It was right after daily Mass that I decided with an hour to spare I would feed my vanity and get a pedicure. Ordinarily I am a low-maintenance girl. My morning routine takes about 10 minutes, no lie. But a pedicure makes me happy and is really the only way I am wearing sandals in the summer. It’s vanity. I could have used a homily on modesty at that Mass.
I was sitting in the salon chair, mindlessly scrolling my phone because I forgot my book, which makes me look smarter and more sophisticated than others there and therefore feeds my ego. I joke, but it’s also kind of true. I refuse to read the fashion magazines, because I don’t need to add insecurity to the vanity I am there to feed. The only option is to feel superior reading Camus. Come on. You know you have your things that make you feel slightly better than others. I could have used a homily on humility too.
So, I sat there scrolling my phone, which rather than making me look superior just made me look like a bored millennial. Oh well. But, I was listening to the room. And it was chatty that day. It started out with some complaining about kids in general, then grew into complaining about adult children. One lady was about to go to a family reunion type function and getting the adult children to participate in whatever way she thought they should was not going well. Through the conversation it came out that she had sons. Well, she had daughters too, but apparently they had a smidge more sense than her sons. Another lady chimed in. She also had sons! In fact she had two! Back-to-back! And weren’t sons just the worst. The gallery practically erupted with tales of how difficult and stressful and just-plain-awful it was to have sons. They broke everything! They ate everything! They were so irresponsible! They needed constant supervision, because they could not be trusted to follow through on anything!
This attitude carried on to one lady’s husband. Men, amirite?! They are just so terrible. “Before I left today I had to give my husband some jobs to do. I told him he needed to do XYZ before I get home. Do you think it will be done when I get home? Probably not, but at least maybe it will keep him out of trouble.” Cue general laughter and agreement. Tsk, tsk. Men.
The tone of the whole salon was that superior way of knowing and solidarity. Oh, yes, we too have clueless men in our lives who need supervision and instruction constantly and sons take after fathers, as you know.
I could bear it no longer. I said (in my nice voice, I swear), “Hold up. Boys are amazing! I have seven sons and they are nothing like you are saying.”
The response was as you would expect, “You have HOW MANY SONS?! How dreadful!”
Yes seven and two daughters. And they are delightful.
The woman who instigated the son bashing while having her acrylic nails filled said, “Yeah, but I had to raise mine alone.”
If you have never admired my self-restraint, this is your moment to do so. I refrained from saying, “Same!” accompanied by a snide ”get over yourself.” She obviously needed that one-up and I just let her have it. Instead I said how great sons were because a mom needs someone to rely on and boys bring some wonderful energy and joy.
The lady going on vacation to see her kids suddenly agreed. Yes, sons were great. Hers were grown, but of course they are so helpful. They come back to help with firewood every year and they still check in.
Another lady added that she too had a great son who was wonderful to her and treated her so well.
The praises for sons started a new wave of conversation as each tried to one-up the other on the most recent helpful thing her son had done.
I smiled and went back to scrolling my phone. I had said enough.
It is true that I have not had the greatest experiences with men in my life. I don’t have many stunning examples of true masculinity to personally admire (there are exceptions and you know who you are). But, you will never hear me bashing men in general. You will never hear me use the phrase “toxic masculinity.” I am a divorced woman, recovering from a long history of trauma. But I do not blame masculinity for any of it. I am zero percent jaded about men.
I don’t even believe toxic masculinity exists. Masculinity is the way men image God on earth (Femininity for women, but that is for another essay.) and God is good. Masculinity is strong, confident, protective, compassionate, grounding, reliable, faithful, dangerous (to borrow from Jordan Peterson). If a man is showing improper aggression towards the weak things of the world, if he is cruel, careless, unfaithful, violent, unreliable, or insecure it is not masculinity to blame. It is a lack of masculinity. You can go ahead and fight me on this. I have seen this in action so much that I know what it looks like. That man needs to start embracing more true masculinity, not less. Getting in touch with his feminine side will not fix him.
There is almost nothing more beautiful than true masculinity. That kind of energy is what the world needs. When masculinity is present in a situation, everyone feels more comfortable. Everyone can relax. And it draws to itself true femininity. What it disturbs is ambiguity. In my personal opinion, the world has far too much ambiguity. That any given thing be given proper distinction is a sign of health and wisdom. Confucius said that the beginning of wisdom was to call things by their proper name. Defining things and living within that truth is beautiful—including allowing our sons (and husbands and brothers and friends and neighbors) to live within the beauty of their masculine selves without the condescending tones implying what a trial it is to have them around.
I don’t imagine I have a lot of men readers. But if any are reading, listen to me, masculinity is wonderful. Embrace it. Be good and be dangerous. Be strong. Speak your mind. Cultivate your passions. Protect the weak. And reject any narrative that says that in order to be safe you need to be less manly. Bosh.
I would assume I have mostly women readers. Can I encourage you to help change the narrative? When you are sitting in the salon chair (or out to lunch with your girls or in your online forums or at a playdate) and the men-bashing begins, stand by your men. Find something to praise. One little sentence or two about how great that manly energy is to have around the house and you can redirect the course of the whole conversation. You can help those women around you to see the gift of masculinity. It doesn’t need to be preachy or defensive. It just needs to be true. Truth wins. Don’t be afraid to speak it. This is truly feminine (but that is for another essay).