Thomas Fiffer lets loose on six centers of male shame that need to be dispensed with.
Have you ever felt ashamed to be a man?
That your masculine nature, and the behaviors that accompany it, make you at best an insensitive fool and at worst a dangerous predator?
That examples of the small percentage of men who commit crimes or behave badly towards women abound, while you rarely see footage lauding the vast majority of law-abiding men who treat women respectfully?
The truth is, some men do bad things. So do some women. The world is, unfortunately, full of bad people who use aggression and violence or manipulative tactics to get what they want, hurting others in the process. Any man who abuses or assaults a woman, a child, or another person; who threatens or bullies; or who acts disrespectfully or disregards boundaries; should be ashamed—not of being a man, but of perpetrating offensive, hurtful, and unacceptable behavior, and the same goes for women. There are some things, however, that men never need to be ashamed of, despite the way we’re stereotyped and portrayed in the media. Here are five:
1. We’re male. We have testosterone coursing through our veins. The same hormone that makes us sexy and appealing to women endows us with our unique male energy and gives most men our love of physical activity, our assertiveness, and our taste for things like contact sports, first-person shooter video games, Dirty Harry and Die Hard movies, and cooking meat over a fire. We don’t just do this stuff because it was modeled to us. We actually enjoy it. Enjoying male activities doesn’t mean we don’t also like curling up with a good book, playing board games, watching a chick flick, or learning to be a gourmet cook. But we should never be reluctant to embrace traditionally male activities or preferences that we actually like and prefer, because they’ve been stereotyped and demonized as “man-things.”
2. We like to lead. Many men have a desire, even a need, to be in charge. If it’s purely based on wanting to have power over others, it’s unhealthy, but in most cases, our leaning into leadership is about getting off on motivating people and getting things done. A man’s inclination to take charge of a situation (unless he is unfairly excluding the voices or concerns of others) is a healthy, productive character trait that helps move the world forward. Think of all the discoveries, expeditions, and charges for change (the crusades excluded, of course) that were led by men. If everyone always deferred to everyone else, we’d live in a hell of perpetual politeness, so never be ashamed of your propensity to want to be the top dog.
3. We’re strong. Superman was the ideal physical male specimen. And yet, he had to mask his true identity in the persona of “mild-mannered” Clark Kent. Why? The truth is, the world finds superior physical strength threatening and sees it as something wonderful to have on call but kept under wraps at all other times. Physical strength is an asset, and one that need not be hidden. A strong man is not, by definition, a threat or a lover of violence. And having braun doesn’t mean we don’t also have brains, because the two are not mutually exclusive. Strong men built—and continue to maintain—the world’s physical infrastructure, and physical power, as long as it’s used respectfully, should be a source of respect, not shame.
4. We’re direct. Men tend to be made fun of for oversimplifying or not understanding the complex nuances of a situation. But often directness is what a situation calls for, and endless beating around the bush impedes progress. I’m not saying women aren’t direct, too, just that it’s a trait we typically associate with men and often link incorrectly with insensitivity. Saying what you mean simply and forthrightly saves a lot of time and spares a lot of guesswork and misunderstanding. And it’s always good to know exactly where you stand. Being blunt doesn’t mean you’re not sharp; it means you know which tool to use for which job, and when to spare the can of varnish so the truth can shine on its own.
5. We (hetero men) like to take care of women. My friend Bryan Reeves wrote an amazing post here on The Good Men Project called “The Sexiest Three Words a Man Can Say to a Woman,” in which he said he finds “something deeply compelling about being with a woman who can take care of herself, and who enjoys allowing him to take care of her anyway.” Bryan is talking about a women who understands a man’s need to care for her. Many of the behaviors we call gentlemanly or chivalrous—opening doors, carrying bags, or paying for meals—are portrayed as patronizing to women or making the appear weak. Caring for the woman you love by taking care of things for her is not patronizing; it’s being a good guy, and it’s something you never have to feel bad about.
6. We like sex. You heard that. Men like sex, and liking sex doesn’t make us predators or deviants or perverts who objectify every woman we see or think about it doing it seven seconds. But we enjoy sex, we want sex, and we’re not ashamed to say so. Belittling men for having sexual desire is like belittling a child for wanting to play. It’s our nature, and to deny it is to deny who we are. When we initiate with a woman (and we’re often the initiators), it doesn’t mean that’s all we want from you or all we value you for. It simply means we enjoy being intimate with you and expressing our love in a physical way. Of course, it’s crucial to understand that sex only happens with consent. But men should never, ever feel embarrassed or ashamed about liking and wanting sex.
I’m glad I’m a man. I’m proud to be a man. I love men. And I think men are awesome.
Photo— Graeme Law/Flickr