Let’s not do this, Gary.

I address this article to a random person I met on a night two weeks ago. Because you remind me of someone called Gary whom I met earlier, I will call you the same. I’ll describe how we met.

I am leaving a party at a club. Before I reach my bike, I stop to say goodbye to a friend, who is standing with a boy she’s met earlier that night. I make idle chat, wish them both a good night, tell the guy I think he “seems like a cool dude!” which, regardless of the perhaps awkward phrasing, seemed like a nice enough sentiment to me. This, however, is not how he takes it.

Darkening his brow and readying his power-stance as well as he can, the dude faces me and kind of growls: “Well, I can also be very scary if I want to!”

Jeez louise.

Come on, Gary, is stuff like this really necessary? Have you been watching Jupiler ads again? Why are people like this? Why all the constant dick-measuring contests? Why all the silly, aggresively overdone handshakes, the one-upping, the inability to lose gracefully at sports? Where’s the need for all of this?

I try not to see my sex as the thing that determines most who I am: that is – when someone attempts to describe ‘David’, I sometimes like to think that, should you only be allowed to either mention what I enjoy on the one hand and my sex on the other, that the prior option would tell you more about who I am as a person. This does not mean that my sex does not play any role in who I am; merely that I don’t see it as the most important part of what makes me me[1].

Nevertheless, regardless of my self-perception, the world is not really going to care that much about what I think, and concepts of masculinity will still remain an incredibly important factor in how many boys, dudes, and men will form their self-perceptions. While it may be a good thing to take rigid and outdated ideas about masculinity with a grain of salt, it also remains necessary for me to recognize them as a real cultural force making large waves in the world, and to treat them accordingly.

So, taking the necessary yet temporary starting point that I am in the first place a dude[2]: what can a dude like me do? For one, I could stick my head in the sand and stubbornly stay my own course, but this won’t really accomplish much besides me feeling real good about how right I think I am about the overblown level of importance we place on sex. On the other hand, I could have a good, more practical think as to what new generations of men can actually do to steer the tide of masculinity-thought in another direction.

Though writing and speaking out (like this) are of course one way to steer the tide, I think that living by example, in another way, probably has even more strength. There’s a lot of tired myths and tropes about men striving for dominance in interactions with others, or about men simply being bullish – many of which are still alive. I mean – what’s more powerful than living a counterexample, right? One of the things that I think we need, then, is to live counterexamples to these silly, bullish types of masculinity.

Another thing is that we can try to shift popular ideas of what ‘coolness’ looks like – meaning, right now, it is often considered cool to be ‘dominant’ when you are a man, regardless of the fact that ‘dominance’ most of the times means engaging in empty dick-measuring contests that don’t really help anyone: at best, choosing to participate in this kind of behaviour simply makes clear to everyone in the room what an ass you are. At worst, you are time and time again repressing all your emotions until you are fifty, when you buy a way too expensive car, switch your wife for a much younger girlfriend, and finally realise that you actually would like to have a good think now and then.

This is my counterexample. I believe in simple kindness[3], and in making an effort to take others into account; that is, recognizing that others are there, and making a regular personal effort to practice a sustained openness to their presence. While this may sound as though I am demanding that everyone becomes Mother Teresa, I am not; I most of all mean to say that it is nice to be nice.

On Fridays, a friend and I visit each other (we alternate houses each week), We go for a (short[4]) run, make the other a nice breakfast, and spend about an hour or two shooting the shit. We share thoughts, feelings, experiences, stories and ideas – whatever has been on our mind. There is no competitiveness, only breakfast and talk. And it’s nice.

So when a dude like Gary decides to take what could have been a pretty pleasant farewell and attempts to turn it into some kind of dick-measuring contest, consider me a bit miffed, and more than a little saddened. Tired, also.

So Gary, please. Put your dick back. Let’s have a coffee, shoot the shit, watch a bad movie. None of this is necessary. All this confrontational nonsense is pretty stressful for me, it seems to me that it’s pretty stressful for you, and frankly, life is stressful as is already.

[1] First and foremost, I am a burrito-lover. All other descriptors are no more than footnotes.

[2] I feel uncomfortable using the word ‘men’ here, as it feels like a very heavy, connotation-laden word which could make any sentence quickly spiral into three or more different plausible meanings. Also, the word ‘male’ often feels to me as though we are talking about mice in a lab.

[3] I concede, I am a huge, soft, hippy.

[4] I am lazy

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Revoke Your Membership, Gary!

jupiler

Because I am somewhat difficult, something has been nagging at me again. As with last time, I’d like to walk it through a bit, see where we can get. I will set the scene.

I sit down in my seat, the lights dim, a Jupiler advertisement begins to play. Men perform various feats of athleticism. They climb, bike, kayak and paraglide through the mountains, eventually meeting each other for a friendly game of soccer and cracking a beer. A slogan appears: “Jupiler. Men know why.” Meanwhile, the guy in the seat next to me (whom I have never seen before – let’s call him Gary) gives me a knowing, smiling nod. Which on some level weirds me out, and on another gets me thinking.

I’m weirded out not because I dislike beer, or because I dislike nods[1], but because Gary, with his loaded nod, is claiming togetherness with me where there isn’t necessarily any, or perhaps less togetherness than there really is. Because both of us are dudes, both of thus apparently know “why”. Well, to be honest, I don’t think I do know “why”, and I suspect that Gary doesn’t either. In the meantime, neither of us are likely to admit that we have no idea “why”, because then the weird magic is awkwardly broken and we will actually have to have a real conversation.

Jupiler – and Jupiler is just an example of an institution that propagates this stuff – by staying ambiguous in what makes men apparently[2] so alike, is continuously constructing and reconstructing a kind of club on false foundations. You are supposed to know “why”, but ask about it and your membership is revoked and you are promptly shown out of the club, now being considerably more lonely, having lost your friends that do know “why”.

Sure, our shared sex undoubtedly causes some of our experiences to be coloured in similar ways. Debates about the validity of gender essentialism aside[3], different sexes are treated differently in society, and as such they will have different experiences in at least some ways. I do not know what it’s like to be cat-called, and Gabriella (Gary’s imaginary sister) has never (easily) peed standing up. Nevertheless, there are many variables that play parts in determing both identity and the way experience people experience things, and Gary is overreaching in how much sameness in experience between us our shared being-a-dude implies.

And he won’t find out, or get to know me, either, unless both of us admit that we don’t know “why”. I think that a fear of exclusion from “the club” keeps many men from discussing gender-related issues[4], and also from seriously engaging feminists in conversation, or perhaps – gasp! – even joining them in their efforts. Additionally, this harmful kind of stoicism, this lack-of-talking out of fear is undoubtedly not helping in the mental health department. I remember reading an article by some guy a while back, in which the title read something like this: “Jeez, women talk so much[5]. I’d actually really like that.”

So to Gary I would like to say: please revoke your membership, Gary, and go ahead, talk to me (providing I’m in the mood, and not during the movie, of course). Ask me stuff. What movies I like, what I think, what kinds of food I enjoy (burritos!). What my flaws are. Stuff like that. And hell, I’ll even ask you back.

[1] Nods are pretty cool. As Mark from “Peep Show” so eloquently puts it: “Got the nod. The mark of the human. I’m a human, you’re a human, what else is there to say?”

[2] I could write forever about false claims to collectiveness, or sameness, for that matter.

[3] I could write forever on this too.

[4] As an example: a few months ago I was at a seminar about masculinity, and a mere fith of the attending were men. Funny stuff.

[5] Acknowledging, of course, that this is a gross generalization. Nevertheless, the point of what he says still stands.

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