All Men Are Jerks And Other Lies: Why D-wads Need To Stop Giving Good Guys A Bad Rap
There’s this man who used to come to my classes when I taught at different studios (where I no longer teach) who I run into at the gym every so often. I worked out this afternoon and went to get a coffee. This man happens to be behind me in line, totally fine. I go and wait for my coffee, he comes over to talk to me. Whatever. But the thing is, half the time he was talking to me, half the time he was talking to my chest. He kept talking, kept stepping in closer, kept glancing down. It got so obvious and uncomfortable that I crossed my arms and held my freaking clutch purse over my top 1/3 to literally create a shield from his darting eyes.
I go to the same place every workday to get lunch. The floor staff around the produce and smoothie area is mostly male, and I’ve gotten so much kindness from them I can’t even count the instances. They’ve even cracked jokes with me when we both witness something absurd (and that happens a lot). But there is this one “bro” who on multiple occasions has given me the look-over or even muttered a “Daaaamn” as I walked away from him (although – or maybe because – he knows I’m in earshot). While he is on the job. I love this place and I will not stop going – but I will also not stop zipping through the salad bar area making no eye contact, ice queen demeanour’d, until this guy either quits his ogling, or the kind, humanly treatment by others makes me feel safe to walk through without anticipating that anger will get the better of me when I hear his leers.
I heard a couple of grocery store men talking about me one day in Spanish while organizing carts. This was in the San Fernando Valley, in the summer, so naturally I was wearing a tank top and denim shorts so that I would not die of heat exhaustion. Now, I don’t speak Spanish well (at all), but I can understand. I later called up the store manager and let him know that his employees, while I did not want to get them fired, were acting completely out of line. To this day I still zip through grocery stores unless there have been established acts of genuine kindness and human treatment to make me believe otherwise. These guys are not only souring their own reputation, they’re making it worse for every great guy out there – and believe you me, there are a lot.
I sometimes wonder if men realize that it is more risky to say “don’t say that/don’t look at me like that” than to just put on a “bitch face” or pretend to ignore them.
I’ve been close friends with the opposite gender my entire life: one of my first friends was a boy in my preschool class named Baron; I vividly remember playing Lite Brite with him, his marionette show birthday party, and the fancy holiday parties his family used to throw. Fast forward to elementary school, and while I wasn’t a tomboy or particularly good at sports at all (except running, when I chose to be!), I always had a strong male presence in my life. Most of my playdates were with girlfriends, but it just so happened that the group of families my own family became super tight with had mostly boys – mostly around my age, many in my class. And so we’d laugh over stupid jokes and crazy antics, we’d film fake talk shows and horror films and play borderline-dangerous games at the beach and by the pool. During the school year, from 9-3 they were my friends and classmates. On weekends and summers, though, they were my brothers – relationships that still hold true to this day, no matter where life has taken us. In high school, some of my best friends were guys, and beyond that, even to this day, some of my longest-standing friendships in my adult life are men.
And then, of course, there’s my brother: only three years (and four months, but who’s counting) younger than I, he was my first true friend, the first person who made me feel like I wasn’t a girly girl, I wasn’t one of the boys – I was just ME.
I’ve spent hours trying to argue the case for good men to my fellow ladyfriends. They’ll say that males care about your body and nothing more, they’ll give their own version of the Harry vs. Sally debate. I’m always Sally. Because I know from experience, because I have so much firsthand evidence to prove the opposite. I promise them that there are way more wonderful men out there than asses, just like these are so many more amazing women in the world than hurtful, shallow ones.
And then…I get looked at a certain way…or get cat called…and although I’m the biggest champion of the Good Guys that I know, I realize why those stereotype of “all men only want one thing from you” still holds true.
I know that a little negative energy can go a long way, both personally and professionally. At work, I take each reprimand or faux pas as a huge, reputation-killing instance, and they stick with me for way longer than I’m sure they do most people. I got called out on a mistake the other day at one of my jobs and my mind instantly went back to all the other criticism I’ve received over the last 3+ years. I started to think that I must be seen as such a screw-up, as such a disappointment. Never mind that the last “big” instance I could remember was over a year ago – it felt recent. And so every day, I do my very best to show up full-headed and full-hearted, ready to be exemplary and blaze a path for myself on a team I admire deeply, be the best I can be for the people I hope to empower. Yet no matter how much positive feedback I get, no matter how many people I see smiling because of an experience I helped to create, those instances always stick in my brain. You don’t forget moments in which you feel less-than; they’re always lurking in the corners.
But back to the men. It’s a shame to me that the good guys are so eclipsed by the criticisms of men. A study done by the HBR states that the proper positive-to-negative ratio in order to experience growth is 5.6 to 1. For the sake of this piece, that means that for every cat call or inappropriate glance, it would take 5.6 acts of kindness and empathy from 5.6 different men to negate the one hurtful instance that occurred that very same day. It pains me to say this, but on most days, that just does not happen. Women experience at least two instances per day that make us put our guard up, and it’s unfortunately rare that a man voluntarily, outwardly, acts kind or gregarious or cordial to a female stranger unless he is in the service industry (in which case it’s in his job description to be pleasant and PC to you). This solitary world we live in encourages that we keep to ourselves during day-to-day activities, meaning the ones who speak up or leer are the ones we see and hear.
I do truly believe the majority of guys are nice guys. But sometimes my day-to-day experiences make me question that thought. Have I just gotten incredibly lucky in my life, or are the jerks truly few and far between? Are my female friends who side with Harry all correct, or have they been brainwashed by the ratio of positive-to-negative they experience per day? Sometimes I go out into the world wearing an exercise tank top with long leggings. Nothing different than what I and millions of other women wear to go to work out and/or teach EVERY DAY. And I run into guys I peripherally know. The fact that I have a larger chest and a friendly persona is not an invitation for you, someone I do not know at all and have absolutely no rapport with, to ogle me like I am some freshly baked doughnut at a pastry shop. It makes me sad, because the men I really know, the men I do have a rapport with, the men that treat me like a human being, they would never do this to someone who was no more than a familiar face – let alone a complete stranger! – just “because they could.”
I’m not taking about hitting on ladies trying to get a number, even though that (if coming from an intrusive place) is uncomfortable as well. I’m talking about the looks and comments that serve no purpose other than to take a peek or see how far you can go. Genuine interest is great, invading our space is not. I am a woman and I have a body of which I’m damn proud. It’s been through a lot and I’m proud to walk around in it. I dress tastefully – sometimes relaxed, but always tastefully. Sometimes showing some skin, but it’s Los Angeles, it’s 2014, and I will not live my life afraid to wear a tank top. A tank top! I’m not talking about a see-through slip here (which is not an invitation for harassment, either). But if I feel great wearing fabric that hugs my body, you best believe I am wearing it! Contrary to popular belief, most women do not dress to impress men, nor do they dress to impress other women. They dress to impress themselves. To admire who they are. To feel like they know themselves. I don’t care if anyone comments on my new dress. Or the fact that I’m in sweats and Uggs. I care that I feel smokin’ hot in both bod and soul in what I’m wearing, helping me to feel more at ease telling the world about what I have to offer long after the outfit changes.
Of course, women can do a lot. By looking out for the good guys in our lives, we can slowly start to shift our focus onto those that really matter. However, this long-rambling-somewhat-emotional piece is about men doing their part not just for women, but for all the nice guys out there who are trying to find connection (whether in a friend or a romantic partner) and all the great men who are being slighted (just like the genuine and sincere women who are being slighted by those who go out teasing men, carelessly partying all night, and therefore encouraging all the jerks to thrive in their element).
I know so many of you, Good Guys. My brother. His friends. My friends from childhood, my friends from now. My coworkers. My class members. My family. My dad, who is always thinking of others and is always at the ready with a way to make a connection or offer sound advice to anyone who needs it. My boyfriend; he is the embodiment of everything I have believed to be true of men and more, and for that I am grateful and thankful – not just for me, but for the hundreds of men he comes in contact with each week. He leads by example, he’s charismatic and respected, he looks to relate and respect instead of divide and demean. I am hopeful that his authentic character can show others the respectful and human way to treat not only women, but all people, all genders, all creeds, all ages.
Good Guys, the more you let yourselves be seen and heard just by being who you are every day, the more this stigma can hopefully change – and hopefully, moreover, drown out the forceful few who find it acceptable to leer, harass, abuse, or simply dehumanize women. Even the simple acts of non-romantic chivalry (i.e.. holding the door open), saying “have a nice day” when you exit the elevator, or smiling at the people around you (all genders) when your eyes meet – they all count. The more you do this, the more the stigma will evaporate – the stigma of all men being jerks or wanting “one thing,” the stereotype that makes us default to a fast-paced walk with keys under our knuckles, the one that makes mothers tell their toy-loving twelve year old daughters who look like they’re twenty and just want to hug people when they greet them to quit it with their effusive tendencies (hi) because someone might “get the wrong idea,” and they are too young to be fully aware of what it means when men thrice their senior look them up and down as they pass by.
I refuse to believe that all men are jerks, that they have a single-tracked mind, that the entire gender is wired to make us doubt and fear. I know too many nice, considerate, great, extraordinary guys to believe otherwise.
Good Guys, if you needed a sign that you are noticed, consider this it. Keep pushing to make that 5.6:1 ratio smaller every day. Whether you realize it or not – you are seen, you are appreciated, you are respected.