What's (the) one thing I can do to become a better man?
December 31, 2017 3:56 PM   Subscribe

Both personal and societal changes have made me wonder - what can I do to become the best man I can be?

While reflecting on this past year, surely the most significant and taxing twelve months I've ever lived through, I've come to realize something. I don't want any personal resolutions or goals for the coming year. There are a few reasons for this. Firstly, I have quite consistently failed to live up to them previously. Secondly, I've lost many of the anchor points that defined me and after lots of soul-searching I can't quite determine who I am or want to become. And finally, I feel that my personal and professional ambitions (and resulting struggles) have all too often stood between me and the people who I value most.

Another realization is that almost all of these people are women. I am in awe of the women in my life, and I owe them so much: my former partner's love and her infinite courage, not in the least the courage it took to cut ties with me and choose her own destiny; my mother's unconditional support and care for me and my siblings; my friends' diverse, often bold choices and their invaluable advice. I have also become the godfather to my brother's daughter who was born a few months ago. All of this, combined with current events, has led me to a few questions.

What can I do to become a better man? Or, what is a quality, a skill, a habit that a man certainly needs to possess (or a thing he needs to realize, needs to learn, needs to read,...) to be able to be a good uncle to his niece, a good son to his mother, a good partner to someone somewhere down the line? What is required of a man, in this day and age?

I know this question is quite general (and awkwardly phrased), but the answers can be really specific. Maybe they can become actual resolutions for this new year.
posted by Desertshore to Society & Culture (16 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
Speaking as a woman, I want to be seen as a person first, female second. So, I would like you to consider the difference between your penultimate paragraph and this rewrite:

What can I do to become a better person? Or, what is a quality, a skill, a habit that a person certainly needs to possess (or a thing they need to realize, need to learn, need to read,...) to be able to be a good mentor to their nibling, a good child to their parent, a good partner to someone somewhere down the line? What is required of a person, in this day and age?

The answer, of course, varies person to person but the statements in the Four Agreements are a good starting point.
1, Be Impeccable with Your Word
2. Don’t Take Anything Personally
3. Don’t Make Assumptions
4. Always Do Your Best

No. 3 is very relevant to restoring respect for women as people first. In other words, don't assume that there is anything about being a good man that doesn't apply to being a good person. Seeing yourself as a person first, man second, and then following through on the four agreements should help you become the best you can be.
posted by Thella at 4:41 PM on December 31, 2017 [34 favorites]

Get into the habit of thinking of women as fellow humans, not as some mysterious and monolithic other--and be the one to speak up with the other men in your life show that they aren't yet in that habit, or have forgotten.

The world would be such a better place if people didn't normalize and give tacit approval to sexist/racist comments, rape "jokes," and objectification by not saying anything when it happens.
posted by rhiannonstone at 8:16 PM on December 31, 2017 [13 favorites]

The one thing that I would say is to call out other men when you hear them say things that are racist/sexist/etc. Don't let even throwaway comments about a woman being a "slut" or whatever to unchallenged. Notice if someone calls a woman shrill or obnoxious. Do this to friends especially, but everyone to whom you are speaking. The more men can de-normalize that kind of talk the better.
posted by brainmouse at 8:26 PM on December 31, 2017 [14 favorites]

The art of manliness blog may be helpful.

Say what you mean. Mean what you say.

Find out your values and stand up for them.

Take the high road. Resist the base instincts to get defensive or angry. Take the generous interpretation of others.

Protect the weaker members of society - those with less voice or political power: children, those in poverty, elderly, with chronic illnesses...
posted by St. Peepsburg at 10:20 PM on December 31, 2017 [2 favorites]

I am loathe to get too gender essentialist in my answer, but with an introduction like that you know that's exactly what I'm about to do.

Plus, you asked for specifically manly virtues, so there's no easy way to answer that without going down some kind of essentialising path.

So here goes. It's plagiarised I think from some mens' podcast that I no longer listen to. Something about Being A Better Man, which was the kind of thing that the satirical Dexter Guff podcast is making fun of. A bit too much about realising your inner power to drive your entrepreneurial career (etc) for my tastes. Not really my thing.

But it went along the lines that we've lost sight of what it means to be a man, and that while feminism has for decades promoted this and that as great things for women, we men are almost afraid now to make a peep about any of our stuff actually being, you know, much good or valuable at all.

It may have set up a contrast between women as being more about nurturing, and men as being the protectors. Not always, not 100% black & white, either gender (and other genders) can do exactly whatever they like, but if you want the essence of traditional masculinity it's about being that kind of stable, reliable protector figure that you could imagine from people like mentors, wise managers, or real or 'adopted' older brother or father figures.

It means you put people around you at ease. They feel safe and know you will have their back. They can go to you with requests or questions or for any kind of discussion and know you won't put them down, judge them, retaliate, or otherwise behave like a bratty child. This protectiveness and putting people at ease is meant in any sense you like: emotional, physical, material, whatever.

It includes much of what's in the answers above: you step in (with gentleness and firm kindness) if other men talk out of line, for example. Or you just keep a passive eye out that other people aren't in danger, say when walking home. Is that old dude over there OK? Is that group of teenagers likely to harass the young woman walking past? Just keep an eye out. Be present.

Anyway, that's the gist of it. It's a kind of Tower of Strength idea, but minus all the bits about being impassive, or just strong, or just a tower, or a Strong Silent Type. It's perhaps better embodied in the concept of a gentle-man.

And it's not all that different from nurturing, either, just with a slightly different angle or lens. You nurture by making people feel safe; by helping enable them to carry on as themselves.
posted by UbuRoivas at 11:59 PM on December 31, 2017 [4 favorites]

Thank you so much for your answers! It was nice waking up to these in the new year.

I realize my post already assumes some difference between (the roles of) men and women. I see now that it paints a rather traditional and essentializing picture of - for example - the 'mother', which happens to be the (narrow-minded) perspective in which I see my own mother. I realize there are preconceptions there, and I welcome the challenges to them - I just couldn't find a way to ask the question so that it would elicit the same responses. I had tried to rephrase it like Thella has done, and indeed, many of the answers would be the same. But I guess I am asking about "specifically manly virtues", even if they consist in breaking patterns of what has hitherto been considered as such. Given the existing preconceived notions in society, the power imbalances, all of our (and my) biases, what can a man do - from his specific position - to be the best he can be? But maybe this question just isn't a fruitful one to ask - than that, too, is something that I've learned from asking it.

Also, I admit that I'm not as well-read in issues about gender as I should be, even though I was trained as a philosopher - in an all-male department... Tips on this front also welcome!

(I'll stop thread-sitting now...)
posted by Desertshore at 1:38 AM on January 1, 2018 [1 favorite]

Read and listen to women this year. Reporters, authors, podcasters, directors, music - switch to women. Listen to women's voices for a year.
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 2:25 AM on January 1, 2018 [17 favorites]

I came here to say in part what dorothyisunderwood said. Firstly: listen to women— not just those in your family, and not just ones you find attractive, and not just the ones everyone else already listens to. You’ll have to deliberately do this without becoming defensive. You’ll have to deliberately be quiet. Women authors, artists, musicians, directors, politicians, philosophers, women in your office, women cashiers, old women, fat women, little girls, poor women, lesbians, friends, women of color, women who annoy you, women you disagree with, all kinds of women. On all kinds of topics. And just listen, without automatically arguing, without asserting yourself as a good man, without saying you already knew what they were telling you, without one-upping. Don’t show off about this, or make women be your teachers for free. This is a silent activity, and a lifelong one.

Secondly. It seems it is dawning on you how much women have given you. Learn about the concept of emotional labor and do your fair share. Consider all the thankless invisible work women do in families, friend groups, relationships, workplaces, our culture, and ask yourself why this is acceptable. Ask yourself who made your meals, kept your house clean, who made your birthdays and holidays, your social arrangements, your doctor’s appointments. Who noticed when you needed a new winter coat. Ask yourself who brings snacks for the office, who picks up the sympathy cards. Ask yourself whose orgasm was more important in your relationships, ask yourself who was in charge of discussing the state of the relationship. Notice which friends you call when you need to talk, how women are often unpaid therapists for the men in their lives. Ask yourself why women are more likely to be on diets and have eating disorders, learn how much time and money we spend on beauty even though we make less money for the same work. Listen to the words men use when they talk about us. Consider what we go through and what we give. Balance this out. Give more and take less.

Thirdly, a lot of us right now are dealing with flailing men who either want us to tell them what do, or more likely, reassure them they are already good. If you do this, you’re still relying on women to fix what’s your job to fix.
posted by kapers at 5:44 AM on January 1, 2018 [28 favorites]

Read more.
posted by belau at 5:54 AM on January 1, 2018 [2 favorites]

Read the emotional labor thread here.

Read books written by people who are marginalized.

Don't tell people you're doing this. Just do the work.

Don't ask women to do the heavy lifting for you. Find your own readings and your own media to consume. Thank the women who do help you.
posted by sockermom at 6:17 AM on January 1, 2018 [15 favorites]

Jokes based on stereotypes aren’t acceptable. If you tell them, stop.

Stereotypes can be useful, though. Think about how various male stereotypes that you don’t like would act, and don’t do that.

Women are not there to look nice for you, clean up after you, make you feel better, or have sex with you.
posted by Anne Neville at 7:27 AM on January 1, 2018 [4 favorites]

Develop your emotional intelligence.

Take advantage of opportunities to become more tactful, concise, substantive in how and what you communicate.

Strive for humility - in how you assess yourself and in your dealings with others.

Thoughtfully evaluate your beliefs, values, perspectives - even the smartest are capable of unconsciously adopting cheeky and clever ‘bumper sticker philosophy’ as an acceptable substitute for nuanced and complex thought. “People don’t have ideas; ideas have people.”

Be decisive.
posted by tackypink at 7:36 AM on January 1, 2018 [3 favorites]

Listen to women. Read things that are written by women. Resist the urge to chime in with your own opinion. A lot of the things you read may make you feel uncomfortable or icky or bad, and you want to be reassured that you aren't bad.

Do not try to get women to reassure you about this. That discomfort you feel? That's growing pains.

Read the emotional labor thread. Think about it. Think about it more. Then learn to do your own emotional work. This means:
-take responsibility for your own self-care: make doctor appointments and keep them
-learn to identify, process, and deal with your own emotions. Learn to self-soothe. Learn to reassure yourself.
-make friends. Build the friendships you already have. Learn to form mutually supportive non-sexual, non-romantic friendships with people. This means that you do as much supporting as being supported.
-communicate with honesty. Learn to say things like "I want to talk about something but it's hard to know how to start."

The way to learn this is to study it. Read up on it. Possibly work with a therapist on it. Do NOT try to get your female friends or family members to teach you, for free.

Read about privilege and intersectionality. Learn what those concepts mean. Think about how they apply to your life.

In spaces where you have privilege, use it to amplify the voices of people who are marginalized. "Janelle was just making a fantastic point that I don't want us to lose. Janelle, would you mind expanding on that idea a little?"

Respect soft "nos". If you don't know what that means, look it up.

Remember that as a man, you fall into the statistically most threatening group toward women, and act accordingly. There are plenty of places online where you can read about this: Google, for example, Shroedinger's Rapist.

Be trustworthy. If a woman tells you that a man was creepy/inappropriate/harassing/assaulting to her? BELIEVE HER. Do not immediately jump in to tell her all the reasons she shouldn't be bothered or it wasn't such a big deal.

Storytime: Once I was minding my own business, eating lunch alone at a restaurant and writing in a notebook. A man, a stranger, sat down at my table and started talking to me in a way that made me very uncomfortable. Despite my refusing to make eye contact, responding only in monosyllables, and being obviously uncomfortable, he wouldn't leave. Instead, he doubled down: "am I scaring you?"
"Well, yeah," I said, "since I asked you to leave me alone and you won't."
"You shouldn't be scared! I just want to make friends!"
This went on for some time. It was terrifying: would he try to follow me? Was he armed? Would he go into a rage? How could I escape?
I finally did escape, and was shaky and frightened the rest of the day. When I talked about my experience, many men - even *good* men, men I trust - immediately started trying to find excuses for him, or reasons why he wasn't REALLY scary. "Was he old?" "Was he foreign?" "Maybe he just didn't understand." I think that they were trying to soothe me by "proving" that I hadn't "really" been in danger, from this one guy, at this one time. But what they were proving was that they had no real concept of how it feels to know that strange men think that you owe them your time and attention just because they want it, and that they feel entitled to make you uncomfortable and afraid if it gets them that attention, and that we have no way to tell the difference between the one who will go away eventually and the one who will pull a gun and kill us, or follow us to our car and assault us, or try to get our personal information and stalk us.

If you want to be a better man, really internalize this truth, the truth that every woman you know lives with every day. And when you see some dude pushing boundaries? Call him on it.

"Hey, man, let her read her book in peace."
"Dude, she said she doesn't want to dance, it's not cool to keep bugging her."
"Rape isn't funny, and neither are rape jokes. That's not cool."

Please note that these interventions are addressed to the MAN WHO IS BEING CREEPY. "Is this guy bothering you?" is well-intentioned, but it still puts it on the woman to manage the situation, and the woman is having to make risk assessment calculations: if she says yes, he is, will the guy then wait outside the bar for her? Will he become enraged?

(Please note that there is a whole cycle that goes on, where men are taught that anger is the only emotion it is acceptable for them to have, so they end up channeling all their negative emotions into rage. This is why it's important for a good man to learn to identify emotions like sadness and rejection and fear and process them as what they are, not turn them into anger and make them someone else's problem - usually a woman's problem.)
posted by oblique red at 8:01 AM on January 2, 2018 [5 favorites]

Also, I admit that I'm not as well-read in issues about gender as I should be, even though I was trained as a philosopher - in an all-male department... Tips on this front also welcome!

In that case, start by reading this.
posted by dizziest at 8:52 AM on January 2, 2018 [2 favorites]

There is not ever one thing. Deeply within yourself acknowledge that there are countless things, that the weight of patriarchy seeps into our brains and our bodies and our actions and our emotions and is so far-reaching that it is EVERYWHERE and in everyone. Take in that to become a "good man," (AKA a good human) your small kneejerk responses to women or even to the idea of Women have to shift and change and it will hurt and feel uncomfortable and weird.

Believe women when they tell you their experiences if they feel safe enough to tell you. Don't try to make excuses for other men or assume that a woman just "didn't understand" a man's perfectly innocent intentions.

Don't over-talk or "mansplain" to women - assume that we are intelligent and will ask questions if we need to. This includes monopolizing air time in a group of people who are women. The more you talk, the less the group can hear other voices.

Don't assume that because you know you're a "good" guy that women should know that too - we don't know you, we don't ever know who could be the guy to suddenly become terrifying. Try to understand that living life as a woman and being out in public means that much of the time there is a constant running monologue in the back of our minds that is checking, checking, watching, watching to make sure that we aren't in danger. Assume that we have a better radar for danger than you do because we've been trained to keep a lookout our entire lives. Don't scoff or mock us for being too careful.

"Men are afraid that women will laugh at them. Women are afraid that men will kill them." - Margaret Atwood

Take that in. Deeply, let it fill your mind and your heart. This is our reality.
posted by fairlynearlyready at 5:45 PM on January 2, 2018 [3 favorites]

As you shed the skins of your previous paradigms it's apparent you are working to realign yourself and discover a deeper, truer self. The one thing you can do to become a "better" man, or human being, is to become more Present. This will naturally lead to deeper empathy, control, peace, creative power, bonding, healing, nourishment, inclination to protect etc. How you get there is another thread, (start with quiet meditation) but an awakened consciousness will not only let you relate to the women in your life, but to everyone in your life - even Life itself.
posted by mrmarley at 7:54 PM on February 16, 2018 [1 favorite]

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