Dear 100 Hour Board,
The other day, I think I finally heard "men are disgusting" / "men are evil" / "men are idiots" one too many times. Can you please share some stories to help me feel like my existence is worthwhile, even though I'm a man?
I really wish people wouldn't say this. I even wish other men I know wouldn't say it. It's counterproductive. Often we complain about the saying "boys will be boys" - pointing out that saying is provides justification for boys to do things that they probably shouldn't, and perpetuates the idea that certain toxic behaviors are acceptable as long as they're gendered.
I think saying "men are trash" does exactly the same thing. It makes it seem like the general state of existence for men is being a bad person. In that way, it justifies bad behavior and continues the idea that certain toxic behaviors are 1) inherently masculine (which they're not) and 2) to be expected (which they shouldn't be)
Doesn't it seem like the best way to act is to hold everyone to a standard of equality, where we all are expected to be respectful and treat each other as equals, and then only the people who fall from that expectation receive rebuke? That way instead of doing what we do and creating these statements of stereotype (She's so crazy! Men are trash. Throw like a girl. Don't be a sissy. Grow a pair!) everyone has the baseline of respect and value, and the people who violate that through bad behavior (criminal or otherwise) are punished and the rest of us get to move on.
But that's not where we're at right now. My point is, there are obviously men out there who suck. There are men who are physically, emotionally, verbally, and spiritually abusive. Of course there are (and of course there are women out there like this too!) And lots of really unfortunate things happen to enough women that there is an outcry - and that can't be ignored. But (at the risk of being incredibly trite and responding with a phrase notorious in the feminist community) not all men are like that.
Men are valuable. I do not believe in specifying stereotypical "masculine" traits that I can identify that give you worth... I don't think it's fair for me to say "men are worthwhile because they are strong, stable, logical, hardworking, intelligent, etc." because 1) women have these traits as well 2) not every man possesses these traits, and 3) having good traits isn't what gives you worth. You are important and cherished because, as a man and as an individual person, you bring unique characteristics, feelings, thoughts, and talents to life. Your life isn't worthwhile simply because of your role in relation to other people either. You don't have to be a father, a boyfriend, a husband, a brother, a son, etc. for you to matter. You matter because you are.
I haven't met you, so I don't know what those unique things are. But I do know Pebble, and you asked for stories to make you feel worthwhile, so I'll illustrate my idea by telling you about my amazing fiance.
Pebble doesn't care much for gender roles. He is unique in that he cares about developing traits that he considers valuable that other people might consider feminine. He is working on learning to cook right now, because he wants to make sure that that's not something that is solely my responsibility in our relationship. He's not very good at it yet, but I can see how he's learning and working hard at being able to follow recipes and get some 'kitchen intuition.' Even when he doesn't cook dinner, he'll clean the dishes for me. He hates doing dishes and getting wet, but he does it as a way to show that he's grateful. He also likes to spend time with me looking at Pinterest as we plan to live in our own apartment. He sends me interior design posts that he likes when he sees them.
Pebble is also unique because he is very studious and dedicated. He spent over 36 hours cumulatively researching every possible thing about my engagement ring. He compared and contrasted different types of gemstones for value, price, durability, light reflection, colors, etc. Then he learned about different shapes and cuts of gems. He researched different metals and finish types for rings. He learned about different ways to set the gems. He made a to-scale design in Illustrator, measured it out and everything, bought the gems himself, and took them into a custom jeweler with everything worked out. My ring is incredibly simple, but every time I see it I am reminded of how deliberate Pebble is about everything he does. He puts time into the people he cares about.
Pebble is unique because he is incredibly witty. I am quite an anxious person, and when I'm stressed I do a fair amount of crying. Pebble has mastered the art of listening to me talk about my feelings, and when I've just about finished my crying, he'll crack a joke and make me laugh. He knows to let me process the hard things and then will pick me up with his wit and sense of humor. I love to see him make other people laugh when we hang out with friends too. It makes me proud to see him make other people happy.
Pebble is special because he recognizes my worth and works with me to achieve my goals. He doesn't try to tell me what to do, he truly respects me and treats me as his equal. I feel happy knowing we are going to work together as we figure out life, and that I am not just expected to abandon my aspirations because I'm a woman. I appreciate that he is a thinker and a questioner and a feeler all at once.
I hope you know that women who propose to be feminist (read: egalitarian) that use phrases like "men are trash" are diminishing in numbers, and those who do say things like that are getting pushback from those of us who are more interested in progress than being angry. We're getting there, I think. Just please don't assume that because one too many women said something like that means that feminism is bad and women are all vengeful and emotional tyrants. Not all women are like that either.
You are valuable and appreciated. I promise.
Men are freaking awesome. Many of my heroes are men, from George Washington to Alexander Hamilton to minnow to some of the podcasters I listen to. Men can be incredibly kind, caring, funny, witty, clever, adventurous, supportive, and on and on. And the greatest thing is they don't have to be those positive attributes all the time. They get to be human - something, unfortunately, I think we don't apply to women as much as we should. Women can also be disgusting, evil, and idiotic. As Hannah Gadsby said, "Men don't have a monopoly on the human condition."
Both men and women kill, rob, fart, eat their boogers, and do stupid things. I think the main reason we hear this only about men is because they've been the ones with power throughout most of history. But guess what? If it was primarily women who were running governments, we'd be focused on how horrible and evil they are.
Arn, you're freaking awesome. I'm sorry that people generalize and that our history has really only been focused on men, because sticking women in the background minimizes the absolutely atrocious things they've done and (incorrectly) makes people think that only men are the bad ones. Don't worry. Everyone sucks, men and women included. Which conversely means that everyone is awesome, regardless of gender. And that includes you.
-guppy of doom
Just the other night my friend had a bad date and she called me to vent about how "men are the worst." I know that this is something I'm guilty of too, justifying saying things like "men are trash" by thinking "oh it's just a meme." I've especially noticed this past year that I have a tendency to feel and think this way, holding a generalized grudge towards "all men." And that it isn't healthy or helpful but instead makes good men feel terrible about themselves. It can make men feel like they have this innate sin for being born a man. I'm sorry if my words have contributed to that feeling and am working to be better.
While you didn't ask this, your question reminded me of a recent article in The Atlantic titled The Miseducation of the American Boy. The article talks about toxic masculinity and the author's conclusion is that young boys today need "new and better models of masculinity." With the strong female leaders that I had growing up and special summer camps like "Computer Robotics for Girls," I felt like my feminity was endless. But the teenage boys that the author talked to didn't feel the same way about their masculinity. Instead, they felt like they had to be very traditional, stoic, strong, and free of emotion. I had never really thought about that.
I bring that article up because a friend of mine, who I really admire, recently posted on Facebook that sometimes growing up as boy he didn't feel like there was anyone he could talk to about his emotions because he didn't see any male role models in his life sharing their emotions. But now that he's older, he wants the be the man he wishes he had in his life growing up. And so he said if any of his friends needed someone to talk to, to cry with, he was always available. It's a small act and I don't know who will take him up on his offer, but I think he is an amazing person for being so vulnerable and thoughtful.
Another example is one of my best friends, Oskar. He's currently finishing up his undergrad and applying to med schools but we first met when I was a freshman in my first high school play. I didn't have a lot of friends but Oskar seemed to be aware of me and would always hang out with me backstage whenever I was alone.
Now that we've been friends for a while, I love how unapologetically passionate he is about the things he cares about. Like sometimes he will just randomly talk about how much he loves his girlfriend or one of his friends. Or we'll be driving home and he'll take a 20-minute detour to show me a pretty bridge. He's just so authentic about what he cares about.
He also stands up for the people he cares about. Over winter break I went with him and a couple of other friends to a party with all of our old high school theater friends who were back in town. At the party, this one guy we hadn't seen in a while showed up super drunk and kept on trying to grab this girl. She didn't say anything but after Oskar noticed what he was doing, Oskar told him to leave and called him an Uber so that he wouldn't drive home drunk. I really admire Oskar for his leadership skills, he isn't afraid to take charge of situations when something needs to be done.
But those are just two examples. There are so many other great men that I could've talked about, like my dad or my professor last year who let me cry in his office. I am so thankful for all of the wonderful men in my life and your existence is worthwhile and valuable.
I think one of the most common fallacies I run into is people making broad generalizations and applying them to entire groups of other people. Are there men who have done completely terrible things? Absolutely, but simply sharing a gender with them doesn't make you guilty of their awfulness. Because we're all humans, there's always going to be something each individual has in common with multiple someones who have done horrific things. The thing I think we all could do with remembering a bit more is that that common thread isn't the reason behind the bad actions (I mean, sometimes it can be if the common thread is enjoying killing people or anything like that, but I'm referring to more innocuous connections like gender or race).
You are not responsible for the actions of other people. Being a man doesn't make you inherently evil, arrogant, or misogynistic, and another man's negative actions should not reflect badly on you.
I can tell you some stories about men that are positive influences in my life!
First, my dad: I am extraordinarily lucky to have the father I do. He's a total geek, like I am. His bachelor's degree is in engineering, so he's essentially mentored me through my entire college career so far. He's a genius. But there's a little experience that I had with him about a year ago that I still remember, because I think it reflects some of his best qualities. One day, I was talking with him and I mentioned that I felt a little behind my peers in engineering in terms of hands-on building and tinkering experience; it seemed like everyone else had no problem understanding how to put things together in the physical world, and I was struggling to remember how to use a power drill and chop saw. My dad’s response was, "I'm sorry I didn't teach you those things when you were little. I include your brothers in projects all the time, but I didn't really ever teach you how to use power tools or build things in the same way that I'm teaching them. I wish I would have done that for you."
Friends, I did not know how to respond to that. I don’t fault my dad for not teaching me how to use power tools. He teaches my brothers because he is constantly reminded by society that boys should know how to do those things. No one is reminding anyone to teach little girls how to use power tools. There’s no way he could have known that at the end of high school, I would suddenly decide to become a mechanical engineer. He just didn't really think about it, that's all. (And to his credit, he did teach me how to program when I was little, which has benefitted me immensely.) But he took an offhand comment, empathized with me, tried to understand how he might have had a part in making things a little easier for me, and apologized for not doing that. A - freaking - plus.
That's not out of character for him, either - my dad is as sweet, humble, and selfless as they come. He is my role model, and anyone who can become more like him is doing themselves and everybody around them a service.
Secondly: I have a friend that I met in my freshman year family home evening group. A week or two after we met, we passed each other on campus. We barely knew each other, but he broke out into a huge smile, called my name, and gave me the warmest hug ever. He was so excited to see me, and it made me feel so seen and loved. Since then, he’s become one of my best friends and biggest supports. That enthusiasm that he showed years ago to see me has never waned.
Thirdly: I have a friend in the mechanical engineering program with me who was called to be the elders quorum president for his ward this year. Immediately upon receiving the calling, he dove into work. He spent hours trying to make ministering assignments, get to know everyone in his ward, and just generally be the best he could be. He expressed to me that he was worried about the calling, because he knew that elders quorum presidents make a big difference to some people’s experiences in the church. He wanted to make sure the people in his ward felt loved, seen, and connected to those around them. He places a high priority on reaching out and listening to people, and extends love and understanding to every single person he comes across. He’s got the biggest heart of anyone I know.
I have so many more examples. A majority of my friends are male right now, partially due to my major, and those friends are the people who keep me going. They have become my support system here in Provo. They are hilarious, ingenious, loving, supportive, and open to learning. They teach me things I could never learn on my own. They help me through problems that I don't even know how to begin thinking through. They’re the opposite of trash, and that has nothing to do with their gender - they’re just incredible people.
You’re worthwhile, Arn. I hope you can find some inspiration in the examples of my friends and family. Find the things that make you a good person and hold on to them when people speak harshly and thoughtlessly. If you need help, ask your friends. You have so much worth and so much of value to contribute, and I’m sure they can help you identify that.