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It’s time to man up

Illustration by Rard Almario

MANILA, Philippines — If there’s anything to learn from the recent spate of sexual assault allegations leveled against men of varying degrees of respectability (and popularity), it should be this: there is something inherently wrong with being a man. Think about it: every single male human who grew up on earth was raised to be a “man.” What this means is that, from the moment we learned how to walk, we were taught — by our elders, our peers, and the culture at large — to value two things if we wanted to assert our gender identity: physical strength and sexual conquest. We had to throw the ball hard, worship breasts, run fast, stare at legs, wrestle our brothers, kiss girls, lift heavy objects. Some may bristle at this and claim that men are also taught to be emotionally strong, responsible and perfect gentlemen, but let’s be honest here, guys; those were mostly platinum members-only paywall add-ons that didn’t automatically come with the package. I’m talking about the standard free trial stuff that we were taught was absolutely 100 percent of us.

So our seemingly normal and decent idols being outed as sex offenders shouldn’t be all that shocking. Because what is rape and sexual assault really if not the perfect confluence of the two things we were all taught were most essential about being a man? Sexual assault is physical strength applied as sexual conquest. It’s fundamentally male. Toxic masculinity isn’t so much the problem as the fact that masculinity is inherently toxic.

But of course, as the Internet is always eager to remind us: #NotAllMen. I think that’s a fairly accurate thing to say, that literally not all men have sexually harassed a woman, but that’s also not the point. The larger problem is that all of us men have that built-in hardware that makes sexual assault possible. I know this is tough to accept, but if we really want to address this issue, then the solution won’t be found in attacking call-out culture; it’s on us guys. We have to be completely honest with ourselves and do a full auditing of everything that has been taught to us as boys and as men. Our entire identity as men is dependent upon physical dominance and sexually conquering women. A lot of us who end up being decent navigate around this inner minefield. We congratulate ourselves and tweet #NotAllMen and brush off every new sexual misconduct story as an anomaly. But we’re all afflicted with the same original sin and I’m sure the likes of Louis CK and Jeffrey Tambor thought of themselves as decent gentlemen before stepping on their built-in mines. It’s always not us until, of course, it is.

So what do we do with this knowledge? Do we stop being men? What does that even mean? “Being men.” Should we redefine manhood? Should we recalibrate our aggressiveness levels and learn how to be, dare I say, more sensitive?

I’m obviously not an expert, but I have some ideas. Maybe we, as a society, can actually make this the first generation of future men to actually not be doomed from the start. Maybe we can start raising boys as just decent human beings, instead of “men,” as if that was such an important distinction. Because then we can maybe create the notion that people with male sex organs should be defined by their character and not by what they ought to do with those. Again, I’m not an expert, but maybe we could give that a shot?

For those of us who are older and already in the middle of the minefield, maybe it’s not too late to change. The first step is to acknowledge that we live privileged lives and ultimately benefit from a society that is still largely sexist. We have the upper hand, guys, so the onus is on us to effect change. Instead of expecting women to adjust to a toxic environment, how about creating an environment where women can be comfortable, seeing as we’re the ones who actually have the power to do so? For example: maybe stop making comments or doing anything that makes you feel more like a “man” and expect women to just play along. Let’s give that being a “gentleman” thing a try.

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Some of my brethren would argue that we are the ones who are actually uncomfortable now. With accusations of sexual misconduct flying from all directions, some of my fellow dudes have become ultra-conscious about how they behave around women. I, for one, have done my own self-auditing, wondering if there ever was a time when I crossed the line or made someone feel uncomfortable. The answer is maybe, but because I was too dense, or probably because girls are trained their whole lives to pretend to be okay with things that are clearly not okay, I can’t be completely certain. But I’m going to assume that I have, because assuming the worst, at least in this case, is the only way to get better. I guess experiencing a pale shadow of the discomfort that women have had to face for basically forever isn’t an unreasonable thing to ask from us guys. It’s about time we finally shouldered some part of the burden. Isn’t that the manly thing to do?

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