You don’t have a boyfriend, you have a girlfriend

I thought I was a man when I wrote this. I was wrong

I saw a meme recently posted to Facebook: a picture of a gear stick and the text, something along the lines of “If your boyfriend’s car doesn’t have one of these, you have a girlfriend.”

It bothered me. A lot. In part because I usually have a lot of respect for the person who posted it, but also because it’s not a completely alien idea, but something I’ve seen many times.

I want to explain and explore why this bothered me.

  1. It expects men to value something inconsequential to a culture that has some very confused values already.
  2. It implies that if a man is deficient in some manner then he is therefore not a man, he is a woman.

Number 2 is the one that I think is really dangerous, because people actually believe that. Maybe they won’t admit it, but it is definitely there in the language people use: you hit like a girl, stand and fight like a man.1

Regardless of whether 1. is valid or not, please, don’t fall into the trap of thinking along the lines of 2.

A deficient man is not a woman. A woman is not a deficient man.

Now I don’t think anyone reading this actually thinks that a man becomes a woman if he doesn’t live up to some standard of masculinity, but the idea that a man is acting like a woman by falling short of some definition of manliness: that I’ve heard said.

It should be clear this is nonsense. I’ll say it again, just so we’re clear:

A deficient man is not a woman. A woman is not a deficient man.

Ok. moving on.

Now, you might say that 1 is not going to confuse anyone because obviously it’s a joke, and no-one really thinks that their manliness is tied up in how they control a mere mode of transport.

You’d be wrong - car advertising has successfully indoctrinated our culture into believing that the kind of car they drive is core to their identity, and woe and shame to any man who drives a girly car, or a family van.

This should also be self-evidently ridiculous. It should be clear that any given man’s value is not tied up in the kind of car you drive. I hope.

I refuse to propagate the idea that by refusing this (or any particular) definition of manliness I must be a woman or gay. In fact, there have been times when I’ve thought ‘maybe I’m gay’ because I don’t fit the definition of manliness that is expected. Which is not helpful to me, or to my understanding of actually gay people.

I’m done with ridiculous definitions of manliness.

  • As a man, I don’t have to be addicted to sex and have only aggression and uncontrollable desire for all of my female friends.
  • As a man, I don’t have to love and worship aggression and violence and patriotism and military and power.
  • As a man, I don’t have to bend nature to my will and love the great outdoors and killing things that live there.
  • As a man, I don’t have to value myself based on my car or my job or whatever.

  • I refuse to feel like I’m a lesser man because I play sport with women who are better at it than me.2
  • I refuse to feel like I’m a lesser man because I work in an office rather than a manly trade.3
  • I refuse to feel like I’m a lesser man because I have some aesthetic appreciation.4

What then is a good definition of what makes a man a good man?

Love sacrificially. Care indiscriminately. Forgive quickly. Share whatever wisdom you have.

Obviously this isn’t just for men. This is a good goal for any human people. Men and woman and those that aren’t contained by the gender binary.

  1. Disregarding how problematic equating masculinity with aggression and violence is. 

  2. Ultimate frisbee and indoor netball in mixed teams. Awesome. 

  3. The gender-inequality in the programming industry makes this especially odd, but I’ve noticed that I often feel embarrassed or apologise for my soft indoor job. Odd, because it’s not like I’m the only man with an job inside. 

  4. Basically this means I like bright colours and though I try not to spend money on clothes I don’t need, I appreciate style.