Sitting at the local pub last night, I was discussing stereotypes with my friend, a guy who calls himself an intellectual (while giving me an ironic smile). He is a mature individual who has always been deeply interested in society at large. Having recently been let down by a man that I really liked, I ranted to my friend about my personal bug bear; the masculine stereotype. In particular, I get really grated by an excuse which I hear uttered too often for my liking; that “I’m just being a man”.
So it was with a wry smile that my friend turned to me after a drunk man sat down opposite me and blamed something or another that he had done on “being a man”. This concept has always infuriated me. Those times when I hear it most often are when excuses need to be made for boorish and insensitive behaviour. He gets too drunk, he makes an uncouth remark, he cheats on you, he sleeps with numerous women, he makes lewd suggestions about a woman in the vicinity; he’s just being a man.
This is not to say that I have not rationalised and argued with myself over a man’s behaviour. I have often allowed the excuse to be part of my own vocabulary. I have even said it to my friends when they have been hurt (again) by someone. Why? Because I think at some levels we are, in fact, driven by our own basic instincts.
We have all heard that so-called scientific explanation for men’s sexuality; that men have evolved to spread their seed and that sleeping with numerous women is a means by which to achieve this evolutionary goal. Women, on the other hand, look to men as protectors and providers and tend to stick to one man. So the logic is that men are driven instinctually to be the way they are.
But are men, as human beings, really so basic? When you look more deeply at this scientific “fact” you can see the flaws quite obviously. One of the most important counter-arguments is that it has been shown that women cheat as much as their male counterparts. Furthermore, humans are never simple and society does not allow us to be so. Norms are often used to counter actions or behaviours that are dangerous to larger society. If it is not in the interests of the collective, we form rules to avoid problems later.
As far as I am concerned, cheating, inequality and other social ills that are perpetuated or accepted according to the masculine stereotype, are not particularly good for our collective. I also think that, by allowing the stereotype to be perpetuated by the excuse that he was just being a man, we are really doing men an injustice to demoting them to basic, instinctually-driven animals. And, of course, we are allowing women all over the world to be hurt over and again by men who engage in insensitive behaviour.
If you would be so kind as to allow me to engage in my own stereotyping, I would just like to add that this bug bear is perpetuated by my own feminist thinking. But then again, I don’t think I am hurting or hindering anyone by requiring a little rationality and foresight from the men in my life. Whatever you do, don’t say it’s because you’re a man.
In return, I will limit the excuse that I have PMS to once a month; and rightly so, too. Although we are driven by biology at many levels, we are complex beings, engaging in complex and difficult relationships with one another, negotiating a landscape of social diversity which is confusing and sometimes irrational. We should all endeavour to be kind to one another, accept our differences and just be real. We should be celebrating this complexity, not reverting to stereotypes when it suits us.