by Erin Cody
“What do you consider to be a ‘real man?’” That’s a question I was asked by someone who I was, at one point, interested in dating. It’s also a variation of a really common line used by heterosexual men when they are trying to impress a woman. “I’m a good guy.” “I treat women well.” “You’ll never have to open a door or pull out your own chair when I’m around.” (This also brings to mind the fact that if someone has to tell you they are a good person, chances are that they are actually anything but, which is a completely different problem.) We all know the drill – boy meets girl, boy talks himself up as God’s gift to women because he practices basic human decency (boy, and society at large, actually believe this to be true), boy expects girl to fall at his feet and worship him. Therein lies the problem.
In my case, I was already becoming less-than-interested in the guy who asked me what I considered to be a “real man,” and I already knew where he wanted that conversation to go, so I figured I’d have some fun with it.
Boy: What do you consider to be a “real man?”
Me: You mean as opposed to a fake man? I don’t know, I suppose a “real man” would have to be made out of flesh and bone, similar to other “real” human beings.
Boy: No, I mean a man who treats a woman with respect. A man who opens doors, makes time for her, calls her every day, doesn’t cheat on her or hit her, that sort of thing.
Me: So… basically you mean just a non-a$$hole human being?
Boy: Well, there aren’t a lot of men out there who do all of those things.
Me: Actually, most of the men I know are decent human beings. Otherwise I wouldn’t associate with them.
Boy: I’m a really good guy though.
Me: I think I’ll let myself be the judge of that.
Boy: I respect women. I treat them well. I’d never cheat, or lie, or hit a woman.
Wow, talk about setting the bar high, am I right?
Yes, this is just one anecdote, but it’s a conversation that happens over and over again, and a theme that is all too common. We have exchanges like the above, where a man was clearly fishing for me to define a “real man” as practicing all of the basic acts of human decency that he believed made him so amazing, and who then went on to define it as such anyway when I dared to disagree with him. We have song lyrics that say things like “I’m a lover not a fighter, respectable to women/I ain’t (sic) Chris Brown, I don’t feel the need to hit ‘em.” (That’s from “Blow,” the new hit single from veteran heavy metal artists Theory of a Deadman. The song goes on to lament that the rest of the world doesn’t live up to the author’s lofty standards, which makes him want to “blow [his expletive] head off.” Because, you know, nonviolence and all that.) We have a certain (very low) standard, determined by the men who it is supposed to measure, and women are expected to jump for joy every time one of these men manages to follow his own set of (not difficult) rules.
But, you ask, what’s wrong with men being decent human beings? The answer to that is, of course, nothing, but that’s not the point. The point is first, that society expects us to reward mediocrity by celebrating men simply for avoiding criminal domestic violence (I’m looking at you, Theory of a Deadman), and second, that men are the ones who set this low standard for what kinds of behavior women “should” celebrate in the first place. How do I know that it’s men who originally set this bar? Because women are the ones who have been demanding that it be set higher ever since Abigail Adams implored her husband to “remember the ladies” when drafting the Constitution. Women do not care that men let us get into the elevator first; we’d rather have equal pay for the job to which we are both going. Women don’t want you to exempt us from the draft because you’re all about protecting women; we want you to open all combat roles in the military to us so that we can show you how badass we really are. Women will not remember which man held a door open for us, but we will remember which man didn’t assume that we would wash the dishes after a meal (and who didn’t ask for special credit when he pitched in to do them). So, you want to know what we think constitutes a “good man?” First, stop assuming that all you have to do to be “good” is be mediocre. Second, and most importantly, ask us, and then listen to what we have to say.
Erin is a local attorney and unapologetic feminist. She wrote this piece while sipping from her Hillary 2016 cocktail glasses, made from 100% shattered glass ceiling.