Sifting Out the Jerks

In his 2012 special “You People Are All The Same,” comedian Bill Burr describes the first time he learned he had dry skin. “I didn’t know anything about lotion,” he quipped. “I didn’t use it the first 33 years of my life, til one night I was going out with this black girl. She was getting ready and she was just slathering it on. I thought she had like a rash or something.”
“I’m just making sure I’m not ashey,” she told him.
“Dry skin,” she clarified. “You know, white people get ashey too!”
In the smuggest possible tone, Burr replied, “You know, I don’t think we do! I’ve been alive for 33 years and nobody’s ever said, ‘Hey Bill, you’re looking a little ashey!”
So Burr’s date had him hold out his arm and she ever-so-gently dragged her fingernails across his skin. “This smoke starts coming up, there’s like pastry flakes coming off, track marks, she’s signing her name…. ‘You see that?! That’s ashey. You’re ashey!’”
Burr continued, “I didn’t know anything about it! All I knew is I got itchy in the winter. I thought it meant the bath towel was dirty.” To him, there was a clear lesson beyond the need to use lotion: inclusivism. “That’s why you’ve got to hang out with everybody. There’s too much information in the world, and every group of people misses a little bit. White people totally missed the lotion seminar at some point in history.”

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Ten days ago, Elliot Roger killed six people (ostensibly) over rage and angst at feeling sexually rejected. Since then, women worldwide have taken to Twitter to share their everyday experiences with men who, as Amanda Hess described it, “had reduced them to sexual conquests and threatened them with violence for failure to comply.” They are hashtagged #YesAllWomen and they are in turns nauseating and terrifying.  I’ve been reading the #YesAllWomen tweets with much curiosity. I think it’s enormously important for men to stop and open their eyes to the harsh realities that women have to face on a day-to-day basis.
I don’t have much to add to the general #YesAllWomen conversation. I think my job there is to sit quiet and listen and try to learn how to empathize. That being said, there is an interesting common thread in a lot of these conversations: A lot of women seem to say, “We know that not all men are like this, but we don’t know how to tell the difference between the ones who are and the ones who aren’t.”
If you want to know how to discern the difference between good guys and jerks as you sit alone in a coffee shop or as you enter an elevator alone, there is little I can do to help you. Ed Hardy t-shirts and barbed-wire tattoos might be a helpful heuristic, but that’s not reliable. And even jerks can figure out how to change clothes. (I think.) But when you have the benefit of time – when your fight-or-flight instincts aren’t flaring up – there’s likely somebody in your life who has the tribal knowledge to root out which men are worth your time and attention and which men aren’t. Somebody who is likely to be protective of you, likely to err on the side of caution, somebody who wants the best for you and is motivated to help you avoid pain. That person is a male friend.
Think of it this way. Most men have lived with other men. They know how they talk when women aren’t around. They know how that changes when women are around. They’ve been in locker rooms with them, shared dorm rooms, and have had conversations on topics with a bluntness they almost never use with women. This is not to say that women are incapable of gleaning this knowledge for themselves – some of them got the invitation to “Which men are jerks?” seminar – nor is it to say that all men are capable of that kind of differentiation. But it’s a good place to start.
So ask yourself, Is there a man in my life that I would trust implicitly to appraise the character of another man? Would I follow his advice if he offered it? Men, ask yourself the same question: Is there a woman in your life you would trust to appraise the character of another woman? You have just as many blind spots with respect to women as women have to men.  Would you listen to her if your confidante told you something you didn’t want to hear? Not all women need this advice, nor do all men. But as Bill Burr pointed out, we all have gaps in our knowledge (not to mention cognitive biases that simply make matters worse). When you’re trying to learn a language, it’s always good to have a native speaker ready to help.


One thought on “Sifting Out the Jerks

  1. Not all women have a man in their lives to help them discern which men are the jerks and which aren’t. In a perfect world we all would. Until then, a strong intuition is a good start. Listening to it is even better.

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