Men aren’t from Mars (and women aren’t from Venus) but it sure does feel that way every so often. The amount of times I have begun a sentence with, “Men are…” is too many to count. And the flimsy generalizations that likely followed that statement, are probably also too many to count.
To many a heterosexual woman like myself, men, in general (and yes, there I go again), are a paradox. They’re easily the cause of many women’s problems. From the macro societal issues that we face in a world of sexism, to being that girl crying in a bathroom, slightly drunk and frustrated because he just doesn’t get it, does he? And even if you’ve never been that girl – you’ve probably been the girl who’s had to comfort that girl, while telling her, “Men are…” The word “stupid” comes to mind. (Sorry guys?)
To me, however, men are more than just the reasons for societal problems or alcohol-induced tears. They are more than just the generalizations I may make in analyzing gendered socializations or personal frustrations. Men are the brothers I grew up with – then boys – and that dad that raised me, who were all the first men I ever loved. And from them, I would learn most of everything I would come to know about men.
I am the fourth child of my parents, the first daughter, coming after three boys. And the space between my sister and I is ten years. So in many ways, I was very much a guy’s girl growing up, right from the home.
To say that I was a tomboy would probably not be entirely accurate. I might have despised the dresses my mum would force me to wear every Sunday at church, but I forced her to take me to ballet lessons too. I didn’t pursue that very long, I preferred being outdoors playing sports.
Both my parents encouraged and supported whatever I pursued as a child as much as they could. I do sometimes look back and wish I had been easier for my mother though. “It’s not good for a girl to be so messy,” my mother would say. To which I plainly (and snootily) responded, “I am way too much of a genius to worry about things as trivial as cleaning.” Even as a child, I had a knack for verbal retorts. My mother would say I get my mouth from my father.
To my father, for much of my childhood, I could do no wrong. I was his little girl, and for a time, his only little girl. My brothers would tell you that I got away with murder. Being the only girl and the youngest for almost ten years, this is true. But looking back, it wasn’t only my dad who would let me get away with murder – it was my three brothers too. Oh, as a little girl, I was loved. I was loved by these boys dearly.
My oldest brother, eight years older than me, is very much an oldest brother. Responsible, very independent, and probably the most stubborn of all of us. My second oldest brother, seven years older than me, is the quiet and kind soul. He is an artist and I would say, the gentleman of gentlemen. My third brother, five years older than me, is as likeable and charming as he is arrogant. Even in full-grown adulthood, my third brother and I continue to fight like we’re little kids.
From boys to men, I’ve watched from near and afar – and a lot from afar because of our age differences – how my brothers grew up; how they are growing up. In front of my eyes, the boys who would have to sometimes drag their kid sister with them, became men. Men that I love, that I worry about, that I wish the best for, that I wonder if I am a good sister to; these boys became men. And from them, I have learned at least a little about men.
I’ve learned that men cannot be pigeonholed into neat generalizations – as easy as these generalizations are to construct. From just growing up with three boys, who were all raised in the same family, and yet all turned out so differently, I have learned that who a man is, is the culmination of the chance of biology and environment, the matter of experiences encountered, and the endeavor of choice.
I have learned that men are seldom ever as strong as their performance and presentation might suggest. I have learned that their weaknesses – especially those they are most aware of – terrify them more than anything else. I have learned that contrary to what they might even say – they too are complicated beings; never universal in their desires or their dreams.
I have learned that men struggle with their masculinity – their performance of manhood in whatever sociocultural context they find themselves in. I have learned that telling them to be a man is one of the most hurtful and dangerous things you can say – those words cut right down to their formation of self.
But perhaps most importantly, and I have had to think of my brothers and who they are to remember this often – that men love differently. That is to say, the way a man loves and shows his love is different from one man to the next.
My brothers did not prepare me for a world where boys and men would leave me empty-handed when I offered my heart. They couldn’t even if they tried. My brothers did ensure that I thought of my heart as precious. And that if it ever got broken, even just a little bit, I would be fine because I was already loved.
My brothers did not prepare me for a world where sometimes I am entirely afraid of men. Men walking behind me at late hours of the night, or the uncalled-for stares and statements of men who don’t see me, they just see a woman’s body. My brothers did ensure that I would never define myself by my fears or my relationships to men, by fear.
My brothers did not prepare me for a world where I would both struggle for the attention of men, as well as loathe it. Living in a tight space between wanting to be the subject of a man’s desire, but never an object. My brothers did ensure that I would never want to engage with any man who does not show me respect as a human being. Because although I am that little girl who my brothers loved dearly, I am the woman they also now respect.
From these boys who became men – my brothers – I will forever be indebted. For their sacrifices and their lessons. Although the biggest joy in my life is still being an older sister to a now not-so-little girl, I cannot deny the pleasure it is of also being a little sister to these boys. These boys who taught me about men, who teach me about men, and who by being good men themselves, will always give me hope for mankind.