I have, at different times in my life, been accused of being a “man-hating feminist”. It’s almost a rite of passage for woman feminists to be accused of hating men – once you’ve been accused of hating men, that’s it, there’s no going back, you’re a real feminist now (along with being called humourless, frigid, a slut, a frigid slut (what?), and being told to pipe down and get back into the kitchen). Anyone who actually knows me knows I definitely do not hate men. In fact, I don’t know ANY self-identified feminist who hates men. I love men, and I hate the patriarchy. Play the ball, not the man, as my Dad would say if he was watching football and if the patriarchy was a football game.
So I wanted to kind of refute the idea that I am a man hating feminist by telling you about the men that I love. This probably won’t change the minds of anyone who has firmly made up their mind that I hate men, but it will make me feel good.
I have been very lucky, throughout my life, to be surrounded by so many good men, men who have taught me things, men who I have taught things, men who have loved me and men I have loved in return. I am a feminist because of these men, because they allowed me to think for myself, and valued my education, and valued me as a person in my own right, and valued my opinions.
My Dad – the original Good Man.
My Dad is the first Good Man I ever knew, and he remains the benchmark for what a Good Man should be. My father was married at 29, had two children by 35 and was widowed at 43 with two daughters under 12. I am sure he thought he couldn’t do it, I am sure he despaired about how he would raise two girls without his wife by his side to guide his hand, but he never faltered. If he doubted himself, he never showed it, if he worried about how he would manage our uniquely feminine issues, he never let us see it.
He did, however, grieve for his wife and allowed my sister and I to express our grief about our mother whenever we wished. He never hid his sadness from us, but he always made sure that after we had a good big cry, we went and did something to occupy ourselves. We were never allowed to wallow.
He has a quiet strength of character – he isn’t given to fits of rage, but when suitably provoked can be FIERCE. He protects my sister and I, but never sheltered us. We were always allowed to figure things out for ourselves, and he is always there to catch us if things go wrong.
He has been my father for 29 years, and my mother for 17. He got me through my first period, my first boyfriend, and my first broken heart. He put my sister and I through private school on one income, and we wanted for NOTHING. He listens without judgement and his hugs make all the bad go away.
He taught me about rock and roll, and even though I fiercely resisted listening to “that oldies music” when I was a teenager, as I write this I am listening to Cold Chisel. We can sit together in a pub for an entire afternoon, drinking beers while he tells me about my grandparents and his youth, or come home and sit in my loungeroom and play records until well after dark.
He taught me what a Good Man acts like, and for that I will always be grateful.
My Dad’s friends Alan, Brian, Steve and Paul – my “uncles”.
Mum and Dad used to throw parties where all their friends would come to our house with their kids. These usually happened on warm Saturday afternoons and involved a couple of casks of Coolabah wine, a barbeque, and a few Esky’s full of beer. Us kids would eat sausages and chicken wings and play together, and our parents would sit at the big garden dining table and drink. After my mother died, these happened less frequently – the women and children stopped coming around as my Dad would put on more male-oriented days – getting together to watch the Grand Prix, or the footy, or some other kind of sporting event that his friend’s wives weren’t interested in.
So there were A LOT of men around my house from the time I was 12 years old. I usually socialised with them, and helped Dad to prepare snacks before his friends arrived. I was interested in sports too, so I would hang around to watch with them. And if any of Dad’s friends were bothered by the presence of a 12 year old girl at their Bro Parties, they never showed it. Four men, in particular, stand out; Alan, Brian, Steve and Paul. Dad has known Alan ever since they were little kids. He has known Brian longer even than he has known me, and has known Steve and Paul since the mid-90’s. I always, always felt safe around my Dad’s friends. They never mocked me, or made me feel uncomfortable, or talked over me, or laughed at me, and I particularly feel like Brian and Alan are the Uncle Jesse and the Uncle Joey to my Dad’s Danny Tanner.
In 2002, my Nanna died. Nanna was Dad’s mother, so he and my sister flew down from Brisbane to attend her funeral. When we arrived at the church, my Dad’s cousin Sandra grabbed me and told me I had to give a reading at the funeral. I was not expecting this, and so was pretty nervous. I spent most of the service reading over what I had to say, and then when it came to be my turn and I got up on the altar to read, I was feeling ill. I am not good at reading at funerals, even though I have read at almost every funeral I have ever been to. I started reading and my voice wobbled, so I looked out into the church to try to gather my thoughts. I spotted Brian, Steve and Paul in the congregation, and they smiled at me. I will never forget how safe and loved I felt in that moment, knowing that three of my Dad’s best friends were there to look after me, my sister, and him.
At my Pop’s funeral in 2007, I had the same experience; the unexpected duty to read. The presence of Alan in that congregation gave me an anchoring point. I have always felt loved and supported by my father’s friends. I have always felt like I could rely on them, if I ever needed their help. They never treated me like I was an inconvenient imposition, and they are all Good Men.
Peter – my best friend, my brother.
I was born nine days after Peter. Our childhood was spent up trees, tearing around our street on bikes, on the roof of his parents’ carport, and climbing anything that was fixed to the ground. We grew up together, by the time we were 14 we were too cool for riding bikes, but not too cool for avoiding doing homework by spending literally hours throwing our basketballs through the basketball hoop in my driveway. I could go on here for three or four paragraphs about how similar we are, but instead I am just going to borrow a song lyric from The Boss; “we liked the same music we liked the same bands we liked the same clothes”.
He is my longest, oldest, dearest friend. He stood with me at my mother’s funeral, and read a prayer for her. He attended my Pop’s funeral. He is always there when I need him, and I him. When he started dating the lady he is now about to marry, he invited me to come out to the pub with them and some of her friends so I could meet her. While she was at the bar, he took me aside and urgently asked me what I thought of her. Of course I told him I thought she was wonderful. He probably doesn’t remember this, but I will never forget it. (If you’re reading this, Peter, I still think she’s wonderful!).
Peter is always there for me, and I for him. I know that no matter where life takes us, or where we end up in the world, that if one of us ever needs the other, we will find a way to get to each other. He’s my brother.
Mark – my main man.
I met Mark in September of 2005. When we first started dating and I told him I was non-monogamous, I am sure he must have freaked out, but instead of totally losing his shit, he said “Ok, let’s see what happens”. Six months after we met, we moved in together, more out of necessity than out of any burning desire to live togther, or any feeling that it was the “right time”. Seven years on, he’s still here, and we have a home and two cats together. He brews beer and bakes bread and grows vegetables in our little plot of land. He understands me better than anyone on the planet, and tolerates my more unconventional behaviour. He is my greatest ally, and in the time I have known him, has learned so much about feminism and rape culture and intersectionality that I barely recognise him as the man I met 7 years ago.
We are similar enough that we enjoy the same music and movies and foods, but different enough that we don’t get bored. We have our little in-jokes and our pet names for each other (which I am not going to share here, because they’re ours), and we enjoy spending time together, but I have never felt like we are co-dependent. We value our time away from each other as much as we value our time together. I have never felt like he is possessive of me – he has never asked me a million questions about where I am going, who with, why, and what time I will be back. He values me as my own person, distinct from him.
Of course, I knew all this from the first time I met him, because we got to talking about Tori Amos and how much he liked her music. That is the litmus test. I have NEVER met a man who likes Tori Amos who has turned out to be a vile misogynist.
He has a huge big heart full of love, and I feel very lucky that he has chosen to share that love with me.
Emil – the unexpected surprise.
I didn’t plan to love Emil. It just happened, even though I fought it for months and months. I met him in a nightclub. I had lost all my friends somewhere in the building, and was happily dancing alone when the most beautiful man I have EVER seen came over to say hello to me. He was so beautiful that I could barely believe he was interested in me – and in some ways I still can’t. He is wealthy, and gorgeous, and European and has a very high-status job – so sometimes I definitely feel like I am batting above my average. But despite all that, he loves me. Not in the same way Mark loves me, but in his way. I am very fond of him, and he of me.
He does this adorable thing where when we’re laying in bed and talking and if I am laying on my side, he’ll lay on his side at a slightly askew angle to me and rest his head on my big soft belly and look up at me as I chat away at him while he traces outlines in my skin with his fingertips and I don’t even think he realises he’s doing it but it’s adorable and it makes me squee.
I feel sexy, and happy, and desirable and loved when he does that. It makes me feel like I am beautiful and powerful and worthy of love and admiration. When he rests his head on my body like that it feels like he is accepting me for exactly who I am and what I look like, it’s as if he is saying to me “your body is beautiful and comfortable and I am rejoicing in it and enjoying it”, and it feels like he is loving every single piece of me, exactly as I come to him.
Jason – my newest friend.
Then there is my friend Jason Coggins who I have only known for one year but who has become one of my dearest and most trusted friends. He is smarter than me in a lot of ways (many people are), but is always open to learning new things from people who know more than him. When I first met him, back in October last year, he immediately greeted me with a warm hug and a smile, and I immediately felt safe and at ease in his presence. That feeling has not changed. Jason challenges me, supports me and never makes me feel like my opinion is silly, or like I am being “hysterical” or “humourless” or “seeing problems where none exist”. I feel valued when I am around Jason, and he always listens to me. I appreciate that more than I can adequately express in this small space.
But lest he gets a big head if he reads this, I should point out that he IS English. Can’t win ‘em all!
These are the men in my life. The men who, since the day I was born right up until now, have enriched my life in many different ways and taught me things and allowed me to flourish. They have been my friends, my lovers, my protectors, and my providers. Each of them has, in his own big or small way, contributed to me becoming the person I am now. My life is infinitely better for knowing and loving these Good Men.