PAULthinksmusings by a feminist
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I hate directives to conform to traditional rules. I tend to hate traditions, in general. You know what I’ve learned from history? The further back in time you look, the worse human beings have treated each other. We’ve used rules that may have started for some practical reasons and continued trying to enforce them long after they make any sense so that “we” can feel superior to “them”.

Fuck That Shit.

It’s not any one person’s fault. People tend to believe what they’ve been told and cultures hate change. The fact that traditions are still mostly revered instead of dismissed as anachronistic proves that point. So if you think, “people should behave like THIS,” you probably didn’t come up with that idea. It’s probably the same thing that millions of other people think.

That doesn’t make it true. That doesn’t make it right. That just makes it typical. I’m not typical. I feel like I’m in the minority because whenever I spot a “x should be y” statement, I try to figure out if that’s really how I feel or just what’s been impressed upon me. If you challenge the “should” statements that cross your path, then we’re probably kindred spirits. If you never question those statements, you’re probably in the majority.

For example, the light-hearted blog Boobs Bacon Bourbon posted a “10 Commandments of Manhood” article. It spawned a “10 Commandments of Womanhood” response from Miss DC 2009. I disagree with most of both, starting with their titles. A commandment is a divine rule. Neither of those lists are from a god, no matter what god you may worship (if any). And neither article’s author has the authority to dictate what rules should determine or guide “manhood” or “womanhood”.

If the posts were phrased as, “Here are things I like to see in men/women,” then they wouldn’t bother me as much. People can have whatever opinions they like. You might suggest that’s what the authors meant and I’m interpreting the words too literally. If you did, I’d have to reply that you don’t understand how people think. Everyone interprets words literally and then if they can determine the presence of humor, hyperbole, sarcasm, or irony, will impose more layers of meaning on those words. But the literal meanings don’t go away.

This is how cult leaders, hypnotists, advertisers, and therapists can influence how minds work. Words are the spells we cast to create thoughts and feelings and everything else about human beings stems from those.

Beyond the titles, the articles suggest arbitrary (though perhaps traditional) rules that you must follow to be a real man or a real woman. No, that’s not explicitly stated in either, but I think the implicit meaning is undeniable. Both those premises are false. You know what makes a person a “real man”? He identifies as a man. Full stop. You know what it takes for a human being to be a “real woman”? She identifies that way. That’s it!

What the BBB article is really telling readers is, “Here are things that the author wants you to believe you’d have to do in order for him, and possibly his readers, to think of you as having manhood.” Miss DC’s rebuttal is really saying, “Here are things that I think are ladylike. These opinions are probably shared in the social circles where I feel comfortable.” It’s just their opinions and there are probably tons of fantastic men and women who don’t fit their rules.

If you identify as a man and you don’t do any of the things listed in the BBB article, I hope you don’t feel any less of a man because you shouldn’t. No more than if someone in the street screamed at you that you’re not a real man. Or someone in Congress. Likewise, if you identify as a woman and don’t do a single thing Miss DC listed, I hope you don’t feel like your womanhood is lessened, because it’s not. Man, Woman, whatever you truly think you are, you are as legitimately your own identity as anyone could be. And more so than people who lie to themselves.

That’s my take on their two posts and I could end here. But I hear a theoretical commenter asking, “Well, what would YOU have said?” I’d have said:

10 Suggestions for How To Be A Decent Person

1) Take responsibility for yourself. Unless you’re a child, you’re not entitled to be cared for. You might be lucky enough to have someone in your life who does take care of you, but that’s just a fortunate circumstance. And it might change tomorrow. Be able to stay healthy and feed yourself.

2) Be hygienic. Odors, skin problems, illnesses, and the like can just be visible evidence of a lack of staying clean of body and action. Deodorant’s great, soap is great, cologne and perfume are optional. Clean teeth, clean hair, and clean skin are really the most important parts to being physically attractive as well, I think.

3) Be decisive. This is similar to some points both the other articles raise. A confident person can accomplish more because of directness and purpose. Taking a lot of time to make a decision won’t necessarily make your decision any better. Make a choice, move forward. If it’s the wrong choice, you’ll learn that and might have time to choose again. Don’t fear mistakes, get better because of them.

4) Be honest or be quiet. You like someone and it won’t hurt them to know it? Tell them. Have a problem with something a person says or does? Tell them. Want something in life? Say so. Have an opinion about something that would cause nothing positive to happen if you shared it? Keep it to yourself. There’s nothing more powerful than the truth and lies make the world harder for everyone. But an honest opinion is still not a fact, and if it could hurt someone, why are you cluttering the conversation with it?

5) Don’t worry about appearances. If you want to look nice and you make yourself up in a way that you think looks nice, then good for you! If someone asks you for your opinions on superficial things, by all means share them. But if you think someone else looks unappealing in some way and they haven’t asked you for any guidance, then don’t worry about it. How does it hurt you if someone wears shoes you don’t like or a tie you think is ugly or pants that you think are too tight or boots you think are seasonally inappropriate? It doesn’t. And physical features? Shut up. Something you think is ugly is probably beautiful to someone else.

6) Never stop learning. Change your mind. I do agree with the BBB point that you should read books. And you can learn how to cook and tie ties and throw dinner parties and maintain your car if you like. But you can also learn how to play unusual musical instruments, what small cliques of people believe, and how to play cricket. Learn anything! Learn everything! And if you hold some fervent opinion about a topic, learn about the opposing viewpoints and see if you can change your mind. Changing your mind when you learn more is not fickle or wishy-washy; it’s the whole freaking point of learning. Exercise your brain!

7) Don’t be a lady, don’t be manly, be yourself. If you’re a guy who likes wearing pink and watching ballet and hates sports, own that. If you’re a woman who likes boxing and fixing motorcycles and having sex in seedy bathrooms, love all that about yourself. And if you do fit some traditional roles but you’re happy about it, keep being happy about it. But don’t try to force yourself to be something or pretend to be something that you’re not because someone tells you that’ll enable you to fit into a label. Fight the labels, be yourself, let others be themselves, and I believe we’ll make the world a better place.

8) Have opinions and realize they’re opinions. I have no problems with BBB or Miss DC having their opinions. I don’t mind if everyone who reads this post opines that I’m completely wrong. I believe in freedom and that people can think whatever they like. But it’s even more important that people realize that something that can be measured repeatedly to produce the same results is a true fact. If you can’t measure it repeatedly, it can’t be a fact. If you don’t get the same results each time, it can’t be true. Opinions, facts, and truth are not interchangeable. It’ll make your life better to possess plenty of all three and know which are which.

9) Share when you can. When we’re weak or tired or sick, we should take care of ourselves. But when we’re strong, able, healthy, and wealthy in any way, I believe we can make our communities better by sharing what we can. Don’t force taxes to be necessary where your own charity can suffice. Share your strength, your knowledge, your time, your presence, your money, your art, whatever you think you can contribute that will make things better. Don’t forsake making your livelihood, though! I’m talking about extra, when you can. It will come back around to help you, too.

10) Be kind. I hate false niceness. Making shallow gestures so as not to upset anyone is not good or kind, it’s just nice and it’s crap. But if you see someone angry or sad or struggling in some way… Help them if you feel like it. A word can make a difference. So can a hand. So can patience. At the very least, don’t add to their burdens. You carry your own. You should know better.

This post got way long and it’s tl;dr and then some, but I kept going. Just remember that most of this stuff is made up of my opinions and all I’ve offered is suggestions. I hope they help.

About Paul Roth

A vegetarian, agnostic, lindy-hopping, dog-loving tv-watcher who likes to read his own words.
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17 Responses to No Commandments, Just Suggestions

  1. Laura says:

    Also, I find both posts to be almost entirely absurd. And if I agreed with them, I would be… genderless I suppose since I follow maybe one of these “commandments” total. I am not outraged by them though. I am in no way duped, but I almost find them so ridiculous that it’s laughable. I know people feel these things are true, but I feel sorry for them for subjecting themselves to this.

    How about fighting this sort of gender regulation by providing a more positive and accepting example rather than being outraged? I find that to generally be far more effective. Outrage is a huge turn off for me in almost every circumstance. Respectful, strong disagreement and the power of wit, intelligence, and creativity in a response actively draw me in. If you can show me just how absurd these lists are without flailing about and pointing and crying out about how horrible they are, my respect for you increases SO much. (Please know I am not referring to your response here. I do not believe you did this)

    • Paul Roth says:

      I’m afraid my anger got out of control here in these comments, but I did try to keep it in check in my post. And I did try to offer alternatives rather than just nay-saying their lists.

      But again, you make good points. Thank you!

  2. Laura says:

    I have to say that Rebecca REALLY has a point that you didn’t seem to respect or consider. In fact, your response seemed less of a response and more of a reaction and a bit like lashing out. You know me. You know how strongly I feel about things like this. But I’m also a writer, sometimes an artist, and a growing human being, and I don’t need everyone on planet earth to throw out technique and style in order to feel like a strong validated woman.

    I agree that perpetuating a negative or inaccurate stereotype is wrong, however; there are methods of communication that call for surprise or shock or things of that nature in order to get a point across. Not every single writer is writing to a universal audience. Regardless of whether a universal audience is capable of reading what is written, certain ways of saying things communicate more effectively to different segments of society. I believe that we have to allow for some amount of leeway here. A foundational rule of writing is to “consider your audience.” Considering your audience includes determining what method of communication would be most effective as well as being concerned with respect and value of other human beings.

    Does that make any sense at all? I am increasingly wary of becoming so politically correct and cautious that I lose all effectiveness in my communication because I see that loss happening at an alarming rate with people I deeply respect. I think you have valid points here, and I so greatly appreciate your passion for this sort of thing, but I also think it’s important to consider some other perspectives on this.

    I would be careful not to take personal responsibility out of this picture. You made several statements in your response to Rebecca that implied that writing such as is contained in the links you posted caused people to believe and do things in a way that imbued these words with magical powers to take over a person’s willpower and cause them to become idiots. Yes words are powerful and persuasive, but if we dumb everything down and put bumper guards up in every gutter, words lose some of their intense power to educate and inspire. Don’t take away the need for critical thinking by depriving words of their power.

    I believe Rebecca is perfectly within a reasonable right to say that she didn’t care for either post. Where were you granted the authority to determine what degree of emotional response another individual should have? To be honest, that seems a bit controlling, even though I know that isn’t what you’re trying to do. Rebecca never even implied that she agreed with the posts, so your comments, “I don’t know why you think appearances are the most important thing about people. I didn’t realize you wanted to be a stay-at-home wife” make little sense. You can be outraged, but telling other people that they MUST be outraged oversteps boundaries. And saying that a lack of outrage implies that someone has been tricked into dampening his or her anger just plain isn’t accurate. Perhaps my personality is such that I do not experience emotions on the same scale that you do. Perhaps I simply view the entire world differently than you do. Perhaps my reaction to these things is at the core the same, but carried out differently. Your reaction is not the only right one, and it seems that your view on life should cause you to really support this sort of mutual respect in allowing others to have their own reactions to things.

    • Paul Roth says:

      I definitely reacted defensively to Rebecca’s post. You’re right that I reacted harshly!

      – Sorry, Rebecca! –

      But I do believe words are as influential as I suggest. I do believe every one of us gets affected by everything we read, sometimes in insidious ways we don’t realize.

      I was also upset that Rebecca picked on my approach rather than responding to my points.

      But I was a jerk about it and I am sorry about that. I’ll leave her post, my reply, and your eloquent rebuttal all here so people can see that this is a part of who I am.

      I’m sorry to you, Laura, if my reaction to Rebecca upset you. And again, I’m sorry, Rebecca!

      • I knew you didn’t like me. *sniff* You’ll be getting a text about this later. And I’ll keep in mind that you don’t take well to sarcasm pointed at you. Heh.

  3. Sam says:

    The Womanhood version really bugged me. As human beings we are all way too multi-dimensional to be pigeon-holed into any one person’s perception of 10 things a man or woman has to be. I don’t listen or give credence to someone else’s hang ups.

  4. I didn’t care for either post. But FUN FACT: Did you know blogs are almost entirely opinion? Some are written as persuasive essays, some are narrative, some are simply lists. Some bloggers even like to create controversy! Wow!

    Okay, that was kiiinda sarcastic. :-) But you get my point.

    Successful blog posts take a stand and stick to it, beginning with a strong headline. “Suggestions” and “Decent” aren’t especially powerful words (though they may work if you find the right niche!). “Commandment” and “Manhood” are MUCH MUCH more clickable and discussion-inspiring. Your list might be called “10 Ways to Avoid Being Seen as an Asshole,” for example. It’s essentially the same thing, only it inspires curiosity. In fact, a headline like that would have been a great platform to launch into why commandments of man/womanhood are silly, and really people just care if you are a decent human being (i.e. not an asshole), and everything above and beyond that is a bonus.

    • Paul Roth says:

      Actually, you missed many of my points. I did concede that the authors may have intended their posts to be opinion pieces. Commandments aren’t silly; they’re abominable. And I never implied that it’s significant whether people care if you’re a decent human being. In fact, a main point is that it’s not important what people think of you at all.

      But words are important.

      Yes, tabloid journalism gets people interested but it also affects minds. It causes people to rally around a Tea Party without actually agreeing with their platform. It makes people sympathetic with sexual assailants because scandals are just embarrassing. And it makes casual readers of a list of Commandments absorb the declarations as if they _should_ be absorbed because they’ve absorbed other commandments.

      You “didn’t care for either post”? I don’t know why you think appearances are the most important thing about people. I didn’t realize you wanted to be a stay-at-home wife. Do neither of those statements accurately reflect you? Then you should be outraged that those two blog posts are perpetuating a culture of traditional gender conformity. If you’re not outraged, I suspect it’s in part because their words have succeeded in tricking you enough to dampen your anger.

      Your own wording in your comment tells me I’m a fool for interpreting the original posts’ content the way I did. That’s what sarcasm is for: to belittle a fool by treating him as if he cannot comprehend a double-meaning.

      I can actually find many meanings. But I’ll concede that I am still a fool.

      • If I were outraged at everything that is outrageous, I’d spend a lot of time trying to calm my pounding heart.

        I AM a stay-at-home wife. I DO think appearances are important. So can I really be outraged?

        Of course not. Because I look for what I agree with, try to find the best in pople. The world is a massive sea of gray. Very rarely do I find black and white, even when I do feel outraged. We agree much more than we think.

        Casual readers can make up their own minds; blogging is not tabloid journalism (except when it is, and that’s not this case.)

  5. Eric Wang says:

    I love this rebuttal. I agree with your general theme. Most of these items were on my original list, which consisted of almost 30 items (the working title was “Things that separate men from boys”). Your #3 and #6 were the last ones to be cut from mine.

    The reason I went for the harsher route was that I wanted people to react in a tangible way. I wanted guys to look at their skinny jeans or dirty dishes in the sink and get irked, with me or with themselves. I wanted guys to walk by a bookstore after reading my post, and actually go in and buy a book.

    Good post.

  6. j says:

    “Opinions, facts, and truth are not interchangeable.”

    That is my favorite line in this post. It touches on something that I have debated at length with people and a concept that I firmly believe in.

    Wonderful post Paul!

  7. Lexa says:

    Only caveat: a lot of people with bad skin are still hygienic. Genes are a bitch. Just like some over weight people workout/take care of themselves.

    Agree on your point, though!

    • Paul Roth says:

      Oh, absolutely! I worried about my wording a bit because I don’t believe in being ableist any more than being sexist, but attempted to be concise. Thanks, Lexa.

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