Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Jiu Jitsu Gyms and COVID-19: Where We Currently Stand

Since early March, I've been diligently following the development all things related to COVID-19 for the safety and well-being of my family, for my day job (as a public high school teacher), and, relevant to this post, for the sake of our gym. 

The coronavirus pandemic has absolutely ravaged our industry. Quite simply, we cannot operate a jiu jitsu (or any other combat sport) gym in a way that doesn't increase the spread of the virus. The absolute best we can do is acquire as much information as possible, weigh the many variables, develop a list of positive and negative consequences to different action plans, then make informed, responsible decisions. This post will walk readers through the process I'm using for El Diablo Combatives. Hopefully this will be of use for my fellow gym owners and managers, and can be used to spark discussions on how we can navigate the present and future. 

Dispelling Dumbass Conspiracy Theories

Before I begin analyzing the current "lay of the land", it's important to address what has become the single most annoying (and dangerous) aspect of this pandemic - the proliferation of dumbass conspiracy theories. One of the hallmarks of leadership is developing the skills to process and critically-analyze information for validity and reliability. We need to ask ourselves "Is this source of information accurate?" and "Does this source represent objective reality?

Normally, this isn't an especially difficult process for anyone who has any kind of background that involves critical thinking. But in times of uncertainty, critical thinking often gives way to skewed, emotional thinking. Like during a widespread pandemic. 

Personally, I have little to no tolerance for conspiracy theorists as their complete and total inability to think critically leads them to really stupid conclusions that are often counter-productive. In the case of the coronavirus, this means we have to ignore the stupid nonsense that's being spread via memes and Youtube videos. So...

  • No, the virus did not escape from a lab in China.
  • No, the virus is not a biological weapon.
  • No, the virus wasn't developed by the US military.
  • No, the virus is not spread via 5G cell phone networks.
  • No, this virus has nothing to do with Bill Gates and mind-control vaccines.
  • No, this isn't a hoax perpetrated in order for government to install an autocracy/ totalitarian government/ socialism/ etc. 
  • No, the government is not overstepping their authority.
  • No, this isn't a plot by big box retailers, "Big Pharma", globalists, Illuminati, lizard people, etc.
  • ... and so on.
If you buy into any of these, you're a gullible idiot. Either learn to think critically or go read some other blog. Your kind is not welcome in my sphere of influence. Each of these causes one of two effects - it either scares people into never leaving their homes, or worse, causes people to take really stupid risks that unnecessarily put people at risk in their own communities. Buying into this bullshit is grossly irresponsible and, quite frankly, disturbingly selfish. AND it's preventing us form returning to a semi-normal state.

We don't world we imagine. We live in the world that is.

Okay, now that we have that out of the way...

What Are Our Goals?

The first step of developing a plan of action is identifying our goals. In regards to COVID and bjj gyms, the goal is pretty straight-forward. We need to get back to regular training in a way that doesn't exasperate the problem of overwhelming our local healthcare infrastructure. 

Based on our current best data from the state of Colorado (folks from other states will have to dig up their own data), 5.6% of the people who test positive will need hospitalization, and 1.9% of those who test positive will require ICU interventions. (4) Our local hospital, Montrose Memorial, has 75 beds, 24 available ventilators, and 14 ICU beds with the ability to expand a bit. The hospital serves Montrose, SanMigual, Ouray, Gunnison, Delta, Hinsdale, and San Juan counties. Together, the hospital serves a population of approximately 102,000 people. 

Based off the math, this means our local hospital will likely be overwhelmed if the seven-county  region has more than about 1,260 positive, active cases of COVID-19. We can find this information on each county's respective health department websites. 

Our goal, therefore, is to get as close to that number as possible without surpassing it. 

I'll refer to this as "threading the needle" throughout the rest of this post. 

What Do We Currently Know?

As time passes and more research is conducted, we're learning more and more about the nature of the virus. While there's still a TON of questions we still can't adequately answer, we DO know enough to start making some informed decisions. 

About the Virus Itself

We know the virus is easily spread via small droplets expelled from the mouth and nose, which occurs when we sneeze, cough, talk, or exhale. These droplets are relatively heavy and do not travel far (hence the purpose "social distancing" and mask-wearing guidelines.) People mostly catch the virus by inhaling these droplets, though the virus can also be spread if the droplets land on a surface, a person touches said surface, then touches their eyes, nose, or mouth (hence the purpose of washing your hands and frequently cleaning surfaces.) We think people can transmit the virus even if they're not showing symptoms. (5

After a person is exposed to the virus, symptoms typically appear in five or six days and symptoms typically last 10-14 days. We think people are no longer contagious 72 hours after symptoms cease. (5) For severe cases, the average time between initial infection and hospitalization is 13 days. (1) 

Who Does the Virus Affect and How Does It Affect Them?

The virus can infect anyone; nobody appears to have natural immunity. Age is a major factor in both severe symptoms and death. In Colorado, nobody under the age of 45 has died of the virus. Three percent of the deaths come from people between the ages of 45 and 54; 7.8 percent of deaths have come from people age 55-64; and the remaining 89% of deaths have come from people over the age of 65. (4) People with preexisting medical conditions are most at risk for hospitalization and death, including obesity, high blood pressure, heart disease, lung disease, cancer, and diabetes. (5) 

Based on these two data sets, older people with any of those preexisting conditions OR anyone who has regular, direct contact with these older, high-risk individuals should not be leaving their homes and absolutely should not be engaging in any kind of training regardless of the precautions taken. 

As we discover more about the nature of the virus, we're learning it may attack our circulatory system, which might be the reason we're seeing people die from heart, kidney, and liver failure, and may also explain the strange inflammatory disease we're seeing in children. (10) Right now, we simply don't have enough data to draw conclusions, but this unknown should lead us to be even more cautious with exposing our vulnerable populations to the virus. 

How Can We Protect Ourselves and Others?

As of right now, we have no way to prevent the virus, no way to effectively treat the virus, and no way to know if we've been exposed to the virus without getting tested and having contacts traced. Because of this, we have to rely on indirect methods to slow the spread in order to "thread the needle." Remember, our goal is to keep the number of positive cases for our region below about 1,260 in a two week period. As individuals, we can take steps that have been proven to be effective, or there's some convincing evidence the measures might be effective. 

It's important to note the goal of ALL these measures isn't to eliminate the virus or even prevent the spread. The goal is to SLOW the spread. The slower the virus spreads, the more we can reopen anything and everything and still stay below our local hospital's capacity. These measures include:

  • Social distancing. The farther we are from each other, the less likely the airborne droplets we expel will be inhaled by another person, the less likely we are to spread the virus. (4)
  • Wearing non-surgical masks. This weirdly-controversial measure works by trapping at least some of the droplets we expel. If we're unknowingly infected, wearing a mask in public should slow the spread, at least to some degree. (4)
  • Frequent washing of hands. Soap and water, along with alcohol-based hand sanitizer, is effective at killing the virus. If we touched a surface that has been infected, we can prevent ourselves from getting infected if we wash our hands before touching our eyes, nose, or mouth. (4)
  • Frequent cleaning of "high-touch" surfaces. Common household cleaners are effective at killing the virus, so frequent cleaning of surfaces a lot of different people touch is an effective measure to slow the spread. (5)
  • Stay in your county of residence. The closer we stay to home, the less likely we are to spread the virus to other communities. If there is a sudden spike in positive cases, this measure can assure that outbreak is localized. (4)
If all of us practice these measures as often as humanly possible, we can effectively control the spread. Again, the goal isn't to eliminate the virus (because we can't); the goal is to slow the spread enough to prevent the hospital from being overwhelmed. Practically, that means businesses (like jiu jitus gyms) can reopen sooner than later. 

In other words, if you want to get back to training, wear a damn mask, keep your distance from others in public, and wash your hands! Every person who fails to do so is actively keeping our businesses closed!

Our Current Situation in Colorado in General and Montrose in Particular

As of today, we have about 25,000 positive cases and about 1350 deaths across the state. (2) We're currently processing around 5,000-6,000 tests per day. State health officials estimate this number will need to increase to about 8,500 to effectively manage the peak in cases. Until we get to that point, our data is going to be somewhat unreliable, which means it's going to be difficult to predict spikes in cases. For us business owners, that means future shut-downs may happen without much warning. 

We do know that the state's first phase "Stay at Home" measures worked well; the viral transmission rate (known as R0, pronounced "R naught") was at around six at the peak, meaning one person spread the virus to an average of six people. That number is now less than one, which means the number of new cases is decreasing... that's a GREAT development. 

Unfortunately, we won't get data on the state's second phase of reopening ("Safer at Home") until May 29th. Given people across the state have been more mobile since mid-April and mask-wearing behaviors have decreased, we can logically assume the data will show at least some increase in the state's R0 number. (1) 

Based on the data collected so far, 65% of the state's residents would need to maintain adequate social distancing, mask-wearing, and hand-washing to prevent a spike that will overwhelm local hospitals, including Montrose Memorial. (1) THIS IS WHY IT'S IMPORTANT FOR ALL OF US TO SOCIAL DISTANCE AND WEAR MASKS IN PUBLIC!

If less than 65% of the general public fails to comply, we're expecting to see hospitals being overwhelmed around mid-August. If compliance falls below 45%, this will occur sooner. If local hospitals are overwhelmed, we can expect the state to go back to the phase one "Stay at home" regulations. 

Here in Montrose, our county is currently operating under a variance to the state's "Safer at Home" orders. (8) For gyms, this means we still cannot run group classes, but we can train freely with people from our household (including rolling and sparring) and can do everything else if we maintain social distancing, wear masks if possible (but they're no longer required), check temperatures at the door, clean all high-tough surfaces regularly, and limit the total number of people in the gym to fifty or less. (9)

This variance will be in effect until either the state relaxes standards to the phase three "Protecting Our Neighbors" level, regresses back to the "Stay at Home" order, or we have 42 new, positive COVID cases in the county over a two week period (we're at 19 over the last two weeks as of today) OR there's a 15% positive rate on tests being given (we're currently at 11.7%) (8) If the variance is rescinded, the entire county would go back to the current "Safer at Home" guidelines, which would limit the number of people at the gym from 50 down to 10. 

What Does This Look Like For The Gym Today?

Currently, we're hamstrung by the explicit "no group classes" aspect of the state regulations. That, of course, is our bread and butter. We're also hamstrung by the social distancing requirement, which makes rolling, sparring, or partnered drilling impossible. It's worth noting the governor has explicitly stated that the social distancing requirement will last through all three stages of the state's plan, meaning we won't be able to go back to regular training until ALL COVID-19 mitigation regulations are lifted. And we have no idea how long that will be. Realistically, it's going to be AT LEAST several months. In all likelihood, it's going to be years. (1)

As such, our old business model most of us followed is effectively dead. 

However, there is a route to getting back to training before the pandemic ends. Because we can train unfettered with people from our own household, we can start there as long as we carefully control who has access to the gym AND we follow strict guidelines based on current known best practices. 

For example, it's perfectly fine (and not in violation of the mandates) for Shelly and I to roll at the gym. We just have to make sure nobody else is nearby AND thoroughly clean everything afterward. Since we already spend a ton of time in close physical proximity, there's no danger in rolling infecting us any more than our normal interactions as a couple (giggity.) Same deal with our kids.

The inherent danger to our community comes if people from different households start rolling or sparring. Because of the nature of the virus, it's likely impossible to prevent person-to-person transmission when rolling or sparring. If ONE person in a group has the virus at the beginning of a rolling session, EVERYONE will be exposed and likely infected by the end of the session. Those infected people would then likely spread the virus to the people in their household. It's entirely feasible for a single jiu jitsu class held once at one gym to push the number of positive cases in our county beyond that "42 positive cases in two weeks or 15% positive rate of testing" threshold set by the state for our county variance. (8)

In other words, one example of irresponsible behavior can ruin it for the entire county. 

So we have to be hyper-vigilant about our behaviors, which is precisely what we're working on developing for our gym right now. To this end, we're remaining closed to the public and only allowing current members (and only current members... no guests or people waiting or loitering) to train independently, and only after taking ample precautions like temperate checks, frequent cleaning, etc. 

What Does This Look Like For Gyms In The Future?

The pandemic is going to require us as gym owners to take an active role in assuring the most vulnerable members of our community remain safe, and the way we're going to accomplish this is taking the responsibility to stay informed and act independently. We need to keep an eye on the local situation. We need to know how many active cases we have in our community and how our local healthcare systems are faring. If the numbers shoot up, we need to tighten our restrictions regardless of what we're "allowed" to do. 

This also means we have to be hyper-vigilant about limiting access to our facilities. The fewer people we have walking through our doors, the safer we'll be. 

Finally, this means we have to closely monitor our students and push everyone to self-police. If they're showing symptoms (fever, cough, shortness of breath, headache, nausea, diarrhea, etc.), they need to avoid any contact with the gym or other members for 72 hours AFTER the symptoms disappear. If one or two people from our gym tests positive, we need to close for 48 hours (which is actually one of our regulations.) (4)

There is hope for the future, however. If we discover an effective treatment OR a vaccine, all of these regulations could end. Baring that, if we develop a cheap, effective serologic test (antibody test) that could determine if someone has had the virus and, presumably, developed at least short-term immunity, we could go back to some degree of normal training. Unfortunately, those tests are extremely unreliable to the point of uselessness. (6)

Until any of that happens, we'll be stuck in this weird limbo where we have to "thread the needle." This requires us gym owners to step up and become leaders in our community. Hopefully this post will start discussions on HOW that can happen and WHAT that leadership looks like. 

Gym owners - if you want to discuss these matters in more detail, feel free to drop me a line at 

Good luck, folks, and stay safe.




    1. Colorado modeling report – 5/26/2020:
    2. Fatality rate and other data:
    3. Number of tests -
    4. Guidelines from the state:
    5. WHO information:
    6. Antibody testing:
    7. Montrose county:
    8. Variance:
    9. Gym criteria:
 10. Circulatory System:

Saturday, May 16, 2020

Why Do We Really Silence Women? A Discussion on the True Nature of Gender

I spend a lot of time writing about the effects of gender on our personal lives and on our relationships. I also spend a lot of time writing about tribalism through a lens of evolutionary psychology, and how this affects our modern beliefs and behaviors. Lately, thanks to some great conversations with my friend Kimberly, I've started to consider the intersection of these two realms - namely what effects gender has within tribes, especially in the realm of leadership. 

I'm still working on the nuances of the ideas and will write a full post on my hypothesis soon. In the interim, I'm going to address on very specific aspect of gender and leadership - the issue of women being silenced. 

Before you continue reading this post, read the article below. I'll be referencing it throughout the rest of the post.

In this article, the author discusses the persistent problem of women, in mixed groups of men and women, largely being ignored. The exact problem is summed up by this quote from political science professor Chris Karpowicz: 

“Women are systematically seen as less authoritative,” says Preece. “And their influence is systematically lower. And they’re speaking less. And when they’re speaking up, they’re not being listened to as much, and they are being interrupted more.”

Basically, in a group setting where decisions are being made, female participants do not share the same elevated platform as male participants. This observation is not surprising and entirely valid; we have a ton of data in the published literature that confirms this. My own observations across all kinds of circumstances also confirms this. 

The standard narrative permeating the social sciences has a fairly uniform explanation for this phenomenon, which was summed up nicely by political science professor Jessica Preece:

"Rather than outright misogyny, she says it’s usually cultural norms and gendered messages that subtly - and profoundly - shape the rules of engagement. Individuals who suppress female speech may do so unwittingly. “They may love women,” says Preece. “They may even be a woman!” But as a society we have been “slowly socialized over years to discount” female expertise and perspectives."

The professor continues with this explanation when she describes BYU's accounting program and the experiences of women placed in cohort groups:

“Women are systematically seen as less authoritative,” says Preece. “And their influence is systematically lower. And they’re speaking less. And when they’re speaking up, they’re not being listened to as much, and they are being interrupted more.”

When you unpack the nuances of this narrative, it's essentially based on the belief that men are perceived as inherently superior to women, and this is supported by the observation of group dynamics. Men dominate the discussions and decision-making process. 

The article goes on to discuss some experiments involving groups of five who were given a task of distributing money. When the group's decision is determined by majority rule, they found the total talking time and, ultimately, the decisions the groups reached, were dominated by males. Further, the vast majority of the interruptions made by males when women were speaking was negative. After the discussions, the participants rated who was the most influential group member, and it almost always fell to those who talked the most... which were always males. 

Their solution was to change the decision-making protocol from majority rule to unanimous. In that scenario, female influence (and talking time) increased substantially. 

The authors then go on to hypothesize about the problems with the current solutions to this problem.

"From pundits in politics, the business world, and the media, “the solution so often has been, ‘You’ve got to fix the women,’ or, ‘Well, women have just got to lean in,’” says Stoddard. But the experiences women have when they lean in can be very different than a man’s in the same position.
“Advice that works for men doesn’t always work for women, because people react differently,” adds Preece—and this is well supported in the literature. Behavior that seems strong and decisive when it comes from a man, she says, may be interpreted as abrasive and aggressive from a woman. There’s even a term coined for it—the double bind.
“The double bind is huge,” says Stoddard: exhibit traditional female characteristics, she says—warmth, caring, responsiveness to all ideas and assignments—and “you’re going to experience others seeing you as less competent.” But take on male characteristics—leading, disagreeing freely, being assertive, speaking out—and likability suffers. “The competency-likability tradeoff is a constant balancing act for women.”

They accurately point out that the problem isn't the women. But they make a fundamental error in assuming the problem is the environment. This conclusion makes complete sense if you frame gender as a social construct that was designed by men to oppress women (the "patriarchy" narrative), which has been a basic assumption of gender research dating back to the 1960's. If you've read ANY of my other writings on the topic, you'll know I bitterly disagree with this narrative. 

It's flat-out wrong. The authors are correct in that women are not to blame for this "not being heard" problem. However, they're wrong about the environment being the problem. It's understandable; given their incorrect assumptions about the social nature of gender, the environment is the only possible problem. It never occurs to the authors that their basic assumptions about the very nature of gender may be wrong, despite the fact that their narrative hasn't "fixed" this problem despite decades of effort. 

"Karpowitz, Preece, and Stoddard watched all of this unfold anew in the accounting-program study, where the women who were in the minority were routinely seen—by themselves and others—as the least competent, least influential members of their groups. And this is among 20-somethings raised in the era of #LeanIn and #MeToo—arguably a time in which women have been encouraged to be more ambitious and speak out."

Not only have these 20-somethings grown up in a pro-woman culture where gender equality is THE dominant narrative spread anywhere and everywhere, but their parents and even their grandparents have been exposed to the exact same message. Since the 60's, our society has been aggressively pushing this pro-woman narrative. Even in the most educated, liberal of circles where all participants have internalized the belief that men and women are truly equal in every way (sometimes to the point of absurdity), we still see this effect of women being silenced. 

After six decades of trying to fix a problem and having zero success, it's prudent to consider the possibility that we're somehow doing something wrong. I'm suggesting we (really, them) don't understand the actual nature of the problem. And that misunderstanding stems from the fundamental assumptions researchers make about gender. 

What if it's NOT a social construct? What if masculinity and femininity weren't fabricated by men to oppress women? What if we've been trying to solve a problem that isn't actually a problem at all? And perhaps worst of all, what if we've been hurting the very people we've been trying to help while solving this problem that doesn't really exist?

Enter My Hypothesis

I love science because it seeks "the truth", but openly acknowledges the pursuit of "the truth" is a true asymptote. Over time, we get progressively closer to "the truth", but we'll never fully arrive. That means good scientists aren't motivated by discovering that all-encompassing "truth", because they know they never will. Instead, good scientists HAVE to be intrinsically motivated by the process of trying to discover "the truth." So we use empiricism and the scientific method to slowly and systematically disprove various hypotheses. Rule out possibilities. Inch closer to that ever-elusive "truth." Good science forces us to see the world as it is, not the world we WANT to see. When applied correctly to this problem of women not being heard, good science reveals WHY we can't seem to fix this problem. 

The fundamental error the author and the researchers cited in this article make is the same error that's dominated gender research for decades - the assumption that gender is a social construct that was created for the nefarious goal of female oppression. Thanks to ideologies like modern feminism, this same error has been spread to popular culture and has given rise to the modern social justice movement (among others.) In short, this world view assumes something like this does or has actually occurred:

But what if gender isn't a social construct? What if gender is biologically-determined? What if it's innate? What if gender is more like sexual orientation and it's not a choice so much as a fundamental part of who you are? This is the foundation of most of the gender topics I write about, and is explained in greater detail in this post. Give it a read if you're unfamiliar with my arguments.

Back to this scenario. I would argue the group dynamics the researchers observe occurs as a function of our innate behaviors that have developed throughout the millennia, therefore serve an evolutionary purpose. Furthermore, if we embrace THIS narrative, we can easily develop a solution that fixes the "problem."

So What's the Solution?

After twenty years of working as a high school social studies teacher, I've observed countless groups of students. These groups sometimes consist of all males or all females, but mostly contain a mix. I may occasionally create groups just to test my hypotheses. But don't tell my students that. 

Anyway, I've come to realize group environments are not inherently collaborative in nature. They're competitive. Without excessive intervention, all groups always follow the same pattern all the time: Different people will have different ideas, which they share. The person who sells their idea the most effectively by gaining group consensus ultimately "wins", and the group comes up with a solution. 

When it comes to gender roles, masculinity is inherently competitive and hierarchical. In any given situation, the most competent male, as determined by the rest of the group, is deemed the "leader." This position isn't bestowed; this position is earned. In a group setting, the most competent person is assumed to be the leader, and their ideas are the ideas that the group supports. They reach that conclusion based on that masculine person's ability to sell the idea over the other ideas other individuals in the group try to sell. 

Quick sidebar - I'm using the term "masculinity" instead of "male" because it's entirely possible for a woman to exhibit the masculine traits needed to be deemed the most competent person in the group. In these group settings, the bias isn't against women; the bias is against femininity. Subtle but VERY important point.

So within groups, masculine people make the decisions. So where does feminine people fit into this? Are they truly voiceless?

Of course not. 

To understand the role femininity plays, let's go back in time. Imagine we're part of a tribe of hunter-gatherers roaming the plains of pre-colonial America 400 years ago. The tribe has to make an important decision about moving to follow a herd of animals or staying in one place and planting crops. The very survival of the tribe could be at stake. How would the tribe make this critically-important decision?

Ultimately, the decision is likely going to be made by a single person who is willing to assume the responsibility of the lives of the people they care about deeply. If this person makes the right choice, they survive. Wrong choice? People die. So this person is likely going to gather as much information as they can, including information from the tribe itself. Different people in the tribe are going to have different perspectives that will consider different variables. Some people will consider the food variable. Some people will consider other, potentially hostile tribes. Some people will consider access to water. Some people will consider access to fire wood. And shelter. And weather. And a myriad of other practical survival considerations. These people would likely have a more masculine outlook on the situation; they're going to consider how the tribe will get provisions for survival and how the tribe will protect itself from outside threats. 

Some people will also consider how each option would affect the people of the tribe. Will it affect relationships? How will it affect the children of the tribe? How will it affect relationships with the tribes they trade with? How will it affect their ability to recruit new tribe members? These relationship-related variables are more likely to have a more feminine outlook on the situation; they're going to consider how the tribe itself functions as a collection of different individuals. 

The leader of the tribe, the person who has accepted the responsibility for the tribe's very survival, absolutely needs both of these perspectives to make the right decision. Without the masculine perspective, the tribe might starve or be overrun by a more powerful neighboring tribe. Without the feminine perspective, the tribe may rot from within due to interpersonal conflict or be isolated from the outside world and die because the tribe failed to progress as much as competing tribes.

In summary, both the masculine and feminine perspectives very different, but both are absolutely necessary for survival. A good leader recognizes this and values each for what they are: complimentary, necessary perspectives.

When we look at the mechanics of how great leaders make decisions, we see a familiar pattern. They present the problem to a collection of advisors, the advisors mull possible solutions, the advisors report back to the leader, and the leader makes an informed decision. In some way, shape, or form, this is how organizational decisions are made. 

The advisors who will present ideas to the leader are essentially "selling" their ideas. This actual process, as such, is competitive in nature. The best ideas presented by the most persuasive advisors win. This is why these advisors tend to be masculine (again, not necessarily men.) Assertiveness, confidence, and logic are what will make their ideas winning ideas. That's the realm of masculinity, not femininity. 

So where does femininity come into play? 

Throughout this entire process of developing possible solutions, the leader and all the leader's advisors will consult with feminine individuals (who are usually women, but not always women), usually informally. They have conversations. They present the ideas, the feminine individuals consider how those ideas would affect the relationships within and between tribes, then share their thoughts. As I mentioned earlier, this input is absolutely critical to the tribe's survival. 

So why can't femininity be the decision-making gender? 

This is the million-dollar question. In the "gender is a social construct" narrative, femininity is capable of running the show but isn't given the opportunity because of oppression. This narrative probably developed, in part, because women were envious of men in power. Power itself is great, but it also comes with all kinds of nice perks. The person calling the shots makes the most money, attracts the hottest mates, gets the best access to the best food, clothes, private jets... whatever. Who wouldn't want that?!?

The problem with this is two-fold. First, this ignores the fact that the person at the top likely got there because they earned it by beating out all the other inferior people in the tribe. As a masculine male, I can confirm that clawing your way to the top of anything and remaining there is really fucking hard work. Because there's always people fighting for your position. You have constant pressure to be the best as long as you desire the power of being at the top.

Second, being at the top requires one to take on a shit-ton of responsibility for the welfare of the rest of the tribe. Normally this isn't a huge deal... until you have to make a decision that pits the welfare of the group against the welfare of one or a small number of your tribe members you're leading. 

Going back to the hypothetical tribe scenario - let's say the clear best solution is to follow the herd of animals. Maybe the land our tribe is currently occupying is ill-suited for agriculture and staying in one place will make the tribe targets of neighboring, aggressive tribes. Staying in one place exposes the tribe to likely starvation AND war, both of which could doom the entire tribe.

But let's say moving to follow the animal herd means two sick children in the tribe will likely die. Do you choose to endanger the whole tribe, including the two sick children, or do you save the tribe but endanger just those two children? Practically, it's an easy decision. Emotionally, though, that simple decision means your choice will likely kill two children in your tribe. 

That kind of decision requires the ability to dissociate from the emotion of those close relationships of the tribe in order to save the tribe, which is something feminine individuals simply cannot do. Nor SHOULD they do. Nor should we ASK them to do. 

So back to our BYU accounting groups from the posted article. Whenever we convene a group of students, whether it be in my high school psychology class or a group of BYU accounting students, and ask them to do a task, we're inserting them into what amounts to that final stage in my tribe example where a leader is determined and the other group members "sell" their ideas to the leader. This is a competitive environment. As such, masculinity takes center stage and femininity is marginalized. 

We CAN alter that dynamic, as the researchers did in the study described in the article, by requiring unanimous decisions, but this is a decidedly artificial solution to the problem. Forcing the feminine members of the group to participate in the competitive practice of sharing ideas does allow them to speak more, but their ideas are still left behind because they're not being sold with masculine gusto. So it makes us feel good that the feminine people are literally talking more, but the end result is the same - the ideas the feminine members have are largely ignored.

The worst part of this scenario is that the process of forcing the feminine members to compete with the masculine members, we may be robbing them of their opportunity to actually influence the decision-making process, which ultimately hurts the group because decisions lose that feminine perspective.

So what IS the solution?

Based off my hypothesis of how this shit works, the solution needs to be two-fold. First, the leader of the group absolutely has to recognize that any decision pertaining to the group/ organization/ tribe NEEDS both a masculine and feminine perspective. While I think this kind of leadership is rare today, it's not extinct. Truly good leaders intuitively realize decision-making requires both masculine and feminine input and guidance and will seek out both perspectives. But a lot of 'leaders' fail to recognize this, which results in a lot of bad decisions. 

Second, an environment has to be created where the feminine perspective can be shared in a noncompetitive environment. This means we can't just throw people together in a group and ask them to make decisions. That is ALWAYS going to result in masculine voices dominating at the expense of feminine voices, even if we radically alter the "rules" of how the group operates (by measures such as requiring unanimous votes for decisions.) No matter how much we tweak the dials and knobs of group dynamics, this is always going to be a problem. 

So, our solution to this problem is to choose better leaders who understand the value of both the masculine and feminine perspective, AND create a decision-making process that allows the feminine voice to be heard. The first is straight-forward. The second is a little tricky because it requires work outside a group setting where that competitiveness isn't stoked. 

Personally, I've found the easiest way to do this is to simply split groups up and let individuals have one-on-one conversations with each other. in these scenarios, the masculine members tend to share their ideas with the feminine members, and the feminine members share all the relational variables that would influence the masculine member's ideas. In this way, all the ideas that will eventually be proposed in the group setting are filtered through a feminine lens. This dramatically improves the quality of the ideas that are eventually proposed in the group setting. 

Interestingly, the BYU researchers acknowledge this:

"For starters, women are “likely to identify different things as problems in the first place,” says Preece. In politics women often think differently about issues than men do; the literature even shows they can have a cooperative, democratizing impact on deciding bodies. “Women are more likely to think about, What are the needs of families and children and how do we care for those who have the least in our society?” says Karpowitz. “Many men focus on different priorities, such as how to balance the budget or change the tax structure.”

The problem is they fail to understand the underlying dynamics of gender, which leads to misidentify the problem, which leads them to propose solutions that have failed, continue to fail, and will continue to fail into the future. The folks who buy into this narrative, in the process of trying to solve the wrong problem, are making the very problem they're desperate to solve much, much worse.

Like any good scientist, I openly acknowledge I might be totally wrong about all this stuff. But based off my own experimentation and observation, I'm likely a lot less wrong than the BYU researchers. If we can momentarily suppress our emotional reaction to the suggestion that gender roles are complimentary in nature and not oppressive, and that gender roles are innate and not imposed by a nefarious "patriarchy", we can begin to understand the real dynamics at play. That clarity allows us to develop actual solutions to the actual problems. 

For the folks who read through this entire post, give these ideas some thought. After you've pondered them for a bit, share your thoughts with me. 


Friday, May 15, 2020

Reframing Gender: Masculinity and Femininity as a Personality Construct and the Gender Cup Model

In the In the years since I began writing and gender, sex, and relationships, my hypothesis on the true nature of gender has evolved. Originally, I explained "gender" as a spectrum with masculinity at one end and femininity at the other. Any given person, regardless of their biological (do they have a penis and testes, a vagina and ovaries, or any of the variations and combinations that can occur) or genetic sex (XX, XY, or any other variation that can occur), fell somewhere on the spectrum. It looks something like this:

I had liked this idea because it allowed for the wide variety of gender expression we see occurring throughout our populations. The problem, though, is the construct didn't allow for the combinations of masculinity and femininity we see. 

For example, it would be entirely possible for a biological and genetic male to exhibit very strong masculine traits, yet also exhibit very strong feminine traits situationally. Based off my hypothesis I explained in this post on my other man camp blog, this kind of man would commonly be called a "gentleman" and would be considered exceptionally high value to potential mates. In the realm of gender research, this man who displays both masculine and feminine traits would be considered "androgynous."

This man, however, can't really be described with the "spectrum" model above. If he's placed somewhere in the middle, we couldn't discern him from an "undifferentiated" person who exhibits few masculine OR feminine traits, which according to the hypothesis, would be low value to potential mates.

So I needed a new representation of my model, and this new model had to account for a few... issues. Including:

  • The model has to represent combinations of masculinity and femininity as discrete constructs. This would alleviate the problem of the spectrum graphic representation above. 
  • The model has to represent gender expression independent of biological and genetic sex. A major problem with the concept of "gender" is it's often conflated with sex. Part of this is simply an issue with the colloquial use of the the terms. In popular culture, we use sex and gender interchangeably. Our new model has to account for the fact that sex and gender, while often occurring together in most of the population, is not a perfect correlation. Most genetic and biological males are mostly masculine, but there are obvious exceptions.
  • The model has to account for variability within the same individual over time and between different circumstances. A biological and genetic male may be masculine as fuck in one scenario (like confronting an aggressive homeless person), but may display strong feminine characteristics at other times (like when caring for a sick child.) 
Taking these into consideration, I developed a better model. Note this isn't actually MY original idea; the inclusion of masculine and feminine gender traits have been studied by personality psychologists for over a hundred years. My model is unique in that it's tailored to be used as a foundation for the rest of the ideas and concepts that make up the "man camp" world view.

Gender as a Personality Construct

My new model is quite simple. We have the two gender constructs: Masculinity and Femininity. Our personalities are made up of these two traits; all of us will possess SOME masculine and SOME feminine traits. The degree to which each of us possess masculine and feminine traits can be measured with a test such as this one designed off the work of Sandra Bem, or if you really want to dig into the nuances of your gender expression, take this test. Either one will give you a ballpark representation of the combination of masculine and feminine traits you possess. 

Your particular measure of masculinity and femininity will be represented with two cups:

As the measure of masculinity and femininity increases, the cups get progressively more full. Each of us will have a particular level in each cup that represents our distribution of masculine and feminine traits. 

One of the cups will be more dominant and more outwardly obvious more often. This is our primary gender. The other one will be our secondary gender. A strongly masculine man will behave in a masculine way most of the time, but may exhibit feminine characteristics in specific situations. Masculinity would be his primary gender; femininity would be his secondary gender. 

Likewise, a strongly feminine woman will behave in a feminine way most of the time, but may exhibit masculine characteristics in specific situations. Femininity would be her primary gender; masculinity would be her secondary gender. Here are my cups:

As you can see, I skew HEAVILY towards the masculine. Interestingly, back in my "Nice Guy" days, I would have scored FAR higher on the femininity cup and FAR lower on the masculinity cup. Not because I was a fundamentally different person, but rather because I thought that "Nice Guy" persona would get me what I desperately wanted - female attention. The cups above represent my authentic self. I'm pretty good at the feminine traits represented in the cups above because they're fundamentally part of who I am. But the feminine traits that I "faked" as part of my "Nice Guy" persona? Not so much. 


I'd expect the majority of the population to follow this particular pattern. HOWEVER, it's entirely possible for other combinations to exist. A biological and genetic male could express feminine characteristics as his primary gender. And vice versa. Or a genetic or biological male or female could have equal parts masculinity and femininity. AND those characteristics could be balanced in such a way that they're equally dominant (both "primary".) And so on.

The way to think of "gender", therefore, is that it exists independently of biological sex, genetic sex, sexual orientation, or any other such construct. 

Make sense?

The model itself isn't new or revolutionary; it merely gives us a useful framework to talk about the role of gender on how we perceive ourselves and the world around us, and helps explain, predict, and alter how we relate to other people. Especially in relationships. 

How We Can Use This Model

I make a lot of observations, give a lot of explanations, and make a lot of predictions across this blog and my other sex and relationship blogs. Pretty much all of these observations, explanations, and predictions can be explained using the Two Cup Gender Model. Here's a sampling:

  • Gender expression is biological in nature and difficult to change without profound consequences. The idea that gender is hard-wired is one of the enduring, fundamental aspects of my hypothesis, which I detail in this post. However our cups are filled is largely innate and difficult to change. We can ACT in a way that violates our biological imperative, but that violation will come with significant struggles. It's essentially the same as if a gay man tries to be "straight." Possible, but extremely distressing personally. This deviates from the popular notion that gender is a social construct, which has virtually no scientific support. 
  • All of us have an authentic "default" ideal combination of masculine and feminine traits. This is tied to the previous point. Each of us has a default combination of masculinity and femininity that feels authentic. When we're acting in that way, we're most likely to reach our full potential. 
  • Masculinity and femininity are complimentary in nature. Great things happen when masculine and feminine people work together towards a common goal. Masculinity or femininity alone are both woefully inadequate at accomplishing greatness. Masculinity and femininity also falls flat if the constructs are competitive in nature. 
  • Masculinity and femininity can both create and ease tension, which creates the foundation of the push/pull dynamic of flirting and seduction. When masculinity and femininity interact, there's an inherent tension based off the stark contrast between the two. This contrast is the fuel that supplies the fire of passion. This applies to relationships or, really, any situation. Bringing masculine and feminine individuals together makes life more interesting. 
  • Relationship health increases as a function of the the disparity between masculinity and femininity in each partner. As I mention in the last point, the tension between masculinity and femininity fuels passion. The greater the discrepancy between the two, the more passion can build. The more passion builds, the more subjective enjoyment we get from relationships, the longer and more satisfying we'd expect the relationships to be.
  • Most men are aroused by strongly feminine women; most women are aroused by strong masculine men. This is in no way a given, but generally speaking, this holds true. This is the reason a great deal of the man camp teachings involve learning to get better at being a man.
  • Relationships are most successful when both partners score high on both masculine and feminine traits. The more of each trait a single individual possesses, the more capable they are at navigating life, empathizing with others (including their partner), and more dynamic and interesting their personalities become. A masculine male with strong feminine capabilities paired with a feminine female with strong masculine capabilities will create the best, most successful relationships. Basically, two androgynous partners are the pinnacle of relationship potential. 
  • Relationships are least successful when both partners score low on both masculine and feminine traits. Basically the opposite of the last one. Two undifferentiated partners are going to have the least-successful relationships.
  • Children thrive when they're exposed to both masculine and feminine influences. Role models are important for children. Having a strong masculine and a strong feminine role model will expose them to the full range of gender expression, which will help them learn the nuances of both. It's important to note the biological or genetic sex of the parents don't seem to matter. A gay couple with one masculine and one feminine partner has the same basic outcomes as a straight couple with the same gender expression variability. 
  • The most successful tribes have roughly equal numbers of masculine and feminine members. If you follow this blog, you know tribalism is a major focus of my hypothesis. Generally, the more diverse the tribe, the more successful it will be... mostly because diversity gives the tribe a wider range of capabilities to solve interesting problems that arise within and outside the tribe. Gender is a MAJOR part of this. A tribe of mostly masculine members or mostly feminine members is not going to be nearly as successful as a tribe with equal numbers of each. 
These are just a few of the practical applications of the Gender Cup Model. Moving forward, this'll likely be the model I use for future posts. 


Tuesday, May 5, 2020

The Coronavirus Has Been A Giant Filter

The coronavirus has revealed quite a bit about the world in which we live. Among the more interesting (and helpful) things? This pandemic has revealed the people who are resilient. 

A major aspect of this whole man camp project is surrounding myself and my family with good people. Capable people. Smart people. Fun people. And in light of this pandemic? Resilient people.

My close friends, the people I know well, have not surprised me in the least. Without exception, they've handled this pandemic exactly as I would have predicted they would, which is generally positive. But a whole lotta casual acquaintances have been... surprising. 

Under the stress of the pandemic, a surprising number of people in my extended social circles have turned out to be far less resilient than I would have predicted.

Some have responded to the pandemic with irrational fear to the point where it seems they believe half the world's population will die. These are the folks who are personally terrified to do anything and everything without a hazmat suit. 

Some have responded with shocking callousness towards the suffering of others. Or the welfare of their community. Or just the value of human life.  These are the folks who insist we open everything immediately without restriction. Usually under the guise of "freedom." 

Some have responded with profound selfishness where they absolutely refuse to make any kind of personal sacrifice for the greater good. These are the people who refuse to close their businesses or eliminate their personal habits that could put others at risk.

Some have responded with pathological paranoia, which almost always manifests as conspiracy theories. These are the people who believe this entire pandemic is a giant hoax perpetrated by some boogey man shitlords hell-bent on accruing power.

Finally, some have responded with an unthinking, sheep-like allegiance to a particular group or a person by simply adopting whatever mindset is being modeled for them. This is most evident in ardent Trump supporters, but this type of person can be be found anywhere and everywhere across any grouping of people. 

All these people are the kind of people I will avoid like the plague, at least in real life. Their lack of resiliency is untenable. Quite simply, these are not the kinds of people that will enrich my life in any discernible way.

But there have been a lot of pleasant surprises, too.

Some people, for whom I would have predicted to be rather weak and lacked resiliency, have turned out to be genuinely good people. Strong people. Leaders.

I've seen people making incredible personal sacrifices to help others. I've seen people who themselves are on the brink of financial ruin engage in amazing acts of kindness. I've seen people putting the welfare of their community before their own personal safety. I've seen incredible acts of humility and caring. These people... these are the folks I want in my tribe. These are the folks I want to have my back. These are the folks I need in my life.

The coronavirus has revealed we're surrounded by a lot of shitty people. But the coronavirus has also revealed we're surrounded by a lot of wonderful, amazing people. It turns out that whole "adversity reveals character" thing is true. And the entire world is getting one hell of a dose of adversity right now. 


Sunday, May 3, 2020


I don't normally write when emotional; it clouds my reasoning. Today's going to be an exception.  

Fair warning - there is no happy ending. I'm writing this one just for me; this is my therapy today. 

This is Floki, one of our rescue cats we've had for about five years. Here, he's sitting on his favorite spot - our kitchen counter. God, that annoyed me.

When we got Floki as a kitten, he seemed kinda weird. Eccentric, almost. For fans of Vikings, you'll recognize his namesake. 

As Floki grew, we came to realize he wasn't eccentric so much as... slow. What Floki lacked in intelligence he more than made up in sweetness. And freakishly-fast reflexes, even for a cat. Over those five years in California and later Colorado, We never had a mouse or fly that lived more than a few hours. 

Floki had a lot of peculiar behaviors. He never really got the hang of litter boxes. Most of the time he hit the mark, but once or twice per week, he'd only come close. It was a pain in the ass. But it was Floki. It was impossible to stay mad at him for more than a few seconds, especially when he'd look up at you with his giant googly eyes. 

He was weirdly bad at grooming, so it wasn't uncommon for him to have patches of matted fur or white cat dandruff splattered across his shiny black fur.

If Shelly and I were lying on the couch watching TV, Floki would hop up on us, walk around to find the most awkward spot so half of his body would cover both of us, then plop down. At the slightest movement, he'd leap up and scatter away. 

Other times he'd hop up on your lap and, in another lesson Floki never learned, he'd make biscuits without retracting his nails. And it hurt like Hell. But it was Floki. He'd settle in and let you stroke his ears. He had a strange, barely-audible purr that would stir as he melted into your lap.

I'm not much of a cat person, but I loved that cat. Maybe it was because he was completely devoid of that asshole-ishness most cats possess. Maybe I felt a little sorry for him. Maybe his demeanor just reminded me of a dog. Damn, I really loved Floki.

Over the last few weeks, Floki started losing weight. He started begging for any kind of meat we might be eating. He started drinking A LOT of water. He started wanting to cuddle more. And he started peeing in random spots around the house.

We made a vet appointment, and this last Friday, I had to go through the routine of coaxing him in a crate. Floki absolutely hated that crate and would fight tooth and nail to stay out. Literally. He was soooo damn strong. From the moment I'd get him in the crate to the moment he was let out, he'd let out a deep, heart-breaking howl. He was always petrified and would be traumatized afterward. It was never easy.

As it turns out, Floki was sick. Very, very sick. After consulting with the vet, Shelly and I had three terrible options. We could do nothing and Floki would likely die within a month, but it would be a decidedly unpleasant decline ending in a painful death. 

We could try treatment, but it would involve a lot of injections, indefinite, weekly trips to the vet indefinitely for testing, and a cost that was several multitudes of what we could afford given the realities of the present situation gripping our world.

Finally, we could euthanize him.

After a horrible, painful discussion, we made our decision. The first option was simply too inhumane and would require way too much suffering. The second option would require money we didn't have, but more significantly, would require crating him for a trip to the vet every week for as long as he could fight. I couldn't do that to him. So we chose the last one.

Now, I have a little bit of a peculiar belief about euthanization. In some confluence of the influence of my dad, the movies Old Yeller and Of Mice and Men, a belief in the responsibility of pet ownership, and finally a deep drive to be kind to the weak, I don't believe euthanasia should be done by a stranger. Part of the responsibility of owning a pet is being willing and able to end your pet's suffering yourself instead of farming it out to a third party. It's just part of being a man.

It's probably not a popular belief, but it's my belief.

Having grown up as a hunter and being surrounded by farmers, I don't have an issue with killing animals, but a beloved pet is different. And given Floki's... specialness... it's really fucking painful.

The absolute last thing I wanted for Floki at the end was to go back into that crate, drive to the vet while howling the whole time in terror, be placed on an unfamiliar table in an unfamiliar room and be given a painful injection by an unfamiliar person.

So Shelly and I made a plan. We would tell our three kids Friday night to give them time to spend with him that night and Saturday, then wake up early Sunday and do what I had to do.

For the last 36 hours of his like, Floki lived like a king. We showered him with attention. Fed him countless cat treats he loved, and did anything and everything else he loved.

When I woke up this morning, the dread had really set in. Given I don't have a ready supply of phenobarbital, there's really only one way to humanely euthanize a cat. One bullet in the middle of the forehead. It's close and it's personal and it's traumatic. But it's humane. I couldn't stop rehearsing the steps in my head, both because I hoped it might make it a little easier and because I didn't want to fuck up.

As I was milling about with the last-minute preparations, Floki took his regular spot on our kitchen counter top. Shelly fed him a cat sedative we had left over from our car ride from California to Colorado, and we showered him with some more attention and treats. The next hour and  a half crawled by. 

When the sedative started taking effect, Shelly said her final goodbye and I loaded him in the car. I wanted to avoid the trauma of the crate, I let him lie on a cat bed in the passenger seat. As we drove out to the secluded area I had scouted the day before, I stroked his ears. I could feel that familiar, quiet purring. I'd like to say I held it together on that drive. But I can't.

Somewhat surprisingly, the moment we arrived, a calm fell over me. I now had a job to do and couldn't fuck it up. Compartmentalization, I suppose. It's a gift and a curse. 

By now, the early morning sun was warming the air and ground. Some birds were singing in a nearby tree. It was beautifully serene. 

I quickly set everything up, then carried Floki to the spot. At this point, his eyes were mostly closed as the sedative had taken full effect. I set the cat bed on the ground, then laid him down. I laid down next to him and pet him for a bit. I quietly told him stories of my fondest memories with him over the years. 

I was still surprisingly calm. The only emotion I felt was the warm connection I had with this cat I had grown so attached to over the last five years. He was purring as he drifted off to sleep. I was thankful those giant googly eyes were closed. 

It was the first echo of the CRACK! off the walls of the valley that busted me out of that compartmentalization. I absolutely fucking lost it. I don't know how much time passed, but something snapped me back into that compartment. I still had a job to do; I had to finish this. 

I wrapped him in one of the blankets he loved and loaded him in the car for the short drive to the spot I'd bury him. Fortuitously, Western Colorado is covered with mesas. 

Nature's counter tops.

The drive sucked. God it sucked. I couldn't stop replaying it. I felt grief and sadness and anxiety. I wanted nothing more than to stop; to be doing anything other than what I was doing right then. But I had to finish. 

I arrived at the spot. I climbed to the top of one of my favorites and found a perfect spot facing the snow-covered San Juan Mountains to the south. I'm not religious or even spiritual, but something about this spot felt right. Very, very right. The picture doesn't do it justice.

Rest in peace, friend.

This was and still is really, really hard. But together, we gave Floki the best end he could have possibly had. He was treated like a king and had a peaceful end. 

The grief will pass. It always does. But god damn, it hurts.