You think men get a bum rap? C.W. Nahumck sure does, and he’s not going to let any unfair stereotyping get in the way of a good burrito.
This week marks the final quarter of the academic year, which means that I’m one step closer to being a real adult—at least as real an adult as a 32-year-old perpetual student can feel. I heard it said once that graduate school is like another stage of adolescence. If so, it’s an entirely different form of awkwardness and confusion. At least those teenage years have an end point where the physical appearance starts to clear up and the acne goes away.
Of course, this isn’t year one for me, like so many others in my cohort. It’s the end of year six of graduate school. What does a guy who’s spent the last six years with his nose in books have to say about living a good life, about being a good man? Plenty, it turns out. (Plenty of questions, at least.)
I was in my first year of graduate school (a dual program in social work and divinity) when I had my first interaction with a male stereotype that made me stop and take notice. It happened like this: I was in the cafeteria waiting to warm up some food in the microwave. In front of me, a female student was heating up a burrito. When she opened the microwave door, the smell of the burrito was so good that I blurted out, “That smells great! When I get home, I’ll have to ask my wife if she could make me a burrito.”
“You know,” the girl responded, “you can make a burrito for yourself.”
I was speechless. This woman who did not know me assumed that she did. She assumed that I was somehow in the wrong for saying that my wife would cook for me. It didn’t matter that cooking is my wife’s hobby; it’s what she loves to do at the end of a hard day to unwind. It didn’t matter that when we’re in the kitchen making food together, or even when I’m trying to make food for her, she swoops in and takes over. It didn’t matter that her undergraduate focus was cultural anthropology with a personal focus on food anthropology. What mattered was that I fit in the box. I needed the label: bad man.
If I could travel back in time to that moment (don’t you wish you could do that?!), I would have asked the woman: “How would you like me to fit into your label? Do you want me to be a bad man by forcing my wife to do something against her will? Or, instead, should I make food for myself and not allow her to engage in an activity that she finds relaxing after a hard day of school and work?”
I was stuck between a knife and a cutting board, waiting to be trimmed so that all that remained was the lean meat of my identity as a bad man, ready to be thrown into the frying pan and served with judgment.
With that said, I understand where she was coming from. I understand the frustration that comes from pursuing a degree that enables a person to become a minister while at the same time knowing that there are those who will be unable to take you seriously because you’re a woman. I understand that doing an internship with a rape crisis center or a battered women’s shelter is going to bring a woman in contact with men behaving badly over and over again in ways that prime someone to expect the worst from them.
But I have a problem with the stereotypes we peddle about men. Sometimes I feel that the world is screaming, “Toss out your men and lock the doors!”
My wife calls me a manist. After my repeated interactions with people on campus, it led me into a reactionary phase of my personal development. I looked at TV shows and advertisements where men are portrayed as idiots, creeps, and killers. I would call out the stereotypes for what they were. After about a year of this, my wife started calling me a manist. I suppose masculinist is too cumbersome a term.
What does it mean to be a manist? It doesn’t mean that I’m seeking equality in the same way that feminists do. I define it as someone who is concerned about the internal and external pressures that are put on men by a culture that sets them up to be something beyond their choosing. I, for one, don’t want to live down to a stereotype.
We need to change our culture and give men new tools for being “good.” This column will be a place for me to share ideas and hopefully incite positive change in our understanding of men. Welcome to my little little Manist corner of the net. I hope you’ll stick around and help me shatter some stereotypes.