arm stumps, they also began reconstructive work on his penis. They prescribed doses of Viagra or Cialis to see if he could get an erection. A duty nurse administered the first dose while Mark had a full-length catheter inserted in his penis. His erection was painful.
But stimulation is necessary and common early therapy for genital-wound patients, said Dean, the hospital’s sexual-dysfunction specialist. “Even though they are not really close to wanting to use it, because they have physical therapy to go through and pain issues, we start rehab therapy to see what effect that has, because we don’t want the [penile] tissues to atrophy,” he said.
Severely wounded patients like Mark typically spend a few months in intensive care at Walter Reed. Then they transfer to an apartment in one of the comfortable new housing units at the hospital and continue their physical and occupational therapy as outpatients. Once Mark got a set of prosthetic arms and learned to walk on his new prosthetic legs, he joined other wounded patients on fishing trips, even a snowboarding in Vail, Colo., just over a year after his injury.
Things weren’t easy, though. “He was very affectionate before, he used to always have his arm around me, hold my hand, just come by and kiss my head,” said Heather. “That’s how he was.” But as his physical wounds healed, the couple’s sense of intimacy did not return. Nor did Mark’s sex drive. He was lethargic. He had ”zero” desire, she said.
Mark was taking testosterone to replace the hormone normally produced by his testicles. Heather suspected the dosage was wrong, but she couldn’t get anyone at Walter Reed to listen.
“Every time we’d go to the doctor, it was always kind of awkward and embarrassing,” she said. “I’d have to bring it up and ask them — they never asked us. I was always given a vague answer — ‘Oh, well, he’s still on some medications that can decrease the libido …’ And I’m thinking having sex once every couple of months with your spouse is more than a little ‘decrease’ in libido.”
Heather started wondering if Mark was suffering from traumatic brain injury or post-traumatic stress, but she felt there was no one who had answers or even seemed to care. The frustration inevitably strained their marriage. Out of guilt, Mark began fiddling around with his testosterone patches, trying to adjust the dosage, desperately hoping to find a way to help.
“All of our complaints to his primary care doctors, his urologist — nothing got us anywhere,” Heather said. Then, as a result of an interview with The Huffington Post, they made contact with Dean.
In a January interview, Dean had enthusiastically described his work with genital-wound patients and their spouses. “We address how you are going to walk and dress yourself, how you’re going to have sex in the future and how you’re going to have children in the future, if possible,” he said.
A few weeks later, I mentioned Dean and his work to Mark and Heather, and was astonished to learn that they had never heard of him, despite having lived in his hospital for 15 months. Before they heard about Dean, Heather said, “I was never referred to any doctor that could really help us.”
Within days, they met with Dean, who ran some tests and ordered a change in Mark’s testosterone therapy. He expects dramatic improvement.
But the Litynskis’ disappointments haven’t ended.
‘IT JUST DOESN’T SEEM RIGHT’
The Pentagon, alarmed at the rising incidence of genital wounds, has rushed $19 million worth of protective garments to Afghanistan, including 165,000 pairs of blast-resistant briefs and 45,000 diaper-like garments to protect the genitals from upward blast..
For those who have already suffered genital wounds, there is less help.
Couples like Mark and Heather, who want the option of natural childbirth, can turn to in vitro fertilization, using donor sperm. But the process is expensive, well beyond the means of typical enlisted soldiers and Marines. At Walter Reed, the cost of a single in vitro procedure runs from $4,800 to $7,000, and success may require many attempts.
Yet the military’s medical insurance program, Tricare, specifically excludes coverage for the procedure, even in cases where the husband’s reproductive organs have been destroyed in combat.
The Department of Veterans Affairs has added to the frustration. Through its insurance program, the VA pays up to $100,000 to the severely wounded to compensate for loss of income and to help finance cars adapted for their use and other new needs. Late last year, the VA also agreed to pay up to $50,000 for damage to or loss of genitals in combat, but its $100,000 lifetime cap on such compensation does not account for veterans who have been wounded as catastrophically as Mark Litynski.
Along with many others severely wounded in combat, Mark has been awarded the full $100,000 for the loss of both legs. Because of the cap, however, he will not receive the additional $50,000 for his genital wounds — money that could help pay for fertility treatment or adoption.
Defense Department officials repeatedly refused, over a period of several months, to respond to The Huffington Post’s questions about the limits on compensation or gaps in care for those with genital wounds. Finally, Pentagon spokeswoman Cynthia Smith said in a statement that the department is “working to provide” reproductive services “to severely injured service members without additional costs to them.”
Smith was unable to provide details. Heather Litynski said she has not been contacted by anyone in the Defense Department offering to help pay for fertility procedures.
Considering that Mark volunteered to serve his country and was severely injured in that duty, “it seems like it should be up to the government” to compensate them, Heather said, for not being able to have their own children together.
“It just doesn’t seem right,” added Heather, a registered nurse who typically has a sunny disposition and a quick smile. She and Mark had long planned to have children. But adoption is expensive. And apart from being costly, there are some aspects of artificial insemination or in vitro fertilization that can be hard for some couples to accept.
“It may be difficult using another man’s sperm,” she said. “The idea does bother me sometimes.” And having their insurance refuse to pay for it “is pretty disappointing,” she added.
Last year, the U.S. Army’s surgeon general commissioned a study of blast injuries, including genital wounds, and concluded that military care has lagged behind. “These are complex problems that are not commonly seen in civilian life,” said Army Col. Jonathan Jaffin, a trauma surgeon who directs the Army’s Dismounted Complex Blast Injury Task Force, which was established to improve the treatment of the severely wounded.
Like many others, Jaffin acknowledged that the military has fallen short, that it cannot fully answer the questions of couples like Mark and Heather Litynski, let alone resolve their problems. “We’re trying to gather data but we don’t have a good answer as to all of the problems we’re seeing,” he said. Genital wounds, he said, are “a very difficult problem, not just a physical problem but one that involves the family, the social dynamics, psychological and spiritual aspects.”
“We are doing everything we can to provide the very best care” for the severely wounded, Jaffin added. “I don’t think any of us will ever say we have the complete solution. We’re going to have to keep pushing, keep making it better.”
‘I WOULDN’T CHANGE IT FOR ANYTHING’
Mark and Heather are still living at Walter Reed, hoping Mark’s new hormone treatments will help ease the strain in their relationship. Yet despite their ordeals, they both seem determinedly upbeat and ready to take on the next phase of their life. Soon they’ll move back to New Hope, Minn. Heather will look for work as a nurse while Mark goes back to school to study business.
And they are weighing the costs and benefits of in vitro fertilization, artificial insemination and adoption.
“We definitely want to have children. It’s going to be a big expense for us,” Heather said. “It is disappointing to me — so much has been done and given to us because of his combat injuries, which is wonderful. I feel the care and concern from the public and different charities and organizations — it’s so much, it is overwhelming.
“But there is the huge gap in alternative family planning. There’s no compensation, no help. There are charities that offer to help but I’m thinking it should be the responsibility of the government.”
They will struggle ahead, she said. But their lives will be different from what they had anticipated just two years ago. “Yes, it is different, but it’s still livable, still very positive,” she said.
“Like anything else, you move on,” Mark said. As for life ahead? “Looks pretty good. It’s disappointing, but we will still have kids — some way we will have kids, and I will look at them as if they had my DNA. It’s not that traumatic to me, as long as we’re still able to raise kids, it doesn’t necessarily matter where they came from.”
And despite the traumatic turns his life has taken, Mark said he doesn’t for a moment regret his decision to enlist in the Marines.
He served, he said, “to make a difference, not just for the United States, our citizens, but over there — we were making a difference for the people of Afghanistan.
“I wouldn’t change it for anything,” he said.
David Wood’s ebook, “Beyond the Battlefield: The War Goes on for the Severely Wounded.”
© 2012, agentleman.
How the Right-Wing Brain Works and What That Means for Progressives
There really is a science of conservative morality, and it really is vastly different from liberal morality. And there are key lessons to be drawn from this research.
Editor’s Note: This essay draws upon Chris Mooney’s forthcoming book, The Republican Brain: The Science of Why They Deny Science—and Reality (due out in April from Wiley), as well as his interviews with George Lakoff, Jonathan Haidt and Dan Kahan on the Point of Inquiry podcast.
If you’re a liberal or a progressive these days, you could be forgiven for being baffled and frustrated by conservatives. Their views and actions seem completely alien to us—or worse. From cheering at executions, to wanting to “throw up” over church-state separation, to seeking to “drown” government “in the bathtub” (except when it is cracking down on porn, apparently) conservatives not only seem very different, but also very inconsistent.
Even the most well-read liberals and progressives can be forgiven for being confused, because the experts themselves—George Lakoff, Jonathan Haidt and others–have different ways of explaining what they call conservatives’ “morality” or “moral systems.” Are we dealing with a bunch of die-hard anti-government types in their bunkers, or the strict father family? Are our intellectual adversaries free-market libertarians, or right-wing authoritarians—and do they even know the difference?
But to all you liberals I say, have hope: It’s not nearly so baffling as it may at first appear. Having interviewed many of these experts over the course of the last year, my sense is that despite coming from different fields and using different terminologies, they are saying many of the same things. Most important, their work suggests that there really is a science of conservative morality, and it really is very different from liberal morality. And there are key lessons to be drawn from this research about how to interact (and not interact) with our intellectual opponents.
That’s what I’m going to show—but first, let me first emphasize that morality isn’t the only way in which liberals and conservatives differ. They differ on a wide variety of traits–and it is not necessarily clear, as Jonathan Haidt recently put it to me, what’s the root of the flower, what’s the stem and what’s the leaves.
But set that aside for now. Moral differences between left and right tend to draw the greatest amount of attention, and for good reason: They seem most directly implicated in policy disputes and the culture wars alike.
Another thing that you need to know at the outset about conservative “morality” is that it’s not at all the sort of thing that moral philosophers debate endlessly about. We’re not talking about a highly developed intellectual system for determining the way one ought to act, like deontology or utilitarianism. We’re not paging Immanuel Kant or Jeremy Bentham.
Rather, we’re talking about the deep-seated impulses that push conservatives (or liberals) to act in a certain way. These needn’t be “moral” or “ethical” at all, in the sense of maximizing human happiness, ensuring the greatest good for the greatest number, adhering to a consistent set of rules and principles, and so on. Indeed, they may even be highly immoral by such standards—but there’s no denying that they are very real, and must be contended with.
The Science of Left-Right Morality
So how do conservatives think—and more important still, what do we know scientifically about how they think?
Perhaps the earliest and most influential thinker into this fray was the Berkeley cognitive linguist George Lakoff, with his classic book Moral Politics and many subsequent works (most recently, this item at Huffington Post). Lakoff’s opening premise is that we all think in metaphors. These are not the kind of thing that English majors study, but rather real, physical circuits in the brain that structure our cognition, and that are strengthened the more they are used. For instance, we learn at a very early age how things go up and things go down, and then we talk about the stock market and individual fortunes “rising” and “falling”—a metaphor.
For Lakoff, one metaphor in particular is of overriding importance in our politics: The metaphor that uses the family as a model for broader groups in society—from athletic teams to companies to governments. The problem, Lakoff says, is that we have different conceptions of the family, with conservatives embracing a “strict father” model and liberals embracing a caring, empathetic and “nurturing” version of a parent.
The strict father family is like a free-market system, and yet also very hierarchical and authoritarian. It’s a harsh world out there and the father (the supreme and always male authority) is tough and will teach the kids to be tough, because there will be no one to protect them once the father is gone. The political implications are obvious. In contrast, the nurturing parent family emphasizes love, care and growth—and, so the argument goes, compassionate government control.
Lakoff has been extremely influential, but it’s important to also consider other scientific analyses of the moral systems of left and right. Enter the University of Virginia moral psychologist Jonathan Haidt, whose new book The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided By Politics and Religion has just come out. In his own research, Haidt initially identified five (and more recently, six) separate moral intuitions that appear to make us feel strongly about situations before we’re even consciously aware of thinking about them; that powerfully guide our reasoning; and that differ strikingly from left and right.
Haidt’s first five intuitions, or “moral foundations,” are 1) the sense of needing to provide care and protect from harm; 2) the sense of what is just and fair; 3) the sense of loyalty and willingness to sacrifice for a group; 4) the sense of obedience or respect for authority; and 5) the sense of needing to preserve purity or sanctity. And politically, Haidt finds that liberals tend to strongly emphasize the first two moral intuitions (harm and fairness) in their responses to situations and events, but are much weaker on emphasizing the other three (group loyalty, respect for authority, and purity or sanctity). By contrast, Haidt finds that conservatives more than liberals respond to all five moral intuitions.
Indeed, multiple studies associate conservatism with a greater disgust reflex or sensitivity. In one telling experiment, subjects who were asked to use a hand wipe before answering questions, or to answer them near a hand sanitizer, gave more politically conservative answers. Haidt even told me in our interview that when someone like Rick Santorum talks about wanting to “throw up,” that may indeed signal a strong disgust sensitivity.
More recently, Haidt and his colleagues added a sixth moral foundation: “Liberty/oppression.” Liberals and conservatives alike care about being free from tyranny, from unjust exertions of power, but they seem to apply this impulse differently. Liberals use it (once again) to stand up for the poor, the weak; conservatives use it to support the “don’t tread on me” fulminating against big government (and global government) of the Tea Party. This, incidentally, creates a key emotional bond between libertarians on the one hand, and religious conservatives on the other.
Haidt strives to understand the conservative perspective, and to walk a middle path between left and right—but he fully admits in his book that conservative morality is more “parochial.” Conservatives, writes Haidt, are more “concerned about their groups, rather than all of humanity.” And Haidt further suggests that this is not his own view of what is ethical, writing that “when we talk about making laws and implementing public policies in Western democracies that contain some degree of ethnic and moral diversity, then I think there is no compelling alternative to utilitarianism.” It’s hard to see how thinking about the good of the in-group (rather than the good of everyone) could be considered very utilitarian.
But to my mind, here’s the really telling thing about all of this. When you get right down to it, Lakoff and Haidt seem to be singing harmony with each other. It’s not just that they could both be right—it’s that the large overlap between them strengthens both accounts, especially since the two researchers are coming from different fields and using very different methodologies and terminologies.
Lakoff’s system overlaps with Haidt’s in multiple places—most obviously when it comes to liberals showing broader empathy and wanting to care for those who are harmed (nurturing parent) and conservatives respecting authority (strict father). But the overlaps are larger still, for the strict father family is also an in-group and quite individualistic—in other words, prizing the conservative version of freedom or liberty.
What’s more, both of these systems are also consistent with a third approach that is growing in influence: The cultural cognition theory being advanced by Yale’s Dan Kahan and his colleagues, which divides us morally into “hierarchs” and “egalitarians” along one axis, and “individualists” and “communitarians” along another (helpful image here). Conservatives, in this scheme, tend towards the hierarchical and the individualistic; liberals tend toward the egalitarian and the communitarian.
Throwing Kahan into the mix—and yes, he uses yet another methodology–we once again find great consistency with Lakoff and Haidt. Egalitarians worry about fairness; communitarians about protecting the innocent from harm; hierarchs about authority and the group (and probably sanctity or purity—hierarchs tend toward the religious). Individualists are, basically, exercisers of the conservative version of freedom and liberty.
Terminology aside, then, Lakoff, Haidt and Kahan seem to have considerably more grounds for agreement with each other than for disagreement, at least when it comes to describing what actually motivates political conservatives and political liberals.
And in fact, that’s just the beginning of the expert agreement. In all of these schemes, what’s being called “morality” is emotional and, in significant part, automatic. It’s not about the conscious decisions you make about situations or policies—or at least, not primarily. Rather, the focus is on the unconscious impulses that shape how you think about situations before you’re even aware you’re doing so, and then guide (and bias) your reasoning.
This leads Lakoff and Haidt to strongly reject what you might call the “Enlightenment model” for thinking about reasoning and persuasion, and leads Kahan to talk about motivated reasoning, rather than rational or objective reasoning. Once again, these thinkers are essentially agreeing that because morality biases us long before consciousness and reasoning set in, factual and logical argument are not at all a good way to get us to change our behavior and how we respond.
This is also a point I made recently, noting how Republicans become more factually wrong with higher levels of education. Facts clearly don’t change their minds—if anything, they make matters worse! Lakoff, too, emphasizes how refuting a false conservative claim can actually reinforce it. And he doesn’t merely show why the Enlightenment mode of thinking is outdated; he also stresses that liberals are more wedded to it than conservatives, and this irrational rationalism lies at the root of many political failures on the left.
On the one hand, the apparent consensus among these experts is surely something to rejoice about. Progress is finally being made at understanding the emotional and cognitive roots of the culture war and our political dysfunction alike. But if all of this is really true—if conservatives and liberals have deep seated and automatic moral and emotional differences—then what should we do about it?
Here, finally, we do find real disagreement among the pros. Lakoff would have liberals combat conservative morality by shouting their own values from the rooftops, and never falling for conservative words and frames. Haidt would increase political civility by remaking our institutions of government to literally make liberals and conservatives feel empathetic bonds and the power of teamwork. And Kahan has done experiments showing that talking about the same issue in different value laden “frames” leads to different outcomes. For instance, if you discuss dealing with global warming in an individualistic frame—by emphasizing the importance of free market approaches like nuclear power—then you open conservative minds, at least to an extent. We’ve got data on that.
It shouldn’t be surprising that the experts become dissonant as they move from merely describing conservative morality to outlining strategy. After all, there’s a heck of a lot more uncertainty involved when you start to prescribe courses of action aimed at achieving particular outcomes. Understanding conservatives in controlled experiments is one thing; trying to outline a communications strategy with Fox News around, ready to pounce, is another matter.
Nevertheless, here’s what I’ve been able to extract.
Clearly, you shouldn’t try to persuade your ideological opponents by citing threatening facts. Rather, if your goal is an honest give-and-take, you should demonstrate the existence of common ground and shared values before broaching anything controversial, and you should interact calmly and interpersonally. To throw emotion into the mix is to stoke automatic, moralistic, indignant responses.
Such are some scientific tips about trying to communicate and persuade–but liberals should not get overoptimistic about the idea of convincing conservatives to change their beliefs, much less their moral responses. There are far too many factors arrayed against this possibility at present—not just the deeply rooted and instinctive nature of moral intuitions, but our current political polarization, by parties and also by information channels.
You can’t have a calm, unemotional conversation when everything is framed as a battle, as it currently is. Our warfare over reality, and for control of the country, is just too intense. And in a “wartime” situation, conservative have their in-group preferences to naturally fall back on.
But if we merge together Lakoff and Haidt, then I think we do end up with some good advice for liberals who want to advance their own view of what is moral. On the one hand, they should righteously advance their own values, not conservative ones. But they should remain fully aware that these values are somewhat limited since, as Haidt shows, conservatives seem to have a broader moral palette.
To reach the political middle, then, it certainly wouldn’t hurt to demonstrate much more loyalty than liberals are used to emphasizing, and to show respect for authority as well—which doesn’t come so naturally to us. What authority should we respect? I suggest either the authority of president, or perhaps better yet, the authority of the Founding Fathers. Let’s face it: Conservatives have insulted, defiled, and disobeyed the secular, rational, and Enlightenment legacy of the people who founded this country (if you want to get moralistic about it).
When it comes to loyalty and unity in particular, liberals could stand to look in the mirror and try to be more…conservative. Not in their substantive policy views, but in their ability to act as a team with one purpose and one goal that cannot be compromised or weakened. Diversity is great for our society—but not for our objectives. And that means we have something to learn from conservatives: They may not know how to make America better, but they certainly know how to take a strong, united and moralistic stand in order to get what they want.
That’s an example that liberals could do worse than to follow.
Chris Mooney is the author of four books, including “The Republican War on Science” (2005). His next book, “The Republican Brain: The Science of Why They Deny Science—and Reality,” is due out in April.
© 2012, agentleman.