I am, by and large, surrounded by truly exceptional men. We’re talking the whole package: kindness, intelligence, self-awareness, social awareness, respectfulness, diligence, loyalty, and on and on. I’ve dated, by and large, exceptional men of the same caliber. When I say “Good men are out there” to my friends down in the love department, it’s not some cotton-swaddle missive to soothe a broken heart. I could easily end that sentence with “and let me give you one of their phone numbers right now.”
The only trouble with the good men who are everywhere is that they already know how terrifying the world is for the women in their lives. They already know that the women connected to them are whole individuals deserving of respect. They also don’t understand why they’d even have to defend the idea in a conversation. They’re already secure and they don’t go looking for fights because they’re probably are or have been embroiled in a few real-life, real-problem fights that threatened a real element of their lives. This an enormous part of what makes a good man. It is a problem because our good men are not practiced at loud public arguments (and thank God) and they have no desire to start them.
So, good guys, it’s time to get better at confrontation. Because bad men only respond to the shame and confrontation of a good man. A bad man cannot neutralize a good one with his words, but a good one can quickly snuff the toxic fires started by bad men. I have seen so many good men execute this with swift and painless precision. But it takes eye contact and a lot of honesty.
When I dated a boy in college, he noticed that a racist poster had been hung in the common space at his campus apartment. To a pair of snickering roommates, he said, “What the fuck is that? Seriously?” and we walked to his room. When I came out, the poster was gone.
When a super drunk asshole was giving me hell at a bar, a good man grabbed him by his arm and, clear as day said, “It’s time to go.” When the greasy drunk protested, cursed, screamed, a good man kept on saying, “It’s time to go,” and stood by the door until he was sure the idiot wouldn’t come back. There was no need for a fight or an argument, and there was no fight.
I have seen which men walk away from gross conversations, and I have written a little list of the ones who leaned in and bumped elbows and giggled. That list is composed of men who, in my mind, form a little sideways ladder up toward my goals, and as I step on their necks they screech “MISANDRY!” and I laugh and laugh and step on the next neck. What was I saying? Anyway.
Bad men’s MO is all the same, because it has nothing to do with any other impulse beyond, “I can do whatever I want.” Bad men feed off of their ability to make people uncomfortable because they don’t know how to respond to someone openly being an asshole. They need the vacuum of good manners to live.
So, good men, I am asking you to refuse them any quarter, anywhere, anytime.
It doesn’t take much. It can be as simple as saying, “Gross. Bye.” when someone starts defending the Trump shit. I might also suggest just screaming the word “PROTEIN!” and flexing anytime someone starts talking about the “hot piece of ass” in the next cubicle. At the very least, I’m challenging good men to remove themselves from any situation where toxic masculinity is being celebrated or encouraged. Not slide out the door. Not pretend you have a phone call. Look them in the eyes, turn on your heel, and walk away from folks in mid-sentence. In the best case scenario, you’d openly mock them. You’d do cartoonish impressions. You’d look them in the eyes and tell them they’re the kind of guy you warn the women in your life about. You’d look them in the eyes and tell them, yes, women laugh at him exactly the way he’s so afraid of. Out loud. In front of everyone.
Then we would watch them shrink away to nothingness. Because ultimately, no matter the root, most bad men are just ticks on the side of good men. They’re like rats in the gutter that continue to get in polite society through a little hole called “the benefit of the doubt.” Because we view others the way we view ourselves, and good men don’t talk like that. They don’t muse aloud about sexual assault or the future hotness of a 4th grader (MICED. ON. CAMERA. OR. OTHERWISE.) And when bad men minimize the vile cretin in themselves coming out in their words as run of the mill “guy stuff,” they bring down the stock of good men.
Right now, your stock is way, way down. But there’s a way to cut your losses. Call out bad men, and do it loudly and as often as you can. At bars, at work, and yes, in locker rooms too. If there are some ladies who hear it, great. What’s makes a bigger, real-world impact? Call that shit out in all-male spaces, when there is no doubt about who you mean to hear it and for what reason. Because here’s the secret: bad men will never listen to us, because they don’t think we’re people. That’s why you have to do all the talking.
Ooof. So exhausting, right? Now take that feeling, multiply it times a thousand, load it into a crop duster, fill the clouds, and stand outside while a billion gallons of female frustration rains on you from the heavens. Because ain’t nobody more tired than us. And we need you to help us get back to a place where we can rest and feel safe–long, long after the election is over.