Gentle readers, I’ve spent the last few days in my childhood home, shrouded in a deep, dank pea-soup fog of testosterone, thanks to my three little brothers–ages 23, 19 and 18. All three of them are handsome, brilliant and charming, but also some of the foremost practitioners of the Dudely Arts, including–but certainly not limited to–entitlement, casual misogyny, and loudly hocking loogies in public. Their mother is the classic indulgent helicopter-y stay-at-home mom who does every single thing for them–if they’ve learned how to prepare meals, wash their own clothes or clean their own rooms, it’s entirely accidental, believe me. With Mommy as their household slave, they never learned to respect women as equals, which has led to some loud confrontations over the years. This harpy is not amused when they call their classmates “whores” and “bitches”, or when they laugh at me for being angry about important issues like pay equity. And they received the full Feminist Lecture Series from me when they kept maligning Madam Secretary of State during her presidential campaign.
Now, my brothers are young, and they’re a work in progress. I love the sinners but hate the dudely sins. To be fair to them, they didn’t have strong female role models growing up. I’m the only harpy in the family and I left home before the youngest was walking. And our father is not much help. But while they’re outwardly anti-feminist, I’m seeing some distinctly positive trends in the gender relations department. For one thing, they all date very smart women who can more than hold their own. No bimbos or doormats for the Sharper brothers–they prefer bright young things who are willing to call them on their shit. And when I booted up the computer this morning, the last Google search (done late last night) was “how to make a woman orgasm.” So maybe there’s some hope for the Dudes yet.
Don’t get me wrong, though. I seriously look forward to hanging out with my brothers; it’s tremendously relaxing and entertaining. In some ways, they’re much easier company than female friends and relatives.
1. My brothers do not care what I eat. Female family members routinely make comments like “Oh, I wish I could have that carrot cake” or “I don’t know how you can eat that burger–I’d gain ten pounds just looking at it.” My brothers will happily accompany me to Five Guys, order the burger with fries and then stop by Cheesecake Factory later. (Did I mention we’re from the ‘burbs?) No guilting or calorie counting or lurking body issues, ever.
2. With my brothers, I can be up front and unashamed about my sex life. Not that we discuss this in detail–because that would be gross–but if I mention that I’m dating two guys at a time, or that I took a guy home on the first date, they just shrug and say “sounds good.” No wanting to overanalyze every date and phone call. No slut shaming masquerading as concern: “Oh Becky, you’re not going to have a serious relationship if you do that.” My brothers aren’t Rules Girls and they could care less about my romantic life. Love them.
3. I can wear whatever the fuck I want around my brothers, which often includes their clothes. I rarely pack much when I go home because I know I’m mostly going to be slopping around the house in oversize shorts and shirts purloined from their closets. All the bullshit trappings of femininity–makeup, heels, skirts–don’t matter when I’m with my brothers, unlike when I’m with, say, my grandmother or aunts, who size up my outfits, my hair and the size of my ass as soon as I walk in the room.
In a lot of ways, being with my brothers lets me take a vacation from a lot of the pressures of being female in our society. The irony, of course, is that this vacation is due entirely to the fact that men exist in an alternate universe of privilege where they aren’t constantly being fed toxic messages about their bodies and sexuality or being shamed and guilted at every turn. I’m just a guest in that world when I’m with them. But oddly enough, spending time there reminds me what I’m fighting for as a feminist. I want all of us to be able to live that guiltlessly and unself-conciously, and to feel entitled to it the same as they do.