Real Men, Medium Rare

By Kevin Byrne

During one long broiling hot weekend over the summer, my father-in-law Stuart (a.k.a. “Stu”) and I put in a gray slate-stone pathway behind his ranch house in the rural countryside of western New Jersey. The individual stones were rough cut into rectangular shapes, weighing about 90 lbs apiece, and it was my job to lift each one, barehanded, and carry it 30 feet from the garage to the rock-strewn, red clay trench line we’d both dug earlier that morning. We’d then carefully lay each between grass braces before dumping shovelfuls of gravel deposit under and around the stones to balance the walk. The job took us about seven hours and a gallon of sweat.

At the halfway point, we decided to break for lunch. So we stepped inside, coated in dirt, grass and raw animal stink. Stu rummaged in the fridge for leftover steak while I tracked mud across the floor. I breathed deep the cool, conditioned air of the house and exhaled with huge satisfaction at our rough ‘n tumble outdoor accomplishment, while at the same time craving two things: raw meat and an ice-cold beer.

So I cracked a Budweiser tinny and, just before eating, sat down at the computer in the kitchen nook to catch up on some of the news and blog posts scoring hits that morning on Google. After all, I am a journalist and a news junkie, and this is how I earn a living when I’m not working up a man-sized thirst and moving tons of raw marble like an albino version of The Incredible Hulk … albeit not as incredible as I imagine myself to be. And if there’s one thing you can really count on never lying to you about your physique in your early 40s, it’s a full-length bathroom mirror.

It was right about then that I clicked on this article, guzzling my beer as I did.

Now … let me just say I wasn’t too sure what it was about the piece that first cut me to the quick. At first, I thought it was the brassy, brazen nature of the commentary. Then I thought, maybe it was the dark cynicism of the dangerously political diatribe it attempted to conceal, and not so cleverly at that.

But looking back on it, now I realize what initially grabbed my attention.

It was the headline, which read like the title of a really bad college term paper:

“Skinny Jeans, John Wayne, And The Feminization Of America”

I gotta admit, I was impressed. Never had I seen reverse sexism so ignorantly posited as theory, let alone tossed blithely and carelessly to the Internet winds, as if the average red-blooded American male wouldn’t notice or care enough to respond.

I went back and checked the byline at the bottom of the article, which was written by a woman named Jane Gilvary, a freelancer who touts herself as a “red, white, and blue conservative”: a descriptive which, when translated to English, basically means that every time she opens her mouth to express an opinion, a kitten dies.

Now some folks – members of the Tea Party, I’d imagine – might take boisterous exception to my rather acerbic assessment of Miss Gilvary’s so-called patriotism.

Unfortunately for them, when defining “patriotism,” I’m inclined (more often than not) to align myself philosophically with Oscar Wilde, the famous Irish writer who once called it “a virtue of the vicious.” And really, all you “free thinkers” out there, let’s be honest: when it comes to patriotic viciousness, you really can’t get much more gutter than the Tea Party, a nationalized cabal of rabidly-ignorant, free speech-abusing, closeted racist half-witswho have zero knowledge of public policy, no concept of history or current events, andthe spelling skills of third graders.

And that’s just the membership in Kansas.

But I playfully digress.

My eyes drifted back up the page to the first sentence of the Op-Ed, which appeared in The Bulletin, a publication touted as “a family newspaper” based in Philadelphia:

“Despite what feminists might argue, real men don’t wear skinny jeans …”

Wow.

That’s quite an assertion, I must say. Not only was I completely unaware that modern feminists had such strongly felt viewpoints about men’s fashions (especially a style of jeans first made cool by a punk band as freaky-macho as The Ramones), but apparently they also think any man who wear said jeans … is a pussy.

At least, that’s what Jane Gilvary seemed to be suggesting.

On the one hand, I’m fine with her theory. Hell, I remember when skinny jeans were all the rage when I was a teen in the 1980’s, and I’m not particularly enthralled by the fact that Zac Efron, the Jonas Brothers and the cast of Twilight resurrected them.

Then again, I’m not a teen anymore. And if there’s anything I’ve learned about American pop culture thus far, it’s this: everything old does become new again.

Now I’m not the kind of guy to give much thought to engaging in a political debate over sartorial style, but I somehow doubt such esteemed literary mavens as Naomi Wolf, Betty Friedan or Gloria Steinhem would waste any of their time (or our planet’s precious oxygen supply) addressing such an arcane and inane subject.

I’m more from the Cormac McCarthy, Lee Child, Hunter S. Thompson and Frank Miller schools of literary thinking: if it isn’t spare, evocative, moody, reflective, hard-boiled, gritty or gonzo (or features Batman), it generally doesn’t hold my interest.

And ironically, that’s the only compliment I will pay to Miss Gilvary, who did manage to hold mine for the full length of her pithy (and repugnant) anti-feminist diatribe.

Speaking of, let’s get back to Jane, whose time-honored citation of Old Glory’s color scheme served as a rather startling intro to another more dubious claim, specifically the statement that she “loves Jesus, Johnny Cash and the U.S. Constitution.”

I automatically view statements like this with a hardcore brand of suspicion, mostly because (in my experience) whenever conservative leaders and their pundits have cited or commandeered the music of artists like Woody Guthrie, Bruce Springsteen and Johnny Cash in the past, it’s usually been for the wrong reasons; the worst being to score political points with voters, a manipulative gesture that to this day makes me grit my teeth so hard with anger that I actually begin to sweat. And while I certainly did not know J.R. Cash the man (I only had the extraordinary honor of meeting him once, albeit very briefly), I’ve read and heard enough about him from people who actually did know him to understand he did NOT hold to certain political ideologies nor did he judge others for doing the same (this interview with his daughter, Rosanne, incidentally, is best evidence of that, and should be required reading for every neo-con out there who has ever tried to hijack his musical legacy).

But again, I digress.

On the second graf of Miss Gilvary’s editorial, I encountered an unwieldy chunk of text in which she posed a brash question that all but leapt off the screen:

“When did men in America go from being masculine steak-eating, plaid shirt wearing, Old Spice smelling, cigar smoking cowboys who like football, hunting, and Clint Eastwood movies to skinny jean wearing, satchel carrying, pierced ear metrosexuals who like chick flicks, “The View,” and Bath & Bodyworks?”

If I were Danny Thomas, this is where I’d do my spit take. However, I’m also a man who knows the street value of a cold beer in this tight economy, and I wasn’t about to let one single gulp go airborne over a question so obscenely obtuse.

Instead, it was the statement that followed which really got under my skin.

“The American man is an endangered species due in large part to the over-feminization of society.”

Hold the phone, ding-a-ling … AN ENDANGERED SPECIES?

So I belched as loudly as I could while at the same time barking in loud disbelief:

“WHAT the FUCK?!”

Wags, my father-in-law’s loyal Wheaten terrier sidekick and perhaps the coolest canine on the planet Earth, sat up abruptly and (apparently operating under the assumption that I was trying to speak dog), cocked his head at me to say:

“ROWF!”

Stu – who, incidentally,  looks like a cross between this guy

and this guy

– was at the kitchen counter, carving up leftover cow. In one rough and leathery mitt, he brandished a Japanese knife sharp enough to circumcise a housefly.

“What’s your problem?” he asked, his voice low and semi-gruff.

“Ah, nothing,” I muttered. “Just some crazy conservative broad talking smack online about what does or doesn’t constitute a real man.”

Stu set the knife down and walked past me, heading for the bathroom, a smile crinkling his broad, rough-hewn face.

“You better take it easy,” he chuckled. “You’re gonna give yourself a heart attack.”

This sort of humor never fails to amuse me, especially coming from Stu, who underwent a quadruple bypass over a decade before I met him, and had been to the hospital twice in the past couple of years to replace a series of stents in the valves and veins around his own ticker. Twelve hours after surgery, the man wanted to jump on his tractor and go chop down trees until his wife and my wife stopped him.

As far as I’m concerned, the guy is bionic. Longer lasting than Duracell. Ram tough. If the dude were to accidentally sever his own hand with a table saw, I wouldn’t be surprised if he were to simply duct tape it back onto his wrist stump and continue working without complaint, blood loss and gangrene and tetanus be damned.

This is the kind of man every guy aspires to be when everyone else thinks he’s too old to keep up, the sort who knows the lay of the land and how to handle the curves.

I admire Stu. He’s very much a guy, like my father was, although my dad was not nearly as handy. My father was born in Brooklyn, NY; my father-in-law in the wooded Watchung reservation in the hills of Mountainside, NJ. Notwithstanding geographical origins, both had been raised via old school rules, where hard knocks were the common turf. As a result, each matured into adulthood as men of few words, not the sort to complain, and the kind you could always count on. I emulate them both. Even the clothes I wear now for comfort are based on the sort of stuff I saw men like my father and Stu wear around the house: worn-out T-shirts, flannels, old Levis and boots. They both liked beer, barbeque, fishing and Clint Eastwood films and I did too. These were real men. These were my role models.

Given all of that, I didn’t know what the Hell this lady Jane was talking about.

Nevertheless, as a journalist, I always try to remain impartial. And far be it from me to not give another scribe a fair shake when it comes to expressing themselves in an Op-Ed, even one that dwells on something so simplistic and silly as whether or not a certain style of pants are turning boys into girls, as Gilvary would like us to believe.

So I continued reading. And drinking.

And that’s when I came across this jewel of a statement:

“Because of the feminist movement, boys aren’t allowed to be boys – society has fenced them in, corralled their adventurous enthusiasm in the name of sexual equality. The end product is pantywaist pushovers who will cry during ‘Steel Magnolias’ and urinate sitting down.”

Unbelievable.

Assuming this woman was actually being paid (Miss Gilvary is not a journalist by trade – she’s a second grade teacher who took graduate classes in writing at St. Joseph’s University), I couldn’t believe it was to actually spew such utter rubbish.

Yet there it was, splayed before me on the luminous liquid screen of this laptop in all its truncated glory, each tiny letter dangling, like a dried-up rose petal dipped in a black and bitterly poisonous ink so common to conspirators in new Roman times.

Or, in this particular case … Times New Roman.

And that’s when it hit me.

That’s when I understood what Jane Gilvary was trying to say.

That’s when I realized what kind of woman she is.

Unfortunately … she’s not the good kind. Not the kind most “real men” seek, anyway.

Sure, I could get sexist. I could say Jane Gilvary is the kind of misinformed yet opinionated bimbo we’ve been seeing and reading about FAR TOO MUCH in our country these days. The sort of harpy who, like Ann Coulter, needs to be exposed to the sun more often, even if it might run the risk of reducing her to a screeching pile of ash. The kind of prim, puritanical poseur who hasn’t so much read the Bible as taken its entire story literally and then publicly regurgitated it out of context to suit whatever warped Christian-based agenda she happens to be siding with that week.

To wit, Jane Gilvary is a close-minded, chauvinistic, homophobic pain in the ass.

Before I go about explaining why Jane is all of these things … the fairest thing I can do is try to give her credit where it’s due (and for what little it’s actually worth).

So I will start off by saying she is right about one thing: real men DON’T wear “skinny” jeans. They wear whatever jeans fit them best, the same as women.

Translation: they wear whatever the fuck they feel like wearing.

Beyond that, when it comes to the behavior of “real men” in modern times, Miss G is about as dangerously off-kilter as an Osprey aircraft with a broken tilt-rotor.

Don’t get me wrong: based on the bizarre way the world seems to be spinning in Jane’s wild and wacky orbit, one can almost see how easy it is for her to believe (based on a distaste of peg-legged pants) this is no longer a country for manly-men.

Granted, many of our country’s greatest men – Ben Franklin, Theodore Roosevelt, Thomas Edison, Wilburn and Orville Wright, Albert Einstein, Jonas Salk, etc – had achieved some of the world’s greatest feats without ever once wearing skinny jeans a day in their lives. On the flipside, they also never wore Wranglers or Old Spice.

But Jane isn’t talking about the accomplishments of such men or their skills; she’s belittling those men she perceives as UN-manly. And she’s not talking about men she views as less than masculine based on the clothes they wear; she’s referring to the effete sort that only someone like her would dare to label “girly” in this day and age.

“Real men also don’t wear V-neck tees, or accessorized scarves, and they avoid purple and pink like the plague.”

Hmm.

Oddly enough, I don’t think U2 lead singer Bono (a champion of not only the V-neck tee, but scarves and the color purple) got this memo.

Then again, he’s been married for over 20 years and has four kids … so he’s probably too busy to bother reading this horrid harangue.

So, what exactly is Jane suggesting?

I’d like to think anyone with even the slightest sense of nuance (and Jane certainly doesn’t have much) knows exactly what she’s trying to say and wishes she would just say it out loud so as to remove all doubt as to her position: SHE’S ANTI-GAY.

And therein, Jane Gilvary, lays your VERY big problem.

Not with me, but with an entire legion of men and women in this country who are right now up against it. They are in the fight of their lives, locked in a heartbreaking battle, for the most basic of human rights you and I take for granted. I’m not talking about the right to marry or the right to have a civil union (the fact that so many of my fellow heteros are against that concept absolutely boggles my mind), I’m talking about the right to just be. The right to exist without being judged or looked down upon or besmirched or bullied by all those insufferable, indignant isolationists who keep acting as if they’re our country’s moral majority, all those half-wit hypocrites who believe they speak for God and what God wants.

Your problem, Jane, is that on the heels of your dumb-ass editorial, we’ve seen an astounding number of gay teenagers – the ones you so blithely refer to as “girly” – committing suicide. They’re killing themselves, Jane. More often than not, because they’ve been bullied beyond belief, both physically and verbally, by people just like you. Bullied by all you coy and cowardly sorts who like to cleverly hide in the shadows and hurl rocks in the form of words; the ones who hide their ignorance and arrogance behind the right to free speech and freedom of the press, all in the name of a backwards-ass agenda steeped in “family values” and “proper moral judgment.”

In fact, considering the number of suicides that have transpired in the last few days both online and in the news (you need only read heartbreaking stories like this, this, this and this to get an idea of how bad things are), I’m wondering now, Jane, if you even once bothered to look back at this outright raft of idiocy you and your paper unleashed, if only to consider the demographic you might REALLY be offending.

Did any of those stories give you pause to reconsider what you said?

Did you even feel bad?

No, you probably didn’t. You don’t strike me as a particularly self-aware type, Jane.

Actually, given that your paper is located in “the City of Brotherly Love,” I’m more surprised that none of the gay and lesbian organizations based there have decided to publicly out you as the sly, hatemongering wimp you probably are in private.

Or perhaps they’re waiting for this date to really call attention to that fact.

But you know what? I’m going to leave your thinly-veiled attack on gays out of the equation, just for a moment. That way, I can raise a topic relevant to all the “manly-men” you seem to believe are in such paucity down by your neck of the woods.

That in mind, let me ask you a question, Jane … just for argument’s sake.

If any of the young men to ever join the U.S. military went off to fight in a foreign war, and they were lucky enough to come home again without having lost any of their limbs or their minds (which is unlikely, given the traumatic repercussions of what’s been happening in Iraq and Afghanistan for the past decade) and one of those young ex-soldiers decided to go out to the Gap and buy a pair of “skinny jeans” … would that make them GIRLY to you? Would that make them PANTYWAISTS?

Take a moment to ponder that clothing conundrum carefully, Dunce Cap … while I eviscerate another one of your Pulitzer prize-winning remarks here:

“American men aren’t men anymore because feminists have equated maleness with everything that’s repugnant and have molded men to be more like women.”

The logic of that statement being, what, that guys who dress like girls end up gay?

Pardon me for stooping to the use of the vernacular, Jane … but blow it out your ass.

After you’re done blowing it out your ass, you can also blow Eddie Izzard, the British comedian who is not only staggeringly funny but a transvestite who “fancies girls”, as he once put it. If you want proof, rent his excellent and very moving documentary Believe and you’ll hear the same from his ex-girlfriends; women who I have a sneaking suspicion were a helluva lot more open-minded than you were as a teen.

Actually … now that I think about it, Jane: never mind, forget everything I just said.

You won’t rent the movie. Women like you are always too scared to learn new things, things you don’t understand. You’d rather just sit quietly in the corner and stew in the juices of your own hatred and pretend everything you think is “normal.”

But hey, let’s say for argument’s sake you AREN’T squeamish about gay men.

Let’s say you really do think there’s “something in the water”, culturally, that’s screwing up our nation’s macho male mojo, and you truly do believe us guys, as a species, are heading for a Children of Men-type scenario on the testosterone front.

Okay then.

By all means, please explain to us your theory in scientific terms.

I dare you to try without giving yourself an aneurysm.

If you succeed in doing that, you’ll be an even bigger laughingstock to liberals, Harvard-educated scientists and Camille Paglia than you already are right now.

Beyond that strenuous mental activity, you should probably stick to your own side of the gender fence, Nancy Drew. We “real men” don’t need your help.

We don’t need your help because we’ve being doing just fine on our own and for decades, thanks to four simple little survival phrases.

Those phrases being: “Okay,” “I’m listening,” “Whatever you say” and “You’re right.”

That’s all any real man needs to survive in the wilderness with a modern female, Jane … especially a wilderness infested by broads who are as bat-shit crazy as you.

So don’t bother giving us any more unsolicited opinions about our masculinity.

You also might want to stop worrying about what we men, as a gender, are wearing and focus more on what’s going so horribly wrong with your dating life.

And above all, please, don’t blame any of the decisions we men have been making for ourselves on feminists. That tune is as played out as a Helen Reddy 8 track.

In fact, you know what most of us men did the last time “I Am Woman (Hear Me Roar)” was played on the radio? We all went to our neighborhood bars and stayed there until there was a power failure. That ended up being the NYC blackout of ‘77.

Fact of the matter is this, Jane – gender roles are ridiculously over scrutinized as it is without you hurling your half-baked clown cap into the ring. The positions we play in life are as complicated as the playbook, which for centuries was written by men and the rules contained therein were, more often than not, totally unfair to women.

But then, at some point in the early 20th Century, women decided to steal the playbook because they wanted to re-write the rules. Not to CHANGE men into women, but to level the playing field and give themselves an edge in the process.

It’s called being competitive”, Jane, and it’s something us “real men” can appreciate.

That’s the way you stage a coup, that’s the way you win a war, and that’s what begat the so-called “battle of the sexes.” And women all over the world got behind it.

If you fail to recognize that history, you’re either the most ignorant woman on the face of the planet, or you simply (and arrogantly) refuse to accept the fact that if it weren’t for the suffragettes, Nellie Bly, and the Equal Rights Amendment of 1923, a tragically misinformed opinion slinger like you wouldn’t be ALLOWED to write the crap you write, let alone have any of your opinions heard or taken seriously.

Furthermore, Jane, and as much as you would like to believe otherwise, WE’RE NOT IN A BATTLE OF THE SEXES ANYMORE. I’m sorry that you’ve been led to believe otherwise. Still, as John Lennon once said years ago: “War is over, if you want it.”

That does NOT, however, mean acrimony and anger and resentment aren’t going to bubble up in odd and unexpected corners from time to time. I’m talking about voices of dissention in the rank and file, and some of those voices (believe it or not) are not only going to be intelligent, they’re also gonna be very masculine and very mad.

So the next time you feel compelled to disguise a disgustingly homophobic agenda as a means of bemoaning the lack of “real men” in your own life, don’t be surprised if another “open minded” man like me gets in your grill and calls you off-sides for it.

You know why? Because real men are secure enough in their sexuality to not be bothered by whether or not a member of their own gender dresses differently or isn’t a fan of the female species. In fact, I look at it this way: the more gay men there are, the more women there are left for all my fellow straight guys. BOOYAH!

My point is made, Jane: us real men haven’t gone anywhere.

We’re right here where you ladies left us: hairy, hoary and horny as Hell. We still chop wood and eat meat and shoot guns and blow things up and yell at the TV when the Mets and the Red Sox lose and set things on fire and have penises, which, if they were big enough and we could use ‘em as kickstands, we would.

Trouble is, you ladies won’t let us do fun stuff like that in public, and rightfully so.

After all, not even a “real man” wants an indecent exposure arrest on his record.

Yes, us guys are always gonna be around, Jane. Sure, many of us are at home with our spouses or significant others, settled and satisfied at having not only achieved success in the love and sex department, but feeling – in the words of my dear friend and high school football coach Smitty once put it – “fat and happy.”

And that’s a fine state of mind to be in, young lady, for any man of any preference.

As for the kind of the guys you believe to be “real men,” Jane … they’re probably down at their local bar, hiding from women like you.

Well … it’s either that, or a lingering fear of Helen Reddy music.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to get some shut-eye. Tomorrow I’m helping my father-in-law build a bridge over the creek in his backyard with some oak planks we’ll be hauling in by a tractor. After we’re done doing that, we’ll probably go smash cement blocks with our foreheads while chewing on tree bark. Then we’ll jump in Stu’s 4X4, with Wags riding bitch (ironic, right?) over some rocky rural back road to a quiet tavern where we’ll have a couple Jack Daniels to celebrate the testosterone still pumping through our veins. Maybe we’ll even watch the ball game. And if we should be lucky enough to be served by a pretty waitress with an ample bosom, believe me … we’ll both put on the public guise of being nothing more than a pair of country gentlemen on a quiet spree, courtly in both manner and gesture and favor to the fairer sex, just as our fathers taught us.

And the minute she takes our order and leaves, we’ll look at each other across the bar and exchange a knowing glance, a glance that says “Nice twins.” Yet at the same time, it will be a glance that privately acknowledges we both have spectacular women in our own lives, women who (on occasion) drive us up a wall by trying to change into what they believe will make us better men, if not better behaved.

And privately, we may even thank God for that.

Because knowing the love of a good woman is one of the single greatest pleasures that any man can know in this all-too-short lifetime, sweetheart. ANY MAN.

So next time you feel compelled to re-start a gender war … do yourself a favor, Jane.

Go out and find yourself a Dick.

Oh, and P.S. – John Wayne’s real first name was Marion (a girl’s name), Clint Eastwood directed The Bridges of Madison County (perhaps the chickiest chick flick that ever chicked a chick), and James Dean was as gay as May in Paris. As for your assertion about Juno, Jane … I guess you don’t read too many manly movie critics like me, who had this to say about the film when it first came out on DVD. Then again, it doesn’t surprise me that you overlooked all this information. You were probably too busy staring at the skinny pants on some teenage boy to notice.

You naughty girl.

My father-in-law. Do NOT take his photo or he will cut you.

Title photo: puck90. Used under a Creative Commons license.


A gonzo devotee, cat wrangler, and part-time drunkard who first got sucked into the journalism racket way back in 1991, Kevin Byrne – despite nearly 20 years of sheer unadulterated bloodshed and stress – still hasn’t been able to shake the fix he has for this now-notorious career choice, even when the whole damn medium began to collapse, in the words of Eddie Izzard, “like a flan in a cupboard.” A veteran scribe who feels all the wiser for having avoided the conventional pitfalls of his profession (i.e. NEVER do it for free) but still not arrogant enough to be demanding really big money, Kevin has worked as a print reporter, illustrator, TV news producer, music critic and entertainment blogger, and has been published in numerous alternative and online publications, including atU2.com, Smug, DVD Fanatic, PARADE Magazine, Entertainment Weekly and CBS.com (in both New York City and L.A.). He is honored to be working for the savvy and sexy staff of Jack Move. Contact him here.

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