What do men really talk about and is it okay to be honest about that?
One close friend jokes, “When speaking to my wife I always make sure to look at the ground in deference. And I make sure not to make any sudden movements.” I’ve watched him. He loves his wife. He’s a very competent human being. But with her he’s decided the only way to survive is to submit. The female view is the right view. The male view just gets you into trouble.
A guy I know, a wonderful husband, recently confided in me that he loves female breasts. His wife is quite beautiful, but mothering has “ruined her tits,” he told me.
Those two passages have caused more blowback than anything I have ever written about the nobility of men doing amazing things around the globe. I am still scratching my head as to why, but having spent what seems like a non-stop month debating the finer points of gender, feminism and men’s rights I am beginning to come to some conclusions.
I swear sometimes it FEELS to me like we are dealing with the Middle East peace process here. I agree that a small number of extremists steal the limelight because of what they are willing to say, which generally does not reflect the vast majority on either side of the debate. I also just keep asking myself what is in it for any of us to stick to these labels of “Feminist” and “MRA”.
I am thinking about sitting down with my daughter (who is 17 and President of both the gay/straight alliance and women’s issues clubs at school) and asking her to define feminism for me in her own words. It just seems like we have completely lost track of the actual underlying issues when we get into these discussions about what is and is not a certain category of people or beliefs.
One thing I personally do believe is that, in general, men and women are different. That opened me to this whole gender essentialism criticism but that is my experience. In dealing with the women I adore in my life, I have had to accept the fact that they are not like me in some fundamental ways. Which is why I love them so much. And why they frustrate me so much.
The thing about some of my writings that seems to have been such a lighting rod is my talking about how I have witnessed men in my life try to navigate this difference with the best intentions but really struggling to get it right. These are men who with their whole hearts want to good husbands and fathers and yet there is the fundamental stumbling block they have to get over. And sometimes that includes discussions about what men think about that might piss some women off.
But you can’t criticize anyone for having the thoughts they do. If a heroin addict is thinking about using and confides in you that his brain keeps telling him that would be a good idea, do you start yelling at him that he is a bad and evil person? Of course not. You try to help him reason through it and take the right action that is least self-destructive.
Same with a lot of the conversations I report in my pieces. I am not saying that the thoughts are RIGHT or that they should lead to inappropriate or disrespectful action. What I am saying is we can pretend that men — or at least the guys I know — don’t think that way, but that doesn’t change the reality that they do, and that these men actually are trying to sort out how to be good men and have healthy relationships with women despite the stuff that comes up.
I want to give the comment about a husband thinking that mothering had ruined his wife’s breast some context.
Some months ago I wrote an article entitled, “Is Fake Really Better?”in which I interviewed a broad range of men and women with personal experience and expertise in breast enhancement, from artists to doctors to women who advocate “going for it.”
The piece began:
“A few weeks ago we ran into a relative who had been going through a difficult patch in her life. What I saw made my heart sink. Our relative had gotten breast augmentation surgery since the last time I had seen her. For whatever reason it just smacked me in the face because I had thought she was such an attractive woman—she carried herself with the kind of grace that makes a person look even more beautiful, not less, with age. So it really upset me that she had felt the need to change herself and, in my view, look less real and frankly to my eye less attractive.
This set my mind off: What the hell is going on in our country that women think they need fake breasts to be okay with their bodies? What does that say about women? What does that say about men? And what is going on with gender when fake is so much more adored than something real?”
In all of this I had to re-evaluate my preconceived notions of breast implants as the source of evil on Planet Earth. I do find the acceleration of the procedures alarming and get pretty sick to my stomach when I see more and more women with plastic surgery that, at least to my eyes, is grotesque.
My view on the aggregate level has not changed that much. Kind of like with the prevalence of porn in our country, I still firmly believe that we should all take the obsession with fake over real when it comes to gender relations as a red flag. It shows that we aren’t really willing or able to deal with each other directly—unfiltered, middle-aged body to middle-aged body. We would prefer the fantasy, whether on the Web or in the breast (or, when it comes to strippers, both at the same time).
But when it comes to each individual woman’s decision as to what to do with her own body, my judgments really have no bearing whatsoever. Who the hell am I to pass judgment on Jenna the 25-year-old PR executive, or anyone else for that matter?
In the end, I think what scared me the most when I saw our relative and her new breasts was the impact of seeing so many women getting augmentation might have on my daughter, my sister, my wife and the other women who I hold dear. But having thought about it more, I now realize that a woman’s body is her own. No man can tell her what to do with it. Not even her father or her husband or her brother.
My point being that my one guy struggling with what to do about the reality of the physical change in his wife’s breasts—looking for guidance on how to respond in a healthy way to the reaction he was having—is hardly alone. Many, many men and women struggle with the same issue. And it’s not clear to me whether women or men are driving the outcome in terms of behavior, breast enhancement, and ideals of female beauty. But what is clear is that we should be able to talk about it without getting attacked.
So I come back around to all this talk of what it means to be a man, a good man, and a feminist.
I don’t know if I am a feminist anymore. But it doesn’t really matter, in my humble opinion. I know that I am trying really hard to be true to my deepest, most authentic self and to write in that same way.
I love women–my wife and daughter. And I want to be the very best father and husband I can be. That is literally my #1 goal in life.
Call that what you will.
photo: crazyflyinmidget / flickr