Today’s guest blogger Ken writes fiction, crafts poetry, and creates music – all highlighted on his blog The Weltschmerz Collection.
“When I was born, they looked at me and said
What a good boy, what a smart boy, what a strong boy.
And when you were born, they looked at you and said
What a good girl, what a smart girl, what a pretty girl.”
– Barenaked Ladies, “What a Good Boy”
It is a confusing world we live in.
An innocuous statement at first glance, but hear me out.
Nothing seems clear, and for me it never has. From early adolescence on, I was told what clothes to wear, how to cut my hair, what music to listen to, and every action movie, every television show, every music video told me what a man is; what a man looks like. A man wears Ralph Lauren and smells like Calvin Klein.
As I grew up some, and tried to understand girls and then later, women, I was told many different things about what a man is supposed to be, and what a woman wants in a man, and so I tried to do those things; tried to be those things. I wasn’t listening to real people, I was listening to the media, and even if it came from the snotty girls from my 7th grade class, they were just repeating what they’d read in Popular Teen Magazine or whatever.
But then things got confused – it seems I lost the signal behind all the noise, because the message didn’t seem clear anymore, and the things that I thought were true were being contradicted and changed. The ideal of MAN that the media had once pushed as the archetypical man was now being called misogynist and sexist and archaic. A new, more sensitive man was taking the stage, but strangely enough, he was no less trim, tanned, and fit, he just maybe kept his hair a little longer, and let his beard grow out some. And he still dressed in designer clothes and had a firm ass and a washboard stomach.
And so I return to my previous statement – that it’s a confusing world.
Sometimes you’re told that a man is strong, and that means physical strength, and that a man is confident, and that a man is rugged.
Other times you’re told that a man is sharply dressed and suave and debonair, and trim and lean and handsome.
Then you’re told that a man is dependable, and provides for his family, and is faithful, and loving, and kind.
And then you’re told, via shows like Desperate Housewives, that none of that matters – that you can be the most wonderful man in the world, but what every woman really wants is to fuck the well-tanned, well-toned pool boy. (That this is what women have been dealing with for a long time is not lost on me, I assure you.)
When I received that message loud and clear, I felt substandard, and the idea of trying to be it all – to be all of those things that a man is supposed to be, and stay young and trim and buff – overwhelmed me to the point of defeat and resignation.
Like the song says, “We’ve got these chains hanging ‘round our necks – people want to strangle us with them before we take our first breath.”
I can’t say I’ve ever felt objectified by a woman – I don’t think I’ve ever had someone stare at my ass, or make comments as I walked by. I just don’t think I was really ever that cute, to be honest, but at the same time, when I was younger, I never really worried too much about my body. I had other concerns that were keeping me from talking to girls. By the time I finally got over that, I think perhaps I overcompensated and let my ego go wild. (Somewhere there are videos called “Ken’s Ego Gone Wild,” where my Id drives a red convertible through the Spring Break of my subconscious with my Ego passed out drunk in the back and my Superego flashing its boobs at random strangers.)
But then reality set in, and I got married and had my first daughter. At some point, I looked in the mirror and, for the first time, realized that I was not an underwear model, and due to my genetic makeup, sedentary job, and the inevitable aging process, I never would be. I don’t know exactly at what point it happened, and I don’t think I could pinpoint one day, but somewhere along the line I became very uncomfortable with my body. I found myself horribly unattractive, and couldn’t see why anyone else would find me attractive, including my wife. I tried going to the gym, but that only made things worse. Going to the gym when you’re already feeling fat and unattractive is like deciding you want to give music a try and sitting in with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra.
Now it’s a few years later, and after two more daughters I pretty much have to be a feminist. Because I love my daughters, and I want the world to treat them with respect, and I want them to value themselves – and not as something pretty to put on a shelf, or to hang on some boy’s arm. But even more than that, I want them to respect the world – other women, and men, too. I don’t want them to treat Feminism as revenge for thousands of years of patriarchy, as some do. I want them to treat everyone with respect, no matter what they have between their legs.
I don’t want them to ridicule men, or to get the idea from pop culture that men are either macho misogynists or else are nothing but fat, lazy, boring buffoons, and that a sign of female empowerment is the ability to chew up a man and spit him out when something more interesting comes along.
I don’t want Feminism to be “turnabout is fair play” for them – I want them to be better than that – I want them to treat others the way they want to be treated, and I want them to demand that treatment from others.
But how can I teach them that if I don’t have respect for myself? I don’t want to lie to them – but how can I confess to my daughters that I look at myself and think I’m ugly, and then berate them if they say something like that about themselves?
How can I tell them not to look to the media for the ideal of beauty when that is exactly what I have done?
And so there are some secrets a father must keep in order to protect his children and give them something better. I bear the burden of my horrible self-esteem, and try my best to teach them to ignore what the media says about their bodies. I try to direct them toward role models that are more than just pretty faces – writers and artists and athletes and musicians who have more to offer the world than just their bare flesh in a music video.
This sounds trite, but though it may be too late for me to ever feel good about myself, I’ll be damned if I can’t give my daughters something better.