This guest piece comes from Tom Rademacher.
This piece is in progress. So am I.
I am in progress, trying to figure out how to best be a guy right now. I understand some obvious don’ts, some obvious do’s, but there’s a whole lot of mess in between. I’m trying to figure those things out. Trying to figure out how to stumble through these things without doing more damage.
Admittedly, I am behind. I’ve done a lot of work on what it means to be white, to understand how race and racism work in our country. I’m no expert there either, but I’ve been putting in the work. I have a lot more to learn about gender, a lot more to do to see, really, the ways that sexism shape our experiences. I, like many, I imagine, have found this moment to be one I cannot look away from, cannot stop thinking about, but I’m not sure exactly what it means yet for men, for me.
I see men struggling with this everywhere. They want to supportive, yes, but also that’s hard when it seems so many men everywhere, most likely all of us, have been some part of the problem. Men are hearing phrases like ‘toxic masculinity’ and worrying that all of masculinity is being labeled toxic. I see men acting like an awful lot is being asked of them.
We need to be better. This much should be glaringly obvious. This moment in history is not about us, it is from us. So, men, we have work to do. We do. Me too.
It is ok to be a man.
No one is telling you that it’s not. When someone says, “men have hurt me,” or “men can be dangerous and damaging,” or, even, “men are trash,” we feel it. We feel like they are saying it’s not ok to be a man, but that’s because brains are dumb, and any time we feel a little uncomfortable we go into full on oh-my-god-i’m-being-attacked mode. We run away from what’s been said at moments that we should be listening hardest.
But no one is telling you it’s not ok to be a man.
It is ok to find women attractive. Have you seen them? They’re very good looking, and it is ok to think so. No one is saying that you can’t think or hope for or share sexy things sometimes, but the purpose of women is not to be attractive and have boobs around you.
But we shouldn’t comment on the bodies of the women around us, shouldn’t reduce them to being objects of attraction, shouldn’t stare or grab or send that text that says, “hey, we just met, let me tell you the things I think about your body,” or “what an interesting spreadsheet of cost analysis you shared in the meeting today, also, here’s that picture of my penis you didn’t request.”
No one is saying that you shouldn’t find women attractive, but your attraction to women does not excuse actions that make women around you feel unsafe, uncomfortable, or undervalued.This is not a high bar for us to climb over. Like, this should be the easy stuff.
Part of the work ahead of us is to figure out how much we’ve internalized some concept that women are less-than, that their value as a colleague or friend or person has anything to do with how attractive we may or may not find them. This is harder stuff. We grew up in this, we swim in it all day. This is part of the process of this piece, that I had it out there and was checked on how much my “don’t objectify women” stuff still objectified women. Yes. Yep.
So it needs to be ok to be sexual, right? But also we cannot do it at the expense of respecting the whole real humanity of the women around us. Yes. This shouldn’t be the hard stuff, but it is kinda the hard stuff.
Look, sometimes work crushes and work flirting is the only thing that gets us back in the door the next day. But also, look, we need to know when it’s ok and welcome. We need to understand where lines are, need to understand that silence isn’t consent, that silence is often the loudest “no” that can be made without all the “just joking just relax just complimenting just guys being guys.” It’s not that hard, really, to know if someone is interested in that kind of attention from you and in that moment, not hard to ask or be clear or know people well enough to but if you do think it’s hard, if you do believe that every interaction you have with a woman is a potential trap to you being branded a pervert and predator, then trust your instincts and leave women alone.
So I think that’s what people mean, that’s what I understand that they mean, when they talk about toxic masculinity. The phrase is not an attack on all of masculinity. The phrase is meant to highlight that there are pieces of masculinity that have been perverted in a way that encourage and excuse causing harm to others and yourself. Icky masculinity.
We may feel like the options in front of us right now are to behave as we’ve always behaved and blame the outrage machine or over-reactions or political correctness for all these stories being such a big deal, or we can chop our genitals and sit at home alone for the rest of our lives. But, actually, there’s a whole bunch of area between those two things, a whole magical space called “being a decent human to other humans.” Again, this should be the easy stuff.
Men. Think about the times you’ve been the most angry in the last few weeks, the last year, the last time you called someone “Bitch.” How much of your anger, or even discomfort, was caused by someone saying you didn’t get to have or do something that you really wanted? And why does that make us so damn mad? Why does it scare us so much?
A lot of guys are scared. I get that. I’m kinda freaked out. I’m sure I’ve been the guy who made someone uncomfortable, and probably unsafe, and probably unvalued. I know that I never intended to. I know that when I’ve been called on it, I have gotten this spikey pit in my stomach that made me want to give up on talking to women forever, but I also know I didn’t mean to, which only kinda makes it a little better.
And though it may feel like every interaction with women we have or have ever had is this minefield we are all certain to stumble in, the reality is that the women in our lives are giving us thousands of chances to get this right. They want so badly for us to be one of the good ones. They want us to try. A witch hunt doesn’t typically have a thousand second chances for the hunted.
I’d like to be one of the good ones. I’d like to be an ally, you know? But that’s not a word I think should be self-applied, and I have most certainly not earned it yet. I’ve been that other guy. I’ve never meant to, never had the intent to make someone uncomfortable or use my body or my voice or my position to make any woman feel uncomfortable, and certainly not in any way that she would feel there is no option but act like it’s fine. I’ve never tried to be the guy on the other end of #metoo, I would never want to have done that, but it’s also impossible to imagine I haven’t. Fuck. I didn’t know.
Still, though, it was my responsibility to know, right? Before the flirty comment or the joke, or whatever I did that was creepy. It was my job to know it was ok before I did those things, to know the impact those jokes and comments, that where my body is and the danger it could represent, to understand how my interactions with women are impacted by the history of interactions between all men and all women.
Maybe we don’t start at “he’s probably a good guy” and we don’t start at neutral. We start, very often, at “This man may do, say, or try something that may harm me.” Listen to the women of the world right now. We’ve earned it. Now, it’s our job to do better. It’s our job as men to do whatever is necessary to prioritize the safety and comfort of the women around us.
And you know what?
That’s really not asking too much.
Tom’s blog can be found here.