I’ll admit I really love men.
I love their bodies and awkward sweetness and strength and hidden reservoirs of dignity. I love how strange their instincts and mannerisms often seem to me. I love watching them communicate, especially with each other. I love observing them socially, as if I were a naturalist, studying an absurd but transfixing species.
I haven’t yet been persuaded that all men are the enemy and are bent on bolstering the omnipresent patriarchy with every insidious yet subconscious action. It is hard for me to believe that about my father and brother and husband, among many other male friends and colleagues, all of whom I know to be deeply good.
Structuralists would say that these men may not intend to bolster the patriarchy, but they are, by dint of being born male. But I continue to feel unconvinced that I must lay this blame at their individual (hairy) feet.
How now shall I accuse my grandfather, father, husband, and son? What, functionally, would it mean if I treated all of the loved men in my life as perpetually guilty? I have yet to meet a woman who was able to successfully prosecute a man she loved, day after day, for his unwitting part in the patriarchy.
I’m not stupid, though: I know men are and can be dangerous, in a way that other women never have been to me. I’ve been subjected to the same forms of sexual harassment that almost every woman I know has. On the scarier end, I’ve been verbally assaulted by men, followed in the street, and made to feel physically unsafe in a number of public and private circumstances. On the run-of-the-mill harassment side, I’ve endured the trickle of icky and demeaning comments from male clients and former colleagues like so many have. You brush it off. You, sadly, get used to it.
But I know too many good men who outweigh the bad ones. I am blessed.
The bad ones are more vivid in my memory, but I am bolstered by a lifetime of good men who throw all of the other men into relief. I’ve been lucky. I know this full well.
I have an outstanding father who never made me and my sisters feel like we were valuable because of our looks or achievements. He taught us how to build model airplanes and identify hawks and play hockey. He loved us for who we were, as individual children, and not because we met some antiquated standard of enforced girl-ness.
My grandfather was the same. Gentle, kind, and generous, he was endlessly patient with us. My brother is one of the most thoughtful, sensitive people I know. He’s a remarkable uncle to our kids, and they adore him. I’ve only ever had excellent male bosses who encouraged me and gave me opportunities to further my career, no strings attached.
My husband is the kind of sensitive, intellectual, compassionate man that I hope our sons will grow up to be. He cooks all of our meals and fixes appliances when they break and grows food in our backyard when he’s not writing sexy poems or gloomy songs. He’s my equal partner, and I wholly cherish his maleness.
I confess all of this to you, because it’s extremely uncool to say such nice things about men nowadays. I lament that.
Good men deserve to be named. To do so does not denigrate all of the women who have suffered at the hands of bad men, nor does it give men a “pass” to continue in abominable behavior.
Rather, to praise good men seems to be in service of raising better men for the present and future. Hold up the good ones as role models. Point to them as standards of healthy masculinity and speak with hopefulness for the cultural change that is possible, that is being realized even now, in the lives of our little boys.
Perhaps that “good men” are not named or held up is the cause for the vacuum. Perhaps it allows the others to rise to power, despite notoriety. Time to fill the vacuum. In terms of Presidential power, Jimmy Carter is a good place to start. Men need to find a way to name good men too. Somehow it is more challenging for them.