This piece is an excerpt from a larger memoir project that deals with toxic masculinity called, Cleft
There’s this predictable thing men do when they work together. Get a bunch of guys trapped someplace for a few hours, and spare time is filled with tales of sexual conquests, boasting of genital accomplishments, expressions of desire to plop a penis into any passing orifice. Imaginations run rampant, concocting theories about who looks like what naked and who would get some girl off harder than anyone else. Who’s the biggest stud in bed.
Maybe you’re a guy working food service, and someone obviously too young for you to think about fucking walks by the counter, and your male coworker says, “Man, I bet she has a tight pussy — I don’t even know if I could fit my dick in there. Look at that skirt. I bet she’s a little slut. I’d fuck her so hard.”
And then, they look at you, nudge you, saying, “You know what I’m talking about?” Demanding your approval. So you muster up whatever feigned enthusiasm you can manage, and say, “Yeah, man, she’s hot.”
You never call anyone’s behavior into question, and you never refuse to participate. You can’t. You know if you do, and it’s picked up on, and it’ll be assumed you’re a pussy. A fag. A scrawny fucking nobody. A loser no one will ever love.
Them saying, “What’s the matter? You’re not a fag, are you? Hey, guys, look what we have over here. A fucking homo.”
You know if you dare express your discomfort with the constant objectification of women, you’ll be singled out and relentlessly ridiculed for the duration of time you remain coworkers. So you learn the hard way to keep your mouth shut. To say, yes, of course you think it’s cool that so-and-so banged that chick too drunk to say no at that party last weekend.
And when you consider yourself a nice guy, when you pat yourself on the back for intellectually endorsing feminism, when you’re that nerd who was always too chicken shit to approach women, choosing instead to download sexual satisfaction, it becomes easy to rationalize just what a little saint you are. Because compared to those macho Neanderthals, to those typical guys, you’re a bastion of women’s rights. You lying to your wife all the time about going to the strip club or watching porn? I mean, Jesus, who gives a shit about that?
Dominating women is what society tells us it means to be a man.
Dominating women is what society tells us it means to be a man. And for some reason, even those of us who don’t agree with that, most of us don’t openly express our dissent. We’re swept up in all the bullshit bravado and invent our own fuck stories so we can fit in. Maybe when we were young, we tried to behave differently, tried to get in touch with our actual emotions, tried to be whole people, and were brutalized for it.
For instance, maybe as a little boy you were mocked and emasculated every day for a good year or two in elementary school. Maybe because you folded origami and read too many books and cried once in awhile, because you were frail and weak and not prone to violence. Because you didn’t excel at sports. Maybe even because your classmates discovered you missed your mom after she moved away and decided you were acting like a baby.
Or maybe just because your stupid face is deformed and no one understood why your lips looked the way they did.
Maybe due to all that, you’re dragged across the floor by the collar of your shirt into the girl’s bathroom, where you’re told you belong. You’re that pansy, that gay freak who gets their origami books stolen, and then you’re locked in the classroom closet when the teacher leaves the room. Fuck, you’re such a little pussy that even the girls pick on you. Egged on by the guys, those girls, during recess, they all lift you up over their heads en masse and toss you headfirst into large metal trashcans full of snow, delighting your onlooking male peers. It’s so funny — you, such a little wuss, getting beaten up by girls — that it becomes a daily routine.
You excel at making friendship bracelets out of brightly colored thread, and some days, out on the playground you see the girls threading hair wraps into each other’s hair with the same sort of thread. So you get excited and study what they’re doing and convince your little brother to let you practice putting a wrap in his blond bowl cut after school. It turns out perfect. You figured it out on your own, without instruction, so proud of yourself. Until your dad gets home from work, sees what you did, and starts yelling at both of you, saying your brother has to cut it out of his hair. But he doesn’t want to, so your dad grabs a pair of scissors and chases your brother around the house with them. Your dad’s a safety director, and you’ve made him so mad he’s thrown caution to the wind and is actually running with scissors. He catches your brother, holds him to the ground, sits on top of him, and angrily cuts out the wrap, exclaiming, “No son of mine is going to school dressed up like a Barbie Doll.”
So you stop tying hair wraps and making friendship bracelets and folding origami in public. You do everything you can to fit in with the kids on the playground. And in your small town, these classmates, they follow you all the way to middle school and then high school. No matter what you do, they still know what a fag you are. They spit on you when they walk by in the hallway. Make you the punch line of every joke at lunch, saying how you make their “gaydar” go off — your love for cock is off the scale.
But eventually you give up on wanting them to like you and start dressing how you want. You don’t care if they think it’s queer that you spend your time writing poetry. You make yourself look pretty, treat your appearance like an art project. You paint your nails and wear eyeliner and all black. You make your own jewelry. And now when people call you a fag in the hallway, you turn around, make a show of licking your lips seductively, and call after them, “Mmmm, yeah, I’m such a fag, you better run away and cover your ass.” You get in their jock faces, make them so uncomfortable that they finally leave you alone. At home, your dad is hyper concerned about how you wear makeup now. He asks if there’s some sort of problem. Demands to know if you are gay. But you don’t answer him straight. You let him think what he wants to think.
You violate every gender norm in the book just to piss people off. Just to see them squirm. But the one thing you can’t do is call someone out when they’re glorifying the domination of women.
That’s still somehow sacrosanct. You’ll call someone out for gay bashing, call them out for boneheaded political viewpoints, call them out for being brainwashed by religion, call them out for being racist or classist. You’ll even put all your opinions about how most everyone’s worldview is paving the way for human extinction into a magazine and distribute it across an entire region of your state.
But for whatever fucking reason, you won’t speak up when a guy brags about banging that chick too drunk to say no at that party last weekend.
That’s still something you don’t have the guts to do.