I am abandoning the world of men.
I am abandoning the world of men because masculinity is a sinking ship, and it is loaded with leaking, toxic drums, and it is sinking while we watch, and it is my belief that the men that do not escape it will drown.
Now, I’mma tell you a little story. It’s a long one, so feel free to flake if you start to fade, but here it is:
On my last day in the Bay area, a small gang of us agreed to meet at a local bar to hang out, take in the late summer sun, and drink a healthy amount of bourbon. It’s a warm summer day, and the patio of the bar is crowded; friends and acquaintances of both genders join our little group every once in a while, stay for a bit, and then wander off, but just before things kicked off, our little group is four women, myself, and another male friend. Over on my side of the table we’ve just started a conversation about rape culture and how to help redefine the ways men view themselves within it, because me and my friends really enjoy light conversation. The dialog in our part of the little circle is going great, but at one point I look over and notice that my best friend has been cornered by the other guy in the group, and it’s clear that she’s having *exactly* the kind of conversation that you don’t want to be stuck in; that one conversation where a guy is mansplaining to a woman about the ‘slippery slope’ that prosecuting everyone accused of rape inevitably leads to, in the kingdom of toxic masculinity, at least. My friend is trying her best to be both polite and to be heard, but she can’t get a word in edgewise, so I decide to leverage my own privilege; the next time he interrupts her, I interrupt him, and say, “Hey brother, you know what’s sexy? Letting a woman finish a sentence”. I then turn away, good deed done, to rejoin my own conversation. Unfortunately, this causes me to miss the warning signs as the guy begins to grimly stew on the indignity of having his privilege publicly checked, because masculinity so fragile.
A moment later, he calls out: “Hey, I think Shannon is done talking, so I’d like to share my thoughts, if that’s all right with you, INDIGO”. Now, I admit, I’m obnoxious to the bone, so I toss a quick and merry “That’s fine!” over my shoulder. This, inexplicably breaks him; that simple comment sends him right over the edge of man-child sulking into the abyss of beast-mode rage, and before you can say “can’t hold your liquor” he unfolds from his seat, all 6’3″ and 240 pounds of him, and bellows “Do you want to have a fucking go then, man?”
Now, this is unexpected, since he’s an old friend, and we’re surrounded by a handful of other old friends, and we’re in the middle of a bar that’s run by Family, and we’re there for an unfortunate friend’s fundraiser, so it seems a little strange that he and I have suddenly started doing the man-dance right in the middle of of a crowded patio on a Sunday afternoon. But he’s Scottish, and I’m Irish, and the story of a wee Irish guy scrapping with a great Scottish hulk is a tale as old as love itself, and besides, I’m always one for a story, so I call back “Sure, brother” and stand up.
Before I can even get my arms up, I have a giant meatpile of angry, drunken Scotsman throwing his fists in my face. I hear/feel My tendons squeak a bit as his weight came down on my knee, so I know my knee was wrenched, and at some point I saw stars so I knew he got a good kiss in, but mostly I just kept grappling with him and tried not to worry too much about the damage already done in order to try and minimize the damage that was yet to happen.
Some colder, more removed part of me was also laughing its ass off because I suddenly found myself climbing Mt. Slappy McHaggis when, less than ten seconds before, I had been drinking bourbon and chatting with some very old friends about the nuances of feminism, rape culture, and male privilege.
Trust me, the irony didn’t escape me, even at the time.
It was also, in some sense, tragic: this was someone I had been friends with for fifteen years, someone whom I had always considered Family. This was a man I had always thought would have my back in a fight, not someone who would suddenly be trying to bury their fists in my face.
It was also, in some sense, inexplicable: this was a guy with a six inch height and a fifty pound weight advantage over me, who I know for a fact thinks of himself as honorable and chivalrous.
And finally, in every sense it was hideously dangerous: physical fights are terrifically dodgy ideas to begin with. I mean, I have anger issues, and I’m a big fan of consensual violence between men, but fighting is chock full of the potential for really shitty consequences; come in at a bad angle, you can crack the zygomatic bone and blind someone; land wrong after a takedown, you can tear tendons and lame them; knock them off balance, and you can crack their head on a curb and there you are, in prison for the next two decades of your life, and the guy who was looking at you funny that one night in a bar is shitting into a bag.
I mean, who knew, but physically beating someone into submission is really hard, and pretty risky when it all comes down to it.
And over what?
The perception that you’ve been disrespected when a friend suggests that you stop interrupting another friend while they speak?
The perception that you’ve been disrespected when someone calls you out for rude behavior?
On the masculine side of things, it makes me very sad for men as they grow older; go through divorces; lose their businesses; have their children taken away. As men, we’re never taught to build communities, or examine our feelings, or build genuinely intimate connections with other men. We’re taught that we can share two emotions: lust and anger. And we’re taught to use those two brutal, clumsy tools to solve every challenge that we experience in our worlds. This is the price we pay for our privilege.
But on the feminine side, my experience makes me much sadder. See, I’ve been thinking about that fight ever since it happened. It’s been a long time since I was in a real fight, and a long time since I was in a fight with a real fighter. And that means it’s been a long time since I had to really think about what it must be like to have to be constantly wary of the rage of men. I did well for a wee Irish guy, for the few seconds that our scuffle went on, I held my own; but those few seconds were enough to earn me a black eye an d weeks worth of limping. And if we hadn’t been in a public place, surrounded by friends, I would have been fucked. Right proper fucked. Rabbit in a hound’s mouth fucked. Fucked like every abused wife in a trailer or McMansion is fucked. Which, ironically, is what the conversation we were having to begin with was all about: when that fight popped off, we were discussing the reality that about half of the world’s population has to process that the at any given moment, some member of the other half of it could go savagely violent on you with no warning, rhyme, or reason. And this reality is something every woman I know has to deal with every day. The irony is remarkable: simply discussing the topic of male rage and expecting equality from all participants was enough to provoke this guy to violence. What I experienced in that brief window of time was being punched right out of my privilege for a minute. In that moment, I was reminded, very briefly, what being assaulted by someone much bigger and much more aggressive than you are is like; what it’s like to go toe-to-toe with someone to big for you to resist, let alone overcome. And it reminded me why I care, why I fight, and why feminism is always worth fighting for, with our words, our tongues, our fists, or a goddamn barstool, needs must.
So, yeah. I’m abandoning the world of men. I’m abandoning the idea of egos so fragile they can’t bear criticism. I’m abandoning the idea of size as strength, might as right, and women as an audience. And most of all, I reject the idea of using your power as a tool to enforce your will, rather than using it as a tool to protect your Family.
Always punch up. Never punch down.
We’re going to win this.