Monthly Archives: September 2014

A Young Man’s Guide To Women

*Note* This is not a lesson on how to “Get” women. I have no idea how to “Get” a girl; I am already married to a girl who picked me up and dusted me off and made me presentable. Why did she do this? I don’t know, and I’m not about to go asking questions about a thing that is already good. Instead, these are my thoughts on how a man should behave concerning women.

When I was growing up I had a lot of influences on me that dictated the way I would view and treat women, but there were two sources that were of paramount importance: My Dad, and the stories I read.

Firstly, I learned by example, watching my Dad and the way he treated my mother. I was fortunate enough to grow up in a household devoid of violence. My Dad yelled a lot – I mean A LOT – but it was usually in a comical, ranting manner. He shouted at the television (specifically at hockey players), at the lawnmower, at the deer that ate the buds off his tomato plants, but it was very seldom that he ever yelled at me or my mother. I can count on one hand the times he ever struck me – usually he made me go and get the wooden spoon and bring it to him, which would have me flailing on the floor and begging for forgiveness, which he found to be a much more effective punitive form than actually hitting me – and he never, ever hit my mum.

My Dad believed that it was a failure of your manhood to hit a woman. He told me that it was okay to get mad, to argue, to disagree with your wife, but it was never okay to let that argument dissolve into violence. It was also never acceptable to resort to calling a woman names like “bitch” or “whore” or “slut”. Nor was it okay to touch a woman unless you had expressed permission to do so. My Dad loved the sight of a pretty girl – or, as he would put it, he appreciated a finely turned ankle – but if someone really caught his eye the most he would do was mutter, “Well, hello there,” under his breath and then carry on.

Another thing my Dad believed in was books – stories – and he encouraged me to read from a young age. The stories I read had almost as great an impact on my view of women as my observance of my father, which is fitting because I read many of the same books he did.

The authors I was most drawn to, mostly men in my younger days, always had a positive view of women, sex and love. From Stephen King I learned that love should be urgent and true, in the manner of Roland Deschain and Susan Delgado. From Jack Whyte I learned that women were fierce compatriots who had distinct voices that should be heeded by their men. As I read, and grew, I developed my own opinions – a personal code, if you will – based on the examples I witnessed. I came to believe that a man, a good man, must possess certain qualities and behave in a certain way.

As I look at young men, now, I worry. I worry that there is no one to teach them how to behave. I worry that they will not learn the lessons they need in order to be good men.

If you pay any attention to social media, you can see that I am not the only one who is worrying. We seem to live in an era where some people (men) believe that threatening female authors, artists and celebrities with rape and violence is an acceptable practice. There are regular examples of men turning the responsibility for sexual assault back on the victims, saying ridiculous things like “If she didn’t want to get raped, she should have protected herself.”

This has been said before, by people smarter than me, but I have to ask, “Are you fucking serious?” After working in law enforcement for over a decade, and investigating far too many instances of sexual assault, I can tell you something for certain: No victim of rape was ever “asking for it.”

The problem with the general attitude of men who perpetuate these ideas is a lack of education. Whether they had poor role models in their parents, or they watched too much bad television, or didn’t read enough stories when they were kids, there is a mass failure in the education of young men. There is a disconnect somewhere that leads them to believe that some of this misogynistic shit is okay. Believe me, it is not okay.

Towards the ends of education, I have put together a few guidelines on how I think men should behave towards women. This is by no means an exhaustive list, it is only a beginning, but it is a beginning that some young men just do not have, and I wish I could give it to them. If I had my way, I would sit down with every man between thirteen and thirty and make them listen to this.

Rule number one: Remember, women are people. You might think it really stupid for me to start with this, but I don’t think that some men actually get it. Women are living, breathing, thinking, feeling entities who have as much right to security and well-being as any man. Being born as a male does not give you the right to violate that personal security.

Rule number two: Conversation is good, harassment is not – know the difference. I think it is perfectly acceptable to approach a woman in public and try and strike up a conversation. Go ahead and talk to that girl in the book store, coffee shop or bar; tell her your name, ask her what she’s reading, offer to buy her a drink, you might even let her know that you think she’s pretty. You never know; that one “hello” might turn into something awesome for you both.

But learn how to interpret social cues. If you’re making her uncomfortable, or she outright asks you to leave her alone, excuse yourself and carry on. Rejection is part of the human experience – embrace it – it is not reason to get mad, throw a tantrum and start hurling insults. Just because one particular person doesn’t want to talk to you, does not mean your entire life is a failure. And, really, if a woman gets mad at you for trying to talk to her, you probably didn’t want to talk to her anyway.

Rule number three: Keep your hands to yourself. The right to personal security means the right to not get groped. No matter what a woman is wearing, it is not an implied invitation for physical contact. Yes, there will be situations where physical contact is permitted, and even encouraged, but if you don’t know a woman I’m gonna suggest that grabbing her butt is a really bad idea.

Have a sense of personal space. Respect boundaries. Even if you think physical contact might be acceptable, if a woman tells you not to touch her, there should be no questions. It should not be a debate. If a woman says, “Don’t touch me,” your response should be “Okay.”

Rule number four: Violence, and threats of violence, are not acceptable. Working in law enforcement, I see a lot of violence. While sometimes the reverse is true, I most often see men assault women, and I’m talking like a ten to one ratio. Just to be clear: This is not okay. This is never okay. Like my Dad said, it is okay to disagree, it’s okay to argue, but resorting to violence is a failure.

Another trend I see so often is threats via social media, a recent example of which is the threats of rape and violence made to Emma Watson. To me, this is the height of cowardice; for a man, or group of men, to threaten a woman via the internet, where they cannot be held to account for their actions, is the very height of cowardly ridiculousness.

If you disagree with something someone said, I think it is okay to express your disagreement. But I also think you should do it in a reasonable, rational manner. Saying you’re going to rape a woman because you didn’t like her book/video game/statement is not rational. It is cruel, and stupid, and hateful and you should be ashamed of yourself.

If you really don’t like something someone has to say, don’t listen. Don’t buy their book, or play their video game, or read their blog. You can exercise free will and go do something else. Expressing your opinion through hate, misogyny and threats will not make anyone listen to you, it will make them think you are an asshole.

Being a man is not a matter of the gender you are born with. If you are born with a penis, that makes you male; being a man is something more. It is up to each of us to dictate our own behaviour – to develop our own code – and decide what makes a good man.

Each of us will have different experiences growing up. We won’t all have the same role models, read the same stories, get the same education. But I can’t help but thinking that if young men read a little more, thought a little more, felt a little more, that we wouldn’t have to keep having these conversations. The things we keep fighting for, the ideals we keep presenting, would already be the norm.

So, write a story, or read a story, and then think about it. You might learn something.

As always, thanks for reading.

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Everything I need to know about Life I learned from Conan the Barbarian.

“Civilized men are more discourteous than savages because they know they can be impolite without having their skulls split, as a general thing.” – Robert E Howard

When I was about six years old, my elder cousin, Mike, had been sentenced to watch me for the afternoon. As I was trailing on his heels around the house, and he continually referred to me as a ‘Willnot’ (a piece of shit stuck to the hair on his ass that ‘will not’ come off), he was at a loss for ways to keep me entertained and out of his hair.

Finally, he dug into a box in his room and produced a tattered stack of old comic books. “Here, Willnot,” he said. “Make yourself scarce for a while.”

I sifted through the stack, finding the standard mid-1980’s superheroes shouting various slogans denouncing evil, Russia and bad economics. But in the middle, with the cover half torn off, was a really old copy of “The Savage Sword of Conan.”

Within half a dozen pages I was hooked. The idea of a dour, hulking warrior who always did the right thing, always conquered his foes – be they man or demon – and always got the girl, appealed immensely to a six year old me (who was short, chubby and often bullied). I read every page of that comic a dozen times over, then convinced my Dad to take me to a used bookstore in town, where I could pick up more copies for ten cents each.

“I don’t think your mother will like it very much if I let you get these, Squirt,” my dad said.

“But, Dad, it’s Conan!”

“Why isn’t he wearing any pants?” my dad asked as he flipped through the pages of an issue. “Why isn’t anyone in this thing wearing pants?”

“Cause it’s Conan!”

He sighed and dropped the issues on the cash counter. “If you tell your mother I bought them for you, I’ll kick your ass til your head rattles.”

I went home with my stash like a mongrel dog that’s scored a chicken leg, and hid in my room for the rest of the day, poring over the pages of the tomes as though they were the lost wisdom of the ages. Instead of sating my hunger for the mighty thews of my hero – and sword wielding girls in chain-mail bikinis – my new reading material only served to make it worse.

I progressed from the little comic-book rack issues, to the bigger, more adult black and white versions. From there I moved into the mid-1980’s pulp novels by writers like L. Sprague de Camp and Robert Jordan. I absorbed the original Arnold Schwarzenegger movies from the 1980’s like they were going out of style (and still watch them every time they air on AMC, much to my wife’s dismay). Then, finally, like a wayward son coming home, I eventually found my way to the original 1930’s era stories by the creator of Conan, Robert E Howard.

The journey took me from the early days of my childhood, where I really had to concentrate on the little white bubbles to figure out what Conan was shouting at his enemies, and constantly ask my dad the meaning of words (like ‘cur’ and ‘entranced’). But as I look back on it now, it was a journey that had a fairly heavy influence not just on the way I write, but on the way I think of men and how they should behave.

Conan was a very one-dimensional character, and likely wouldn’t hold up in today’s era of conflicted, ‘Grimdark’ fantasy where you can’t tell the good guys from the bad guys, as is the author’s intention. But at his bloody, broadsword swinging, ale guzzling, kingdom conquering knee I learned a few immutable rules of manhood.

Never back down from a fight, unless you’re horribly outnumbered, then run like hell. Conan was a Barbarian. Not an idiot. During the course of the stories you could see him exercise things like common sense, and diplomacy, and reason. He was an educated individual who paid attention to the things around him, could speak several languages, and adopted and adhered to the customs of whatever country he was in. Unless he was being tried in court…then he had a tendency to cleave the Judge. From this I learned that even tough guys knew it was good to learn new things and it was okay to read books, as long as you picked up your sword and worked your arm once in a while.

If it bleeds, you can kill it. While he knew when it was a good idea to run when the odds were ridiculous, you never saw Conan give up. If he was backed into a corner, whether it was by a man, a group of men, a demon, a giant snake, a dragon, or a monkey in a red cloak, Conan would fight like mad and resort to biting someone’s face off if he had to. While I never bit anyone’s face off, I learned resilience. I learned that sometimes you had to put your back up against a wall and refuse to give any more ground.

The best women are the ones who might stab you. While Conan loved women, and did a lot of fornicating, he always treated women well and was never the ravager, and wouldn’t stand by while another man forced himself upon a woman. Robert E Howard also seemed to put special emphasis on women who were Conan’s partner, who wielded a sword with as much vigor as Conan himself. Characters like Valeria and Belit the pirate, who stood back to back with Conan fighting off one demon or another, taught me that, while a woman should be cherished and protected, she should also be considered an equal and part of your team. Like Conan, the best women in my life have always been the ones who challenged me and pushed me to do better. I’ve learned to respect the team aspect of a relationship and seek out a woman that would fight for me just as much as I’m willing to fight for her. You can rest assured that Conan wouldn’t stand about while some troll on the internet threatened a female author with rape because he didn’t like her opinion. Conan wouldn’t stand for it, and I don’t think any other man should either.

It’s no fun hitting someone who can’t hit back. Conan wasn’t above stabbing a man for paying him an insult, but you never saw Conan pick any fights that didn’t need to be picked; like when he saw some ‘cur’ slapping around a barmaid or picking on a street urchin. In typical good-guy fashion, Conan stood up for people who couldn’t stand up for themselves. Whether it was a wayward traveller who had been set upon by rogues, or a princess whose kingdom had been usurped by an evil wizard, Conan was willing to bend his steel towards a worthy cause. While I don’t often (ever) stab people, I’ve done my best to mark a line in the sand and stand on it when I see acts of evil. Sometimes that line is hard to see, but it’s there and I try to keep it, like Conan would.

As I look around, I think the world could use a little more Conan. Most young men I run into (and I run into a lot in my line of work) are horrible little shits, completely devoid of any redeeming qualities; things like courage, or perseverance, or compassion, or kindness. They don’t seem to have had any positive role models to teach them it is not okay to pick on people who can’t defend themselves, or hide in your parent’s basement and threaten people over twitter, or do ridiculous shit and then do anything you can to avoid the consequences.

If some of these young men could get a little less civilized (you know, with the consequence-free threatening via the internet, and the public bullying, and what not), and find a little of their inner barbarian, I think we would all be better off.

As always, thanks for reading.

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