Socially aware sexists


Photo: Julien M. Hekimian

All the single ladies (and the attached ones, too): how many times have you been mid-date or mid-conversation with a guy who seems to be ticking all the “reconstructed manhood” boxes until he unloads a sexist remark, rape joke, or other unsavoury comment, seemingly convinced that the rest of his socially-aware, intellectual behaviour gives him free rein to crack (un) wise?

What you’re dealing with there is a Man-Child. The traits of which were recently dissected in The New Enquiry by Moira Weigel and Mal.  Ahern. In their excoriating essay, the authors skewer the Man-Child’s patterns of behaviour: “The Man-Child wants you to know that you should not take him too seriously, except when you should. At any given moment, he wants to you to take him only as seriously as he wants to be taken. When he offends you, he was kidding. When he means it, he means it. What he says goes”, and “The Man-Child’s irony may be a part of a generational aversion to political risk: he would not call out a sexist or racist joke, for fear of sounding too earnest.”

Jezebel’s Katie J. M. Baker zeroed in on the Man-Child plague by canvassing her friends and colleagues for their own experiences: “There's the Ivy Leaguer who wanted to play ‘devil's advocate’ with me regarding Todd Akin's legitimate rape comments and late-term abortion, and my friend who slept with a guy famous for his ‘perfect Marxist politics’ who slipped out of bed claiming he was on deadline to ‘write a column on the importance of keeping Marx central to feminist analysis,’ then never called her again; he had a girlfriend.”

In the comments on Baker’s piece, scores of women shared their own Man-Child stories: he is, it seems, everywhere. Men who are well-read but can’t cook a meal, men who pride themselves on their progressive politics but like to shock partygoers with racist jokes, men who break up with you - complete with dramatic levels of concern for your emotional well-being - after two middling dates. They like to shut down spirited conversation with you about politics or philosophy by shouting about things like “logic” and “rationality”.


Reading both Weigel and Ahern’s piece and the comments on Baker’s, I was fairly clapping my hands and shrieking “YES!”, because to be a single woman actively dating these days (especially in Los Angeles, though I am told it’s not much better anywhere else) is to be a veritable anthropologist with a PhD in Man-Children.

In the past month, three men have had engaged, intellectual conversations with me while on dates (“etc”), followed by enthusiastic discussions of our next date, only to completely disappear into the ether without so much as a dashed off text message saying “Hey, not feeling it” or “Sorry, got run over by a bus, this is my ghost typing”. One literally sprinted in the other direction when I ran into him at an event a few weeks after his descent into the cone of silence. (It appears Liz Phair’s ‘90s anthem F-ck And Run has been appropriated as a life manual by a generation of dudes who would otherwise consider themselves to be proud feminists.)

Look, we’re all adults here: if it’s a one-night stand you’re after, say so. The problem with the Man-Child is that he talks the talk, then flakes out. In the dating world, they’re the ones whose online dating profiles list reams of fascinating books and nouvelle vague (please, as if they’d just say “new wave”) cinema, but sift through their survey questions and you’ll find they also think women are obliged to keep their legs shaved.

These guys, as Weigel and Ahern point out, are not the standard-issue bros of yesteryear, nor are they the drippy MRAs or Nice Guys that populate online dating sites and subReddits. Rather, these are men who devote themselves to intellectual and philosophical enlightenment, and yet seem unable to conduct themselves as decent, adult males when it comes to relationships, whether romantic, professional, or platonic.

Somehow, a sexist gag, crappy sexual etiquette, or a dismissive “humorous” remark about “feminist drivel” (actual quote) stings all the more when it comes from a man who has read philosophy and/or feminist theory (or at least the New York Times or the Guardian), since they should know better, and they know; that’s what they think is the delicious irony of their biting satire.

Instead, as Weigel and Ahern so sagely observe, the true irony of the Man-Child is that he “lives up to a stereotype about the men from the rom-coms he holds in contempt: he has a fear of commitment.”


  • *eye twitch* It's free 'rein', not free 'reign'

    Date and time
    August 07, 2013, 1:47AM
    • The true irony is that what Ms Bastow is complaining about is men who behave like women just like her have been trying to get them to behave for the past 40 years!

      This is what you get when you play silly-buggers, ladies. Enjoy your creation.

      As a 50 year-old man I'm inundated with interest from women of a certain age who are desperate to find someone to be their partner. Ask yourselves why it seems so hard to get a man to commit to you. Here's a clue: it's probably not because he's a "man-child"...

      Craig Minns
      Date and time
      August 07, 2013, 9:03AM
      • Agree!
        What we a re talking about are actually adult males dealing with many women at times who are not mature enough to deal with the real world. Why would any modern feminist career driven woman WAIT for a man to call her? Is a complete reversal of what has been fought for. If you are interested call him!
        Many men aren't afraid of commitment, they simply don't feel the need for it, and shouldn't have to explain their actions.
        And also if sexist remarks are being discussed, isn't Manchild sexist, and ultimately demeaning as a term? Would we ever accept using the term Girl Child? I think not

        Date and time
        August 07, 2013, 10:31AM
      • Lucky for you Craig! They are all feminists right? and in-charge of their bodies? and put out on the first date? Coz they are empowered?

        So so lucky for you!

        Date and time
        August 07, 2013, 10:50AM
      • Laughs all round here.

        "Unrealised expectation is the root of all unhappiness."

        Feminist surprised to find men using feminist/intellectual/sensitive camouflage really just want to get laid- and finds they will later actually run from said feminist, whose unrealistic expectations set everyone up for disillusionment.

        The author appears to actually believe men "should" be a certain way or tick her little list of boxes (while still being "real men" of course), and feels disappointment that they are actually themselves and just as complex and contradictory as she probably is. Evidently without having any interest in understanding the reality of men, or why they are so. Does she really think men would give much of a fig for feminist ideas if it wasn't going to help them get laid?

        The man-child is indeed odious- he is also the carping feminist's just desert. I suggest people dare to try a real relationship with someone who makes your heart beat faster (such a simple criterion)- much more interesting than trying to get your little boxes ticked and/or carping about the lying, shallow men you might meet in LA .

        Date and time
        August 07, 2013, 11:03AM
      • It would be very interesting (if not predictable) to get the mans side of the storey.

        Probably something like this:
        'Oh man I met this really intelligent girl who turned out to be an extreme feminist. I thought I'd take the plunge and go to bed, but after realising that legs were not shaven I bailed quick smart. To think she had the nerve to comment about my stubble that night too...'

        Date and time
        August 07, 2013, 11:15AM
      • M'rrroww. I bet this piece of mansteak knows how to handle the ladies. "women of a certain age" eh? Would that be septuagenarians? Perhaps he's an aged carer?

        Date and time
        August 07, 2013, 11:20AM
      • Bitter much?

        Date and time
        August 07, 2013, 12:05PM
      • Um, no Craig, feminists have not been trying to get me to behave like flakey, insincere, pretentious knobs for the last 40 years.

        The point seems to be a certain type of man lays claim to emotional sensitivity, then still acts like the old-style 'shag and run' type. So despite the appearance of evolution - blokes are still a bit sh*t. Fair point.

        But along with the man-child, here's another stereotype. I'll call her the 'Hear me Roar/Princess'.

        She wants a bloke who reads - but only the right books. (Dan Brown? please!)
        She wants a bloke who'll talk about his feelings.... unless it's too messy/needy/weak...'cause that's just too hard (and on a deeper level, contradicts the strong/silent type image)
        She's sexually liberated and up for raunchy sex/slightly porn star stuff - as long as it's on her terms and he never expects it to happen (welcome to confusion and feeling like a creep, fellas!)
        Ditto she likes some pretty salty talk about sex - but from guys say it, it just 'so ewww'.
        She's financially independent but gets a kick out of being wined and dined and letting him pay. It's so 'oldschool'!
        She wants to be heard, respected, taken seriously in emotional discourse/relationship talk but will always fall back on 'It's just the way I feel...' when things don't work out her way. She's an 'emotional being' and if you respect her, you'll agree.

        Okay, so this sort of interaction between the sexes is a minefield and I doubt any of us is above occasionally transgressing our own higher values in the service of more selfish desires.

        But men don't have a mortgage on double standards. And Clem, if you're feeling a bit confused/let down, you're not the only one.

        Confederate dunce
        Date and time
        August 07, 2013, 1:03PM
    • 1. Who the hell tells rape jokes? The only rape jokes that are mildly funny are prison rape jokes and they stopped being hilarious in the early 90s.

      2. If all of these men are running from you and not calling you back then maybe it's not them. It's you.

      3. Any 'man' that devotes himself to a life of pointless navel-gazing is not a man. He should get a real degree/trade and get a real job.

      4. If he was honest about it only being a one night stand would you still sleep with him? If not then don't be surprised as to why men aren't being honest. Honesty is rarely the best policy in the dating game. Can you truly say you are honest in your dealings with men?

      5. If they're talking about logic and reason then isn't that a hint that you're not being logical and reasonable in your argument? Difficult to tell without more information.

      Date and time
      August 07, 2013, 9:07AM

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