A few weeks ago I was sitting on a curb in Venice Beach, drinking coffee and reading the paper on my iPhone, when a couple walked by, in the middle of an argument. Wearing a slinky dress from the night before, the woman yelled at what I assumed was her soon-to-be ex-flame: “Just because you’re tall and have a long cock doesn’t make you a man!”
We used to live in an XX/XY world, there was a binary code of conduct and boys didn’t cry about it. They also didn’t grow heirloom tomatoes, they didn’t covet raw, selvedge denim, they didn’t sculpt their abs and wax their pubes and they didn’t wear their hearts on their sleeves unless they were Purple and issued by the US Military. In 2012, things are a little softer.
She’s wrong, of course, anatomically speaking. On average, men are six inches taller than women and only one of us has a penis. Still, it was obvious that her dig went deeper than the epidermis. She was attempting to castrate his character, taking dead aim at his manliness.
“What’s that?” you ask.
I’m not exactly sure. No one is. Like obscenity, it’s subjective—you know it when you see it. From the primordial soup to powdered wigs to Propecia, the concept has always been in flux, dissected and re-defined by an ever-evolving audience of our peers. As a kid, I was always struck by that scene in The Godfather where Johnny Fontaine pleads with Don Corleone, begging for his help getting a role in a Hollywood picture: “Godfather, I don’t know what to do; I don’t know what to do.” After a beat, Don Corleone explodes, grabs him by the shoulders and attempts to shake some sense into him: “You can act like a man! What’s the matter with you? Is this how you turned out? A Hollywood finocchio that cries like a woman?”
A valid point, perhaps, but for a different era. The film was released 40 years ago, and it was a 1940s period piece—before feminism, before The Pill, before Gym-Tan-Laundry. For better or worse, it was an XX/XY world, there was a binary code of conduct and boys didn’t cry about it. They also didn’t grow heirloom tomatoes in their urban gardens, they didn’t covet raw, selvedge denim, they didn’t sculpt their abs and wax their pubes, and they didn’t wear their hearts on their sleeves unless they were Purple and issued by the US Military. In 2012, things are a little softer. The draft has been replaced by a more emotional call to arms. Now we’re expected to have the courage to be vulnerable.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy to spend an afternoon listening to Dan Savage, eating a ripe Brandywine with some creamy burrata, a barrel-aged balsamic, and a sprinkle of fleur de sel. But feelings? Facials? Pilates? The code of conduct between men and women has never been more difficult to crack. What was once chivalrous can now come off as chauvinistic. One girl’s “sexy” is another girl’s “sexist.” And while face-to-face contact has been on the decline since the rise of Facebook, people seem touchier than ever.
So what does it mean to be a man in 2012?
Naturally, I turned to a modern, intelligent woman for answers. Born in the Midwest and now living in Los Angeles, she’s a 35-year-old divorcee—a head-turning single mother with her own business and a closet full of high heels and vintage dresses. We spoke over waffles and acai smoothies at her place, the morning after our first date.
I’m writing this piece about modern men, and I feel like we’re seeing two types: Metroman, with his skin products, his personal trainer, and his gluten-free diet. And on the other end of the spectrum, though no less contrived, is Old Timey Guy, someone who looks very “masculine,” he dresses like a stylish lumberjack, or a coal miner, with a big beard, suspenders, maybe he’s taking butchering classes.
Yes, I agree, and I find that to be super annoying. If I had to go on a date with Metroman or Old Timey Guy who makes his own cheese, I’d probably choose Metroman. At least he’s trying to improve himself, whereas Old Timey Guy is just trying so fucking hard, it’s irritating. I’d rather meet the real guy in the middle of America who happens to have dirty jeans from actual work. You know Old Timey Guy just rubbed a brick on them for half an hour. It’s embarrassing.
So what does it mean to be a man in 2012?
Guys are the new girls.
They’re creeping into our territory. They care about mid-century modern pottery, and gardening, and they don’t go to barbers anymore, they go to hairdressers.
Is it all so bad?
No, it’s not all bad. Some stuff is easier. I did a re-model of a house with the man I was living with, and he totally took charge.
He was more into design than you?
Yeah. And it became such an argument that I just said: ‘Do it all. If the drawer pulls are that important to you that we’re actually gonna break up over them, just pick them out.’
Have girls become the new guys?
In some ways, yeah. It used to be cute and funny if a girl couldn’t change a tire; now it’s pathetic.
What about sex. Are men more passive in bed these days?
No. They’re actually better. Because they’re more in tune.
So in becoming more like women, we now have a better understanding of what women want, and we’re better lovers because of it?
Yeah. The guys that I’ve dated that are into these more ‘feminine’ pursuits are actually much better in the bedroom. They take charge. That’s a hot mix.