I’m writing this in order to find out what I think.
I do not expect this to be easy. I am treading in weirdly dangerous territory, and I will probably get things wrong, or “wrong,” because there just aren’t that many ground rules, and they keep shifting. Plus, there’s the shame and guilt. And I don’t want to go there, which is often a pretty good reason for going there.
I am a white cis-gendered male. I am a former member of the mass media, and am a current member of overcrowded blogosphere. I am richer than my parents were. I am old, and I have problems associated with aging, but I have good and stable healthcare. Although I have driven an unregistered car with a broken tail-light and an ounce or two of marijuana barely hidden on the floor, I have never been arrested and/or beaten. I am luckier than 99.99 per cent of the world, and 99 per cent of Americans. I have privilege coming out of my ass.
I am thus, in the opinion of many, what’s wrong with this country. My attempted empathy and my specific actions of support (marching, donating) are seen as too little, too late, and probably pathetic.
Or at least, that’s how it seems. I am another white guy whining about something. Why would you listen to me? Hell, why would I listen to me? On the other hand, I had no say in being born white and male and heterosexual. I did not ask to be normative.
Still, I’m aware of the dangers of this kind of essay. Said danger is best encapsulated here. One indeed might write a parody of woman talking about oppression, but McSweeney’s wouldn’t buy it. We know who the villains are.
Which is fair enough. I know that men wrote the Koran and the Bible, those two sustaining monuments to the patriarchy. Another male invention: ISIS. Also brothels. White men did not invent slavery, but they brought their capitalist know-how to the institution and made it an international cartel of human misery. So, yeah, guys.
I’m hip to all that, but I didn’t actually do any of it. There’s certainly sexism in my past; I’m 73. I had a lot of assumptions given to me like gifts; even my single mom had ideas about the way men and women should act. They should be “ladies and gentleman,” which is a codified set of genteel rules shaped to prevent the male from being a brute until certain matters were safely negotiated. That construct denied both female sexuality and male tenderness.
But today…I think I’m not on the right mailing list. Things are more fluid than is ideal. Like how LGB become LGBT, which became LGBTQ, although apparently LBGT is still also okay. (When did the Q get delisted?) Can I subscribe to something where these changes are announced? I didn’t get “cis-gendered” because it was based on an obscure Latin prefix. I did know about “cis-alpine” (“Veni vidi vici” and all that), but I somehow didn’t get that it was the opposite of “trans-alpine.” Across the alps. Long way to go to get a metaphor.
I understand that the culture has left me behind. I don’t remember it happening. One day I could identify all the major pop artists just by hearing their voices; the next day I didn’t know who anybody was. Michael Bolton and Notorious B.I.G.: Both equally mysterious.
I know about mansplaining (because a woman mansplained it to me) and manspreading, and they are both real and useful. I try to do neither, although thigh spreading in seating comes natural to overweight people. Blah blah blah.
Jump in any time.
Drum circles do not do it for me. I like sports because I like rituals of competition, which I guess is manly. Although is it really manly to watch “Battle of the Network Stars” to see whether Suzanne Somers can beat Jamie Farr in the 100 yard dash? Plus, I have learned through diligent research that many men are interested that (fun facts from Wikipedia) David Letterman, Penny Marshall, Brian Stokes Mitchell, Lynn Redgrave, Michael J. Fox, and William Shatner were all on that show, so it’s not quite the career killer one might assume.
(Tracy: “I don’t care about any of these people.” Me: “Exactly.”)
Enjoying sports means I am able to talk to any male in America and not feel overmatched. In other circumstances (like, say, standing around a gas station garage talking about cars), I tend the develop a weird hillbilly accent, dropping my g’s and drawling my vowels. You’ve heard about gay panic? I have man panic.
I am not the male oppressor you are looking for.
So how do I solve the problem of being history’s primary villain without having any of the fun of villainy. No mustache to twirl, no peasants to abuse, no sacred monuments to destroy. And yes, I was once a 10-year-old boy, so I do understand the intrinsic beauty of blowing things up. Maybe I am the male oppressor you are looking for.
Marketing for men
I’ve been marginalized, and I imagine many women and POC will be saying, “See? No fun, is it? And that’s just a taste. Until you have to deal with weekly tit grabbing or bogus traffic stops, you got nothing at all to complain about.” And yes, right, you bet. But then…
All I can do is shut up. Things are getting a little tribal now, but also more open because internet, so there are lots of conversations taking place in newly accessible ways, and I get the privilege of listening to them. It’s good for white men to shut up in mixed company. If the goal is an equal and harmonious society, we need active and intelligent listening.
That could be just a primary application of the first law of holes (“If you find yourself in a hole, stop digging.” The origin of that is unknown, but the first recorded mention is 1911. Men love shit like that.) Being still will be good for me.
I think it’s all good. I know that incidents of hatred and violence have occurred more frequently since Trump got elected. But those people didn’t start hating in the last nine months. Now the cover is off; it’s good to know where the enemy is and what he is saying. Black Lives Matter has not achieved results yet, but it’s put police departments on notice — and it has taught to rest of us a new way of seeing. Denial doesn’t work any more; now you’ve got to deal with it.
So if my particular assumptions get destroyed, it gets my brain fired up. Maybe I’m just looking for safer ground, or maybe I’m learning to live in the new paradigm. Looked at a certain way, it’s actually a lot of fun.
Me, I’m going to cool out listening to this white guy. I might have a chicken on sourdough with plenty of mayo sandwich. That white enough? Then, in the privacy of my office, I will dance an embarrassing white guy dance, filled with uncontrolled arm movements and maybe a little overbite to indicate sexual passion.
However you self-identify, you’re welcome to dance too.
Photography by Tracy Johnston
Useful thingies: Michelle Mizera