In last week’s intro, I explained what I wanted to do in this space: to think through and explore what it is to be a man in today’s world, especially in consideration of #MeToo.
Initially, I wanted this piece to jump right in.
I wanted to talk about sex, and how men talk about sex, and how they don’t. I thought it made sense to deal with the primary issue head on, right away, and to get used to talking (and me used to writing) about all the awkward, sometimes uncomfortable, and at times challenging aspects of sex. Also, some of the fun stuff, too.
I mean, writing about it gets me thinking about it, and thinking about it gets me…
But I decided to wait on that to focus on something else. Reminder: I am not a therapist or a counselor. I’m not a mental health professional nor a gender studies expert or a sociologist.
I’m just a guy, a guy who has been in and of relationships, someone who reads a lot and pays attention, someone who still believes in making the world a better place.
Let’s start here.
Men, we need to change. We need to change our behavior and our attitudes. We need to change the way we think about women and the way we talk about (and to) women and the way we treat them.
And yes, let’s pile on all the caveats. Some men treat women with respect and are great communicators, both in and outside the bedroom. Some men carry the balance of emotional labor in their relationships like pros. If you don’t know what that means, you’ve probably got some reading to do. (I know what it means, but I’m not always so great at it, either. Come back next week.)
And also, let’s avoid the extremes. Most of us are not Grade A violent, misogynist assholes who beat women (or worse) or sexually harass women at the office either as a means to get sex or as a power play. For most of us, what we’re guilty of is bad sex, misreading social cues, unconsciously or mindlessly falling into tired, outdated, sexist ways of talking and thinking, of not truly operating in a way that views women as equal partners in our lives, our work, our relationships, our society.
Yet there is still this, the way we’ve left women thinking about us:
Women want so badly to believe there are good men. It’s demoralizing, both for women and men.
We must be better, we must strive to set a higher standard for ourselves, for the betterment of ourselves, and for those we encounter. And really, for everyone.
We can listen, learn, grow and try to be better men. If you’re reading this, I assume you’re with me, and find the above tweet depressing and disheartening. It’s not just politicians and celebrities — it’s us, you and me.
Through centuries of horrible behavior, we’ve left women concluding there are no good men. (The above tweet was in response to sexual abuse allegations of quickly former New York attorney general Eric Schneiderman.)
What we need to understand — and I mean really take to heart, to feel it, not just give lip service to it — is the reality of #MeToo.
Go back and try to recall what it was like when #MeToo exploded on social media, and reading the horror stories of your relatives, your co-workers, your friends, your significant other. Try to remember what it was like when you asked your girlfriend or wife or friend, face to face, did something like this ever happen to you?
Imagine the look in her eyes as she’s about to tell you yes. And that you don’t even know the half of it.
And that besides this one horrific event that caused scarring life-long pain were the countless other demeaning comments, jibes, looks, gropes and insinuations that women have learned to somehow develop an immunity to.
This shit exists. It’s great that we’re talking about it and (attempting) to deal with it. Some very powerful men in the media and government and arts have lost their jobs. Some are already trying to make a comeback, to which I say, no thanks.
But what about the rest of us? Those of us not on TV or heading movie studios or in Congress? And what about the women still dealing with those looks, those gropes, those comments?
Next time you’re on the subway at rush hour, just think how many opportunities there are for something inappropriate to occur. Imagine carrying that fear through each stop on the uptown or downtown local every morning and evening rush hour.
We must commit to be better. We must commit to creating a world where women no longer need to fear walking to their cars after a movie, or need to carry a sharp object to take out the trash at night or walk across the street to get the mail. That’s disgusting, and toxic, and unfair. And beneath us all.
We also can and should, recognize evolutionary psychology, which, in promoting biological differences between men and women and subsequently predicting different behavioral patterns, argues that men are more open to casual sex and more likely to stray from monogamy. Fine, we all live within our bodies and the urges, drives and forces within.
Nonetheless, biology and its implications only go so far, especially when it comes to daily behavior, our treatment of women and taking responsibility for both.
As written in Sex: A Man’s Guide, we can’t look at evolutionary psychology and our biological impulses and say that “all men are simply programmed to brag, fight and get caught in the gazebo with their neighbor’s wives. Nor, having done all these things, can a guy throw up his hands and blame it on his genes. We’re not robots. We’re men, with, hopefully, some free will.”
I’m under no illusion that my writing will stop sexual assaults. These problems are societal, not individual. But societies are made up of individuals, and besides, even if we are limited inwhat we can do to help women everywhere, we can do a lot to help those around us.
My desire is for men to take #MeToo to heart. Not just to listen, but to do the work of change. This is where the emotional labor that I mentioned above comes into play.
You see and hear men complaining about how difficult this all is, how confusing it is, how in certain situations, we don’t know how to act or what to say. I don’t know what to do anymore, I’ve heard men say. It’s not like it was.
Hey, pal, that’s a good thing.
My first response is this: when in doubt, don’t be an asshole. If you’re struggling with that, silence might be your best bet.
My second response is this: tough shit.
Women have been carrying burdens foisted upon them by patriarchal (yeah, I went there) societies for centuries.
I think living in this current moment is actually a wonderful opportunity. We get to be a part of making change happen. We get to be part of that reckoning and conversation. And here are.
But I don’t want to hear men complain about how difficult and challenging it is. I don’t want to hear men bitch about new rules, because the fact is, had we as men acted like real men to begin with, we wouldn’t need new rules.
And I especially don’t want to hear men speak up to say how their feelings are hurt by all this talk about how crappy men are. (In a later post I’ll touch on this, particularly in the context of social media.) It might be true: your feelings may very well be hurt. And it is confusing and confounding.
And things do get complicated. By the time you mix social norms and our individual neuroses, and what we each perceive as society’s expectations of us, it’s a challenge on a daily level to make sense of it all.
But that’s precisely because it turns out what we thought was normal and acceptable behavior and attitudes towards women is actually a steaming pile of horseshit that needs to get disposed of ASAP.
But just because it’s challenging doesn’t mean we can get to shy away. Let’s bring it down from the theoretical to real life. Let’s take a look at something mundane, and how, that too, symbolizes what #MeToo can be about.
Let’s look at getting dressed for work.
When I worked in an office and had to wear something other than jeans, my choices were khaki pants or blue pants, perhaps sometimes gray, and a white shirt or a colored shirt. It’s really not an exaggeration to say it never got more complicated than that.
Shoes? The brown ones or the black ones. That’s as much as thought as I put into it (okay, fine, maybe also choosing between a solid colored shirt or a striped shirt). But that’s really about it, and I still looked good and still looked professional.
Part of this series is going to be me opening up in ways and divulging personal details that make me uncomfortable. And the reason I’m doing that is because we all, but men in particular, need to step out of our comfort zones when talking about sex and sexuality. So…
I used to love watching my ex get dressed in the morning. I’m not sure why it was such a turn-on. Frankly, it could be no more complicated than I just enjoyed watching her walking around in her underwear.
But if I were to go deeper, I think it was watching the process of seeing her cover her body. From going from near-naked to the woman she’d be presenting to the world that day. What kind of blouse would she choose? What color would it be, and how tight would it be? What kind of pants? How would she do her hair? It was like I was seeing behind the curtain. Everyone else would see the clothed version, I got to see what was underneath. It excited me.
But I bring this up not because I wanted to disclose a turn-on, but because I never appreciated how the thought process of getting dressed for work is so different for women than men.
Questions like, does this top accentuate my chest too much, or can you see you too much of my cleavage? Or, is my butt too tight in these pants? Some of it is just fashion choices, of course, but a lot of it isn’t. A lot of it is trying to predict how wearing certain types of clothing will affect the perception of you around the office. You want to look good, but not too good. You want to look professional, but not like you’re going out clubbing.
Big deal, I can hear some men say. Dressing yourself in the morning is something we learn to do as kids. Any adult should know how to dress themselves. True.
But what I’m talking about is having to think about how to dress, which is something men don’t have to do. It’s an add-on of emotional labor that women have to bear that not only men don’t, but aren’t even aware of not having to.
Imagine if every time you got dressed for work, you had to consider whether or not your clothing would cause people to stare at your body…and what impact that would have on your reputation and ability to succeed professionally. That’s a bit heavier than choosing between tan and blue pants. And that conciousness of your body creates dynamic to their physical selves women must contend with that I think most men don’t.
And that’s a pretty mundane example, choosing what to wear, in the comfort of home.
Now apply that dynamic to walking in a poorly lit parking garage at night. When a woman goes out at night, she’s going to choose her parking spot based on a whole different level of concerns than a man would. Women are at risk, no matter where they go, no matter what they do.
Because of men.
Women experience the world differently than we do, and what we’ve seen is that this world, until now, has been created and perpetuated by men’s behavior.
And there are problems with that world. And women have had enough. And they are right.
To me, this, in its simplest reduction, is what #MeToo has been about.
More to come.
A version of this post was previously published on medium.com and is republished here with permission from the author.
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