SnapShots: Man with Neck Tattoos

Originally posted at The Good Men Project here.

 

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I know a man with neck tattoos. Knuckle tattoos too. His tattoos are the kind of that tell a story the police want to know about. As far as the eye can see he is covered in prison tattoos. Only his face is clear.

He spent years doing the things people do when they are heavy into drugs. He spent years in in and out of jail.

Have you ever met someone who feels really peaceful to you? He feels like that to me.

One day he told me how he had been about to get into a fight with a man. He said he knew he could kill him and not care. But something happened in that moment and all of the anger from his whole angry life began to drain out of him. He could feel it drain from his head and on down his body until it soaked right into the ground. He said he’s never been the same, that the anger has never come back.

 

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Call for submissions for The Good Men Project’s new SnapShots section

SnapShots are those rare moments when someone you do not know suddenly snaps into such clarity that they become vividly real to you. SnapShots change the way you look at other people and the world.

I want to read your SnapShots. Most of them will be between 100 and 300 words, but the uniqueness and power of the moment is the most important factor.

Email questions and submissions to Veronicas.gmp@gmail.com

 

—Photo hutchphoto/Flickr

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Thank You Notes and Gender Roles

Originally posted at The Good Men Project as Do Men Ever Send Thank-You Notes?

 

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Our small family (myself, my husband and my two sons) have a reputation in the larger families (mine, my husband’s and my ex’s) for being bad about sending thank you cards. My sons are generally known for being exceptionally smart, respectful, fantastic boys, and my husband is known as a generous and helpful man. But in this one area, all of the families are united in their disapproval.

 

Years ago a family member sent gifts to my sons for Christmas. When the gifts came, I had the boys (ages 2 and 5 at the time) call her to thank her in their sweet tiny voices and genuine enthusiasm. Months later I found out there was a huge scandal in the family because she was upset that we had not sent a thank you card. I was shocked. Who would choose a thank you card over hearing those sweet voices? I can’t imagine being upset for months about not getting a thank you card. But even more confounding was that it came with two distinct types of disapproval. The disapproval for me was about my mothering and the disapproval for my then husband was connected to him not getting me to live up to family expectations.

 

All of the major players in our families have made hints and even demands. They’ve used diplomacy and downright guilt to try to get us to make the boys do thank-you cards. The disapproval over the cards is aimed mostly at me, even though my husband has never written a thank-you card in his life—even when his mom was the boss of him. Yet everyone also seems frustrated with him, not because he isn’t writing thank-you cards, but because he, like my ex, does not “make me” do “my job.”

 

When my husband was single, he never once wrote anyone a thank-you card and his family took it in stride. His family was lucky for the most part if he got gifts for them on traditional gift-giving holidays. If he did show up with gifts they were given in the bag from the store. If he was being extra fancy there might be an extra Target bag tied around it so there was less see through.

 

My husband sucks at expectations. He sucks at “shoulds.” If you tell him that he should call someone back, he will automatically have a block against doing it. What he rocks at is random acts of kindness and generosity. According to him, he “pretty much always” missed getting gifts for his family for Christmas, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day and birthdays. On the other hand, he once spent almost two years designing and building a custom art piece light fixture for his mom.

 

I have joined him on many covert surprise gift giving missions just because he got an idea for something a friend would love. I once came home to find he had somehow planted a tree in our yard. It wasn’t for a holiday, it was because I had described how much that kind of tree reminded me of my Papa. He doesn’t usually do anything really special for Valentine’s Day but he once drove 50 miles with a giant glass vase of roses in his lap (to keep it from spilling) just to bring it to me on a random work day.

 

I get that my family and in-laws believe that if we make my sons do thank-you cards every time that they will learn… something. I’m just not sure what they want them to learn if they do not expect them to write thank you notes when they are grown. We work hard teaching them to do things mindfully, to do things because they are kind and sincere. That is a lesson I expect they will take with them into manhood.

 

We do send thank-you cards on occasion. Just not, it seems, enough to satisfy The Family. Thankfully my husband is much less sensitive about his family’s expectations in that way than my ex was. He does feel bad for missing birthdays and not doing thank you cards. But he doesn’t feel any shame for not being able to control me, a concept he finds ridiculous. He feels equal responsibility for sending thank-yous, and we are equally bad at it. We’ve only been married for 6 years, there’s still time to send out the thank-you cards right?

 

If you expect thank you cards with such determination that not getting one causes you suffering, or if getting a gift on a set date each year is more important than receiving a thoughtful show of love or affection when the feeling strikes, you may be missing the point of giving. I am at peace with our families values and actions in regards to gifts and thank-you cards. I also think that my ability to accept gifts as my husband naturally offers them, instead of being angry that they aren’t on a schedule, is a gift to both of us.

 

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What I’m curious about is, why does it seem that mothers are expected to make boys write thank you cards, but men are not expected to write them? What is going on in our gender training that creates this odd dynamic? I have seen articles about job searches that encourage men to send thank you notes after an interview, do we expect men to be thankful for job interviews but not for personal gifts? Why in this day and age is there still an expectation that a husband should be able to control his wife in certain areas?

 

I would love some insight into this, please leave comments about your experiences and your thoughts on our expectations of men and boys in regards to gifts and thank you cards.

 

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Photo courtesy of author.

But She Wants It!

Originally posted at The Good Men Project here.

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We’ve been talking about looking at women respectfully around The Good Men Project. The Good Men’s top post right now is about a dad who is thinking about how he will explain to his son that, “It is a woman’s responsibility to dress herself in the morning. It is your responsibility to look at her like a human being regardless of what she is wearing.” Then in a really great discussion today among a few of the writers, one man explained that he’s confused by what he is supposed to do when confronted with a woman who is dressed in beautiful or sexy attire. My understanding of what he said was that he feels like women work to get attention for being attractive—but he is not supposed to look too much or compliment them on that attractiveness. This is a man with a Ph.D. in psychology from one of those really impressive schools and decades of working with gender roles. If he’s confused, I’m betting almost everyone is.

I think the problem is that we confuse the system with the individual. We confuse the unhealthy wants with the healthy needs. Our culture teaches and enforces that a woman’s value is in her ability and willingness to be attractive. It’s so universal, that when you meet a little girl you compliment her on how pretty she is, or how cute her dress is. I caught myself doing this not long ago and I know better. It’s an easy default when you don’t know someone. It’s the easy opener, it seems nice and it doesn’t ask them to talk to you except to thank you as if you’ve just done something for them.

I want to challenge you to think of complimenting women you are not in a relationship with as you would think of force-feeding candy to a diabetic. Yes, they may want the candy badly sometimes, even if they know it’s making them sick. You are not being kind or noble to give it to them. I know it feels good, as if you’ve done something positive. You think “I made her day.” It’s comfortable to say something “nice” about something so shallow, so accepted. Most women will find cheap pleasure in the complement or pretend to. So either way you don’t have to be mindful of what you are saying, you can just roll out the ‘old compliment them on their looks’ thing and move on. If a woman has any reaction but gratitude you get to say she’s being a bitch and feel superior because you were only being “nice.”

The problem with that is, you are not being kind. Everyone has an innate need to be valued and so often women are told the only value they have a chance of achieving is with their ability to attract male attention. People need to feel seen. Women and girls are often trained to believe that the only way to be seen is to be attractive to the eye. Men, you can related to this, right? Men and boys are often told they only have value in how well they provide, in how invulnerable they are, in how successful they are.

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Some people are probably saying “But some women like it! Why shouldn’t I give it to them if it makes us both feel good?” If you only care for your own “good feeling” then I hope you’ll spend some time thinking about why you would feel good doing something even if it feeds into someone’s unhealthy attention-seeking.

Other people may say, “But it does make her feel good.” This is where the analogy to candy comes back. You can get pleasure from being complemented. You can get pleasure from eating candy. You can get pleasure from using hard-core drugs. Pleasure is not an indication of health.

For some women, compliments on her looks are like having a candy bar. Not good for her but not that harmful, if she’s not having too much. For some women compliments on her looks can be like a candy bar every day for a diabetic, slowly and maybe silently damaging and undermining their health. For some women, compliments on looks are like crack. They hold a serious high at first, but eventually they are brought down to doing anything to get the next compliment, the next bit of attention. They need them just to try to feel somewhere near OK for just a moment.

Now I bet quite a few of you are going “WTF? Over dramatic much?!?” That’s OK with me because I’m not one of the women for whom compliments are an addiction or a disease. I got lucky, I was never abused as a child and I was always in the middle. I was never the pretty one, never told I was worthy because of how pretty I was. Nor was I ever the girl who was told she was ugly, sold the illusion that if she was pretty she would be worth something. I look around at the women around me and I feel like the one in a war zone who managed to not get hit by anything too serious. This isn’t personal to me, I get to be the reporter on the inside without being one of the badly wounded.

Since I’m not one of the badly wounded, I don’t have a personal story to share with you about seeking compliments while hating myself for doing so. But I sure see and hear enough of those stories. There are the stories from my girlfriends, most of whom have many times starved themselves in unhealthy ways, sacrificing their bodies in attempts to be attractive. There are the stories told by the bodies of the women I see around me who have taken their complement seeking to the extreme of plastic surgery. Sometimes to the extreme of living a life with not one part of them OK as it is. I see these women and they have covered themselves in makeup and fake tans, covered their smell with perfume, covered their eyes with contacts, covered their hair in dye and products, covered their body in things to change their very shape. Not one part of them is allowed to just be, not one part of them is OK as it is.

Do you want to play into that?

I am sure there are some of you who are saying “Well, if they say they like it, why should I believe you?” You are absolutely right. If you know someone well enough to have talked to them about this and they have said that they find compliments to their looks healthy or no big deal, respect that. But if you don’t know someone, I’m asking you to consider that even if they seem to be seeking attention and compliments, it may not be as simple as you think.

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I’m not sure how many of you know this, but there are women who dress attractively not to be noticed by men but to avoid being harassed. Women who do not conform to society’s idea of attractive are, in different ways and amounts, treated badly. Sometimes it’s just a matter of “more attractive/gender conforming = more privilege” but there are times when not being what society says women should be gets you abused or harassed. Sometimes it has to do with how much you weigh, sometimes it has to do with not wearing makeup or not shaving your legs, sometimes it’s the clothes you wear. On rare occasion not conforming to the expectation that you will do your best to be attractive puts women in danger of being assaulted.

Often it involves people telling you what you should be doing with your body. “Hey! Smile for me, it’ll make you beautiful!” or “Women should always wear jeans, they look sloppy in track pants” Sometimes it involves things like, “Let’s punch a fat person to see if they have feelings!” These are real examples BTW. If women don’t want that kind of attention they may not wear casual clothes to run to the store again, and the next man may say, “if she didn’t want attention why did she dress up to go to the store?” It’s a lose-lose situation for women.

It’s a lose-lose situation for men, too. Chances are that if you compliment a woman you don’t know on her looks you are very likely either irritating her or playing into dysfunctional dynamics she has going on. So what is the solution? How about if you just make it a point to never compliment a woman on her looks unless you know her well enough to know she is OK with it coming from you? You may even find that once you take that option off the table, you find much more interesting ways to engage a woman in discussion. If you have no interest in engaging her in discussion…don’t talk to her.

Once you take complements off the table, you may just find many more interesting ways to engage a woman in discussion.

I know this is complicated, any time you have someone who seems to want something and then says they don’t it’s confusing. It’s often confusing for the women who are doing it too. But I don’t think they are alone. I think that some men have a similar issue. Only for men it is not wanting to be desired for money. They truly do not want to be wanted because they have money. Yet the car they drive, the clothes they wear and the things they do are often an advertisement for the fact that they have money (even when they don’t). Does that mean that it’s healthy or acceptable for women to be with them for their money? I don’t think so. I don’t buy “she was asking for it” and I don’t buy “he was asking for it” either. In any situation. We all have the responsibility for our own actions.

How you treat people is about who you are. It is NOT about who they are or what you think they want or deserve.

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I’m interested to know if you can think of other areas men do this? Leave a comment on something you do or that you’ve seen other men do that advertises themselves for something they do not want to be valued for. I’m looking forward to a thoughtful insightful discussion.

Photo B Tal/Flickr

Let’s talk about those “5 important things women don’t know about men”

I tried to post this as a comment over at DDP but it wouldn’t let me. I’m not sure why but here are my thoughts.

I started writing for The Good Men Project recently and I admit that I don’t know much about the past issues, but my experience with them so far has been good.

I think you have a great point about compliments in our culture not being safe or appropriate for women to give in many situations, but I also think Noah has an excellent point if you think about it in the context of relationships. My husband seems surprised whenever I compliment him and he’s the sweetest man I’ve ever known so it took me awhile to understand that he had just never gotten compliments before.

I’m a proud and vocal feminist. I found Disrupting Dinner Parties around the same time as GMP(oddly enough) and have really really been enjoying it. I have linked to That’s Queen Bitch To You in more places than I can remember, it’s one of my favorite things I’ve ever read online. Ever.

I’m also a mom to two sons and I’m concerned about the way men are socialized and shamed in our culture. It’s different than what we do to our girls but I can’t write it off. I know that girls are far more likely to be sexually abused, I know girls are going to be struggling for equal pay and safety and to be taken seriously and hell all of the things feminism is fighting about and all of the things you guys are talking about here at DDP. My heart breaks for what women and girls go through in our world and I am willing to work to change it. But none of that makes me ok with the bad stuff that my sons have to deal with and will have to deal with, and the more I look the more I am absolutely convinced that all of the harm being done to our girls and our boys is being done by the same system. It’s not the boys against the girls it’s the system against us all. We all buy into the system in different ways and amounts and some of people are actively supporting the system. Both men and women. That’s how the system works, it brainwashes people to do its dirty work.

Hell how many times have we been going along thinking we are not supporting the system only to uncover one more layer of privilege or one more way we didn’t realize we were helping the system keep someone down? I grew up a feminist, I later had to learn about how race and trans issues needed to be taken into account too. It’s all a journey.

I’m willing to spend some time being my feminist, equality loving self over at GMP and maybe my little drops in the bucket will make a difference in some way. I’ve certainly read some great things over there(you linked to several of them) and am happy to be posted next to some of the other contributors. I’ve also read stuff there that made me roll my eyes or think “oh hell no.” But so far I’m growing and learning from things there, and from taking the time to force myself to write with men and boys in mind. Not because they are more important than women and girls, but because as a strong feminist (and overall sassy gal) I’ve always focused on how things affect women and girls and I find it valuable as a person and as a mother to purposefully shift my focus.

I think in the past I was trying to even things out, to balance out the sexism I saw. I’m not sure any more that’s the way to make a change. I think maybe the way to make changes is to start seeing how the system hurts everyone involved in it and stop comparing who is hurting the most. Not because the hurting is equal but because it is when you accept someone’s pain that they will accept yours. When it’s a contest of who has been harmed more than everyone feels minimized and brushed off and we fight each other instead of the system. When you honor how everyone has been harmed you can all be on the same side and it will take all of us to beat the system.

Last week on our weekly writers conference call the editors were looking for more diverse writers. Maybe you could submit some articles, or encourage anyone from underrepresented groups you know to submit articles.

Disrupting Dinner Parties

The viral nature of the internet is an interesting phenomenon and The Good Men Project, like Jezabel and other hyper-popular blog groups (even DDP has gotten some awesome press lately) is no stranger to it. One of the GMP featured articles from February started showing up all over teh Facebooks a couple weeks ago and I’d like to take a moment to address it because, well, some things need to be addressed.

Before I start though I’d like to acknowledge the fact that there is a long and complicated history between feminists and The GMP. The involvement of Tom Matlack and Hugo Schwyzer is enough to keep the controversy kettle at a rolling boil but also the content is overwhelmingly heteronormative and the group has a poor track record for rape-apology. Potentially the most egregious example being this piece [note: I’m linking to Feministe‘s takedown and not the original article…

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Being a Woman

I have a trigger recently, it just sets me off and I get ranty. That trigger is people talking about what makes someone a “real” or “true” woman. This is my response.

Being a woman has NOT ONE SINGLE THING to do with men. NOT ONE SINGLE THING. I know that many women find a sense of being more feminine in relationship to men but that is their personal dynamic and feeling. Men are NO part of *Being a woman* Being a woman is about BEING A WOMAN which includes ONE thing. Just one, being a woman. That’s all. You are a woman then you ARE a woman. You don’t need a man, many women spend their whole lives being “true” woman without ever being with a man. You don’t need to DO anything to be a woman, your womanhood does not depend on anyone else. You don’t have to be with anyone, you don’t have to have sex with anyone, you don’t even have to have anyone else in the universe know you are a woman to be a woman. You just are. It is your birthright  you are born that way even if you don’t like men, even if you have a penis, even if you can’t have children, even if you aren’t pretty. Being a woman is in your heart and soul not in anything outside of you. You do NOT have to earn it or your space in the world.

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