“I still don’t understand why I have to take at least one female member of staff with me.”
“All the clients working with you are female.”
“Fine, that. It’s a matter of customer protection. You know this.”
“I’m not dangerous because I’m a boy, you know?”
“A boy? You’re not a boy. You’re a man.”
Am I? I’ve never thought of myself as a man.
Sure, I’ve been called one by many people over time. I’m referred to as “the man” by members of the public who don’t know my name. My second girlfriend used to refer to me as a man despite the fact that I wasn’t particularly comfortable with it. I’m cisgender and male, so I’m fairly certain that various pieces of literature about me – medical records and so on – list me as a man. Back in my internet dating days, I was listed as “22-year-old man”.
And yet I still think of myself as a boy.
“I’m still a boy. You can refer to a ‘group of boys’ and they can all be adults. You can have a ‘boyfriend’ and he can be however old you want.”
“And nobody seems to have a problem with the term girlfriend. Although it seems to be easier with girls. There’s a popular blogger with ‘girl’ in her name and she’s almost 40.”
I’ve long had a problem with the term, and in particular the connotations of, the word “man”. There are plenty of neologisms which ascribe something to a man – something to be ridiculed (man pain, man flu, man look); something society sees as “female” being appropriated (man bun, man bag); a negative action (mansplain; manspread); be assertive to the point of being a dick (man up). Look at all of those and it probably goes some way towards explaining why I’m not comfortable with being a “man”?
And then there are those who whine about it. People who use the #NotAllMen hashtag non-ironically and protest about it being “not me.” Dude, we know it’s not you. That’s not what anyone’s saying. But, again, this creates a visibility issue. Men get accused of something and their automatic response is to bitch about it.
Incels, MRAs, PUAs and the like make media headlines and have paid-for ads appear on Pornhub. Things like Yewtree and the recent revelations about Russell Brand show the predatory side of men in power. Donald Trump and Boris Johnson are universally hateable men who should, by all rights, be in prison by now. Michael Moore wrote a book rightly entitled Stupid White Men.
Look at this from the point of view of an alien coming here for the first time: men do terrible things, they can’t handle criticism and they’re dangerous and to be avoided.
(And yes, I know that isn’t what I’m actually getting at. This is hyperbole, I know. But just imagine.)
“I don’t really know. I’ve seen older women refer to themselves as ‘girls’ and nobody has an issue with it. Why can’t I be a boy?”
“It just seems odd. Why wouldn’t you be a man?”
“Have you seen what ‘men’ are doing these days, or for the past few millennia?”
“But that’s not you.”
“Yes, I know. But you shouldn’t need to say that. That’s the issue. If I’m a boy it doesn’t carry any of the negative labels. Plus, I’d have to admit I’d grown up, and nobody wants to do that.”
She paused. There was a stillness in the room during which I realised I hadn’t made the most salient point.
“Gender doesn’t exist, anyway. It’s a social construct.”
And then we had a discussion about that.