top of page

Jon Carroll / Manly Men

Artwork: Dan Hubig © 2017

I’m writing this in order to find out what I think.

I do not expect this to be easy. I am treading in weirdly dangerous territory, and I will probably get things wrong, or “wrong,” because there just aren’t that many ground rules, and they keep shifting. Plus, there’s the shame and guilt. And I don’t want to go there, which is often a pretty good reason for going there.


I am a white cis-gendered male. I am a former member of the mass media, and am a current member of overcrowded blogosphere. I am richer than my parents were. I am old, and I have problems associated with aging, but I have good and stable healthcare. Although I have driven an unregistered car with a broken tail-light and an ounce or two of marijuana barely hidden on the floor, I have never been arrested and/or beaten. I am luckier than 99.99 per cent of the world, and 99 per cent of Americans. I have privilege coming out of my ass.
I am thus, in the opinion of many, what’s wrong with this country. My attempted empathy and my specific actions of support (marching, donating) are seen as too little, too late, and probably pathetic.
Or at least, that’s how it seems. I am another white guy whining about something. Why would you listen to me? Hell, why would I listen to me? On the other hand, I had no say in being born white and male and heterosexual. I did not ask to be normative.
Still, I’m aware of the dangers of this kind of essay. Said danger is best encapsulated here. One indeed might write a parody of woman talking about oppression, but McSweeney’s wouldn’t buy it. We know who the villains are.

Which is fair enough. I know that men wrote the Koran and the Bible, those two sustaining monuments to the patriarchy. Another male invention: ISIS. Also brothels. White men did not invent slavery, but they brought their capitalist know-how to the institution and made it an international cartel of human misery. So, yeah, guys.
I’m hip to all that, but I didn’t actually do any of it. There’s certainly sexism in my past; I’m 73. I had a lot of assumptions given to me like gifts; even my single mom had ideas about the way men and women should act. They should be “ladies and gentleman,” which is a codified set of genteel rules shaped to prevent the male from being a brute until certain matters were safely negotiated. That construct denied both female sexuality and male tenderness.
But today…I think I’m not on the right mailing list. Things are more fluid than is ideal. Like how LGB become LGBT, which became LGBTQ, although apparently LBGT is still also okay. (When did the Q get delisted?) Can I subscribe to something where these changes are announced? I didn’t get “cis-gendered” because it was based on an obscure Latin prefix. I did know about “cis-alpine” (“Veni vidi vici” and all that), but I somehow didn’t get that it was the opposite of “trans-alpine.” Across the alps. Long way to go to get a metaphor.
I understand that the culture has left me behind. I don’t remember it happening. One day I could identify all the major pop artists just by hearing their voices; the next day I didn’t know who anybody was. Michael Bolton and Notorious B.I.G.: Both equally mysterious.

I know about mansplaining (because a woman mansplained it to me) and manspreading, and they are both real and useful. I try to do neither, although thigh spreading in seating comes natural to overweight people. Blah blah blah.

Jump in any time.
Drum circles do not do it for me. I like sports because I like rituals of competition, which I guess is manly. Although is it really manly to watch “Battle of the Network Stars” to see whether Suzanne Somers can beat Jamie Farr in the 100 yard dash? Plus, I have learned through diligent research that many men are interested that (fun facts from Wikipedia) David Letterman, Penny Marshall, Brian Stokes Mitchell, Lynn Redgrave, Michael J. Fox, and William Shatner were all on that show, so it’s not quite the career killer one might assume.
(Tracy: “I don’t care about any of these people.” Me: “Exactly.”)
Enjoying sports means I am able to talk to any male in America and not feel overmatched. In other circumstances (like, say, standing around a gas station garage talking about cars), I tend to develop a weird hillbilly accent, dropping my g’s and drawling my vowels. You’ve heard about gay panic? I have man panic.
I am not the male oppressor you are looking for.
So how do I solve the problem of being history’s primary villain without having any of the fun of villainy. No mustache to twirl, no peasants to abuse, no sacred monuments .... CLICK HERE to link to and continue reading this article
Jon Carroll © 2017
Jon Carroll is a former columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle.
To comment directly to Jon Carroll:
bottom of page