Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Why Can't We Be Friends? Oh, Wait. We Can!

The question goes back way before When Harry Met Sally. It's one of the oldest and most debated questions: Can a man and a woman be friends? Or does the sex thing always get in the way?
Let me ask the question another way. Can a man and a woman be friends? Or do other people's assumptions about the sex thing get in the way?

Here's a scene to contemplate. A couple is out with a group of friends. A is a regular, B is there occasionally. Several people do not know them very well. When B leaves, A gets rather snuggly with a girl, as he does almost every week with this group. B and the girl seemed to get along alright. As the night goes on, A is playing with the girl's hair, and she is bear-hugging him.

I think most people would assume that something fishy is going on with A and the girl. They are gently affectionate, his other half is gone, and he seems to do this a lot with the girl when his partner is not there. Would anyone believe that they are just friends, with nothing else going on? What kind of gossip happens when they are not there? (Note: I can personally attest to the fact that there is nothing fishy going on.)

These kinds of assumptions get made all the time, often on the premise that any man who enjoys the company of a woman, or women, wants something from them, whether it's sex, the admiration of his peers, the attention of another woman, or to take what belongs to someone else. Do people assume that the women have an ulterior motive? Sometimes, I'm sure. But I think the majority of the fault is found with the men, whether there is fault there or not.

And it's sad.

It brings up the old stereotype that a man is controlled by his urges, a user, a predator, trying to get something, get ahead, always having or looking for an angle, trying to one up someone or compensate for something. That he's not capable of affection unless he can get it to go farther. That he's not interested in physical contact unless he can get more. That he sees a woman as some sort of prize or pawn or goal. Let's give a big hand to mass media for perpetuating this.

I call horse manure on this (and to be fair, I call horse manure on the same fallacy that gay men and straight men can't be friends, or lesbians and straight women can't be friends because one just wants to "get" the other one).

What about common interests, common likes and dislikes? Odd bits of humor or shared experiences that bring them together? Shared lunch times or child care assignments? Went to the same school? Go to the same place of worship, or share a faith, or lack thereof? Are they only two people in the building who root for a team on the opposite coast? Choose any one of a thousand reasons you are friends with your same-gendered friends. Why can't that travel across gender lines?

Truth is, it does. Everywhere. All the time. Men and women are friends, without the desire to hop in the sack at the first opportunity. There is no evil ulterior motive. There are no late-night schemes, no secret texts, no coded emails, no disposable cell phones, no third-party cover-ups. There are no chats with Gloria-called-George. Those late nights at the office are really late nights fixing someone else's screw up. Going to lunch was just going down the street to grab a burger and a shake.

And yet so many people tread so carefully because all it takes are a few misplaced words or pictures, or someone's overactive imagination, to tarnish what could be something amazing.

How many men don't take the chance to approach and get to know a woman who they might have a common interest with, because they are worried about the assumptions others, or even the woman might make? How many potential friendships never progress beyond small talk, where there could be a real, platonic connection? And how many friendships and reputations get damaged because people are still have the old "Men and woman blah-blah-blah" stuck in their heads, and can't wait to gossip about something that isn't there?

To those people, I offer this little gem to think about: Sometimes, a hug is just a hug.

Yarn - Not Just for Girls Anymore

My adventure that is the world of fiber arts started (as many great adventures do) quite by accident. My partner broke his ankle and was confined to the upstairs of our place for a couple of weeks. We'd given our girlfriend, who is very crafty, a "How to Knit" kit for Christmas. She figured it out, came over while he was stuck, taught him, and he was hooked. I learned to knit because he did. Learn or be lonely.

Weaving was my choice. At about the same time as I read Farmer Boy (Little House of the Prairie books), I made a friend whose mom had the kind of loom you associate with the word loom: lots of hanging and moving parts, kind of noisy, made beautiful things. I was fascinated, and as an adult I found a small, quiet, portable loom.

Sewing was an accident. I hated it growing up, having been taught by a master quilter mother who was quite unkind when I made a mistake, but when my partner suggested I make our girlfriend an apron for her birthday, I readily agreed. I'm still sewing.

So what do all of these things have in common? They are all crafts typically associated with women that more and more men are doing.

Just quietly.
The textile/fiber arts extend far, far beyond what I do, but the one I see more and more men are doing in their rooms, their trucks, while waiting in the doctor's office, during long drives, during NASCAR races and football games and camping trips, is knitting.

Knitting is no longer the fluffy-pink realm of grandmas and mothers-to-be. It's not just making dainty sweaters or ugly afghans or cute little baby booties. It's about taking two sticks and some string and making something out of it---a corset, a scarf, a cup koozie, a willy warmer, socks, gloves, bicycle seat covers, bags, beanies, just about anything. For men, it’s a little subversive, even if you chose not to do it in public. You know that even if you are sitting alone in a room with the TV on, putting the last 10 rows on the Dr. Who scarf, you are doing something different, something that sets you apart, something common enough to have a shelf at the bookstore but unusual enough to draw open stares in public. You are part of a tribe that’s chosen to step outside of the gender lines, even if just in this one small way.

There are preconceived notions. I'm not going to lie. Knitting in public takes a leap of faith and a willingness to engage with strangers, because people are going to ask what you are working on, is that knitting or crochet, where can you by yarn, where you go to church, all manner of questions, usually when you are in the middle of something crucial. It's like having yarn and needles make you a conversation magnet. There's also the perception that knitting is a "woman thing," and by extension men who do it must be gay. Not true. But you'll still hear it.

So why do it? Why do something that you know, in advance, is likely to draw inquisition and possibly ridicule?

It's fun. It's portable. You don't have to be able to draw or paint. I sure can't. You don't have to carry a boxful of supplies. You can knock out quick, handmade gifts. You can make large, extravagant items. You can lovingly craft a pair of stripey socks. You can use the bright yarn from the local big-box store or the natural yarn made from the chest hair of bison. There are unlimited items for your toy box. And it's cheaper than building cars. Takes up less room, too.

But most importantly, you can play with color and texture in a way almost impossible in any other medium. Consider the sweaters and gloves you've worn that have designs you love, that you run your hands over when no one is looking. Think about the little smile you get inside when you see a bright red rose against a green lawn, or a rainbow, or a sunset with 10 different colors in fluffy clouds.


It's okay to admit that you like pretty things. It's one of the hard parts about being a man, having something you love but feeling like you can't share it with anyone because of how they might view you.

It's also okay to eschew making pretty things. There are plenty of things to make that aren't anywhere on the pretty scale, from tiny, scary little toys to zombie-apocalypse scarves to shark hats that the Sharknado creators would covet.

That's part of the beauty of fiber art. The materials are limitless. The things you can make are endless. Don't like patterns? Make your own. Don't like metal needles? We've got bamboo, wood, and in a pinch a pair of old ballpoint pens will do. Don't like wool? We've got cotton. If you are into green living, we've got recycled yarn for you, too. Sustainability report? Natural fibers are the ultimate in green living: the plants and animals they come from will make more.

Think you're not patient or coordinated enough, or don't have the time? You'll be surprised how much more patient you get with the world when you have needles at hand (provided some jerk is not calling out numbers while you are counting 124 stitches). Not coordinated? Once you get the basics, it's amazing how quickly you are off and running. No time? This is something for your hands to do while you are watching TV or waiting for the laundry to finish.

And by the way---it's a great way to pick up chicks. Trust me.

Friday, September 13, 2013

The Purse. I'm Holding the Purse.

The Purse. I'm Holding the Purse.

This scenario is the stuff of nightmares and jokes, a standard of funny videos with commentaries about being whipped, pantsless, and pussified, a defining moment in many relationships, romantic or otherwise, the point at which she's got him and they both know it.

It's the moment when he stands, like a deer frozen in the headlights, wide-eyed, holding her purse.

It's the next moment when he realizes he is holding her purse, and suddenly this bag with a strap becomes a foreign, slightly itchy object.

It's the thoughts that flash through his head as he tries to decide, "How do I hold this thing? Over my shoulder? Do I put it under my arm or hold it in my hands? What does this look like? Oh my god, there's my boss. Can I just die now?"

It's a situation any man who spends time with a woman has been faced with, or will be faced with...holding the purse. There is no way to look macho while holding a purse.

Now, perhaps you are reading this and going, "So? What's the big deal? I hold her purse all the time." Would you feel that way if a male colleague saw you? What about a superior? What about someone you work out with? A client? Someone from your church? The guy at work who just hates you? Your fantasy football buddies, who you watch the game with almost every Sunday and who you'd be with this weekend if she hadn't made plans for you two?

I know several men who carry messenger bags or sling bags or man bags that still have trouble holding a woman's purse, especially if it is open. Hand them a clutch and they are doomed.

Yes, I know this is a cliched stereotype. It's also true for an awful lot of guys. I'll admit it. I dislike holding a woman's purse. I don't want to be judged as "whipped" or "controlled" or "weak" when all I'm doing is being something between nice and convenient, or get those looks of sympathy, with a dose of underlying, "Glad it isn't me." I get plenty of strange looks from people, but I prefer when it's because I know I am doing something ridiculous (and usualy having fun), rather than when I am doing something uncomfortable. Sad thing is, unless it is one of those rare occasions when my our girlpartner is carrying a purse, the bag-in-question usually belongs to a mom or a friend. Sometimes being a nice guy stinks.

You'd think in this metrosexual/post-metrosexual era, when men are allowed to wear bright colors on scarves and hats and ties, and there are shelves full of hair products and soaps and deoderants just for us, that we'd no longer hold purses like they are about to bite us. But when's the last time you saw a man stolling casually about, holding a patterned, buckled bag, or a granny-sack, or satin-and-chain mini-bag? My guess this that when you saw a man with one, he was either close behind its owner, or rooted to the spot where he was asked, "Can you hold this for a minute, please, thanks."

If you are thinking right this minute of the last time you got stuck holding a purse and nodding feverishly, you're not alone. If you've not had this experience, you will. If you are among the men who can casually hold something with shine, straps, and snaps, congratulations.

You can hold my rainbow-glitter man-bag anytime.

I Didn't MEAN to watch it, but it was in the player. Honest.

"I didn't mean to watch Hope Floats. It was just in the DVD player."
"I didn't mean to watch Pretty Woman. I just stopped on that channel."

"I know it's Nicholas Sparks, but you left it in the bathroom."

"I didn't use ALL of your Tangerine soap. I just, um, didn't grab another bottle."

"How am I supposed to figure you out if I don't read your magazines? And by the way, this sweater would look great on you."

Ok, guys. 'Fess up. You all have a guilty little pleasure or three that you don't tell anyone about. Ok, maybe your significant other. Maybe your best friend. Maybe. And maybe only after he's told you his.

It's something we don't talk about, except in whispers. We find 10,000 ways to make excuses if we get caught. We keep our stashes hidden. We don't put them in queue in our video service. We change the titles in our music players.

These are the little "unmanly" secrets we keep.

We pretend to not like chick flicks, chick lit, TV shows about women targeted at women who want to feel superior to other women, the shampoos we get when we get haircuts, the stuffed animals we got from teenage dates, the fluffy comfy bathrobe that we just "happen" to grab and wrap around us, eating the entire pint of ice cream when we've had a really bad day.

We go to karaoke and pic good, strong, manly songs, or Frank Sinatra, when really we just want to belt out some Beyonce or Aretha or Reba. We've evolved far enough to love our tinydogs, but don't dress them up the way we really want to. Admit'd love to put your chihuahua in a tutu. We punch each other on the arm or body-check each other into a wall or do a poor imitation of the three stooges when all we really want is a hug, a real hug, more that the hug-thump-twice-on-the-back variety. We resist massages while thinking about how nice it would be to lie in a candle lit room getting our muscles turned to mush.

Bathroom locked? It should be. There's a good chance we're playing air guitar in the shower or being a rock star with a hair brush. Put your ear to the door. You might catch us singing along to nothing.

We complain about mowing the lawn and doing dishes, but really, sometimes it's nice to have time to so something relatively brainless while humming the earworm we've been stuck with for days. But since it's the Beib, or Miley, or Abba, or John Denver, whoever our favorite guilty pleasure singer is, we don't mind it too much. But we think that we in any or all of these, are the Only One.

You are not the only one. It only feels like you are because men are not having these conversations. They are talking about what they like and like to do, see, hear. But I guarantee there's a lot they aren't saying. We try to find the right balance between being ourselves and meeting expectations and gender norms in interests and hobbies. Most of you will succeed. Some of us will not, or will fake it to be accepted. Some of you want to keep your secrets secrets. Some of you want to share them. Some of you get great ideas from what other people shared and wish you could share them, too. To the guys putting themselves out there, bravo. For the rest of you, it's ok. There's no rule book for this.

Gotta go. Steel Magnolias just came back on.

My Husband is Having a Baby! Just kidding...but what if...

I recently got to be part of a conversation about maternity/paternity leave, and how companies view men, and men view other men, who take time off to be there for the birth of their children, of for their first weeks of life, or to partcipate in school activities, take them to the doctor, etc., all things typically considered, “Can’t their mom do that?”.

The responses?  Here’s a sampling. They ranged from “They should be able to” to “It’s an amazing thing” to “Why would any man want to do that?”  to “Nice if he can afford it–most man can’t, especially if they are the only wage earner”.

There was no real consensus, although there was general agreement that men should not be looked down on or penalized for doing this.

What there was, though, was completely hetero-centric, marriage-centric language. Husband-wife. Husband-wife. Husband-wife.

This reflects an ongoing struggle in the workplace—how to handle leave when you are in a non-traditional relationship, particularly male-male, although not excluding unmarried or lesbian, and the company rules only make allowances for “spouses”.

If it’s somehow viewed as “weak” or “unmanly” or “unprofessional” to take time off to care or your wife and baby, and companies struggle with how to handle paternity leave/family leave, what will they do when faced with a man who needs leave to help his (legal) husband with their newly adopted baby? How will the man asking for it be received? What about taking a child to doctor’s appointments or dance class when there is no “mom” to do it? What if a guy wants to take family leave to help a cancer-fighting partner?

The company may readily except this and comply without a problem. But that doesn’t eliminate the social or career penalties that go with taking time off, especially when that “taking time off” puts a spotlight on your otherness.

The face of the workplace is changing, no doubt. In most places, open discrimination is a thing of the past. What still exists is more subtle. The games of avoidance and exclusion. The lack of invitation to join higher-ranking committees or groups or projects. The promotion opportunities, all other things being equal, that never seem to happen for those who don’t “toe the line” of traditional masculinity.

If a man is already perceived as being “unmanly”, or if his homosexuality already makes people uncomfortable, how much will that multiply if he has to take on a caregiver role? If he is excited about baby-arrival pictures and wants to show them to everyone, what reactions should he be prepared to deal with?

Or what if he never has to worry about these things, because he’d not be granted the opportunity to take time off for them?

Because in too many of our real-life companies and their policies, gay families aren’t just “lesser” families. They are invisible families, or not families at all.

We Are Not the Boogeyman

I’d like to begin by apologizing. I’m not sure what for, but you seem to be awfully scared of me.

Maybe it’s the 24/7 news cycle that goes into overtime whenever someone in power abuses a child. Maybe it’s the whispers in the neighborhood when a dad gets accused of hurting his daughters. Maybe it’s the idea, planted early and deep, that men are, by nature, aggressive and predatory.
I can’t speak for your mind, but I can speak for myself, and a darned lot, if not most, of the men out there.

Your child is safe with me. Your child is safe with us.


Kids love me. Friends’ kids, strangers’ kids, if they’re under 10 there’s a good chance that they’re going to take to me. Every time a kid hugs me, I cringe a little. Even when it’s a child I know well. When they treat me like a jungle gym and I need to grab them, when they reach to be picked up, when they want to hold hands or drive their toys around on me, I look around. If I don’t know them, I put a stop to it immediately. If I do know them, I am careful how I touch or handle them. I watch where their hands go and divert them if, in their tiny 3-year-old enthusiasm, they are about to grab (or even brush) the junk.


You might be afraid of me. I am equally afraid of you.

It’s a sad truth that men who interact with children are often viewed with suspicion. That people watch them a little more and questions their motives. That the same people who bemoan the lack of male influence in children’s lives are concerned when men want to be involved in children’s lives, especially unknown men.

It’s a sad truth that many men don’t get involved in children’s work-and-play because of the negative stigma attached to it, that being a caregiver or enjoying children’s company is somehow wrong or “unmanly”. And if you’re gay? Well then, you must have some sort of ulterior motive.

It’s a sad truth that men, particularly single men without children, are held to a different standard when interacting with children. Many of us hold ourselves to very careful standards. We guard our interactions, lest we do something that a person may think is inappropriate. We are careful how and when we take pictures. In some cities, we walk quickly by parks, very aware of the “No adults without the company of children” rule. We don’t linger too long, looking at children playing.


I am taught to be afraid of you. You are taught to be afraid of me.

During my teacher training, all of us were repeatedly instructed on the “touch touch pat pat” rule. It was ok to touch or tap a student on a shoulder to get their attention, or pat them on the shoulder to praise or comfort. Hugging or any other displays of affection were out-of-bounds. This was for our safety.

I never once heard of a female teacher reproached for this. I did hear from a few male teachers who were spoken to after female students hugged them, and they hugged back.

While part of me understood and understands the tendency of a school district to err on the side of caution, part of me hates to think of a child in need of a hug or an arm around the shoulder being pushed away for fear of a lawsuit.

This vigilant monitoring, or the potential for it, is why, when I was carrying a friend’s 3-year-old a few weeks ago and her dress shifted, resulting in my hand on her bare leg, I set her down quickly and picked her up again in a different position. Never mind that her mother was 10 feet away. Never mind that she had asked to be picked up. Never mind that it was a hot day and you can’t always control the clothing of a squirmy kid. Never mind that most of the people around us were longtime friends. My brain kicked in to “man survival” mode. My accidental hand-above-her-knee could be your “inappropriate contact”.

This “suspicion of men”, started early and repeated often, is why, whenever I watch a friend’s kid and they do something that yields a bruise, I worry that people will look at me and think that I am abusing this child. It’s why when a little girl tries to use me as a climbing tree, I hope she is careful of what she grabs as a handhold.

I’ve been told it’s why some men are afraid of children. They are not afraid of children. They are afraid of other people’s judgment.


I am in no way saying that there are not bad guys out there of every shape, size, age, color, and identity who hurt children. There are. We hear about them all the time. Every day. In local and national media. I was raised with “Stranger Danger” and “If anyone touches you…” TV commercials. I’m not saying that we should not be vigilant in the protection and care of children or trust them with just anyone who walks by.
But not every man who wants to mentor a boy is a predator. And not every man who wants to take a picture of a girl on a playground is a deviant.

I’d wager that most are not.

And it’s sad that they are, too often, treated like they are.

You want gifties? We've got gifties!

Have you ever experienced the phenomenon of not seeing a certain car much until you buy one, or are thinking of buying one, and suddenly they’re everywhere? That’s been happening to me recently, except the cars are crafters, the crafters are men, and the crafts are all over the board.

I’m a sucker for craft shows. Fiber festivals, too (think craft shows but a lot more yarn and a certain amount of fuzzy animals). I love going to them. Unlike a lot of the guys I see wandering around, I am not dragged, coerced, cajoled, bribed, or begged to do so. More than once, I’ve left my partner sitting somewhere with his knitting while I continue to wander.

Oh, I get some looks and a few comments, mostly along the lines of, “Is your wife with you/where’s your wife?” or “You’re here by yourself?” or “Can I help you with something?” in the poor-man-you-must-be-lost-voice. (The answers, in order: “My partner is over _____.”, “Yes I am/No I’m not he’s ____”, “Nope, just looking, thanks.”) I’m accustomed to this. Men flying solo at craft shows down here, not real common.
What is becoming more common, though, is men behind the tables, and not just doing crafts you’d think, like woodworking or pottery or metalwork.

Some of my recent finds: a man who makes lovely plantscapes under glass with herbs and leaves and tiny flowers, a hand quilter, a scented/decorative soap-and-candle maker (age 18), a stained glass painter, a guy who makes jewelry out of old telephone wire, a PVC pipe toymaker, two chainmaille jewelers, a guy who makes handsewn upcycled ball-caps, an ex-cop who does needlepoint, a handful of knitters, art-quilters, a tie-dye artist, a bead weaver, and a gent who can make just about anything from wire and old bullets—I have a Teddy Roosevelt with a guitar.

I love every time I find another guy crafting, especially a young one, or one working in a medium not traditionally masculine. Nothing at all wrong with the other ones. But I know from talking to some older guys, those 65+, that they got started on their crafting later in life, when they were less concerned about what people thought about them and when society became a little more open to what men should and should not do. And some of the younger ones, they’ve seen enough men crafting now that they know they are not alone.

We non-traditional male crafters still share some experiences when vending at craft shows. The assumptions that someone else made it—we don’t often hear women behind a craft table being asked, “Did you make this?”. The surprise in people’s voices when we assure them that yes, we did. The compliments on our good work that I sometimes think might be taken for granted if the crafter were a woman. The quizzing we get about how we do what we do, as if we are lying about making these things. The looks of distain? irritation? distaste? we get from some men while the woman with them is talking to us and going through our stuff. Trust me, guys. We are not flirting. We are too concerned with trying to make sure we helping everyone as much as we can.

But there is definitely a greater recognition that men—including straight men—can make pretty things, can work with fine items and lovely colors, can have an eye for design and know what people will like, can innovate and remake and restructure. Guys are showing up across the craft spectrum, to the point that tools, bags, books, etc are being made in “colors for men”, with an emphasis on blues and greens and browns rather than pinks and lavenders. A 20-something going into a craft store for 20 pounds of soy candle wax, a pair of fine beading tweezers, or a couple of packs of new sewing needles is not a complete novelty (although there are a few stores where we are distinctly unwelcome). Their friends may not get it, but when it gets cold, they’ll be asking for crocheted beanies; when they need a last minute anniversary present, they’ll be hoping you have some potholders or homemade lotion handy.

Because not only are men capable of being crafty—we are great first responders in a Gifting Emergency.

(Note: JJ is a multi-crafter who sews, weaves, knits, does papercraft, and makes side trips into whatever else looks like fun. He participates in a weekly artists’ market and stores his finished objects in his car).