Just so you know in advance, I’m planning to shock you, so be prepared. I’ll let you know when it’s coming.
As women, we all know, or think we know, some good men. A father, or brother, or boyfriend, or mentor. The luckier we are, the more good men we know.
We also are goddammed sure we’ve known some bad men. These are men who’ve hurt us not by just letting us down but by doing actual bad things. To be a woman is be someone who’s had bad things done to you by a man.
That’s what I want to talk about today.
Let’s start by being clear what I’m talking about. For the purposes of this discussion, a bad man is a man who deliberately hurts a woman physically or emotionally. Who murders, rapes, or beats a woman. Who tries to control her. Who tries to limit her life choices or damage her sense of self-worth.
That’s a bad man.
And for our purposes here, a good man is someone who gets it that there are rules for how to behave with respect to women, and who follows those rules. He never hurts women or makes them fear he’ll hurt them. He never embarks on campaigns of control or marginalization or diminishment.
God knows good men aren’t perfect. They disappoint. They fail. They screw up. But they know how to behave with women and struggle mightily to do so. Good women aren’t perfect either.
Now a couple of weeks ago I saw a great movie: Promising Young Woman, made in 2020, starring the wonderful Carey Mulligan. It’s about an incident in which a bunch of male medical students rape and abuse a fellow female medical student after they’ve all been drinking. The woman is triply devastated: by what’s happened to her, by the fact that it was done to her by these guys she’s known and assumed she could trust, and by the fact that the school does nothing about this.
Soon the young woman kills herself. Carey Mulligan’s character—also a medical student there and her best friend since they were children—is so devastated she drops out of medical school.
When the movie opens it’s 15 years later and Carey Mulligan’s character is working in a coffee shop.
It's at THIS point that the plot begins. Those young men are now practicing physicians. We will find out whether they have become good men.
But watching that movie, and thinking about it, and thinking about all the men I’ve ever known, starting with my husband who is for sure a good man, I realized something important.
And, as I warned you, here comes the shocking statement, which I’m now convinced is true: There are good men and bad men. But the ways good men are bad are exactly the same as the ways bad men are bad.
Let me say that again:
The ways good men are bad are exactly the same as the ways bad men are bad.
What are these ways all men are bad? In general...
Men don’t see women as people.
Men don’t see women at all.
Men don’t listen to women.
Men don’t want to listen to women.
Men aren’t interested in women’s feelings.
Men think that women—as we fundamentally are—are annoying and fucked up.
Men think that women somehow all need to be fixed.
Men think that women are serving their highest purpose when they are serving men.
Men think that women are good only when they are near perfect, young, and beautiful.
Men think women are too much trouble.
That’s the top ten list. There’s more but that’s enough for now.
Now of course I don’t think all men think all these things all the time. Of course not. I’m perfectly aware that men love to adore women. And of course some men think some of these things more than other men.
You can’t lump all men together. Because if you did it would be a lump weighing about 600 billion pounds—the weight of all the men on the planet now—and where would you store it? (I looked that up! Really!)
But the point here is huge, 600 billion pounds huge. It matters that the ways good men are bad are the same as the ways bad men are bad. This means that the endless hurts and insults and violations and deprivations that ordinary women suffer at the hands of even good men—call them micro-aggressions if you like, call them whatever you like—are made of the same toxic substance and have the same DNA as the worst things the worst men do.
They may be little things in the moment, things easily brushed off, cried away into one’s pillow late at night, but they are made of the very same material that destroys women.
Check out the 1947 movie Life with Father. It was a hit movie based on a play that still holds the record as the longest-running non-musical play in Broadway history. It’s thought of as a family comedy. But it’s the record of a tyranny.
Two things are true about the husband in this movie. He loves his wife, by his own lights. And every one of the ten views of women I just listed are not just front and center. But William Powell hits Irene Dunne over the head with them HARD over and over and over. It’s only the need for the movie to have her be plucky and resilient that saves her from bitterness or a breakdown in this heart-warming family comedy.
My shocking statement means that good men are just men who follow a set of rules that bad men don’t follow. But good men do not follow the rule of seeing women as people and of respecting them as they’d want to be respected.
Times have changed since Life with Father. But every woman today who reads that list of the ways all men are bad will see her man somewhere on that list. In case you’ve been wondering why you feel the way you do, now you know.
But what do you do with this if you’re a man?
Well, you could put it off to the ravings of a madwoman. (See items 4, 6, 7, and 10 on the list.)
Or you could feel hurt that all your efforts and good intentions aren’t being acknowledged. (But fine: I hereby acknowledge your efforts and good intentions.)
Or if you’re someone who wants to focus on being productive, you could say, okay, which items on the list apply most and how can I improve with respect to them?
Which would you guess is the smart choice?
And in the next post, I’ll offer you real help. Stay tuned.
NOTE: The guys in the top picture are real bad guys. Members of a radical militant anti-LGBTQ organization in Idaho agitating for violence against gay men, Lesbians, and trans people. The rest of the pix are of movie stars in roles where they played a bad guy.