Good guys are all around us, writes Jamie Iredell. They just don’t make the news as much as the bad guys.
I guess since most of my Facebook friends are liberals (there are a few libertarians, and some token true conservatives) all I hear about in the feed is liberals complaining about the Right and the multiple predictable points of view that the Right espouses. I’m not complaining about this fact, because I myself am liberal, but it seems that, because of the little bubble of my media world, the Right keeps giving men a bad rap. Arizona defines pregnancy as occurring two weeks before conception; some congressman says ,“legitimate rape”; a writer I know on HTMLGiant writes essays about the power of language inherent in a phrase I’ve heard many men use when talking about “uptight chicks”: “That girl needs to get f–ked.” I could not agree more that many men do and say terrible things, especially when it comes to women. What I don’t hear anything about, though, are some of the good things men do or say, or how most boys grow into caring, emotionally-sensitive, thoughtful, and responsible men.
I remember when I was a boy and I said things like, “that girl needs to get f–ked,” or I laughed and agreed when one of my buddies said it. I say, “when I was a boy,” but I’m talking about when I was going into my mid and late twenties. Most boys don’t become men until this latter stage, when women have long been women and acted as such. From everything I’ve seen and heard about human development, females develop faster than males, and in my own experience with my daughter it seems true: she’s way ahead of boys who are months older than her in her daycare class. There are ways in which females are smarter than males, they make connections between themselves and others and the elements of their world more rapidly than males do. Females take into consideration the potential results of their actions before males do. Enough with abstractions: when I was twenty-three years old, I didn’t know what it meant to say something like, “That girl needs to get f–ked.”
If our politicians serve as indication of this truth, we would all be led to believe that many men do not ever grow out of this juvenile stage of development. Or maybe conservative social ideologies are a kind of retroactive tribal authoritarianism. Some men feel under attack by women, and in their solidarity offer policies that repress women’s rights and at the same time bolster the ideologies of patriarchal institutions under the guise of “morality”: Christianity, The Boy Scouts of America, good ol’ meat-and-potatoes American values.
Despite what my liberal friends report on in the media, my feeling is that most men are moderate, and most men do grow out of such juvenilia. But that also makes such men boring and not media-worthy. Once, while sitting in a graduate seminar on American Modernist Poetry, a female fellow student was talking about Gertrude Stein’s Tender Buttons and the allusions to female-ness, the body, female sexuality, etcetera, inherent in that book-length poem. Another fellow student, and my good friend, a male, a guy who, for years through undergrad had been railing against the “bullshit” that he called feminism, started laughing. This was one of those seminal moments in my own life, in my development. I remember listening to this woman talking and thinking that what she was saying was really interesting, because at this young age (I was twenty-three or twenty-four) I had no idea what to do with a text like Tender Buttons. And when this guy, my friend—a guy with whom I’d laughed over beers and said things like “That chick really needs to get f–ked”—started laughing at this woman, I was embarrassed. I was embarrassed first for the woman, and later for my friend, because this woman stopped talking, looked at my friend and said, “You know, this whole semester I’ve been putting up with you saying derogatory things about women and feminism, and I haven’t said a thing, in the spirit of letting you air your ideas. But I’ve never laughed at what you thought, even though I wanted to, and it’s rude, and I want you to apologize.” My friend chuckled a little bit. The rest of the class was silent, including the male professor. But everyone stared at this friend of mine, including me, waiting for what he’d say in return, and his face reddened, then he said he was sorry. That was the last chauvinistic peep out of that guy that semester.
I’m no longer friends with that man. That could be because I moved 2,500 miles away and I lost his phone number and email address. Or it could be because during this time in graduate school I was growing up, and I no longer thought that feminism was silly. In fact, I’m not sure that I ever thought it was, but that seemed to be what the other guys in the English department thought and I wasn’t confident enough to express an alternate male perspective. It’s not that hard to find someone if you really want to maintain a friendship, and I know what’s true, because years after I’d moved, on a return to the town where I’d earned my Master’s, this guy attended my reading while I was on a book tour. Afterwards we had a few beers and caught up. It was a little sad to hear this guy still saying things like, “You fucking pussy,” and “What a fag,” and “That chick’s hot.” I was married to a woman who is a corporate lawyer at one of the country’s largest firms. My daughter was not yet conceived, but we knew we wanted a baby (no, Arizona, this was not yet a pregnancy). I did not then know that I would eventually have a daughter, but I already knew that if I did have one, it was going to be a tough job raising her in a world full of men like that guy. But, I also knew that when I looked around me, at nearly all my male friends—my peers—I saw the responsible, thoughtful, emotionally-sensitive and politically-moderate men who would help me, and maybe when she grew up, she’d be strong, and we’d have all helped to make her world a little better.
photo of students sitting in an amphitheater by Shutterstock.com