"What Is A Man?" Really Annoying, According To Esquire

We're not surprised that Tom Chiarella's Esquire article "What Is a Man?" is chock-full of silly, Maxim-worthy platitudes. But that doesn't mean we can't make fun of it.

Some highlights:

A man is good at his job. Not his work, not his avocation, not his hobby. Not his career. His job. It doesn't matter what his job is, because if a man doesn't like his job, he gets a new one.

Timely advice, Esquire! If you don't like your job, just get a new one. Maybe manufacturing cars — we hear that's manly.

A man loves the human body, the revelation of nakedness. He loves the sight of the pale breast, the physics of the human skeleton, the alternating current of the flesh. He is thrilled by the snatch, by the wrist, the sight of a bare shoulder.

First: what is "the alternating current of the flesh?" And can you use it to run some power tools? Men love power tools. Second: gay men do not exist in the Esquire universe. Nor, apparently, do black women.

When his woman bends to pick up her underwear, he feels that thrum that only a man can feel.

Nor do lesbians. Or, at least, they have no thrums.

He does not rely on rationalizations or explanations. He doesn't winnow, winnow, winnow until truths can be humbly categorized, or intellectualized, until behavior can be written off with an explanation. He doesn't see himself lost in some great maw of humanity, some grand sweep. That's the liberal thread; it's why men won't line up as liberals.

A man doesn't rely on vague metaphorical criticisms while simultaneously accusing his opponents of vagueness. Oh wait . . .

A man resists formulations, questions belief, embraces ambiguity without making a fetish out of it. A man revisits his beliefs. Continually. That's why men won't forever line up with conservatives, either.

Ok, this actually makes me mad. First of all, Chiarella's claim is that a man doesn't "winnow, winnow, winnow until truths can be humbly categorized" but that he also "revisits his beliefs. Continually." So basically men have unyielding principles — anything less is for women, pinkos, and gays, obviously — but they are constantly "revisiting" them because they're just so open-minded. Huh?

Really, though, the revisiting actually gets to me much more than the anti-winnowing stance. The idea that a smart, judicious person is someone who "resists formulations, questions belief, embraces ambiguity" is actually very popular — it's why it's hip to say you're politically independent. But debating your own beliefs with yourself is also sort of a luxury — it's much easier to constantly question your own convictions if you've never had to fight for them. If your point of view — if your rights — have ever been truly embattled, you may find it harder to say that your point of view, your desire for these rights, is provisional and constantly subject to change. If Susan B. Anthony had said, "I think women should have right to vote, but, meh, I might feel differently tomorrow," then I might not have been able to cast my ballot last November.

The truth is, though, that it's usually women who are encouraged not to believe in their own views too strongly. It's women who are socialized to preface every claim with "I think" or "I might be wrong" (I had to delete words like this from this post about ten times; it's that automatic). So it's actually kind of surprising that Chiarella is recommending this kind of hedging to men, especially when his idea of a man is someone who "understands electricity or the internal-combustion engine, the mechanics of flight or how to figure a pitcher's ERA" (I guess I am a man). Seriously, though, nobody would argue that you should be blind to new information or refuse to listen to others. But once you've done your homework, give your beliefs the respect they deserve. It might not make you a "real man," but it will help you be heard in the world — and those two should no longer be synonymous.

What Is a Man? [Esquire]