Why do we need 40 Tips for Men? And why am i the one dishing them out?
Well, if you want to see my motivation for 40 Tips for Men, which started directly after the death of Uyinene Mrwetyana and the countrywide gatherings against Gender-Based Violence that followed, you can read about it over here.
But if you’re asking am i the self-proclaimed perfect man who has arrived and is now freely dispensing divine wisdom on how to be the best man you can be, then absolutely not. i am a man though, and have learned some things, and am learning some things and am also part of a wider community who contributed some amazing ideas to help put this series together… in fact most of the last ten tips came from women friends of mine on Facebook who responded to an ask about what they would like us men to really get.
And as the tips arrived they were formed and shaped and added to by you. So these are definitely designed by the people for the people. And the people at this particular moment are men.
Because we need to do better. And we need to be better. Especially in South Africa where the stats for man violence, especially against women and children is horrific.
You may not need all of these tips, but i can imagine you will benefit from some of them, so work through the list and grab hold of the ones that apply to you. And men you know will need them so share this on your social medias and tag men you think will benefit. And maybe there is one particular tip you want to grab and invite your friend to engage on, post in your whatsapp group, or even take offline and discuss around the braai.
If you’re really feeling brave, share this with some of your women friends and ask them which ones they would love for you to get!
And this may be the kind of list you need to keep returning to. Because a lot of this is a journey towards being a better man, and having a much better definition of what a man is than what much of the world, media and Hollywood have thrown at us. Even our family and friends at times.
So take a read and know that each of these summarised tips exist in slightly extended form in groups of five that you can link to by clicking on the tip itself…
If a woman says “No!” that should be the end of the story. Whether it is offering her a drink or asking her out or asking if you can take the empty seat next to her at a bar or if you can have her number, or anything else. It is not an invitation to push back or assume she is playing hard to get or think she is joking and it is certainly not an invitation to insult her or be aggressive or even passive aggressive. A gentle acknowledgement and acceptance of the “No!” and move on.
We also need to learn how to pick up a “No!” when it is implied or suggested by her body language. When a woman starts to look uncomfortable around you or nervous, take the hint to move away and become as unthreatening as possible.
Also help your friends to hear and respond to the “No!” and immediately call them out on it if when they don’t.
It needs to be Active Enthusiastic Consent. Or it’s a No!
This tip is particularly for when you are in a space with a woman or women who you do not know and there is potential for them to be nervous at the presence of a man they do not know. So on the streets, especially at night, or if you are about to step into a lift that only has a single woman standing in it.
Cross the street, make clear with your actions that you are going to give her space and not be a threat and draw as little attention to yourself as possible. Slow down or overtake and speed up to put some distance between you.
This can be a tough one because it is based on the actions of other men and not something that is about you. But if just your presence poses a threat then it can be a fairly easy one to put right.
The reason i wrote these tips is because women have been oppressed by men for so long that we cannot expect them to do the work of educating us on this stuff. We need to be reading and listening and learning and looking out for when our presence, words or actions might be harmful to women. And we need to do this along with other guys we know and trust who will feel safe in calling us out.
But it is the women in and around our lives who have the stories and experiences that will really open our eyes to what is out there. It is a hard one to expect a woman to use her painful story to educate us, but i imagine there will be some women in your life who will be open to giving you a glimpse of their daily lived experiences if they see it as a stepping stone to you being able to do the work that needs to be done.
Go to someone you trust and try something like, “Hey there, I am really trying to understand how my words and actions may be harmful to women around me. Would you mind sharing some of the negative experiences you have had with men to help me get some perspective. And have i ever done anything to hurt you that you would feel free to share with me?”
Start with the realisation that as Jonathan Cohen puts it, “There is no war on men!” and he went on to say, “I can’t face the men who place campaigning for their own egos over the safety of South African women anymore, today.’
We can tend to be super defensive when it comes to these important conversations that need to be had. Many men rush to the #NotAllMen tag idea because of how important we feel it is for women to know that we are not ‘one of the bad ones’. But the truth is that if we are being defensive and refusing to do the work that needs to be done in us, then we ARE one of the bad ones. We might not be trash as a whole, but there is definitely some extent of trash within each one of us that needs to be unlearned, dismantled, rooted out or moved on from.
We cannot let our egos get in the way of what needs to be done here. We just can’t.
I have touched on this one already, but it is important to note that there are so many resources out there to help us become better men. This series is one of them. But there are blogs and articles and podcasts and counsellors and more that will help us to become the best men we can be, especially to the women around us. So we need to commit to doing the work. If you can recognise the crisis that the treatment of women is in this country [and largely in the world!] then commit to spending time educating yourself and those around so, so that we can collectively start to work towards a safer space and world.
In a world that has largely been dominated by man voice, be on the lookout to create spaces for women to speak. We can never give anyone a voice, but we can step away from the mic, or offer the mic to someone else, or amplify someone else’s lesser heard voice.
Especially in business meetings and church spaces and on panels and during Q and A times after an event. Hold your voice back and if only men are speaking do what you can to address it and invite other voices to be heard.
Any joke that degrades a woman, or continues the obvious negative stereotypes, tends to add to our internal biases or sense of superiority and need to be done away with. People often dismiss an uncomfortable truth with the throwaway “I was only joking” and yet there often lurks in those ‘jokes’ a statement that we believe or partially believe and the joking just adds to that.
Stop telling the jokes, sharing the gifs and videos, but also interrupt and veto the jokes when others are telling them. Around the braai and on the men only whatsapp groups.
Take a chance and risking getting it wrong when it comes to putting these tips into practice. Maybe you will ask someone if they will share their story with you and they will take huge offence – apologise sincerely and see if you can find someone else. Maybe you will try to interrupt a joke on a whatsapp group and it will be awkward and uncomfortable. You might even lose friends, find issues with family or be kicked out of a group you belong to. Compared to the kinds of violence that are being waged upon women most days of their lives, this is so small in comparison and well worth taking the action.
Just don’t be doing nothing, because that won’t change anything. And there is so much that needs to change!
The person i can do the most work in is me. Same with you. So start there. Ask the hard questions – get feedback from others – and then return to the mirror and ask, “Is this true? And if it is, what am I going to do about it?”
“Where have I been silent when I needed to speak up?”
As you learn, as you hear stories, as you read the tips, return to the mirror and keep asking those questions: What work needs to happen in me? Then you can move on to other people and the larger systems and structures and traditions that keep these negative things in place. But keep going back to yourself. Do the work in you.
An important thing to remember about being an ally is that it is not something we get to self-identify as, except in terms of our posture, presence and willingness to do the work. Other people, in this case women, get to say whether we are an ally or not. But it should not be about receiving the label as much as it is about showing up, particularly doing the work when it comes to ourselves and other men that we know, and taking time to really listen to what women are saying to and about us.
One of the ways that we can help make the world a little bit safer for women is by working on our awareness. A number of my women friends spoke of the need to constantly by hyper-vigilant. Especially when they are out by themselves. Their space, the people around them, their drinks… and so on…
As men, we will do well to be aware of women in the spaces we are in when they are by themselves in particular, especially if it looks as if they are being threatened or bothered or harrassed in any way. And be prepared to step into the space with a simple, “Is everything okay?” or “Would you like me to stand over here til your ride arrives?”
Once we have heard even a fraction of the stories that women have to share we will realise that just being a woman in society can be a threatening and exhausting thing. So take moments and opportunities to check in with the women that you know about how they are doing and what unhealthy man experiences they have had in the last while and is there any way you can be of help?
This one can be summed up as making sure that you are never giving unwanted touch to a woman, ranging from sexual to something that might seem as innocent to you as a hug or even a handshake. It is generally safer to ask if you can touch a woman in any way, unless you have a long-established relationship with them and the boundaries have been well defined. But even then it can’t hurt to check in with them that they are okay that you hug when you greet or lay your hand on their shoulder or arm when speaking to them or whatever. As with most of these tips, any time you are in doubt, don’t.
This is one that can be a lot more subtle. But phrase like “my girl”, “my women” and “your woman” need to stop. Especially cos for a huge part of history women were actually seen as objects that men possessed to differing degrees. There is a sense of ownership and superiority or power that can be communicated when we use possessive nouns in that way. So interrogate your speech for a week and see how you do on this.
A helpful tip i learned on this, and probably still have to work on in terms of living it out, is introducing Val as “my wife Valerie” the first time i meet someone [or they meet her] but thereafter simply calling her Val. It is a little bit different on social media spaces for me cos there are always new people in the mix and so i will use it a lot more. But she exists outside of the label and her relationship to me and is a person in her own right and so i do the work on letting her just be Val. Or tbV!
The most harmless of compliments when given to a stranger may come across as creepy or threatening. The easy ones to avoid are the idea of cat-calling or shouting “Hey sexy!” but we need to be more careful on this, particularly when it’s women we don’t know. Also gauging the appropriateness of a compliment if it is someone we do know.
But also we can be a little more creative and move beyond the typical looks and outward appearance aspects we tend to compliment women on. Things like hard-working, delivered an amazing presentation,shared an inspiring storing and more can be helpful in bringing encouragement while focusing on less outward aspects.
i have covered this one already. It’s not about giving women a voice but about recognising and acknowledging that women have a voice and valuable things to contribute and doing what you can to ensure space and attention is given.
Let our starting point be that every woman has value. Not because of anything she looks like or does or is, but just because she is there.
This is one we will likely have to work on for the rest of our lives because Hollywood and the media and advertising and toxic man culture and so many other spaces and places have fed this to us for so long. Her hair or breasts or ability to engage in good sex or give us children or or or… When we only appreciate women based on how they look or what they can do for us, they become like objects and we start to treat them as such.
Actively be against all of the things that send this negative message, especially when it comes to the choice about sending something on or not.
[TRIGGER WARNING—talk of sexual assault in terms of rape]
Rape is a violent and horrific crime and the rape stats around the world, but particularly in South Africa, are beyond alarming.
We need to avoid trivialising or minimising the word and the act.
A test cannot rape you. A team can not be raped by another team in a soccer match. A person was not raped when they lost an argument.
We need to be aware that if we are in a group of more than five people there is the hugest chance that a person or more likely people in the group have been sexually assaulted in some way and any mention of it, especially a casual or joking one, can cause them to relive the harm or suffer more.
We need to become safe places where people we know who have been raped will feel absolutely secure in sharing the stories with us so that we can help them to get the help they need.
Men are typically not great at saying sorry. Because it involves admitting you were wrong. And all the pride and ego and defensiveness issues surface again. But this one is pretty straightforward. We need to stand in front of the mirror and think over the relationships we have with different women and see if there are any we need to go back and apologise to for words or actions or not listening to a “No!”.
Then we need to change. Saying sorry without change is a waste of time for everyone!
There are a whole lot of different ideas and images that have been passed down to us from various sources that tell us what ‘a real man’ is and they usually involve physical strength and a lack or a hiding of real emotions, a certain type of violence or superiority when it comes to other men and of course, women and children, entitlement, attitude and more.
Phrases using ‘girl’ or ‘gay’ or other terms as an insult to in some way uplift men are also highly problematic.
Beyond just dismantling and tearing down the largely unhelpful pictures of what ‘a real man’ is meant to be we can start modelling better versions of it which include values such as compassion, empathy, love, respect, fighting for Justice and more.
When women start dropping the tag #MenAreTrash, instead of rushing to defend those men who you believe are not trash, including yourself, but rather ask two questions:
What brought women to this point where they are making generalised accusations of men being trash?
Where in me does trash lurk that needs to be recognised, acknowledged and addressed?
Masculinity as a whole is pretty toxic and whether i am actively being a part of that or by my silence or lack of involvement am complicit in what goes by unchallenged or uninterrupted, then i am a part of the problem and need to head back to the mirror and begin again…
This is part of the ‘real men’ redefinition. Not only is it okay to cry but it is commendable that when something moves you, you respond in a way that displays that. It is a sign of absolute strength to be able to cry, and cry in front of people.
Women have been called emotional as a means of invalidating what they have to say or offer in a variety of spaces. When a man gets emotional we often praise him as being passionate or dedicated, whereas a woman displaying the same emotion is often dismissed.
But this is also an opportunity for us to be standing in front of that mirror and evaluating our responses to things. When have we responded out of negative emotion? When have we let emotion take control of our actions or decision-making? Let’s do the work that needs to be done in us and when a woman is showing emotion in a meeting,, let’s be quietly asking, “What point is she making?” rather than dismissing or ignoring or labeling her.
This goes back to that improved definition of a ‘real man’. Someone who recognises that they need help and asks for it is strong not weak. A weak man drives around lost because he is ‘too much of a man’ to admit he is lost and stop to ask for directions. That is not big, that is literally the opposite – ego and fragility and independence all rolled into one big fat smelly ball of STOPPIT!
Ask for help when you need it from women or children around you. And don;’t be afraid to see a counsellor if you need a deeper type of help that a professional is likely to be able to give.
Many of the men who interrupt women will be surprised when they finally see that they are doing it. So if you don’t think you are someone who interrupts women, stand in front of the mirror and make sure. Ask the women in and around your life whether you have ever interrupted them and if they think it is a problem that needs addressing.
Your opinion is not so important that it needs to take the place of the person who is speaking right now so hold back and maybe you won’t even have to say your thing at all. Rather focus on listening and leaning in and considering what is already being said.
 Don’t rush to respond with #NotAllMen.
Simply ask, “Is it me in this case and what do I need to change or work on?”
 Surround yourself with friends who have your best interests at heart.
Each of us likely has people in our lives who influence us and other people who we influence. Sometimes they will be the same person. Make sure you have people who will agree to hold you accountable for stupid/hurtful/unthinking things you say or do and who will encourage you to be the better definition of a Real Man.
 Admit to getting it wrong when you get it wrong.
This links to saying sorry. But it starts with an acknowledgement. A real man is someone who is honest about their mistakes and seeks to fix them.
 Seek a Mentor.
Seek out people who have perhaps walked a bit of a longer journey than you who might have some things to teach you in the areas of being a Real Man, in relationships, in work ethic, in values, in Justice, in family, and more…
 Be a Mentor.
In the same way seek out younger men who you can walk alongside, be intentional in connecting with and share some of the things you have learned along the way.
Both the mentor and mentee relationships are likely to be ones in which the growth and learning happens both ways.
 Don’t Mansplain.
It is condescending and patronising to explain something to a woman that assumes she has no knowledge about the topic. Or to restate something a woman has just said in a way that might get more attention and praise because a man now said it. So ja, just stop with this!
 Understand the science of women’s bodies and stop being grossed out by menstruation, period.
It is amazing how such a small word like ‘period’ or a slightly bigger one such as ‘menstruation’ can have such a trembling effect on us. If you don’t understand the biology of it, then educate yourself and stop being grossed out by what is a natural thing.
 Be Kind.
In the old definition of what a ‘real man’ was, something like Kindness would not have featured. It does in the new definition we are working towards though. So work on being kind. The world is hard to navigate without kindness so let’s help each other out.
 Be wary of raising your voice.
There is a certain amount of violence that can exist without physicality. A raised voice by a man typically engages all the power and physicality associated with that man and maybe men in general and also calls to mind how easy it is for so many men to move to physical violence. You may not be one of those men but when you raise your voice to a woman she may not know that and may be threatened in a way similar to if you were going too hit her.
 Champion equality for women in the spaces you are in.
This one is especially for the workspace or any kind of leadership platform you might be involved in. Whether it is creating spaces for women’s voices by moving away from the mic or inviting others to use it, or whether it is by using your voice in decision-making when panels are being formed or new leadership is being considered, be a champion for the woman who might be right for the space or position.
There are certain benefits, opportunities and perhaps even access that you have available to you, simply because you are a man. Recognise what these are, acknowledge that they exists and then work towards finding ways that you can use your privilege to help those who do not have the same advantages.
i noticed when i had finished the list that this one actually sneaked in twice which hopefully subconsciously relates to how important a tip it is that we get. Because it has been so deeply entrenched into us and into the way we view women. How do girlie magazines and beauty pageants still exist in the world in 2019? We need to find ways of speaking up and out against these things, but also start by not being part of the problem of spreading them.
This one speaks specifically to those of you in relationships [married or other]. Don't see the work you do as favours just like you shouldn't see the time you spend with the children as babysitting. You are being a partner or you are being a parent. And with that comes a whole set of responsibilities which you should not assume the other person will do because they are a woman or a mother. Figure this out together in a way that feels fair and then do your share. And sometimes do the other person's responsibility as a sign of love and generosity towards them.
Let's hope that if you made it this far, that this is a given. Maybe this should have been number one.
But see it in terms of an ongoing journey. These 40 tips are obviously not exhaustive - they are just hopefully 40 good examples of places to start or work on. And i imagine we would all benefit from returning to them regularly and seeing how we are doing and where we need to do more work.
But also being teachable includes finding women to sit under the authority of and learn from - can be Ted Talks or Podcasts or live mentor roles but we have so much to learn and there are too many incredible women who have found spaces to write and speak and we would do well to sit in those spaces and pay attention.
= = = = = = = = = =
There you have it, 40 Tips to help get you on your way to becoming a better man. If you have found these helpful, please SHARE them on your social medias and why not tag specific men that you would love to show them to.
Brett Fish is a lover of life, God, tbV [the beautiful Valerie] and owns the world's most famous stuffed dolphin, No_bob (who doesn't bob). He believes that we are all responsible for making the world a significantly better place for everyone.