As a single guy, one of the things I am most concerned about is women. As a writer interested in people, one of the things I have always been interested in is the relationship between men and women. How are the dynamics changing? How were they set in the first place? What traits or actions do we attribute to a good man or a good woman? Someone who we would, most of all marry, but overall, who we would respect as a member of their respective sex.
My eyes and ears are always tuned to these kinds of details whenever I meet a new girl or a new couple, but my focus was especially drawn when my mom sent me this article the other week. I read the article and thought that it raised some valid points, but that it was slightly condescending towards other women. Not condescending but perhaps not giving women enough credit or options to solve their identity issues in regard to their relations with men. I thanked my mom for sending me the reading material and moved on.
The next day, I received that week’s issue of New York Magazine. I started in the back with the Approval Matrix (come on, who doesn’t?) and made my way forward. I found the back interview they always do with a celebrity. This issue it was Rashida Jones who actually won me over as an all-around, earthy babe in I Love You, Man. The interview touched on some comments Jones had made at the 2010 Tribeca Film Festival regarding monogamy in today’s culture. In the New York interview, Jones expanded on the quote:
“I feel like I have to amend this, because I know I said that, but I feel like women are more responsible than I originally stated. I think that women are powerful and they're multifaceted and they're survivors; they don't have to depend on a man to do the things they needed them to do, whether it was hunting or lifting heavy things, so what's a man's place now? Who knows! So I think that in a reaction to that, guys are in this drawn-out adolescence where they're screwing a bunch of girls and playing video games and acting like boys until they're 40, because they can. They can maintain their power by having sex whenever they want, and there's no incentive to settle down and be monogamous anymore, unless you really have that hankering within you.”
I was pleased to find that this offhand quote from a pleasant actress perfectly articulated some kind of phenomenon I had been noticing among my generation. Now, there are a variety of reasons why men play video games or act like boys until they are 40: video games are now an entrenched part of boyhood and adolescent life and the habit sticks; they are fun to people that like them; “screwing a bunch of girls” can be more fun than and more exciting than just “screwing” one; it is easier to hide from responsibility with technology and convenience. Despite all this, I had been looking for a way to articulate what Jones happened to articulate in her interview. There seems to me to be a loss of male identity for very much of the world.
As Jones says in her quote and Lindsay Schnaidt says in the above referenced article, modern women are eager to prove their independence, strength, intelligence and diversity as people. And they should feel that way. For years they weren’t able to vote and when they finally were, they were still treated as decorations that hung from the life of a man. That is all completely unfair. Now, as the pendulum begins two swing (some would say modestly, others would say drastically) women are taking complete control of their destinies. Yet, perhaps we haven’t studied how this then affects their relationship to men.
As a man, it’s a fine line to tread when talking about this subject, because I in no way want to demean how important it is for a person (regardless of man or woman) to do what they want to in life and to not be bound by the laws that any institution may bind them to, whether it is religion, sex, state or family. Many of our laws are blindly followed by either a history that is not fully grasped or understood, which results in varying degrees of ignorance that inform decisions. We are all guilty of it, but as the years pass and we grow older and learn more, we can slowly free ourselves from the blindness that the institutions of life have put on us and begin to see the objects of the world in their full shape and meaning and if that then puts us back under the umbrella of the laws of a certain institution then so be it, for at least we will have known, or made the attempt to know, what something actually looked and felt like.
(A scene from the movie Meet Joe Black. This has nothing to do with this post.)
This being said, as a man, I feel that the modern strength of the woman has left a vacancy for men to fulfill some part of their identity. As Schnaidt says, “I find it annoying when a guy opens the car door for me and I’d feel indebted to him should he pay for my dinner.” I have been with women who are the same way. They get mad at me if I try to pay for a drink or they laugh if I insist on opening the door each time we go somewhere on a given night. Even when going out with a girl as a friend to get a drink, I often find myself not being allowed to buy a round—something that I would do without hesitation with a male friend. Now, this could just be that all these women don’t like me, but either way it has left me feeling self-conscious each time the bill comes or each time the bartender tells me how much two drinks will be. Do I reach for the big bill and lay it down, perhaps incurring her wrath? Or do I stand idly by and let her pay, looking like a fool, and a cheapskate to the world at large—the great observing eye of “culture."
I was talking to one of my oldest friends who happens to be a girl. I told her that guys generally like paying for things when they go out with a woman. Her response was:
“I thought guys liked it when they don’t have to pay because they save money.”
“That’s only later on in the relationship once you’ve reached certain mileposts of being together.”
I further explained that even though, as people, women want to prove their independence, their self-worth and their strength by paying for everything just as men do, the idea of paying is firmly entrenched in the psyche of a man. Even though we are all people with the same general wants and desires, our cultural roles and norms have been shaped in vastly different ways over the years and you may call me superstitious or void of science, but that has an effect on our thinking before we are even forced out into the world of culture. There is some deep-seated want in men to pay for things to make them feel relevant or needed. If that aspect is taken away, we find ourselves feeling set adrift or emasculated in a way. Now, there are guys who will read this and say, “Domino is crazy, I’d love for a girl to pay for all my shit.” This is very much the slacker dream, the “whatever, dude” guy that rocks his worn in reverse hat until his early 40’s, and wears well-worn khakis all the time with interchangeable boat shoes. However, that is a dream, and if that dream were reached it would not be fulfilling to any real man. A real man will want to make his way, just as any real woman would want to make her way.
So, is there any conclusion to be drawn from all of this? I don’t think that either men or women should settle just because they don’t want to be bothered by someone asking them why they’re still single. I don’t think they should settle because they feel lonely or want to fall into the traditional norms of their sex—none of those decisions is born from a true emotion. What I think is most valid about Schnaidt’s article is when she says that women should, “smartly embrace [their] femininity, and nurture a man’s masculinity.” She says this while making it clear that women shouldn’t be dependent on men, which I agree with. However, I do think that the modern woman, in her attempt to prove her own worth to the world, should nurture the fact that even though its expected of men to be strong and independent and that we’ve had the longer period in history to do so, that there are elements of our masculinity that still need to be nurtured and respected. And perhaps in doing so women may find that the arrested development that has seized much of the men of this generation will perhaps fade away. Or at least men will see their role a little clearer amid the focus of this new world of gender roles. Maybe men will get back to being a “man’s man,” which was dissected by John Hamm and Rebecca Hall in W last year:
Rebecca: [John’s] proper manly, like Gregory Peck, old-school. He hangs around with the boys and does sports. But he can talk to women about emotions and shoes.
John: Absolutely. Can and do. I was raised by a single mother. I think the definition of a man’s man has shifted in recent times to this sort of fratty bro, different from the older version, which was aloof and distant—Gary Cooper or Cary Grant or James Bond. Now it’s a little vulger, kind of lowbrow, adolescent. I’m not that guy. Part of being an adult is treating women like women.
That may all seem like a romanticized version of some perfect model of men from the past and I am certainly guilty of imagining that I could be a man like that. But the world is a real place full of insecurities and the want to prove oneself as being able to stand up amid all that mess and take what you want, whether you are a man or a woman. All I know is that I’m trying to be a man and I’ll hold a door open for a woman anytime, and I hope that even if she doesn’t completely like it, that she can at least appreciate why I want to. I think that’d work.