Jason Porath

has a website, i guess

Be A Man

Lately, every time I log on to Facebook, I see something like this:
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Or this:
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Or this:
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Without fail, these are posted by (intelligent! progressive! amazing!) women. Now, these are not bitter, hardened man-haters by any stretch of the imagination. Each has legitimately and honestly entered into relationships (or tried to) and been disappointed. Yes, it takes two to tango, but if you’ll put some faith in my judgements and their representations of their situations, the fault has almost uniformly laid with the men.

And again, a disclaimer – not all men are immature jerks! I don’t think I am one, although maybe that’s a sign I’m deluding myself. In any event, there are certainly enough jerks out there that nobody would argue the premise that it’s a real problem.

Each of my aforementioned female friends is expressing what I’ve come to think of as the “Ugh, Men” mentality. Such expressions are hardly uncommon. Wade onto an online dating site and read a couple womens’ profiles: inevitably, you will come across a long list of “don’t message me if”s that point to the root issues: narcissism; materialism; preoccupation with sex; obsession with their own bodies; a general lack of substance; inability to read (or write).

And many times, when I’m out with these friends, they turn to me, and ask, why? What’s the deal? What the fuck happened?

It’s always been a difficult question to answer. For one thing, having a penis does not make me an expert on the history of masculinity. For another: I’m not a good representative sample. I’ve never been comfortable with my gender’s roles and expectations, and have always been sensitive to the frustrations of women. The “Ugh, Men” mentality has hung around my neck like an albatross knotted to a noose.

And so I wouldn’t really answer, and I’d suffer the prevailing wisdom – which is to blame it on genetics. “Men are just wired that way.” “They can’t help it.” “That’s how they are.” Despite how reductionist, patronizing, and patently wrong that argument is, I’d accept it. Nobody ever seemed to give the matter any more thought.

Until recently, when a gathering of events conspired to give me a new perspective: not the least of which was the publishing of an article entitled All The Single Ladies, which explored the modern-day crisis of unmarried women. However, buried in the article (a scant few paragraphs in an otherwise exhaustively long piece) was a brief discussion of the twin crisis of “unmarriageable” men. How men are on the decline, economically, sociologically, and politically.

So I got to thinking. What the fuck happened? A couple things came to mind:

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1) Male Gender Roles Have Not Been Updated Since The 50s
Over the past several decades, women have seen an explosion of possibilities. While not every door is as open as it could or should be, many more are open than in years past. The same isn’t as true of men – while there’s been a small amount of movement, we’re stuck in a weird in-between place. It’s peppered throughout daily life in small ways:

– Careers. How many male cheerleaders have you met? Housekeepers? Househusbands? Kindergarten teachers? It is only a matter of time until someone accuses them of being a pedophile.
– Tastes. Not allowed: ‘chick flicks’, romance novels, anything related to fashion, or dancing in any way that engages your hips.
– Clothing. Dress well, but not too well – then you’re metro. Nothing too girly, or you’re gay. And if you need to carry around anything, it better be in a backpack or a valise. Purse? Fannypack? Forget it.

Now, how hard is it to imagine a female truck driver? Or a woman who likes action movies? A girl who wears button-up shirts and pants? Nobody bats an eye.

At the same time, the 1950s cultural expectations remain: for men to be breadwinners, to open doors, to pay for meals, to buy flowers and pop questions, to pursue and to woo. Understand: I can see no other cultural definition of what it is to be a man. Everyone seems expected to step up to the one-size-fits-all role of provider – a role that is increasingly difficult to fulfill.

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2) Male Prospects Are Dwindling
As the afore-linked article points out, men are, statistically speaking, on the decline. We’re less educated at a time where you need a college degree even to work at McDonalds. We’re competing for jobs at an increasing disadvantage against women. More men than ever are in prison. Fulfilling the gender role of provider is that much harder when you can’t afford your own place, when you make less than your partner, when you’re falling behind.

Yes, a certain amount of this is due to a societal shift to push things later in life. We’re living longer than we ever have before. Whereas one might get married at age 13 in agrarian times, and age 18 in the days when you could get a good job out of high school, nowadays it’s 22 before you’re out of college, and often upwards of 30 before you have a well-paying job. But even taking this into account, women are (at least massively anecdotally, as in, practically everyone I know) more ready to settle down at 30 than men are. One could simply attribute this to the biological clock, but humor me for a second, and assume there’s reasons beyond genetics.

My take? When a modern-day guy is staring down the huge expectation of providing for a family, with no ability to carry through on it, what does he do? Some tackle it head-on and lose themselves in work. Some get depressed and stop trying. Some decide the whole game’s rigged and try to get around it. Some get thrown in jail. And many wait it out, with the understanding that they’ll be able to provide when they’re older, better situated in better jobs. These guys often enter a prolonged adolescence, where they focus on themselves and the things they can control (their bodies) rather than those they can’t (providing for a family).

To me, the poster child for all of this is the comedian Louis CK. A recently-posted and oft-reposted blog entry posited that the surging popularity of Louis CK’s comedy is due to his striking a nerve with today’s society, and that nerve is shame. I tend to agree. Louis’s comedy is usually about his own perceived inadequacy and incompetence. He’s a well-meaning man who’s lost and confused in a rapidly-changing world, unsure how to satisfy the needs of those around him.

The world changed and he didn’t.

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3) Male Role Models Are Virtually Non-Existent
Watch primetime network TV and count the commercials and programs that portray adult men as morons or children. You will quickly run out of fingers upon which to count. In most circumstances, but nowhere more than in sitcoms, these men are paired with a wise girlfriend/wife/love interest, to temper their seemingly-inborn idiocy. In mere decades we’ve gone from father knows best to father knows nothing. Homer the Greek to Homer Simpson.

In all seriousness, who are men to emulate nowadays? Don Draper of Mad Men, serial adulterer alcoholic from fifty years ago? Walter White from Breaking Bad, a teacher who turns to dealing meth after proving unable to provide for his family? Barack Obama, a man so drowned in political and moral compromises that he’s disappointed nearly everyone in the country? Chris Brown, who beat his girlfriend to a pulp? Jack Bauer? Justin Bieber?

The only man who seems to address this is Chuck Palahniuk, author of Fight Club. Obviously, Tyler Durden is not a role model, but he did capture the frustration of a “generation of men raised by women.” Palahniuk is the best thing we have to a mainstream Susan Faludi. And best thing? This ostensible forefather of the future Men’s Liberation movement, author of one of the most macho books in modern history, is an openly gay man.

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(apologies to Jean, whose forced repeat viewings of Mulan may make this image intensely painful)

4) There’s No Instruction Manual
Here’s where it gets personal.

During the heyday of the Women’s Liberation movement, many of the most vociferous feminists laid the groundwork for decades of confusion. Common courtesies like holding doors were painted by many as assaults on the strength of women everywhere. As ludicrous as that sort of hyperbolic vitriol may seem, its effects linger to the present day.

When I started dating, everything was a mystery. Do I pay? Go dutch? Offer to pay? Hold doors? Hold bags? Hold my tongue? Then and now dating often felt like walking through a field of invisible tripwires; playing a game whose rules I do not know, but whose punishments I soon would. Looking back at my parents’ marriage, I feel that my father was just as lost as me. The rules he learned growing up didn’t apply anymore. We are generations of men without direction. Chivalry is dead, and its replacement is late.

It quickly became evident that every person I encountered had their own, wholly different set of rules (duh). With each woman I met, I was never sure what I was up against, what preconceived notions she might bring to the table, how our base assumptions about gender might differ. Common sense wasn’t such a commonality.

Everyone reacts to this realization differently. Some stick rigidly to their worldview and find only people that fit neatly with that. Others date around in order to see what they like. Others still develop chameleon-like personas to ingratiate themselves. The accepted wisdom from movies seems to just ‘be yourself’ (although perhaps a more pliable, open-minded version of yourself), and love will find you.

Well, I was not content with simply ‘being myself’. I wanted to be more. Better. I was hellbent on being an ambassador for my entire gender.

I know how ridiculous that sounds. But realize that I grew up surrounded by women who, almost uniformly, were frustrated and disappointed by men, and that weighed on me heavily. As a self-defense mechanism if nothing else, I needed to show that not all men are monsters. I poured decades into proving that men come in many shapes and sizes, that we are not unfeeling cretins, that friendship and worthwhile relationships are indeed possible.

It was not honest with myself but it was not a lie. I genuinely was, and continue to be, completely platonic friends with a large number of women. Their well-being and feelings were, and continue to be, of paramount importance to me. I never hid any wolven ambitions, nor did I conceal some sort of bare-chested, narcissistic “true” personality. My interactions were, and continue to be, honest. They just were not as honest as they could have been.

As you could guess and my closest friends could attest, my ambassadorship sometimes made me miserable, usually in the context of my relationships. It was not a daily misery by any stretch. 99 minutes out of 100, I was happy with who I was and how I was acting. And yet, I found myself avoiding relationship situations where I would have to be the jerk, because I could never bring myself to be the jerk. I had to make sure that my partner was provided for in every possible situation, and take the blame for every problem to which I could conceivably tie myself.

I couldn’t usually communicate my unhappiness. Sometimes this was because I couldn’t be honest with myself, like being upset about being treated in patronizing manner – an ambassador would see that she meant well. Sometimes this was because men simply are never taught good tools for communication – we have to wing it. Sometimes it was simply because I am a man. And men are supposed to be able to take it. And take it. And take it.

And then one day, I woke up, and found I couldn’t take it anymore. From men who give the entire gender a bad name. From women who roll their eyes and say, “ugh, men.” From society’s expectations of me. And most of all, from my expectations of myself.

So I sat. And I thought. And I wrote this blog entry.

So what the fuck happened? I couldn’t tell you, exactly. But I’m glad it did. Feels like a step forward.

Edit: After re-reading the post, I worry that some might think I was saying that I had been some kind of perfect boyfriend, a paragon of virtue – no. I had a large share of failures, many of them abject and terrible, and many due to my inability and unwillingness to communicate. Just making that clear.

9 Comments

  1. AWESOME post Jason!! Thank you for writing down all the things that I have also been mulling around in my mind, in such a succinct and eloquent way. I especially appreciate your points about no role models for men. SO TRUE!! :\ I also feel that the communication barrier is the most hurtful aspect of the ‘war between the sexes’.

    We hear all the time about how men don’t express their feelings enough. This may be true, and it may be because they will be labeled if they do. And women, well women are ‘crazy’ emotional. Maybe because they are encouraged their whole lives to express themselves and because there is a genuine influence of hormones at work (some say this is true for men as well). Both sexes could use some work meeting halfway, and working on truly communicating with one another.

    So what is ‘true’ communication? This is how I see it…

    1. asking questions.
    2. accepting answers received as the other’s truth.
    3. taking time as needed, and not reacting instinctively.
    4. almost always make it clear when you disagree.
    5. always filter what comes from the heart and soul through the mind.
    6. never raise voices. If tensions rise, let go, walk away!! If it’s that important, you will be able to revisit it once you and/or the other party are calmed.
    7. if need be, agree to disagree and try to avoid that particular subject with that particular person. 😉

    … At least, that’s what I’ve come up with so far. 🙂 Of course, there is a problem with seeing things as male vs. female, black vs. white, young vs. old, etc. … as a human race we should be focusing on each other as individual beings. i.e. my friend sees a young black woman, whereas I see a person who happens to be young, black, and female. … Y’know? I could go on, of course this subject tends to that, but I really just wanted to say that your post is goodstuff. 😀

  2. Thanks for the support, Valerie! I wracked my brain trying to think of good male role models for kids nowadays, and about all I could come up with were Jon Stewart, Neil Degrasse Tyson, and the cast of Avatar: the Last Airbender. Which may say something about me.

  3. First of all: Jon Stewart and Neil deGrasse Tyson ROCK. I have zero interest in ever seeing “Avatar: the Last Airbender,” so I’ll take your word for that one.

    Second of all: I really enjoyed reading your post, and as far as communication goes, I suggest that you take a course in negotiation. It was one of the most eye-opening courses I ever took in school, and all the principles I learned are just as applicable to speaking with your loved ones as it is for haggling over a company merger.

    Negotiation is all about not being afraid to advocate for yourself, while communicating your respect for the underlying issues of the other party. If the other party reacts irrationally, restructure the nature of the negotiation. If the other party’s irrationality persists despite exploring every possible solution that fulfills what both parties want, walk away from the relationship.

    Most women are as unsure about gender roles as you are, and are nervous about being perceived as hysterical, bitchy, or a psycho hose beast. Unless your significant other is a truly crazy person, I’m sure they’d want to hear your concerns about your interactions with them (even though it may be painful for them to learn), and figure out a solution that works for the both of you. I hate hearing from people about things I’ve said or done which were hurtful and/or stupid, since I don’t enjoy having my pride wounded, but I’m also grudgingly grateful because then I can do something about it. NO ONE can change if you don’t give them the chance!

    Definitely let your significant other know that they can be just as up front with you with their own concerns, since most people assume that others will fly off the wall or shut down when hearing bad or difficult news. It’s this fear that teaches us to be passive-aggressive, tiptoeing around each other instead of tackling important stuff head on. The process of building transparency into a relationship is scary, but it’s worth trying. I strive for it every day.

  4. Kudos Jason on the post. I think you hit the spot and I think your post is whats wrong with men.

    Too much thinking and not enought !@#$%. Your the completely opposite of Tucker Max ala “I hope they serve beer in Hell” fame. Following in the general thesis of his book women are shallow objects meant to be dominated. I think you give to much credit to women espcially educated ones. Women are attracted to Money, Power, or a big swinging dick. Women that complain about not being able to find a good man are too damn picky. As a man you must be in charge, rich, macho, able to kick ass and take names and then turn around in be soft, sensitive, and romantic. I dont know men like this. I think bipolar guys may be in luck.

    Women are just as shallow as men and everyday they are offered sex by guys unless they are really really unattractive (well then again) the men that are offered sex everyday are more likely have money, power, or fame, the rest of us are kinda unfucked in that regard.

    I have met lots of attractive mid-30s women looking for husbands, when they were younger they could choose the man that they wanted, have a career and then have all they fun they wanted. Now that they are older, losing thier looks, and think thier careers are shit. That is the time they will settle for less. Case in point, I know women that married nice guys, that do not like to argue, and have stable jobs and what not. They divorced because of boredom. They go out and play the bars and then get knocked up. Daddies unknown. In crisis they spend all their time trying to find other stable boring guys.

    So which is it? Stable man that will always be there or the crasy exciting fucker?

    Children of single women are usually able to do laundry, cook, and clean. Attractive traits right? Wrong. The guys I know that get laid the most are the ones that let women take care of them, I had one friend said he was dirtier with his GF then when he is single because he said it made her feel useful. Looking back on my own relationships, where I would do the majority of cooking and kept my apartment clean my ex-GFs always felt out of place. How do you change a man that already cooks, clean, and generally has his shit together? How do you change a man who is already independent and with the exception of sex really doesnt need a woman?

    Women like projects.
    Example I know a woman divorced twice. Last marriage was to a usaully unemployed drug dealer that had abandoned two sets of children, kicked both of her children out with one being murder shortly after and probably had women on the side. I asked her why the hell she married him? She said she didnt want to be alone in life and he was project, he could be changed to be a better man.

    Where does she get these ideas? Chick flicks, and romance novels. These damn things set up unreallistc expectations on what a man is suppose to be. Body of Fabio, brains of Einsten, and the rocker fun of Bon Jovi. What about the nerdy accountant who owns his car and house. Not going to happen those guys are losers right? Who wants a relationship without drama everyday?

    And you know usually relationships reflect the person. If your friends are criminals most likely you will be. People like to be around people like them. Not in exact interest per se but in broad strokes. So I think the crux of the arguement is that women do like boring guys because when they look in the mirror they want to see rock stars. And when they date assholes they dont realize they are probably assholes themselves. So dont fret.

  5. Interesting blog post, and as a woman I can relate to the ugh,men feeling (I’ve been single for two years and I have no interest in changing that right now). Frankly, some of the trends I’ve discovered in my own relationships are:
    A lack of passion. Not in sex, though sometimes this is an issue when the interest is contrived for the sake of regular sex. But really about anything. When there is a sense of passion about something it’s usually misplaced. For example, he’ll blow a rod over someone talking shit about a band he likes, a video game, some TV show, but never anything of actual substance. In many cases there’s a lot of anger and frustration, but rarely real passion for something that drives them to action. If there is actions it’s short lived due to impatience and too much effort at one time and the drive fizzles.
    A lack of worthy goals. Many men I’ve dated get stuck in the routine of work, home, food, booze, sleep. A lot of them talk about things they want to do with their lives but never bother making the effort to actually get there. Many people lack the motivation for truly fulfilling activity.
    A lack of honest communication. What I mean by this is not “what are you thinking right now” but more “if you don’t want to date me please say so and stop playing games”. There’s a weird idea that women will fall apart if you tell them you’re just not feeling it and you want to end the relationship. But women know when you’ve lost interest and most men play games to get them to dump them rather than actually telling the truth. And sometimes they accuse the woman of “being crazy” (this really doesn’t help) when they react to that kind of behavior. It’s much better to tell it like it is and stop wasting your time, and hers, in a way that’s respectful to what you’ve already shared.
    And the most prominent thing I’ve come across is that many men will get into relationships in order to have regular sex. They don’t necessarily care about the girl a whole lot, or know her very well, but keep her around to save the trouble of playing the field.
    A lot of men complain about women liking assholes and nice guys finish last, but in my experience a lot of the nicer guys believe they’re nice because they’re agreeable and passive. Sometimes this comes in concert with silent animosity towards women because they’ve been rejected (we can tell, and it’s not a great quality) and the tendency towards being needy or insecure. There’s a difference between having a good heart and not being afraid to show it and acting like a complete doormat and later despising the woman when it ends. Some of these guys are constantly on the lookout for the next girlfriend and this constant need to be loved can automatically send you to the friend zone.
    Women are not entirely free of all of this and despite the mention of the women’s lib movement very few things have changed, what has changed is how obvious it is. Many argue that the women’s lib movement actually backfired in some ways (I highly recommend watching “Missrepresentation”, this really explains a lot of the frustration women feel right now despite our ability to articulate it.) Some women do respond to money, the fantasy of marriage, nice cars, and being taken care of. But I think this really comes from a jaded mind set and basically giving up on the idea that they can actually be loved. And because of messages that women get growing up in the society a lot of women unknowingly think they can trade sex for love. Personally a man that brags about having money is a complete deal breaker. I’m not on the look-out for someone to take care of me, but rather, an equal. Rich guys have the tendency to take things for granted and often are used to having things taken care of for them.
    The real solution to all of this is simple: everyone should focus their efforts on becoming a whole person. This race to the finish line is an outdated illusion. Someone who enjoys life and lives it fully and joyfully is far more attractive than a shit-talking rich guy who thinks it’s charming to treat women like party favors. And in response to the post by Reality- being messy to make a woman feel useful is absurd and selfish. I hate dating men that can’t clean up after themselves, it shows a lack of self respect, respect for others, and it’s a good reflection of their mindset. And the idea that women like projects isn’t true either. The example given was a women who had a history of emotionally abusive relationships, this is a different beast entirely and until you’ve been there and understand the psychology behind it you cannot just pass it off as being typical of women. There are a lot of crazy women out there, but there are a lot of crazy people in general. I like the mention of romantic comedy’s because it brings up a good point, I know BOTH men and women who think they’re supposed to act like some character when they’re in a relationship. Nothing is more of a turn off.
    If we learn how to behave and live authentically (this is not a small feat in this culture) instead of trying to fit media fueled composite, put our efforts into having lives independent of contrived influence, and give others the freedom to do so with our blessing we can all have better relationships. With significant others, friends, family, coworkers and strangers alike. Now if we could only all agree to drop the bullshit simultaneously we could change the world in a day.

  6. That top image to me is a bit disingenuous because it is mixing up the adult image of manly and youth fan culture. George Clooney would be the actual modern equivalent to Sean Connery. David Cassidy in his young days would go on the left besides the other guy, and it’s pretty 1:1 in both cases.

    Also, if it is any comfort, as a woman interested in “traditional” woman’s crafts and pursuits I find being a strong woman a difficult path to navigate as well. There are people out there who seem to think that enjoying cooking, gardening (which I take after my father on), knitting, sewing, etc. means that I am RUINING THINGS FOR ALL WOMAN AND SENDING US BACK 100 YEARS. Months ago I cut a discussion short when someone referred to his female classmates as a “sewing circle” in a derogatory way, and then said that a good woman role model is Angela Merkel. I can understand not wanting Homer Simpson as a male role model, but I think if *my* only option is the Chancellor of Germany, that’s rather unfair.

    So I pretty much agree with your conclusions at the end there. Relationships need to be a negotiation of wants and desires and needs and etc., with far more concern about your partner than any gender roles. One should not behave a certain way because of some imagined choir in their head dictating what is and isn’t right.

  7. One of my Facebook friends posted your blog entry to their page, which is how I stumbled here. I don’t necessarily think your points are invalid but without offering any commentary on WTF happened myself, here is another piece written by someone who, apparently, had also had enough:

    “What Happened to All the Nice Guys?”
    http://www.craigslist.org/about/best/lax/483318927.html

  8. Enjoyed this man, thanks for your insight. I have some ideas of my own on this, but yeah, at 4am on New Years, I’ll wait a day or two before I get into them. 😉 Good stuff.

    -R

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