What I Learned About “Manhood”

I had originally thought to entitle this blog posting “What I Learned About Women,” but I don’t know that you can “learn” a whole gender, any more than you can learn all members of a racial or religious group.

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Truth be known, what I want to write about has very little to do with women anyway.

Last week a relative of mine needed to change two shower curtains in her big, multi-story house, and if she’d needed that help prior to my going to California, I probably would have crouched down really low and hoped she wouldn’t see me.  If she did and asked me to help, I would likely have hemmed and hawed, or worse thrown a fit and complained throughout the entire activity.  The tougher the going got the more I would hope she’d see how much I was struggling and tell me to get going, and in most cases where I’d been in that situation, that’d lead to her either sending me away in anger or disgust, thus letting my immature ass off the hook.  Why?

Because for most of my life, I think I’ve been a little boy.

I feel that’s started to shift in recent years though.  When I first got to California, my first friend was this girl I had the biggest crush on, and who was kind of into me as well, I later learned.  So although I didn’t add much to her life at that time, I was a diversion she gladly tolerated.  You see, she’d recently moved back to California after ending a long-term and serious relationship, and I think that to some extent, I gave her hope that there was something better out there for her.  Unfortunately it wasn’t me though, because I was too much, I later learned, like the relationship she got out of, as I’ve found many young men in relationships all-too-often are.

As my friend used to describe it to me, what she was looking for was something along the lines of what her parents had.  According to my friend, the reason why her mother chose her father was because her mother “never had to know the process whenever they wanted to do something.”  That is to say, when my friend and her ex wanted to go somewhere for instance, he’d tell her about how hard it was going to be, and even ask her to make some calls to do some research into logistically what all they needed to do it.  Instead of being some fun, spontaneous little thing, it would become a hassle for my friend, and all of the fun of doing that activity was drained out of it.  Put another way, she wanted the guy who, when asked, would just change the damn shower curtain, not make a big deal about how hard it was going to be for him to do it.

Last week I talked about the actress Krista Allen, who has a podcast I really like called “I’m Fine,” where she reads and discusses self-help books.  The thing Allen’s podcast and her history have taught me about her is that to me she’s a lot like this same relative of mine in that she keeps trying to “save” men, only to be disappointed when they gladly accept the help but never step up the plate to save themselves or anybody else, least of all her.  I feel that this has been my relative’s relationship pattern too, and I believe that it’s part of both my friction with her in the past and the failure of my own relationships.  It seems to me that women are naturally more empathetic than men, so when put into a situation where somebody they care about needs help, many women’s natural inclination is to jump in and do it.  Because it comes so naturally to these women, I feel they naturally expect that these men will do the same for them.  When these men get comfortable with getting helped however, they don’t give reciprocal care, and I feel that it completely grinds these self-sacrificing women down, both emotionally and physically.  As my old life coach Nina Rubin advised me, if I see my relative or any other woman doing dishes for example, I will succeed more in winning her over if I just jump in and start helping – not asking if she needs the help and definitely not letting her just do the work.  Sure enough, I found that when I tried to help my relative with the shower curtains instead of complaining, she appreciated it, we got along better, and she even did something for me in return, without my even asking.  When I expect my relative to do for me or excessively ask her for help, it creates conflict, and likewise Allen has stated that she believes her past relationships have failed because she ultimately just became the helper or the enabler, never the one who was helped.  When I pull my weight however, it keeps my relative happy, and makes her life function that much better too.

What I’ve come to believe is that being a man is doint one’s part in creating a harmonious unit, be it a family, a relationship, a team, a business or anything else.  At the end of the day, I believe that because everybody benefits from the success of every unit they’re part of, it’s implied that everybody should strive to make that unit successful.  The thing is, I feel like most women sort of know this intuitively, so when they’re a part of something, they jump in and make it go without even thinking about it.  Though many men do this as well, I find that many boys do not, and when a woman finds herself in a relationship of any kind where she is, in essence, mothering an unappreciative and dependent boy, it wears on her, eating away at her peace of mind.  To me, you can’t call yourself a “man” if you’re not doing your part to help everybody else in your unit, especially its often overworked women.  To my amazement, success often isn’t even a factor in evaluating a man’s worth to most women – a man’s attempt, without being asked and without complaint – seems to reflect maturity I think, and we men can often be appreciated just for that.

Speaking of appreciation, I also feel like many women feel unappreciated for doing so much, though how a successful man expresses that appreciation differs based on the relationship.  In a familial relationship, I feel that expressing thanks to one’s mother, sister, aunt, etc. goes a long way, particularly if it’s done in the form of taking an action, not just or even primarily words.  I feel this is so not because they are women mind you, but because as women, their contributions have historically been overlooked, while men’s achievements have historically and routinely been celebrated.

In a Romantic relationship by contrast, I believe that showing physical or Romantic affection as a form of appreciation is welcomed, assuming the level of attraction in the relationship is mutual.  California made me into a pseudo-feminist, and as a result, I am big on the idea of consent.  I think that when men get physical with women who don’t want it, or at that moment are not feeling the same level of attraction, these men are ignoring a lack of consent.  I have found that we as men have to be careful.  When the Romantic relationship is working however, I feel that physical affection along with verbal compliments and Romantic gestures are what make the unit – in this case, the couple – work.  To me, part of being a man is being able to engage in this kind of mutually beneficial relationship where both sides express an appreciation that’s desired and in my opinion necessary to maintain the unit.

Long story short, to me “manhood” is all about doing what’s necessary for your unit when required to and expressing appreciation, however is appropriate, to the members of that unit.  To me it’s not about muscles, beating people up, defending honor, watching football, being handy around the house, unemotional, or any of that crap.  Just as film critic Roger Ebert‘s definition of a hero is “ordinary people who are faced with a need and rise to the occasion, a man is an adult who anticipates, and always rises to the occasion before he’s asked.

(…and with a penis, or course.  face-with-stuck-out-tongue-and-winking-eye

 

What I Learned About Letting It Slide

I believe that we as a society have come to let misogynistic behavior slide, to the point that men don’t even know what the true definition of rape is. And I think that’s asking for trouble.

Of the many stories that have revolted me with respect to super film producer Harvey Weinstein’s long history of sexual harassment, one that bothered me a lot was my favorite NPR show Marketplace’s recounting of how Hollywood talent agencies routinely sent attractive young actresses to meet with Weinstein for years, knowing full well what his reputation was.  The idea that for years my favorite industry in California would treat the young hopefuls arriving in my favorite city trying to be famous (as I did) like lambs ripe for slaughter disgusts me in ways I can’t possibly describe.  One of my favorite things that happened in California though was that I’ve become a bit of a feminist within the last year or two, and in that spirit, anything that harms women always shakes me up.  This one in particular reminds me too much of the way my mother was married off to my boorish oaf of a father in the name of religious and cultural duty.  The talent agents in question were motivated by staying on then well-regarded Weinstein’s good side, so like common pimps, they sent him women and the entertainment industry looked the other way.  Boggles the mind.

Marketplace joins a chorus of people asking how this could happen.  This morning I was reminded of the answer.  Anybody who knows me well knows that I am a huge fan of KTLA in Los Angeles, the news station that had my donor and I on following my kidney transplant so we could help raise money for Lupus LA. When I was earning my paralegal certificate, I became friendly with one of their morning anchors via Twitter, and he even met me when I visited Los Angeles, making me a die-hard KTLA viewer.  KTLA covered the Weinstein story extensively, in no small part I’m sure because it was playing out practically in their back yard.  Yet in spite of all that, KTLA’s notoriously foot-in-mouth weather man Henry DiCarlo decided to drool over Houston Astros pitcher Justin Verlander’s model fiancee Kate Upton, and as usual, everybody let it slide.

Here’s the thing: do I seriously think Henry DiCarlo is a sleaze and would-be rapist?  No.  What I think however, is that by letting this kind of thing go on, KTLA normalizes “guy talk,” which I believe is a slippery slope to normalizing deviant, and even criminal behavior.  I know he’s not the first, but I’d like to use this entry to explain why I doubt he’ll  be the last at this rate, because I believe we have come to let this kind of misogynistic behavior slide, to the point that men don’t even know what the true definition of rape is.  And I think that’s asking for trouble.

Remember what our President Donald Trump’s explanation for bragging about being able to grab women’s crotches due to his fame was?  He called it “locker room talk.”  I believe that as long as we use “boys will be boys” explanations for what is ultimately abusive behavior, we minimize and start accepting it.  How many times have rapists used “she led me on” as an excuse for having committed the act?  How many times have women internalized and blamed themselves for having been assaulted?  A friend of mine was raped, and told me that afterwards she “never should have said [her attacker] was cute.”  Does calling a man cute warrant violence against her?

As I said, I’m new to feminism, but for those of you still uninitiated, here are some basic rules for guys and others that I’ve learned from mainstream feminists that has served me well thus far:

1 – Never comment on a woman’s appearance unless you have a relationship with her, in which case comment more, and favorably.  This one not only has kept me out or trouble, but has worked surprisingly well in other ways.  I have found that we as men get shaken up, even fearful when we find ourselves sexually attracted to someone, causing us to make conversational flubs, at best making us look stupid, and at worst, creeping the girl out.  I have found however that if I can turn this emotional response into an intellectual one, wracking my brain to find something to talk to the girl in question about that has nothing to do with her appearance, it forces me to listen as well as look.  If she’s wearing a uniform of some kind, I can strike up a conversation about that, or if I like her earrings or some clothing item, I can compliment her on that safely.  If she responds, I have to listen to her response to continue the conversation, and in doing so she might like me back, or I may just realize we have nothing in common or she’s otherwise not worth my time.  Either way, the focus stays on who she is, not what she looks like, and nobody gets hurt.

2 – Sex is only consensual if both parties are actively giving consent.  This is where I feel many people fail in the definition of rape.  If one starts having sex and the other person lets it slide, that’s rape.  If one person changes their mind in the process of intimacy, it’s again rape.  If it’s a quid pro quo situation, where she has sex in exchange for something, that’s rape too.  This means that a “pity screw” (trying to keep it clean here) is also technically rape, as are many scenes in adult films if the girl never actually gives consent.  This also means no implied consent, no “she led me on,” no “she was asking for it – look at the way she’s dressed!”  Women’s appearance does not equal consent.  She has to clearly give it.

3 – She does not know you or the thought process going on in your head.  This I learned from the feminist critic Arthur Chu.  I have found that many socially awkward men pine obsessively about some particular girl, get up the courage to approach her, don’t get the response they want, and then turn into misogynists, because they somehow believe there’s a pattern of injustice and rejection against them.  The thing is, in life people don’t know what’s going on in your head, and the woman who rejects a guy today usually has nothing to do with the other women who’ve failed to accept him in the past.  Treating women according to a process that exists entirely in one’s own head is not only unfair but unrealistic.  If she doesn’t know you, she doesn’t know what you’ve been through, and thus couldn’t even possibly be sympathetic if she normally would, and thus undeserving of your mistreatment.

4 – Violence against women will hurt not just her, but any children a man might have.  I am living proof.  My father’s abuse of my mother left me emotionally stunted, and no matter how hard I try, I often feel like I will never overcome that.  My self-esteem is irrationally low, and my many achievements have thus never made me into the person I feel I should be.  The good news is that it has given me the ability to be self-critical (to a fault, but I’m working on that), something I find that many men lack, and thus can’t deal with all of the above.

5 – “Pick Up” and “Pick Up Artists” don’t have the answers, because they ignore the fact that women have agency.  I will confess, after breaking up with my first serious girlfriend, I tried my hand at being a “Pick Up Artist,” one of those sleazy guys who think they can seduce women, as described in Neil Strauss’s (still) classic semi-autobiographical book The Game.  Pick Up, and its accompanying “Seduction Community” remain popular I think because as one honest pick-up artist put it to me, “guys want sex so badly, but the only thing standing between them and it is the girl.”  As a result, I’ve found that gullible men spend thousands of dollars trying to teach themselves how to say and do all the right things to get women into bed, not realizing that they could do everything exactly as the rules of Pick Up dictate and she could still say no, or do everything incorrectly and still succeed just because the girl likes him.  At best, I believe Pick Up can give men the confidence to talk to more women the way Dumbo‘s “magic feather” convinced him he could fly.  At worst, I fear it could get them close, but in frustration based on #3 (because let’s face it, knowing and using learned and canned techniques is a totally individualistic mental process) turn them into rapists.  As long as women have agency, I have found that there is no “magic bullet” to romance (and if your answer to that is, “that’s just because you failed to get it right,” I’ll add that in my experience, things that require circular justifications – like pyramid schemes – are inherently flawed).  I believe the most Pick Up can do for you is just facilitate your trial-and-error process, and I’ve found that you don’t need a guide to do that.

After Uber’s issues, Bill Cosby, Roger Ailes, Bill O’Reilly, and now Harvey Weinstein, I think it’s pretty clear that women fed up with being second class citizens in this country are not going to let it slide anymore.  Why should anybody care, besides the obvious?  In the Middle East, people got sick of letting it slide years ago, and gave us the Arab Spring.  For many, that meant a chance to make real and lasting positive change by any means necessary.  For people like Muammar Gaddafi?  Not so much.

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Rules from an actual woman

The psychology of letting it slide