Manly Men

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.

Standing on horses: A bonding experience

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.

Fighting: A recreational opportunity

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.

West Oakland20130106girlsgirls0054at

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.

Got that?



Photography by Tracy Johnston

Useful thingies: Michelle Mizera










51 thoughts on “Manly Men

  1. Apparently, I too am what’s wrong with America. What may be “worse” is that I think I am what’s right with Anerica. I’m kind, thoughtful, a good listener, open-minded, and don’t much care about what people think of me. My silver spoon is in place through no fault of my own. When I am judged, I just shrug. Feeling guilty about that which I cannot control is a waste of time.

    Great post. (One of several.)

    Liked by 1 person

  2. It’s complicated. Or not. Depending on how your viewpoint orients. You do okay Jon, better than the average (white cis male) bear ; -)


  3. “And yes, I was once a 10-year-old boy, so I do understand the intrinsic beauty of blowing things up.”
    Ah yes. The wonders of sodium chlorate and caster sugar.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Unless you still need validation (surely not), just being yourself should be just fine. Who cares what the world thinks? In “Illusions,” by Richard Bach, the gypsy barnstormer pilot and messiah-in-training is being challenged by his mentor to keep his message short if he wants to keep his audience. Our protagonist replies, “Well, what’s wrong with losing ALL my audience? I know what I know and I talk what I talk! And if that’s wrong that’s just too bad. The airplane rides are three dollars, cash!”

    At which point he graduated to Master status.

    Besides, a real member of The Guys Union doesn’t need a membership card. It’s an oxymoron if you think about it.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Might I suggest the 5 blind men describing an elephant?

    Some of us are like a tree trunk, others like a wall or a snake, but we are all “elephant.”

    There is no “One size fits all.”

    I am large, I contain multitudes.

    I never fit whatever was put forth as “Manly,” in part, and proudly, because I never wanted to, nor thought it would be funny to drive a Chrysler muscle car into and through someone’s wedding reception.

    In fact, I have no interest whatsoever in driving a Chrysler muscle car – which, we are sometimes led to believe, is the ultimate symbol of “Manhood.”

    What matters is inside each of us and we flock together with birds of our feather.

    As long as we don’t attack other birds just because they are of a different feather, we are better off.

    We work for harmony, caring, cooperation.

    We do what we can with honor, dedication, integrity…

    What could be more manly than that?

    No man ever stands so tall as when he stoops to argue with a Republican?!

    Hail Centurion!


  6. You say you want a revolution
    Well, you know
    We all want to change the world
    You tell me that it’s evolution
    Well, you know
    We all want to change the world
    But when you talk about destruction
    Don’t you know that you can count me out
    Don’t you know it’s gonna be
    All right, all right, all right
    You say you got a real solution
    Well, you know
    We’d all love to see the plan
    You ask me for a contribution
    Well, you know
    We’re doing what we can
    But if you want money for people with minds that hate
    All I can tell is brother you have to wait
    Don’t you know it’s gonna be
    All right, all right, all right
    You say you’ll change the constitution
    Well, you know
    We all want to change your head
    You tell me it’s the institution
    Well, you know
    You better free you mind instead
    But if you go carrying pictures of chairman Mao
    You ain’t going to make it with anyone anyhow
    Don’t you know it’s gonna be
    All right, all right, all right
    All right, all right, all right
    All right, all right, all right
    All right, all right

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Well, you’re a perfect blame receptacle. Since you aren’t an actual threat you can receive all the spleen that Donnie Twoscoops and his tribe have actually earned.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. And I’m 68 and straight, but did high school and college in Palo Allo…I’m a Herb Caen gal but welcomed Jon. Escaped in ’73 to Mt. Shasta and would NEVER go back to Bay Area, even for my Casti 50th this fall. Invited them all here for a woodsy retreat. Nice to hear Jon’s take on this double bizarro world….


  8. And here’s the kicker: If one of us thought up the brilliant solution to all this, something that would magically balance the genders and races and IQ curve, by definition it would not be the right answer because of where it was coming from.

    Also, Merlin Stone suggested, in “When God Was a Woman” that brothels actually started with Goddess worship. So that one might be off our guilt list.

    Liked by 2 people

  9. Oh, goodness, Jon, chill. I worry you’re not thriving in retirement. I did become fond of you over the years and you seem now excessively agitated. Maybe I missed something here but you’ve taken this whole backlash against white men much too personally. So it makes you uncomfortable. So what? I like the phrase “first world problem”. I hate the phrase “intersectionality” I too am 73. Yes, the world has gone mad but surely you grasp it is not about you even if you are a white man. Relieve the suffering of others regularly and it’s all good. My best, Sue


  10. Hi Jon

    I think you’ve found a perfect tone to express this POV. Thanks. From a pigment challenged Y chromosome carrier who’s old enough to think who I sleep with is none of your business. Which might explain how I’ve enjoyed Bruce Cockburn since 1975. And I found a typo: “In other circumstances (like, say, standing around a gas station garage talking about cars), I tend the [to] develop a weird hillbilly accent, dropping my g’s and drawling my vowels.” Me too. 😉

    Peace & Resistance

    Mark Wilson

    Peace & Resistance

    Mark Corbett Wilson

    “In a world of change, the learners shall inherit the earth, while the learned shall find themselves perfectly suited for a world that no longer exists.” ~ Eric Hoffer

    On Tue, Jun 27, 2017 at 1:49 PM, Jon Carroll Prose wrote:

    > joncarrollprose posted: “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. ” >

    Liked by 2 people

  11. Jon – I’m another one of those damn straight white guys. 80, so you’re just a pup…here’s a mantra I’ve found useful: “Vanilla is also a flavor.”

    Liked by 2 people

  12. Manly Men: What a fine work of blog this is. Read it while watching “I Am Not Your Negro” and I was surprised to find it an excellent pairing.

    On Tue, Jun 27, 2017 at 1:49 PM, Jon Carroll Prose wrote:

    > joncarrollprose posted: “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. ” >

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Precisely right, except I no longer watch or care about sports. Nonetheless every time another white cop kills another unarmed black teenager I feel guilty as hell. And another white cop seems to be killing another unarmed black teenager every week.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Sports are indeed an Ellis Island of sorts: a “safe space” where those of wildly different backgrounds, tastes, economic status, and social standing can find commonality — and a bit of humanity — in conversation for a while, then move on. That’s not insignificant, especially nowadays when so many forces work to separate us into our respective political, economic, and cultural tribes. It’s important for us to be reminded from time to time that we all really are people — not just bodies that get in our way, take “our” parking spaces, and fill up the checkout line ahead of us at the supermarket.

    A little civil conversation can go a long way.

    A similar dynamic exists among motorcycle riders, who often have very little in common other than the shared bond that comes from appreciating the aesthetics and fluid physicality of riding a two-wheeled Death Machine — and I say that as one who has been throwing a leg over a variety of motorcycles for the past fifty years. I’ve had many conversations with men and women I’d never have talked to in the first place if not for the fact that we were all motorycyclists. Befor I retired, two of my favorite television directors happened to be enthusiastic bikers, and more than once we stopped the entire Hollywood machinery of a show dead in its tracks — actors, producers, assistant directors, camera, sound, hair and makeup people — all waiting while we stood in the middle of the set talking about motorcycles for a few minutes. One of those directors was very conservative — he and I didn’t agree on politics at all — but none of that mattered on the common ground of a shared passion.

    A few pockets of humanity still exist — we just have to be willing to find and exploit them, and in so doing, maybe begin to heal some of the torn social fabric of these oh-so-fractious times.

    Wonderful post, as always — thanks!

    Liked by 2 people

  15. You dear man, I have been a fan for decades. I will always want to read and hear what you have to say, so keep sharing your wisdom and humor with us. But bravo to the fact that you are also willing to be still and listen. I can tell you that makes all the difference. My husband fits your profile, minus a few years and he is also a dear man. But oh how I wish I could get him to be still and listen – with his whole open heart. Especially if the speaker is not like him.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. Hey, my arthritis is teaching me what it means to be 73, as far as the “flesh envelope” (hat tip, Zippy) is concerned. Intimations of mortality become more explicit, but even then, I awake mornings sincerely believing I’m 28–or maybe 37. I agree the rules change before I can get adjusted to them. FUTURE SHOCK is a book which has stayed with me: it’s not just change, but the accelerating rate of change that is making us crazy. I don’t mean harm, but “can I help it if I’m lucky?” (Hat tip, Dylan) I’m glad you’re still around to be read. “Enjoy yourself, it’s later than you think.”

    Liked by 1 person

  17. Writing while white is no worse than driving while black. Neither party should be stereotyped. I do not like CIS. LGBTQ is self-identifying; CIS seems accusatory like cracker-ass. We come in to this world in our own time and place as blank and proceed to find rules to make sense of it in our childhood. Unfortunately, they are not always true as in “I saw a cat. It was black. Therefore all cats are black”. None of us are clones, just various blends. You must be ok and still relevant, otherwise none of us would be listening.


  18. That’s a lot of angst and socially approved guilt. Woody Allen did that shit a million years ago. What’s next, ash cloth and self-flagellation?

    Liked by 1 person

  19. I dunno. there’s something downright comforting coming from you, certainly to ME. that bewilderment… of the world moving on… makes me understand afresh that I/we are not alone!

    ‘the moving finger writes and having writ, moves on.’

    Liked by 1 person

  20. Hi Jon.

    Actually it now is LGBTQ2. Queer is still there for our not-quite-one-thing-or-another friends, and 2 is there for Native people of two spirits. And sometimes a second Q for questioning. And no, there is no particular list. We just have to step in the shit to find the current path. Being well meaning and able to say “oops, sorry” seems to help. And listening. You are right. Listening helps. But eventually we have to say something, and sometimes that can drop us back in the shit. Some days I have to work real hard at not just avoiding it all.

    ¿Anxious much? I ask myself.

    Best, Scott

    Mask no difficulties, mistakes, failures. Claim no easy victories. Amilcar Cabral

    And Bruce Cockburn helps.


    Liked by 2 people

  21. The fascist DONALD TRUMP said to Fox News “I believe HITLER was RIGHT”. scw Donald Trump is a racist with SEWER and the DailyStormer, he listens to satanic 666 racist music… just google “Donald Trump SEWER 2154” and see FOR YOURSELF!! THE MUSIC ea VIDEO IS about the KKK and Adfolf Hitler raping a 12 year old African-American WOMAN OF COLOR in front of her parents and then hanging MLK with Emma Watson and Taylor Swift!! TAYLOR SWIFT the racist white privileged cvnt said she voted “for donald trump twice” in her OWN WORDS!!! Say no to hate, say no to SEWER, say no to r DONALD TRUMP and EMMA WATSON and Tatylor Swift !! Deport racism today qyi.


  22. Yup, I too was born a privileged,straight white guy. It was always the privileged part that I found disturbing Call me a guilty liberal. Even the phrase is now antique.I’m a year older than you, Jon, and my right foot hurts sometimes. All things being equal (which often they aren’t), I could have been born white trash. I got lucky.


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