Jim Gaffigan: The Measure of a Man Is How He Treats Women

What is masculinity? Should gentlemen watch pornography? How do we raise sons to be better than their fathers? What's for dinner? Comedian Jim Gaffigan mulls over these big questions and more.

Jim Gaffigan:  The idea of being a man has changed so dramatically, right. But particularly I think not just the responsibilities of being a father which has always been, not to get all Kahlil Gibran like these children are on loan to us and we’re supposed to make sure that we take care of them and we’re the stewards of these human beings. Male roles which is something my wife and I have written about in the show because the concept of a father today is dramatically different. I mean obviously it’s different in every family culture but it’s different from a generation ago. And the idea of what a father’s responsibility whether it’s co-parenting, whether it’s a stay in home dad or just someone that does lip service to the idea of sharing responsibility. Is so different from 1910 and I have this joke where it’s like – and then you go back to cavemen and they’re literally eating their children.

I think it’s perspective on how we treat women, right. That is the beginning and the ending of it. We are animals. I start from that premise. And we choose to not behave like animals. And that’s, you know, a pretty guiding force through humanity whether it gets completely out of control or just panting like a dog when an attractive woman walks by.

I even look at like pornography and all this stuff where it’s yeah, you know, it’s like look, I love naked women, I really do. But I also know that I am a visual human being and I can’t, you know, consume images of naked women and not have that influence how I view other women. I mean that’s my personal opinion. It’s like my sexual desires are very valid and real but if I, you know, follow through on every sexual desire first of all I’d have a thousand children. No but I think then that’s not how you get – I wouldn’t feel very good. Do you know what I mean? When I look at my young sons I think that look, I know that we love and like the normalization of porn and I’m not, you know, it’s like to each their own, right. But I don’t think that I want my sons consuming pornography. I want my sons to look at an advertisement and say that is a beautiful woman but she’s being objectified. And I do want even beyond that I personally think that in the United States we give credit and appreciate attractive people too much. And so I think that I want to instill that, I mean I think a lot of parents who desperately want to have nerdy children. So I don’t know. I want my kids to be, my sons to be better men than me. But I think also, you know, it’s different paths to getting there.

I mean look, I’m Catholic, you’re going to think I’m crazy but I think that’s an important tool also. But I also think that understanding the logic and science behind it is vital. But culturally it’s interesting. I saw a clip of Match Game which was a game show when I was growing up from the mid-70s, 80s, I don’t know. And the beginning of the show it was just filled with the host more or less sexually harassing the female contestants. And it was not malicious and that man did not know he was doing it. And maybe those women didn’t feel icky. But from our standards today it was ridiculous. I mean I also feel like to discredit everything I’ve said I also think that I don’t want us to get to the point where there isn’t passion, right. When I met my wife and we went on our first date I aggressively kissed her. Not in a monstrous way but even hearing myself describe it I don’t know if we could do that today. And I’m sure I could have because there’s a communication that’s unspoken when you’re courting someone. But courting like it’s the 1800s. Like you’re riding a horse to meet them. But there is something about – there’s rules but there’s also what’s so great about relationships is that tingling feeling when the chemistry that we can’t articulate works.

"I haven’t slept in seven years," says Jim Gaffigan, in reference to having his fourth child. "I didn’t always look like this – I’m actually Puerto Rican, but the wear and tear parenting… " he trails off, exhausted.


This is a bit from his 2012 stand-up comedy special Mr. Universe, and by now Gaffigan actually has five children. "Big families are like waterbed stores; they used to be everywhere, and now they’re just weird," he jokes.

It’s only natural that many of Gaffigan’s jokes are about kids and family life. His 2013 book is called Dad is Fat, which took its title from the full sentence his kid ever wrote. His TV series The Jim Gaffigan Show is a hilarious meditation on one man's struggle to find balance between fatherhood, stand-up comedy and an insatiable appetite. Jim Gaffigan knows fatherhood, or if that’s too arrogant, then at least he knows the complexities fatherhood brings.

And yet, he finds it a difficult subject to talk about because of its enormity. It is such a deep human experience, with lines cast out to all corners of life. Being a father made Gaffigan re-examine his masculinity, his ethics, his comedy, his sexual attitudes, his gender biases. By his own admission, it turned him into a better human.

In the video above, Gaffigan discusses the drastic changes that have reshaped the meaning of manhood in the last couple of decades, and emphasizes that you can’t begin to talk about masculinity without talking about women. The behaviors of men and women have always been reactions to one another, and as society views and treats women becomes in a more respectful and progressive manner, the concept of manhood also moves forward and becomes less of a caricature.

So how do you raise children in the wake of that enlightenment? From pornography and gentlemanly passion, to the changing role of fathers and the growing respect for women, Jim Gaffigan shares his thoughts on how to raise a generation that is better than the last.

Tune in to the The Jim Gaffigan Show. Jim Gaffigan’s book is Dad is Fat.

Photos: Courtesy of Let Grow
Sponsored by Charles Koch Foundation
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The surprise reason sleep-deprivation kills lies in the gut

New research establishes an unexpected connection.

Image source: Vaccaro et al, 2020/Harvard Medical School
Surprising Science
  • A study provides further confirmation that a prolonged lack of sleep can result in early mortality.
  • Surprisingly, the direct cause seems to be a buildup of Reactive Oxygen Species in the gut produced by sleeplessness.
  • When the buildup is neutralized, a normal lifespan is restored.

We don't have to tell you what it feels like when you don't get enough sleep. A night or two of that can be miserable; long-term sleeplessness is out-and-out debilitating. Though we know from personal experience that we need sleep — our cognitive, metabolic, cardiovascular, and immune functioning depend on it — a lack of it does more than just make you feel like you want to die. It can actually kill you, according to study of rats published in 1989. But why?

A new study answers that question, and in an unexpected way. It appears that the sleeplessness/death connection has nothing to do with the brain or nervous system as many have assumed — it happens in your gut. Equally amazing, the study's authors were able to reverse the ill effects with antioxidants.

The study, from researchers at Harvard Medical School (HMS), is published in the journal Cell.

An unexpected culprit

The new research examines the mechanisms at play in sleep-deprived fruit flies and in mice — long-term sleep-deprivation experiments with humans are considered ethically iffy.

What the scientists found is that death from sleep deprivation is always preceded by a buildup of Reactive Oxygen Species (ROS) in the gut. These are not, as their name implies, living organisms. ROS are reactive molecules that are part of the immune system's response to invading microbes, and recent research suggests they're paradoxically key players in normal cell signal transduction and cell cycling as well. However, having an excess of ROS leads to oxidative stress, which is linked to "macromolecular damage and is implicated in various disease states such as atherosclerosis, diabetes, cancer, neurodegeneration, and aging." To prevent this, cellular defenses typically maintain a balance between ROS production and removal.

"We took an unbiased approach and searched throughout the body for indicators of damage from sleep deprivation," says senior study author Dragana Rogulja, admitting, "We were surprised to find it was the gut that plays a key role in causing death." The accumulation occurred in both sleep-deprived fruit flies and mice.

"Even more surprising," Rogulja recalls, "we found that premature death could be prevented. Each morning, we would all gather around to look at the flies, with disbelief to be honest. What we saw is that every time we could neutralize ROS in the gut, we could rescue the flies." Fruit flies given any of 11 antioxidant compounds — including melatonin, lipoic acid and NAD — that neutralize ROS buildups remained active and lived a normal length of time in spite of sleep deprivation. (The researchers note that these antioxidants did not extend the lifespans of non-sleep deprived control subjects.)

fly with thought bubble that says "What? I'm awake!"

Image source: Tomasz Klejdysz/Shutterstock/Big Think

The experiments

The study's tests were managed by co-first authors Alexandra Vaccaro and Yosef Kaplan Dor, both research fellows at HMS.

You may wonder how you compel a fruit fly to sleep, or for that matter, how you keep one awake. The researchers ascertained that fruit flies doze off in response to being shaken, and thus were the control subjects induced to snooze in their individual, warmed tubes. Each subject occupied its own 29 °C (84F) tube.

For their sleepless cohort, fruit flies were genetically manipulated to express a heat-sensitive protein in specific neurons. These neurons are known to suppress sleep, and did so — the fruit flies' activity levels, or lack thereof, were tracked using infrared beams.

Starting at Day 10 of sleep deprivation, fruit flies began dying, with all of them dead by Day 20. Control flies lived up to 40 days.

The scientists sought out markers that would indicate cell damage in their sleepless subjects. They saw no difference in brain tissue and elsewhere between the well-rested and sleep-deprived fruit flies, with the exception of one fruit fly.

However, in the guts of sleep-deprived fruit flies was a massive accumulation of ROS, which peaked around Day 10. Says Vaccaro, "We found that sleep-deprived flies were dying at the same pace, every time, and when we looked at markers of cell damage and death, the one tissue that really stood out was the gut." She adds, "I remember when we did the first experiment, you could immediately tell under the microscope that there was a striking difference. That almost never happens in lab research."

The experiments were repeated with mice who were gently kept awake for five days. Again, ROS built up over time in their small and large intestines but nowhere else.

As noted above, the administering of antioxidants alleviated the effect of the ROS buildup. In addition, flies that were modified to overproduce gut antioxidant enzymes were found to be immune to the damaging effects of sleep deprivation.

The research leaves some important questions unanswered. Says Kaplan Dor, "We still don't know why sleep loss causes ROS accumulation in the gut, and why this is lethal." He hypothesizes, "Sleep deprivation could directly affect the gut, but the trigger may also originate in the brain. Similarly, death could be due to damage in the gut or because high levels of ROS have systemic effects, or some combination of these."

The HMS researchers are now investigating the chemical pathways by which sleep-deprivation triggers the ROS buildup, and the means by which the ROS wreak cell havoc.

"We need to understand the biology of how sleep deprivation damages the body so that we can find ways to prevent this harm," says Rogulja.

Referring to the value of this study to humans, she notes,"So many of us are chronically sleep deprived. Even if we know staying up late every night is bad, we still do it. We believe we've identified a central issue that, when eliminated, allows for survival without sleep, at least in fruit flies."

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