During a conversation with my housemates this morning, one of them asked, “is Andy* a good man?” And I responded, “probably.”
I’ve thought long and hard about it and spent a lot of time combing through lists of friends, and I can think of 10, maybe 15 men that I would vouch for as “good men” without any kind of caveat. What do I mean by that? If a friend wanted to go one a date with a man that I know, and she wanted to be sure that he was safe – that he would respect her, not pressure her, not threaten or coerce her – and asked if I would vouch for him, it is extremely like that I would say something like “from what I’ve seen, he seems like a nice guy. He’s done X, Y, and Z which seem great. But I can’t promise you he’s solid – I don’t know everything about him.”
If you’re a man and you’re reading this, that’s probably what I would say about you, even if we’ve been pals for years. Because it doesn’t matter how long you’ve known someone – it’s possible to be a dangerous man without showing it off. You can know all of the feminist buzzwords. You can talk about consent and safe spaces, and you can go to rallies and protect people in minority groups from the police and from bigots. Unless we are really, really close, to the point where I have told you things about myself that I consider sensitive or private, I do not know you well enough to vouch for you without any caveats.
And I’m not saying this because someone asked me to vouch for them, and I couldn’t. I’m saying this because there are two kinds of “good” men out there. The kinds of men who virtue signal, but have violated someone’s consent or trampled all over their comfort, and the kinds of men who are genuinely respectful and careful people, and don’t understand why their woman friends still don’t always trust them. And sometimes the first set of men think they are the second. And no woman knows which is which.
Women have been attacked by men who are feminists. Women have been assaulted by men they’ve known and trusted for years. Women have to make themselves smaller and to forego their own comfort and boundaries for respected community leaders.
I don’t know who is a good man. And men, unless you’ve spent a lot of time and energy talking to your close woman friends (and maybe a therapist) and introspecting, you might not know either.
* Obviously not actually named Andy.