Am I Just an Ugly Man Hater?
So, one of my friends just told me that some troll was accusing me of being an ugly man hater on the facebookz. And I was all ah yes, that is a common objection to my writing.
Because beauty is in the eye of the beholder, I’ll admit, I may be ugly. At least, you may find me ugly. Maybe most people even find me ugly, I don’t know. Frankly, I don’t really care. One of my personal superpowers is finding a wide range of people attractive, so even if I’m super ugly, I’ll just find another ugly person to date. No big deal.
However, what I do object to is the accusation that I hate men. I don’t hate men. I actually like men a lot.
Consider this: I have been sexually harassed, sexually assaulted, discriminated against, and stalked by men, and yet I still like men. I’m still willing to devote substantial time and energy to considering how to improve my relationships with men in a way that is mutually beneficial. That’s how much I like men.
What do I like about men?
Well, I guess first off, I don’t just like men, I like traditional masculinity and all that entails. Don’t get me wrong, I like femmy men too, but one of the normal accusations against feminists is that we’re trying to emasculate men and… I just don’t think that’s fair. One of the men who played the most formative roles in my life was my wrestling coach in high school, and let me tell you, he was a pretty masculine man. In fact, he demonstrated — to me — what the ideal of American masculinity could be. (English masculinity is sort of a different beast.)
He never objected to my being on the wrestling team, not once, but he never made exceptions for my being female either. If I wanted to be on the wrestling team, I had to do what my teammates were doing. I had to do 50 push ups at the beginning of practice. I had to piggy back my teammates up the stairs. I had to fight to earn my place in the starting line up. But, when I did all that, he was willing to accept me. My senior year, he made me one of the captains even though I told him I didn’t think I should be one.
That’s too bad, he said, your teammates voted you in.
One of the things I like about traditional masculinity is there’s a certain fairness to it. If you win a wrestling match, for instance, no one can take that away from you. If you’re voted captain, you get to be captain. You earn your victories, but then they’re really yours. Yet, in his own way, my coach was a feminist too (though, I doubt he’d call himself that.) He was willing to give me the chance, and this trait of his actually required a very high amount of self awareness. My senior year, we were watching another woman on the team wrestle, and he confided to me you know, it’s so much harder for me to send you or her out there.
Is it? I asked, even harder than sending out a really small freshman boy?
Yeah it is, he said. But, he did it anyway, even though it was hard for him. He sent us out to wrestle matches, even matches he thought we’d lose, and he didn’t let his own emotionality get in the way of it.
And, unfortunately, my wrestling coach taught me one final, very sad, lesson about masculinity. He died young, in his 40s, I believe of some health complications. I don’t know the exact details (I didn’t have the heart to grill his widow) but… I reflected on the fact that he didn’t take great care of his health. I can see why people might not have noticed; he was a strong, powerful man. He seemed like a rock, like he’d always be there. Until one day he wasn’t.
I still dream about him, even though I haven’t seen him in over a decade. Occasionally, I have this strange recurring dream where I’m back on the wrestling team — only I’m too old now. It’s full of young high school boys, and I’m some weird 30 year old woman in her high school wrestling jacket. As I’m awkwardly looking around figuring out what the hell to do, I catch sight of my coach.
Steve! I shout out.
I run up and give him a hug. I missed you so much, I say, but he looks at me like I’m a weirdo, as if no time has passed. We sit down next to each other and talk about the lineup for the next match, whose going to go out next, whose going to fight who. And I just act like it’s some normal thing, to be sitting with my old wrestling coach talking about his new team, but in my heart I feel like I love him and miss him so much. But I can’t say that, or express that in any way, because that’s not what we do. So, we talk about wrestling. And, it’s enough. I’d sit with him and talk about anything, if I were ever given the chance.
But, there’s a reason I start out as some impossible 30 year old woman on a boys wrestling team; I can’t talk to him. I don’t know where we go when we die, if anywhere, but it’s as if my mind is reminding me to talk to your wrestling coach, you have to go somewhere you do not belong. He’s with the dead, I’m with the living. That’s the way it is.
And, one of the things that hurts about remembering him, is I just feel like a woman would never have died like that. And, maybe I’m wrong about him specifically, but there’s an element of truth in that feeling. We teach men not to care for their own bodies, that their wellbeing isn’t as important as the wellbeing of women. We teach men they should go to war, sacrifice themselves for the “greater good,” and that they should suck up pain without compliant. But the end result of that is men die younger. They die of things they shouldn’t die of, and people don’t care as much as they should.
Another place I’ve come into contact with this is doing hospice work in San Francisco. San Francisco hospice basically grew out of the AIDS crisis, and the AIDS crisis represents so many things, but to me part of what it represents is America doesn’t take care of men. Since 1981, about 636,000 people have died of AIDS in America, yet I believe that number could be far lower if the government had responded more quickly. Why didn’t it?
Well, many people say it was because of homophobia — that because it was affecting gay people, the general public was less inclined to respond — and I think that’s true. However, I also think it’s significant that it was affecting gay men. I think if lesbians had been getting sick and dying, images of dying young women would have pulled at people’s heart strings, and anti-AIDS response would have been quicker. We’re conditioned to respond to women in distress in a way we don’t respond to men in distress. We’ve learned that young male bodies are expendable, perhaps because of a culture where we regularly send them off to die in war.
But, young men are not expendable, as everyone who has lost one knows.
And… I think we need a new masculinity, one which doesn’t take male bodies for granted, one which doesn’t define male value only in terms of what they can provide women and children. My wrestling coach did have a wife and children he left behind, and I am very sad for them, but I didn’t say that earlier because his life had value beyond his wife and children. Had he been single, he would still very much be missed. And I don’t really know what this new masculinity is or could be, it’s not really my place to define it, but I know that we need one.
It’s not that I want to emasculate people like my wrestling coach, it’s that I want them to live long healthy lives. I want the to be around.
And, I know I often criticize cultural masculine idioms because of how they effect me because a) that’s what I know, and b) we’re still very resistant to the idea of “helping men” but… I do want to help men. I just wrote a piece on how male sexual shame makes me feel bad but even if it didn’t make me feel bad, I still think we should stop shaming men for their sexualities because it makes them feel bad. I’ve written before about how we shouldn’t shame men for their sexualities, and again I generally circle back to how “sexually shaming men is bad for culture” but it’s enough that sexually shaming men is bad for men. People shouldn’t be forced to carry a burden of guilt for something that’s not their fault. Having sexual feelings is part of human nature, not something to be embarrassed about. But, we teach men that it is something to be embarrassed about.
As a woman, it’s not really my place to lecture men on what they need to do to take care of themselves. I don’t know deeply what men need. I do know, however, that we shame men for taking care of their own needs. We tell them to “man up” when something is hurting, we tell them masturbation is shameful but that sexually abusing women is not, and the foods we associate with masculinity also tend to be the least healthy. But, maybe if we could extend the idea of masculine self sufficiency to include taking care of themselves, to valuing their own bodies and health, we could move to a place of healthy masculinity. Some parts of traditional masculinity are really great, and we don’t need to demonize everyone who wants to fill that role.
Nor do we need to demonize men who don’t want to fill that role. In fact, I don’t really want to demonize men at all.
The only thing I want to do, is point out when men are pushing their issues on to me. Men — you’re free to do what you want when you want, but if you feel obligated to my kindness when you are treating me unkindly, you’re in for a rude awakening. If you say mean things to me, I won’t want to hang out with you. If you demand sexual gratification without reciprocating, I won’t want to have sex with you. If you want me to care about your emotions, I will want you to care about my emotions. If you subject me to harsh judgement about my physical appearance, I will mock you for not going to the gym. However. If you treat me with kindness and respect, I’ll try to return that in kind. It’s very simple; I believe men are capable of great kindness and great love, and I absolutely feel blessed to have men who express that in my life.
Unfortunately, as it turns out #NotAllMen are capable of such kindness, and those men are the ones I’d like to avoid.