I want to say a thing to my fellow women and non-men. And I’m probably gonna piss a bunch of you off.
We need to do a better job of acknowledging the good things men do.
Sit on your knee-jerk for a minute and hear me out.
A while ago, I was watching a program for parents and the guy up on stage made the point that in a healthy marriage, people say four good things to each other for each negative thing they say. But many kids here 10 negative things about each themselves for every 1 positive thing they here.
This is an important facet of human interaction. If we don’t tell people what they are doing right and only criticize them for what they are doing wrong, the vast majority of people will stop trying. The message they get is that they can’t do anything right, that you are going to be angry with them no matter what, so what’s the point?
Now, take a look at what gets said about men. I’m not talking implicit stuff like how boys toys are about doing stuff and girls toys about being pretty. I’m talking the clear, explicit statements about men, either individual men or men as a whole, that are all over our social media feeds.
Women and non-men tend to focus on the implicit stuff as needing to be fixed—and that’s fair because the implicit messages we get sent are fucking horrible.
But implicit messages and explicit messages don’t cancel each other out. Men and boys (most especially boys) who hear endless explicit messages about men being rapists aren’t going to magically not be affected by that message because most CEOs are men.
What message are our sons getting?
What are we teaching them about what it means to be a man?
Are they learning what makes a good man? Or are they getting hammered with messages about what makes a bad man/how bad men are?
How can we expect them to grow up to be good men if we don’t give them good models of manhood to follow?
I’m not talking about giving cookies to allies for good behavior. And I’m not talking about ignoring bad shit that men do.
But let me give you an example.
In one of the MCU movies with Captain America (I think it was actually Captain America, but don’t hold me to that). Steve asks someone out, gets turned down, accepts is politely and walks away.
This was a perfect chance for positive reinforcement. We could have had memes, blog posts, videos ‘that’s how you do it’ ‘why Cap’s a real man’, shit like that.
Instead, I only saw one person talking about how important and positive a moment this was in building Cap’s character, and that person was responding to people criticizing Cap for being willing to take no for an answer.
We had a chance to send a message, to men, to boys, and to Hollywood, ‘this is good, give us more of it.’ and we dropped the ball.
I can hear some of the responses I’m going to get already ‘it’s not our job! We already do a disproportionate amount of emotional labor! They need to fix themselves! Why are we responsible!’
This isn’t about fair. It isn’t about right. And it isn’t about equal.
It’s about building something healthy.
You ever been in a relationship with someone who was unintentionally abusive? Someone who wanted to learn better?
In that kind of situation you have two choices: get out or help them while they learn and grow. And if you can’t focus on fair, you can’t focus on fair. You need to do your part.
That doesn’t mean you need to put up with it when they screw up. You tell them, ‘you did X, that’s gaslighting. Stop.’ But it does mean that when you tell them to stop and they do you need to reinforce that, ‘that you for stopping when I told you. I really appreciate the effort you are making.’
The relationship between men and women & non-men has historically been an abusive one. And some of that abuse lingers today. But men have been saying, for close to a hundred years, that they want to do better. If men didn’t want to do better, then women still wouldn’t have the vote.
If we want to ever have a healthy relationship (on a cultural/political level) between men and women & non-men, we need to step up the positive reinforcement. We need to tell men when we something that is right.
Some people can shrug off negative messages and struggle through to stay engaged and do what is right. And the many, many men who have done that, who have stood up for and with women and non-men to call for changes, are amazing and wonderful.
But that doesn’t change what makes for a healthy relationship.
Fight to change the implicit messages. Fight to change the assumption that men make better CEOs or the way women politicians are criticized for their appearance in a way men politicians never are. That is good and important work.
But don’t forget that explicit messages matter. That in terms of explicit messaging, women are constantly getting positive reinforcement through advertisements, social media campaigns, even school programs. And men are constantly getting negative reinforcement with little to no positive reinforcement.
I’m not trying to blame anyone. It’s easier to criticize the bad than to praise the good. That’s human nature too. So it’s understandable that we’ve focused more on criticism than publicly recognizing the good. But we need to make a choice: are we going to dig in and make this relationship work, regardless of ‘fair’. Or are we giving up on the relationship?
If that latter is your choice, there are definitely limits to the ways you can disconnect yourself from men, but there are steps you can take, from only having kids through IVF from a sperm donor, to only reading stuff written by women and non-men, to looking for or starting a business that caters specifically to women and non-men so you don’t need to deal with men at work.
Me? I’ve known some pretty awesome men in my life. One of whom I owe my life to (okay, two, if you count my father). I’ve got two sons. I’m not walking away from them. And that means working to make a world where my sons, and other people’s sons, and all the men who want to do better, hear the positive reinforcement they need (and frankly, deserve) as they continue to grow.