A brief disclaimer for those of you who are sarcasm deficient, and as we lack a universal sarcasm font, the title of this post is sarcastic. This stuff, in my opinion, is some of the Manliest of Man Shit J does.
‘Toxic masculinity’ is this controversial term that a lot of people (men *and* women, but mostly men for obvious reasons) have knee-jerk defensive reactions to because they mistakenly think it’s feminists calling all expression of masculinity and therefore all men toxic. But that’s not what the term really is. Toxic masculinity is the harmful ways patriarchy forces men to perform to ‘prove’ they are a man. Like ‘real men do <some kind of horseshit…usually dangerous or violent, leading to taking pain himself or causing pain to someone else>’ or ‘real men would never <some act/behavior that usually demonstrates brains and caution for self preservation and/or caring and empathy for other humans>’ or ‘be a man,’ or ‘act like a man’ or ‘man up’ when a man dares to have feelings other than anger that other people can see and doesn’t diminish them with wry humor.
For instance, J takes a yearly motorcycle trip with his friends from college. I like these men. I do. They are largely kind men who have been J’s friends for decades and are always nice to me and our son. But…these guys give J shit because he wears safety gear on the trip.
I guess ‘real men’ don’t wear helmets and sleeves when they ride. And a couple years back, their trip included some outdoor sleeping nights, and they mocked J for bringing a tent (they all just slept on the ground, uncovered from the elements and mosquitoes and rattlesnakes and bears and shit…you know…like ‘real men.’)
J wears sunscreen. J covers his bike when it rains and they’re parked, and he puts on rain gear when it rains and they’re moving. J calls home to check in with us often to make sure we’re safe at home and we know he’s safe on the road. J carries tools and a first aid kit. They tease him about all of this. Well…they don’t tease him about the tools and the first aid kit anymore, because he’s fixed a couple of their broken bikes on the road, and when one guy laid his down in a sharp curve, guess who had stuff to deal with road rash? <cough, cough, cough>
THIS is toxic masculinity. These same guys who have always been nice to me and our boy? When they were in town for a dinner and we all went, and it was unexpectedly raining when we left, teased J about running out to the car while The Boy and I waited under the awning. ‘My wife could just get wet.’ (Said a man who’s been divorced for over 20 years.) J’s ‘whipped’ because he does nice things for his family. THAT is toxic masculinity too.
Then you have the broader social climate which says that powerful men, ‘real’ men, are loud and brash and selfish. The undercurrent of sexism that’s been there for a few decades, dormant and mostly silent, has crept back up to the surface now, where there are things like ‘women’s work’ again. The folks who tout traditional gender roles as The Way Things Are Supposed To Be would probably love the surface observations of our house until they really got on the inside of things. I stay home and do homemaker and mom things. J goes to work at a pretty ‘manly’ job and when he comes home he does ‘man’ jobs at home too, like mowing grass and changing oil and shit. The Way Things Are Supposed To Be, according to Those Assholes. (Sorry…did I just type that out loud?) But J pitches in with ‘women’s work’ too. Because ‘women’s work’ is the work that needs to be done to keep the household running smoothly and everyone in the household healthy. Why would J not be invested in that? So he can be considered ‘a real man’ by some gender roles fanatics?
The two weeks surrounding my birthday last year weren’t the best on me, mental health wise. Lots of forced, obligatory socializing. Illness. J was away for a while on that motorcycle trip. Cancelled plans (which are a double edged sword…yeah…some introvert relief, but when I’ve prepared myself for them and then they don’t happen, that’s its own kind of suck). Feeling taken advantage of and ignored (not by J…’other people’). Demonstration of how little I’m regarded by most of the people in my life. Kavanaugh got confirmed.
I mean…it was a pretty lousy 12-14 days or so in a row, to be honest, with the exception of the day out I got to spend with J while our boy was at school the Friday before my birthday, and the kindness of a few folks I’ve formed friendships with here online.
So, because I was down in the dumps, J took his planned vacation days that he set up for a trip anyway, even though we barely left the house.
He ran the vacuum and did a couple of other household chores that are usually my area without being asked. (The ‘without being asked’ is important. Lots of folks will help you if you ask them, and if you need help, there’s no shame in asking, and it’s good to ask, because people aren’t mind-readers…but I mean damn. It sure is alleviating to have someone give you the help without having to ask for it when they can see the need. Also? Again? Stuff needed to be done. Doesn’t really matter to me or J who does it. I take the garbage out and put bookshelves together when J feels like crap too.) And he didn’t expect a special reward or try to make me feel guilty or like a failure because he did ‘extra’ things…he did ‘my work…he did ‘women’s work.’
He kept the television on my goofy food shows all day, even when I fell asleep laying on top of him on the couch, and I know they aren’t his favorite. He’d rather be watching car shows. Or old episodes of 1970s detective dramas. But he left the ‘girly’ baking shows on.
And then he took the bike out to get ‘sweet treats’ for after dinner (or whenever).
Yesterday was a snow day for our boy’s school and the boy wasn’t feeling well (which is always a major anxiety trigger for me). So I was pretty worn down from just doing regular household stuff plus taking the boy to the doctor’s office. J picked up the boy’s meds and a few odds and ends (including more sweet treats) on his way home from work, even though he worked late. He was tired too. According to the Man Police, I think he’s supposed to be upset with me now for not waiting with our sick boy in line at a historically uncooperative pharmacy because ‘he worked all day godammit.’ But he didn’t do that. He never does that.
One of my favorite ‘little things’ J does is, I’ll start a load of laundry, and then we’ll go on with our day on a weekend, and I’ll go downstairs for something else and think, ‘I’ll change that laundry now before I forget and it gets away from me and I have to wash it over again,’ and *it’s already been changed.* In fact, now it’s dry. I’m way ahead. Because J just changed it. And he didn’t draw attention to it. He didn’t do the grand announcement, ‘I changed that laundry *for you…*’ like I’m told a lot of men…even progressive men…do. He doesn’t ever say anything passive aggressive, hunting for fanfare for doing something that needs to be done like, ‘Did you notice I changed that laundry?’ For the record? I do notice. And then I write a post in a public forum about how freaking great J is because he does this stuff without asking for the ‘points.’
I have several friends and acquaintances who use the phrase ‘babysitting’ referring to men who are caring for *their own children.* I have a few friends who *don’t trust their husband* alone with the kids for very long, not because he’s some shifty predator or criminal, but because…he’s just kind of an apathetic doofus who doesn’t understand children need attention and supervision. And like…food sometime during the day. I know some women are underestimating the men in their lives in this regard, because they’ve bought into ‘he doesn’t know how to do it,’ (it being housework and/or child care responsibilities). But some of them are legitimately afraid. Because the men in their lives DON’T know how to do it, for real. And part of that? A big part of it? Is ‘real men don’t <have to do this kind of shit and/or know how to do this kind of shit…that’s for GIRLZZZ>.’ There are celebrity men who publicly mock other celebrity men for holding their babies. Seriously. That’s toxic masculinity. And that’s where this shit comes from. That it’s somehow ‘unmanly’ to take care of children, *even your own.*
I’ve never felt afraid to leave our son alone with J. Not even when he was a newborn baby. I have reservations about leaving our son with *my own parents*…with his friends’ parents…with other relatives…I’ve cried every single first day of school because New Teachers Responsible For My Son’s Welfare Most of the Day. But I’ve never felt anxiety about our boy being with J. He’s proud of fatherhood. And he’s damn good at it.
Manliness doesn’t always look like (in fact, at our house it NEVER looks like) barking orders and chest thumping. J doesn’t bark. He’s never loud.
It doesn’t look like the man being the ‘king of his castle,’ with his wife and children (if he has any) set up to serve him because he went to work all day and now he’s going to put his feet up…like his wife and children (if he has any) are only there for his benefit. It surely doesn’t look like being unprepared or unsafe or violent or careless or callous to prove ‘manhood.’
OFTEN, what it looks like is J recognizing my needs and helping me take care of myself when I’m run down from trying to take care of other people, more often than not at my own expense. J takes care of me the same ways I take care of him. J takes care of anything he sees needs to be taken care of…just like I do. We’re *partners.* We’re a team. If your partner…if your teammate…is having an ‘off’ game, you pick up the slack. Personally, although I HATE that phrase, I think that’s what ‘real men’ do.
I’m grateful for J every day. Probably especially for the ‘un-manly’ shit he does. (HEY! More sarcasm. Just so we’re clear.)