The Man Box
I found a video on cnn.com that they poached from TED. I love that site. They have some of the greatest ideas and speakers on TED. This guy is Tony Porter. I’ve never heard of him before, but now I’m practically in love with him.
His video is about preventing domestic violence and sexual assault, but it’s really a greater idea encompassing total gender equality. The men I know mostly don’t like to talk about the subject of domestic violence or sexual abuse. Good men. They don’t like it, but they also don’t want to even acknowledge its existence. When I was reading a groundbreaking book about rape, Against Our Will by Susan Brownmiller, my men friends who were usually so up for a conversation about anything didn’t want to discuss it at all. And if even good men don’t want to engage in dialogue about this issue, aren’t they really saying that they don’t care?
The Shy Guy said that he didn’t like the idea that sexual violence was misunderstood to be attributable to male aggression, the wish to subjugate, humiliate and hurt women. I asked him what he thought it was about. He never could explain this to me fully, but I’ll bet the explanation would have been something along the lines of the old, “men can’t help it” argument, which means that it’s okay for us to be placed on trial for our own rapes for being so damned sexy that they can’t control the impulse to rip our clothes off.
I wondered how his theory explained the elderly women who are so frequently raped during home invasions or women who are raped who might be of, hmm, less than average attractiveness. He said that I looked at him differently after that, and quite frankly, yes, I did, because after he told me his attitude on the subject it scared me.
There it was. The seed. I hate this seed that germinates into a doubt and wariness. I hate that I have to be scared of virtually all men at all times on a primal level. You may not know it, but if you are a man the woman you are with always wonders in the back of her mind…will he hurt me? Can I trust him? If you are a man reading this, rest assured that I don’t like that attitude anymore than you do, but I’m not sure how to overcome it.
When I was in college one of the guys that I befriended was a coworker from a little town in North Central Oklahoma. I would go hang out with him at his apartment. He wasn’t the guy for me and vice versa, but we had a little mutual crush thing going on that wasn’t any kind of secret. I’ll call him Vern. When our boss resigned they made him a photo album where Vern and I had no less than four photos in the back that looked like we’d had professional engagement photos taken for the papers. We were the official unofficial couple of the workplace, the one that everyone who’s older and more jaded thinks is kind of cute. Will they or won’t they?
He had four other male roommates, and he always had a bunch of guy friends hanging out. For a semester or two I used to go over about once or twice a week during the week and hang out. They would hang out and maybe drink beer and watch sports or hip-hop videos on MTV. Yes, it was that long ago. They were still playing videos on MTV. Sometimes they watched 90210. I think this was the second season it was on.
I was maybe all of twenty years old. It was kind of fun hanging out with Vern and his friends. Sometimes if a song came on MTV that he was really into he’d pick me up and swing me around like a rag doll. I was usually the only woman over there, so I got my share of attention. Vern was very into the whole bodybuilding thing, and he’d often preen around the apartment in nothing but his boxers while his roommates made fun of him. I actually went out on dates with two of his roommates.
Anyhow, one semester I took this night class, and all of the sudden Vern started showing up outside my night class and picking me up or walking me to my car. I remember thinking that this out of the blue chivalry was very strange. He insisted that it was for my safety, and I remember thinking that it was very odd that he was always there at the right time and place. I myself wasn’t worried about walking around campus at night. I suppose I would have taken reasonable precautions like parking close or where it’s at least well lit, but other than that I didn’t think about it very much. Vern, on the other hand, had thought about it a lot.
After several weeks of this he finally told me that one of his friends was a date rapist who had attacked some woman friend in the guise of giving her a ride home. I knew the guy. He was a nice looking guy. He wouldn’t have had to force a woman. He could have found someone that would have been willing. Obviously, he didn’t want a woman who was willing. Vern told me that I was to never be alone with this guy for any reason or to allow him to give me a ride home. And if Vern hadn’t given me this information I might have gotten in a car and accepted a ride from this guy. There was absolutely nothing about him that would have been a warning sign.
I’m pretty sure that story isn’t something that Vern would have made up, and I heard it repeated by both of the roommates I dated anyway. I always wondered if he knew something about this other guy that I didn’t. Rapists frequently target their victims and stalk them long before the attack. The woman never brought up any charges, and I don’t know if Vern and his roommates heard the story from the roommate or from the woman. I did notice, however, that they didn’t kick this guy out of their little circle. He still hung out with them.
Porter, in his video, talks about the Man Box, a very strict set of rules for what is and is not appropriate manly behavior. A man doesn’t cry or show emotion. He doesn’t talk about his feelings. He views women as property. A man doesn’t have a first time; he’s never a virgin; he was a born satyr. Even some of the good guys I’ve known in my life were quick to label other men as “girls,” or “pussies,” or “bitches.” The idea behind it is that the worst possible insult that you can hurl at a boy or a man is that he’s a girl. But what does that ultimately say about how our society values women?
Entry filed under: Crime, Gay Rights, Human Rights, Media, Men, Sexual Abuse & Assault, Social Commentary, Women's Rights. Tags: Assault, Domestic violence, People, Rape, Susan Brownmiller, Tony Porter, Violence and Abuse, Women.