Saturday, October 19, 2013

Girl Talk: Boys Dish to Me About Girls

     I have had several conversations recently with boys and men about their engagements with females.  It's been a fascinating experience.  Ultimately, it's helped maintain my faith in humanity.

     For starters, there are the twenty-somethings that drape themselves on my furniture and eat all my food.  They're all complete bananaheads.  (I mentioned they are in their early twenties, right?)  They have no real clue about where they are going in life, but hey, they are making great time...  Ah, the divine oblivion of youth.
    They are forever talking about girls.  They are quick to judge, quick to change judgements, quick to say something stupid, quick to call each other on the stupid things they say.  Usually, I remember that they are just learning how to be young men, so I let them blather on.  Once in a while, though, they are way off base, and I have to redirect them by raising my hand up in the air and proclaiming, "Mother, sitting right here!"  Usually,that prompts an apology and a change in subject.
     I've come to the conclusion that for the most part, the young men in my life have been taught that young women should be treated with great respect, and by and large, they have caught the jist of the lesson.  It's heartening to see. I've witnessed the guys policing one of their fellow friends when he's crossed the line and said something abhorrent.  I've witnessed them standing up for a young woman being harshly treated. I've even been asked for advice by several of them on how to be supportive of a female friend they were concerned about, when her risk-taking behavior escalated.  They aren't "bad boys."  They're just hormonal balls of stupid.  I'm reasonably confident that they will grow into men who will treat women respectfully, equally, appropriately.

     Then there are the men in my peer group.  Primarily, these are men I'm related to, are friends with, or work with.   So, I get that there is a predisposition for them to get along well with me.  It's harder to discount the value of someone you actually know. I'm not one of "THEM."  They are still products of their generation, though.  And they grew up in changing times. Some of them, like me, were raised to believe women could be anything they wanted to be.  Some of them, though,  were raised to conform to specific gender roles and the corresponding ideas about those roles.  And they all interact together everyday--with each other and with women. It can get messy and complicated.
     We've talked together about this in a number of settings.   As an example, for this year's Fantasy Football Draft, I was consulted before it was decided to meet at Hooters.  The stated motivation for going to Hooters for the draft was a special they were having that absorbed a lot of the costs that we usually take on.  I believe that to be sincere.  Had I stated that I was uncomfortable with the venue, the entire group would have gone someplace else.  That I was asked made me feel valued and respected.
     The night of the draft, I walked into a conversation several of the guys were already having about the venue.  All of the men were in their 40s or older.  All of them found that THEY were uncomfortable with the sexualization of the young waitresses. It pleased me, a lot, that they came to that conclusion on their own. I might have ribbed them about the choir of angels coming down to recognize this moment...
      And  no, it wasn't staged for my benefit.  The guys were still talking about it back at the office a few days later, and when one of the men (who was not at the draft) made a callous remark about his attraction to young waitresses, the other guys pounced on him.  There's hope for us all, I think.
     That being said, men are still hardwired to be sexual beings.  At that same draft, where the fellas had their beautiful moment of enlightenment, a coworker inadvertently admitted to finding me attractive.  It was clear from the context of our interaction that he was not objectifying me, he wasn't being disloyal to his wife, he wasn't teaching his daughter that she was inferior to her brother, he wasn't being a douche.  He was just being a man, in all his human glory.  And we both laughed (and laughed and laughed) about it, because damn if it wasn't hilarious.

     This humanity of men was explained to me pretty eloquently by an elderly friend of mine this past weekend.  At 87-years-old, Fred has covered the full-spectrum of life's experiences.  He's kindhearted, smart, and generous.  He's also crochety and opinionated and he's a shameless flirt.  I'm very fond of him.  Over the weekend, he and my Personal Chef jokingly came to an arrangement where my husband would "lend me" to Fred if he thought he could catch me.  Nothing like a little inappropriate humor to liven up a Rotary event, eh? Now, nobody for a minute thinks that I'm going to have an affair.  Still, it brightened Fred's day considerably. He noted to me that all men want to be considered desireable for all of their lives.  It is his  belief, in fact, that it is that which is the primary motivator for men's behavior.  Men participate in sports, strive to succeed in business, engage in community service all in order to attract the attention of a potential mate.  To listen to his pack of Old Guys discuss this at length was very eye-opening.

    What does all this mean?  I'm pretty sure it means that boys will be boys, but that they don't have to be tools while they're at it.


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