Man Talk

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.

–from Being a Dude Is a Good Thing

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.

–from Is Male Lust Turning Us Inside Out?

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.

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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.

 

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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?”

And concluded:

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.

 

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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

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About Tom Matlack

Tom Matlack is the co-founder of The Good Men Project. He has a 18-year-old daughter and 16- and 7-year-old sons. His wife, Elena, is the love of his life. Follow him on Twitter @TMatlack.

Comments

  1. Kirsten (in MT) says:

    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.

    This sounds like a really good exercise. If she were older and the subject weren’t likely to get a lot of harsh comments, I’d even like to see it published here. But it’s definitely a great topic worth getting into details on with her.

  2. As a woman who has had three children, I will tell you that elasticity and the tensile strength of collagen that supports breast tissue takes a hit through pregnancy. Perkiness fades into the unretrievable land of Body That Hasn’t Sustained and Served as a Conduit. It sucks.

    Each woman’s body is different and each man has to weigh for himself the ROI on firm tits over solid helpmate and life’s companion. FWIW, there is absolutely no shame in raising the question. Seated in the abstract, any person has the absolute right to observe about Another any way (s)he sees fit. However, one must be prepared to accept any and all consequences as a result of that observation.

    Super personal disclosure: I’ve worn a foundational garment to bed for over 25 years in order to combat the forces of gravity, but I don’t look seventeen anymore. The tradeoff of three amazing daughters is worth it to me. If a guy has a problem with my physique, he has a right to his opinion.

    The short answer to your question (it’s actually too late at this point) is ‘yes.’ You have a right to discuss the very real aspects of physicality as they relate to attraction without fearing verbal assault.

  3. Mary Mary says:

    Well said Tom, well said.

    It can be super helpful to also get a grasp on cultural perceptions and how different they are according to media exposure, economy, etc.

    Cultural anthropology reveals that how we approach adult sexual bonding, visual attraction and emotional attraction is inherently connected to the extent our primal bonding needs were met in infancy and early childhood. In post-industrial westernized consumer culture, we have a majority of people who never had their primal emotional needs met and who never had full access to the maternal body (the skin-to-skin nursing, co-sleeping/night snuggling, babywearing, dally infant/toddler massage, and extended breastfeeding that is the norm in all indigenous cultures – the world average age of weaning being 4 YEARS not 4 months!!!), and who carry a lot of craving and aversion into adult sexual sexual relationships. For more on this see “The Continuum Concept” by Jean Liedloff.

    Reality check: in earth-based cultures where the breasts are seen for what they really are: magical lifegiving vessels – the more the breast SAGS the higher the status of the female! In these cultures, women jump around and jiggle dance topless almost every day, and they breastfeed on top of that. The more a woman has nursed (her own babies as well as anyone’s young child she may be looking after) the greater the sag. In the Kalahari desert, pert high breasts are seen as unripe, unawakened, inexperienced, and rather unattractive!!! The droopier the boob, obviously, the hotter the woman. Having boobs that droop, grandma-teat style, by age 35 is considered very sexy by the men. (Maybe coz they can flap around in more interesting ways and perhaps be brought round to the back, just guessin….)

    Yes, men need to discuss and sort through the mind mess that media & porn has got this culture into, and the painful inequities and emotional addictions that drive so much of the middle-east peace process between men and women.

    • Tom Matlack says:

      Mary that is *fascinating*. Thanks for the education. I had also heard, not sure if it is true, that while breast enhancement is obviously popular here in the US in South America where women go topless breast reduction is much more popular than enhancement (showing at least to my mind the futility of artificial anything, but that is just me).

  4. pillowinhell says:

    I had a partner who had issues with my body after pregnancy. “Ruined tits” in particular. Normally, when someone has something unkind to say about my body I can brush it off as being their opinion. Having something like that coming from my partner…cut to the bone. My breasts took a real beating after breast feeding our daughter. During all that time, I tried getting my partner to sleep with me, to no avail. He no longer had any interest and it took a few months to finally get him to tell me why. Meanwhile, I was left driving myself nuts trying to figure out what was wrong and trying to fix things I thought might be the problem. I can’t fix the physique given to me by time and experience. If the guy told this to his wife, its something she’ll be reminded of every time she dresses, shops for clothing or sees a woman who approximates her pre pregnancy figure.

    Having difficulty adjusting to physical changes after a baby is born is something everyone goes through, I suppose. The difference is that this is the body she LIVES in. The idea of “ruined tits” skates perilously close to “repulsive”, and its the repulsive part many people hear angrily jumped on I think.

    Should we be able to talk about peoples views about the physical changes that happen due to the passing of time or major events like pregnancy? Without verbal abuse or personal attacks? Yes. Can we also be aware that we may need to watch how we phrase our thoughts? Yes. I can think of several things I could say about male bodies that would be every bit as hurtful and derogatory as “ruined tits”, and just because I’m being flat out honest doesn’t give me a pass for the anger or hurt I’d cause.

    As for the gentleman who’s struggling with the physical changes his wife has experienced…. There is something beautiful about every human body. I used to draw nudes, and trust me..not every model was someone I wanted to see naked. However, find the features that are beautiful and focus on those, you’ll notice what disturbs you less. She’s your wife and I’m sure you love her, so I’m also sure there’s plenty more than her breasts you find beautiful about her.

    • Tom Matlack says:

      Totally agree which is why I did the work to write the piece about breast enhancement, something that personally I don’t like. But what I found was a very broad cross section of opinions from both men and women (including an artist like you who found beauty in natural aging). As I have said a million times I find my own wife more beautiful every day, truly. And not because of anything artificial but because of what I see inside and out that makes me love her and the beauty of a woman who doesn’t just look “good for her age” but just more and more attractive.

      As for the turn of phrase “ruined tits” that is not something I would ever say. I understand that it could be offensive to some. But I do think it worth repeating when a guy confides to me in the context of a larger piece about trying to allow men to get really honest about lust and coming to some deeper understanding and honestly about that issue.

      • pillowinhell says:

        I think I was expecting to hear about his difficulties, but that was really flat out. And I’m guessing that that statement came from a real place of pain and bewilderment.

        Post pregnancy changes are rather shocking to get over, unless you’ve had some experience of looking at women who’ve recently undergone them. And that’s something you don’t see in mainstream culture. The other part I think is in coming to terms with aging in general. How older family members age, unless its due to illness, progresses over years and is not at all relevant to us at a sexual level. Its a shock to be slapped in the face with changes that are really only a mild harbinger of what’s to come, provided that you’re fortunate enough to live to see it.

        I have to admit that when I first read that article I was plenty pissed, but I realized that the words had accidentlly touched a very sore spot. Looking at your work as a whole, I find it well balanced, enlightening and respectful. So, I got over it, knowing that the words weren’t aimed to harm. I’ll just keep in mind that sometimes what I’ll hear is rather raw. And maybe that’s not such a bad thing.

  5. Tom, Thanks for a great article.

    My experience is that nothing is more important that communicating your truth. I have been on a journey the last year of moving into authenticity to the best of my human ability with every aspect of my life, and as I have come into a place of truth in my life the synchronicities have been astonishing.

    I recently saw a great TED Talk from Mette Boll about the Danish people who were identified in a study as the happiest people in the world, and who were that way because of their authenticity and natural tendency to speak their truth.

    So yes I say, if you feel it, speak it, but always from a place of love.

    Coming to the issue of sexual attraction which is a part of the issues raised in the article, to my mind the real issue is connection. When connection is present between two people in a relationship, love making is passionate, and all that matters is the energies being shared.

    I would argue that it is a good thing when two partners honour one another and their bodies by adopting an attitude of ‘my body is my temple’ and they maintain their fitness and reasonable body health. However if a partner is obsessing about a particular body part in their partner and its physical qualities, to me that speaks to a lack of connection between them as a couple. In a sense they are replacing the lack of emotional connection felt for their partner with for the want of a better term ‘partner porn’ where they want their partner to meet some ‘photo-shop standard’.

    At the fifty year mark of my journey I have made my share of mistakes around partnership and sexuality. An instructive part of my healing journey has been shamanic work through which direct experience has left me in no doubt that adopting an attitude of sacredness around sexuality is definitely for my higher good and spiritual growth.

    So from the place I have reached on my journey as I relate to my partner and decide how to communicate, I ask myself, ‘What is my truth?’ ‘How can I honour your soul, my soul and our sacred connection?’ and ‘How can I best communicate from a place of love?’

    • Julie Gillis says:

      Word.

    • Tom Matlack says:

      Yes, oddly our sermon at church this morning (Episcopal no less) was around a reading from the old testament about “fornication and prostitution” which our zany minister admitted most in his profession call the “chicken week” because no minister wants to touch such topics with a 10 foot poll. But he did, talking about a childhood experience when his buddies got robbed in the pursuit of trying to buy sex and ultimately concluding that we can’t wall off sex from our soul (and in his Faith, belief in Christ). To me this is the issue, how to bring my truest self into the bedroom and into all aspects of my life even when no one is looking.

  6. Glad to hear I’m not alone in having struggled with the changes nursing brought to my ex’s body. I never mentioned it, but I’m sure she knew. It was dramatic how her breasts which I had found captivating in their form were transformed seemingly overnight. One expects to grow old together and decline together physically. And yes, cultural programming plays a huge part but that didn’t help me overcome my perceptions of ruination.

    I never mentioned it to anyone until one night, having overindulged to the point of messy oversharing, I advised a female colleague to bottlefeed. Needless to say, that was perceived for what it was, weird and creepy. Not to mention that I actually believe that “breast is best” where infant feeding is concerned.

    I know that my ex was self-concious about the “ruin” as well. She took to wearing bras when we’d go to bed together – which became less frequent and then stopped altogether. There were other reasons, but our relationship did not survive.

  7. You hit it on the head when you state “One thing I do believe, is that in general, Men and Women are different”. When Dr. Steven Hawkin , the Albert Einstein of our era ,was asked by a reporter what does he spend most of his free time thinking about, he responded “Women, they are a complete mystery.” My point is , we’ll never totally understand women and likewise women will never totally understand us. Maybe that’s what keeps it all so interesting.

  8. Richard Aubrey says:

    Tom starts out with two vignettes and only one is subject to comments. IMO, the less interesting. Not all guys who have SOs have SOs who’ve had children. Some guys don’t mind the results. But it was the entire subject.
    Go figure.

  9. Mervyn Kaufman says:

    I have come to accept the fact that a great many men are focused on breast size—in their wives and partners—and recognize how foolish (and potentially damaging) such concerns might be. But I also think men (perhaps these same men) may be even more concerned about what they themselves bring to physical male-female relationships…concerns they may not often give voice to.
    Not long ago, a man I’d known for years said to me abruptly—when his wife was out of earshot—”I wish I could add another inch or two. You know.” I did know, and I guess I was shocked. This man had recently turned 80. By then, one would think, a man would have learned to deal with whatever shortcomings he perceived in himself.
    The answer, I guess, is never. You don’t have to probe the Internet very deeply nowadays to find no end of penis-enlargement products (pills, devices, exercise programs), which says to me that there is a very strong under-cover market for such stuff. The ads are lurid and graphic, in many instances. I suspect a lot of money is being made from the sense of insecurity (or inadequacy) experienced by a great many men. Yes, they may say they are “breast men” or wish their wives (or girlfriends) had D-cups, but secretly, I think, many of them—like my friend—really wishes they had an extra inch or two.

    • pillowinhell says:

      I think there are many men who wish their bodies to look slightly different than what they do. Otherwise, why all the gyms? Or the male lotions and colognes? More variations on mens clothing and articles (a few admittedly) showing men how best to flatter their physique? We can talk about an extra inch or two, but I think men can be every bit as self conscious about their bodies as a whole as women can be. Perhaps its just that men only talk about these things to a few people they trust won’t make them feel horrible for it.

  10. Love the Hawkings quote. Sometimes I think I have more psychologically in common with a male dishwalla living in Jaipur than a lady whom I grew up with. I’ve always wondered if men are less of a mystery to women than the other way around. Is it possible that Western culture’s focus on dudes has given women a slightly superior understanding of us? OR is it possible that the “understanding” of men is pervasive enough that it’s reductive nature goes unobserved? One difference (and forgive me for sounding like a bumper sticker) between the genders is that men are more apt to recognize/admit that men and women are wildly different animals.
    Maybe the two sentiments are linked. Maybe society’s collective “women are mysterious” attitude and the belief that men are simple creatures makes women feel they understand guys and we’re not such aliens after all.
    Regarding breasts, I believe I will quote rapper Mims, “I don’t care about your breasts you could be an A-cup. I know what I like baby and that’s below the waist.” Presumably, he’s talking about nice, clean feet. I think when a lady I’m spending quality time with is terribly into her breasts, I tend to focus on them more. When she’s apathetic, I follow suit. I hope this doesn’t make me seem any less shallow, if I’m not into a lady’s physical appearance, I have an impossible time getting psyched for anything romantic. Hmmm. I guess THAT’s how men and women are different.
    Thanks for the thoughtful article and @Mary Mary for the info about the Tribe Of The Milk Bags. Interesting stuff.

  11. 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.

    How about just being a genuinely good guy, comfortable in your own skin, willing to speak your heart and your mind, knowing and accepting that not everyone will salute when you run an idea up the flag pole? I call that the best a man (or woman) can be.

  12. Richard Aubrey says:

    Tom,

    Actually, men and women are obsessed with things like intermarital relationships, too. But those are, I would think, scarier to talk about.

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