I Refuse To Be One Of “The Good Men”
In all of the recent conversations about male privilege, violence against women, and misogyny, there’s been a lot of debate about “not all men.” When guys are confronted with the many ways in which men hurt, harass, and abuse women, it’s a pretty common response for us to say, “I’m not like that.” Many of us want to be one of “the good guys,” the ones who don’t act like jerks, who don’t harass women or commit assault. Other people have explained why it doesn’t make sense for women to assume good intentions, and of course, some men jump to say that they aren’t like that and deserve better.
I get it. I really do. For more than half my life, I’ve been having women tell me that I’m not like most of the other men they know. I’ve never really fit into the standard definitions of masculinity and I’ve been like this ever since I was a kid. I’ll admit that there was a time when my ego enjoyed the positive reinforcement, especially since it helped me feel better about the fact that I wasn’t like most guys. But then I realized something important.
While I might be less capable of physically forcing someone to do something than many men are, I can exert male privilege in a lot of other ways. I can assume that my opinions are more valid than the woman I’m speaking with with, I can talk over her, interrupt her, or ignore her, and a lot of people won’t even notice. I can harass someone, not take no for an answer, whine and cajole her in order to make her feel obliged to comply with my demands. I can slut-shame someone for having sex, call her a prude if she turns me down, and I have much more freedom to have sex without repercussions. I can safely assume that in most occupations, I’ll be paid more. I can walk around at night with a lot less fear. I can take up more space than women, both physically and energetically, and usually get away with it. There are dozens of ways in which I can benefit from being a cisgender man, whether I want to or not.
It’s those last six words that make all the difference to me. There are ways in which I don’t have choice about the privilege that accrues to me, and in those cases, there’s not much difference between other men and me. There are also ways in which I have some influence about the privilege I receive. In those situations, as soon as I start believing that I’m not like those “other men,” I’ve taken the first step down a very steep, slippery slope. Once I begin thinking that I could never be like those guys over there, it becomes much more likely that I’ll act exactly like them. Saying that I’m not like that would allow be to become complacent about my privilege and my internalized sexism and misogyny. Recognizing that I could act like that gives me the room to make the ongoing decision to act differently.
When we say that “I’m not like that,” we render those guys as other. Rather than seeing our shared humanity, we demonize them. Rather than seeing the ways in which sexism is trained and shamed into each of us, we call them evil and stop looking at ourselves. And rather than reaching out to them to help them move in a positive direction, we discard them so that we can be “not like them.” I don’t see how that does anything other than perpetuate the cycles that I so passionately want to stop.
I refuse to be one of “the good guys” because I know that I have to keep making choices about how I want to act. I refuse to be one of “the good guys” because I know that I’ve said and done things that I’m not proud of. I refuse to be one of “the good guys” because I don’t want to widen the chasm between me and the men who have the potential to change. And I refuse to be one of “the good guys” because I know that I will make mistakes and it’s so much harder for me to be accountable and make amends when my identity is challenged. It’s a lot less difficult to move forward when I’m not weighed down by the need to rethink who I am.
Men will often try to protect themselves from women’s anger by trying to minimize it or make it go away. We do that because we’re scared of it, because it triggers us, because it brings up our fear and our shame. But it almost always sends the message that we don’t think that women’s anger is valid or reasonable. For most men, it takes a lot of practice to be able to hold space for women’s anger without getting lost in our reactions, especially since many of us were never taught the skills of emotional self-regulation and shame resilience. But when we try to make women’s feelings disappear, we make things worse. When we learn how to listen to them with fierce compassion instead of defensiveness, we make things better. As a relationship coach, I’ve seen this over and over. (And no, that’s not limited to women’s emotions, but that’s the focus of this post.)
So when I hear a woman make a sweeping statement about men, I try my best to hold space for her feelings and her experience without telling her that she’s wrong, or that she’s crazy, or that I’m not like that. I don’t always manage it, especially in online interactions, but I’m getting better at it. And part of how I work on it is by not letting myself fall into the trap of thinking that I’m one of “the good guys.”
So don’t call me a good guy. Just let me work on being the best person I can be, with all of my flaws and limitations. And when I don’t live up to my expectations or when I do something that hurts you, let me know so I can fix it. Trust me- it’ll be a lot easier for you to do that if you’re not caught up in thinking that I’m one of “the good guys,” too.
Thank you for understanding and expressing why redirecting the conversation to “I’m not like that!” makes the issues we talk about seem more unreasonable and less important! You’re the best, Charlie.
Charlie, this is a stunning post. You’ve given me much to think about. Fortunately, my life is full of very dear men I consider “good men” — men who value themselves and value women, who listen to us, who speak out on our behalf, who are feminists in thought and action. But you’re right — dividing men into the “good guys” and the “bad guys” is short-sighted, and I’ve been guilty of that.
I always learn from you, Charlie. Thank you.
Let’s talk about “Good People”. Let’s talk about “Jerks” who alk over others, interrupt others, or ignore orhers. There plenty people who do this of all sexes. I encounter them constantly.
Why be sexist?
@Greg D- because while jerks exist in all genders, as you say, men get away with it a lot more. In my observation, men are a lot more likely to talk over women, to interrupt them, or to dominate the conversation than any other gender. Women get silenced through intimidation, they don’t get taken as seriously, and when they speak up, they get told that they’re crazy much more than men do (all other things being equal). Of course, there are social and cultural differences, but it’s a consistent trend.
Thank you for this, as I said in my tweet, it’s pushed me into thinking things through further. I’ve felt encouraged by your words to try and practise fierce compassion and properly apologise to a friend I recently hurt. It’s also given me some guidance on how to encourage my son to grow up to be a man who is accepting of his own and others’ lows and highs.
I’m not making much sense, so I guess I just want to say thank you!
I’m with Greg D. on this one. Enough with the double standards! Clearly, people who espouse this viewpoint have the best of intentions. Unfortunately, they are contributing to the sexism they are so passionately opposed to.
The underlying problem occurs when people conflate generalities like “men” and “women” with the actions of a specific man or woman. Generalities exist as concepts, while the objectionable behaviors we’re talking about only ever occur when some individual engages in them.
Taking interruption as an example, men may statistically interrupt women more often than the reverse. But interruption only ever happens in reality when one person interrupts another. If you want that statistic to change, you are going to have to address it in the real world, not just by browbeating men with the concept.
When you make a faulty generalization like that you leave yourself open to two very easy counter arguments. One is that there are plenty of instances of women interrupting men, men interrupting men, and women interrupting women, which weakens your thesis. And two, it’s not that hard to find men who don’t interrupt women — “not all men” is a perfectly valid counter argument. Men who fall in that latter category may be patient and understanding, or they may vehemently object to being smeared with the same brush. Either way, this is not a good foundation from which to address behaviors you find objectionable.
Instead, focus on the behavior itself. If interruption occurs, it occurs with a particular individual in some particular situation. That is where you can address it. Cultivating the skills to deal with boors — whatever their sex — is definitely a good idea!
The same is true for categories like “the good men” and “the bad men.” Here, Charlie almost gets it right. Rejecting that categorization is a step in the right direction, especially if you are replacing it with accountability that is individual. “…don’t call me a good guy. Just let me work on being the best person I can be.” Yes! That’s great! But really, the same principle needs to be applied to the categories men and women.
Let’s talk about people. Let’s talk about the things they do. Let’s talk to them, especially, about how we feel about that specific thing they did.
To expand on what Charlie says in his answer to Greg: also because this”jerkiness” when levelled against women, is so pervasive, it goes unnoticed and unquestioned. When women do the same to men, furthermore, or even try to carve.out a space where it doesn’t happen to them, they are met with violent opposition. Because moving through society as a woman is inherently different than moving through this society as a man, and pretending this is a case of “people” being jerks does nothing to address that fact.
And it’s not just “jerks” who do it, and when you say it is, you ignore how you hav been socialized to do it without thinking about it,and you minimize and cast doubts,.or support through inaction the casting of doubts on women’s testimony – jerks do this and my friend Jack isn’t a jerk, so Molly must be overreacting, maybe she’s on the rag (hurrhurrhurr).
I also worry about how I come across to women as a man. I am a feminist and progressive, and I also enjoy strip bars, nude photos of women, online porn, etc. Doing this stuff does NOT AT ALL make me any less of a feminist or a good man. Such thinking is a mental box we have to take ourselves out of.
Thank you so much for this erudite, insightful, brilliant article. I appreciate how you have re-framed, or rather kept the focus on the correct frame.
Thank you for your wisdom and clarity
Thank you. THANK YOU.
I second what mightydoll said first of all. Also, even though I am 6 feet tall, broad shouldered, strong and athletic, I don’t like walking at night. I get called sir with a ball cap on (until they see my face I am a former model and college athlete lol) but have been raped twice. When a man can say they regularly experience all that, then he can claim equal denigrated status with women.. that some men are trying to equate anything they go thru as equivalent to a woman’s life experiences (especially a white dude), it just *frosts me* for lack of a better term. I have spent most of my life working in male dominated fields (fire fighter, Teamster laborer, cook in a 5 star restaurant-where I met my husband, he trained me) and am very aware of the privilege that is assumed and almost ignored by most. My husband is amazing, I would say he would second this viewpoint you have expressed here. Since he was born in 1961 I am even more impressed by his ability to be just fine with my strength, both physicality and personality wise.. He doesn’t denigrate me, or knock me down due to my femaleness. I would have to say in my experience he is rare, which is why I married him.. 🙂 <3
You know what? No. I refuse to feel bad for the actions of a soulless blackguard I refuse to identify as a man. This is the same attitude I see stupid Americans take when they feel the need to look down on the entirety of German History for a fifty-sixty year black spot, or even German people. It’s wrong and just as unjust as being sexist.
Evil and abuse are not gender specific. It is wrong to treat it like it is.
L, Greg D, Kaiser:
Not all men! Not all men! Not all men! Not all men! Not all men! Not all men! Not all men!
I very much appreciated the article, and many of the points that have been raised. I do agree we have a difficult cultural problem seeing women as property to be “won”, and I find it ridiculous that I’m forced to worry more about the safety of my college-aged daughters than my son simply because they are female.
I think it is interesting, however, that much of the conversation has focused on “interruption” as a tactic that men use to belittle women. I am not denying that it happens – professionally I see it and deal with it all of the time – but not all interruption is the same. As a PhD scientist, I have certainly had attempts made to be talked over by a pushy male colleague, but I am tall and pretty commanding myself, so that tactic doesn’t work very well for them because they just end up looking like an ass when all is said and done. I typically will politely just counter their argument and keep going with my own, never needing to resort to male-bashing in the process. However, with some female colleagues, other female professionals, and many women in general, the need to monopolize the conversation, talking incessantly without a breath, and with no recognition that the discussion should be just that – a discussion – is incredibly frustrating to me and speaks to a completely different problem. In conversation, these women will defer to me when I interject to make a point, thus interrupting them, and the conversation goes on. I have frequently seen, however, that when a male colleague does the same, they close up and get angry, assuming sexism, when the fault is really the their lack of recognition that they are monopolizing a conversation. I see this among our friends as well, in conversations in a group with my husband and I. He frequently can’t find an opportunity to enter a conversation because my female friends never take a breath, and don’t have the social filters and recognition that just because they are currently talking doesn’t mean that they have the sole right to be heard. Yes it pisses me off that I have to worry about my daughters safety every night when they leave work late, but honestly, unless we all recognize our faults as just general faults and not solely a product of our genders, we will never get off of the treadmill of gender bashing at all levels.
Thank you so much.I can not express how much I appreciate this.
“hat some men are trying to equate anything they go thru as equivalent to a woman’s life experiences (especially a white dude), it just *frosts me* for lack of a better term. ”
You know not all women have the same life experiences right? There is no standard experience for women or men. Not all women get raped, some men have been raped more than twice in their life.
Thank you–I am sharing this with everyone, male and female, that I know.
Most of the commentators on here are in denial of social hierarchy and the violence required to maintain it. Individuals commit acts but within a socially created set of rules which is why jews were treated one way in germany in the 1930s and 40s in one way and very differently today. To say there is no social pattern to this behaviour is to be in denial of sociology, psychology and history.
Don’t worry Charlie,
As a woman with many years behind me, I have met many wonderful men and many jerks.
But I have learned to never call any of them “one of the good guys”.
Not even the Priest living down the street!
Things that make me go hmmmmmmm. I read and reread this article; I am considerably wiser for the experience. Some recent and ongoing events have made me very defensive about myself as a Good Man and the fragility of my perceived masculinity. I feel defensive when I perceive I am being shamed for my masculinity. There are many insights in this article that I intend to integrate into my continuing practice of becoming a Better Man. I look forward to exploring the rest of your site.
Thanks much for the article Charlie…very good food for thought….I especially liked mightydoll and Chris’s comments. Regarding the aversion to distinguishing between the “good guys” and not-so-good ones”…. not sure if I agree about this but intend to give it more thought. I like giving credit where it’s due…I wouldn’t consider it anti-feminist (and at 74 I’ve been one most of my adult life) for a man to separate women into the “good ones” and bad ones. Most male and female feminists who think, I’m sure know this is true. I like to give good women credit too and separate them from those who haven’t grown up yet who just like to be users and abusers the way I believe too many men are. (I can felt fury building in some of the guys 🙂 Maybe I’m not enough of a team player but I think both men and women have reason to be pissed off with each other but anyone who judges each gender too quickly by the way most or too many are is, in my opinion, someone who just doesn’t think well enough or isn’t fair-minded enough. I’ve had a good guy in my camp and bed for over 40 years and I know he knows what I think of him …he’s a damned secure person and though he doesn’t need to know I think of him as one of the good guys, he’s so much more decent that too many of the men I’ve met and know about are, I like giving him that distinction. He deserves it, as do any other good men I’ve met and know and care about being a better and different-from-the-pack human being.
As a psychotherapist of many years I find that the calibre of men who come in seeking help are usually a cut above from the get-go. I sometimes think that many men have an abundance of pride but lack humility whereas too many females got the humble down and could use more pride. Those of us struggling with changing gender roles should, I believe, really give credit where it’s due to feminism, which inspired this kind of discussion to happen. Derrington, I really liked and appreciated your powerful reminder “To say there is no social pattern to this behaviour is to be in denial of sociology, psychology and history.”
YES YES YES (and this shout is for those rigorously committed to not getting it, such as D.Martin)
Heather, as a mom with sons and a daughter, how true your comment about fear for your daughter in college is but you also had some very interesting points about communication differences. Thank you all who put such interesting thought into this. I cannot help but think we are all, who listen with an open mind, wiser for it.