Life as a Man


IN SO MANY PLACES, and at so many times throughout human history, men have known the economic and political and social advantages of patriarchy. Biology has been helpful also: men are larger and stronger than women – not in every case, of course, but as a tendency. Being a man is, for the most part, a good deal. There is also the downside, and it would be impossible to represent life as a man without speaking of this also.

Many privileges of being a man are negative in character. A man is under no compulsion, and indeed no expectation, to be beautiful. This saves a man an enormous amount of money, effort and time.

His upkeep is mostly a matter of universal indifference, and when on occasion he does need to make himself presentable, a quick shower and a suit jacket will suffice. As long as a man doesn’t have carrots growing out of his ears, or breath like a cabbage farm – and, alas, some men do – he’ll get a pass in the world.

His face will need shaving, and most of the rest of his body will require no product nor tending whatsoever. If it weren’t for the walking bit, a man wouldn’t even know that he had feet and legs. 99% of his attention goes to 2% of his body. Indeed, a man finds it weird even to think the words my body.

At his wedding the groom shows up, but the bride makes an appearance. In the case of the latter, each is an individual being, and extraordinary resources go toward underscoring the point of a bride’s specialness – but grooms are all roughly of a cloth and need not be distinguished from one another. Even the groom’s party will all dress alike because, as men, they can be safely reduced to the clichés of a genre. Is this fair? Perhaps not, but the risk of offending is felt to be too small to bother about.

So far it appears that the main advantage of being a man is that the bars are set low enough that even the worst of the slackers can trip his way over them. This is a variation of the idea that boys will be boys, and that we should laugh away the imperfections as well as the bad behavior of nonetheless incorrigible men.

While I disagree with this conclusion, I do think that something like slackerism has long been implicit in whole areas such as the rearing of children, where until recently men were expected to be little more than an occasional and fringe presence. That’s not an advantage, however. It’s a failure.

Despite his many advantages, a man is at bottom ridiculous: and that makes being one both more comfortable and more fun. His ambitions, whether in sport or tinkering or out-doing all the others at barbecue, are useless and vainglorious and inconsequential. A man will argue over anything, but only if the point is to establish his dominance in something of evident unimportance.

He’s also expected, however, to be brave and strong and to rush to the occasion of high seriousness. In times of war, men (better described as children, or young adults) have been sacrificed into the millions. Honor and physical courage, in some cases more presumed than real, have been pretexts for many forms of barbarism. Now that women are taking up military roles, the old notions of chivalry may recede. Still, the male-specific dignity of being a thoughtful and gracious gentleman is, like the well-cut suit, one of the few positives available (almost) exclusively to a man.

There is one area in which a man need not apply. No one wants to see the naked male form. This is why even the women’s magazines are covered with the bodies of women. At the unexpected sight of a penis, such as in a movie, a woman will pull a sour face and look away, or will laugh. And men, too, find their bodies ridiculous, even though they’re paradoxically inclined to over-estimate their own physical attractiveness. Yet a man is moved to song and poetry by the female body. His feelings seem to him too profound and sacred to be written off as the mere lust that it is.

For this reason, the cruder sorts of men will advertise and even boast their sexual impulses, which they experience in an otherwise inexplicable way – as singular, remarkable, and extraordinary possessions, if not accomplishments. This mistaking of biological lust for personal exceptionalism is a foremost reason why men are ridiculous.

It would likely be useful for everyone to spend a few months living the life of the opposite sex, but this is of course the one thing that can not be done. It’s too bad, really. I suspect that a lot of arguments, and a lot of politics and consciousness raising, would be rendered obsolete by a simple switching of sides.

Some of the best things about being a man are also the most simple. I don’t know why so few women enjoy a cigar and a scotch, but whatever the (bad) reason they’re missing out. A man is a kind of Occam’s Razor incarnated who eliminates everything unnecessary in life: thus, he uses the same soap on his arms, his butt, his crotch and his face (the only things you ever need to wash with soap) – and he’ll never buy a woman’s argument that “face soap” is a real thing and that it’s somehow different, like 5W30 is different from 10W30.

There are questions concerning women that men would like science to answer, but knowing this isn’t going to happen they’re reconciled to the fog in which they’ll forever operate. Why does a woman turn up her wrists to run across the street, and why is a purse strap set at the hinge of a bent and elevated arm, rather than held in the hand? All the many differences between men and women are known, but none is understood. Some of the differences are doubtless cultural rather than matters of biology and nature, but again this is a question that may never be sorted out to universal satisfaction.

Some differences are exaggerated, and some are not differences so much as variations upon a theme. For example, men are vain in their own way. A man might preen, but his vanity resides mostly in his own self-conception. He’ll tell himself that he can find his way unaided and that whatever might happen, he’s a man who requires no help of anyone. The vanity of a man is existential, meaning that it is without reference to the external world and impinges upon his conception of his worth. That’s why a man will knowingly drive in circles rather than ask for directions.

Much of the preceding is a negative way of approaching the chief positives of being a man. Other than having to appear strong and brave and capable of fixing most anything, men have had an easy time of it, especially during peace. Here’s an imagined scene to convey what I mean:

 A man and a woman walk into a bar.
The man says: “I’ll have a beer.”
The woman says: “I’ll have whatever is cold and refreshing. Also, low-calorie so that I won’t get fat. What are the other women drinking? I don’t want to offend anyone or drink something that will bring judgement. What do you think people would feel about me drinking what he’s drinking? Would that be okay? I don’t want to seem forward or too aggressive or not assertive enough. Maybe I should just have water. Does that seem like a cop-out?” Etc.

Many times I’ve witnessed a scenario very much like this play itself out, not over the ordering of a drink (although this might have happened too) but in other sorts of common deliberations. This alone causes me to think that a man’s life, absent of a crisis or health issue, is simple and straightforward. And that’s just how we like it.

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