“I’d rape Emma Watson.”
My barber said those words to me as I sat in his chair, as he sheared away layers of hair from my skull.
For only the second time since I was 7 years old, I was in a barber shop, hearing words I'd never hear at a Great Clips. I'd only met this young man less than 10 minutes prior.
The result was a haircut my dear friend forever calls "Freddie Forehead." I lost my bangs. The entire Gobi Desert expanse of my frontal lobe was exposed to the world, and I lost a substantial portion of the shot glass worth of self-respect I possessed.
Nevermore, I swore.
I've been sporadically reading The Art of Manliness, a compilation of blog posts from the truly amazing site dedicated to obsessing mindfully over every minute detail of what it should mean to walk around this planet with a penis and a bigger purpose than Navin R. Johnson's "Special Purpose."
If your life doesn't revolve around ways to insert words like "cisgender" into every discussion or debate, and if you believe there is nothing criminal or evil about writing a book that would champion certain long-standing notions of what it is to be noble, and kind, and considerate, specifically as a man in a Western-civilized world, I highly recommend this book.
First off, it is written in a fashion that research says appeals more to boys. Bite-sized chunks of text. The freedom to pick and choose passages or sections in almost any order without the risk of losing a plot or character development. Prescriptive, or instructional, writing that invites the reader to take pauses and experiment in the physical world. And yes, old Playboy jokes aside, pictures, because boys don't just read for the articles.
Secondly, it prescribes ways for young men (or older men, for that matter) to mindfully approach questions of masculine identity, of what kind of man they want to become and/or portray, of what kind of qualities they prioritize for themselves and expect from others. And the fun isn't in agreeing with every detail, with every instruction, but rather in contemplating each and translating it into your own sense of yourself and your ideals.
If this seems like a small thing, I couldn't disagree more. It's huge. Teenage boys are awash in a culture that avoids teaching them those "timeless" values of caring for others, of respecting oneself, of making a first impression, of when to fight and when to retreat.
Inspired by my reading, I took that mindful and intentional approach by putting my hair where my mind was. I would let a barber cut my coiffure.
I had to wait 45 minutes before sitting in the chair. My barber was an amiable bearded chap in his early 20s. Bearded, somewhat portly, a little rough around the sociable edges, the guy who has friends but doesn’t always make the best company for a night on the town.
As he clipped away, we talked about TV shows and movies. Breaking Bad. Walton Goggins’ impressive TV credentials. Zombies and Cylons. Somehow the talk stumbled into This Is The End, the apocalypse comedy with Seth Rogen and James Franco. And he announced, factually, that Emma Watson is the hottest piece of tail that has ever walked the surface of the earth. And I sort of chuckled and said she seemed like a very sweet young lady and was smarter than people might give her credit for.
That’s when he said it.
“I’d rape Emma Watson.”
He continued. “Doing her would be worth spending the rest of my life being someone’s bitch in prison.”
That’s all I said. Whoa. As in Whoa Mule.
At that point, he began a series of backtracks. He started by backing away from it, saying he was just joking, that he’s never done anything like that in his life and never would. Then he said it’s awful how men treat women sometimes, and that he only made that joke because a lady like Emma Watson would never give him the time of day. And then he said it was sorta like that “rapey vibe” scene from This Is The End.
Finally, he just said, “I know that’s not a funny joke. I’m sorry man. You know how you say things and you think they’ll be funny when they’re in your brain, but then they come out, and they’re not funny? And you don’t know what to do about it? That’s what this has felt like. But I’m real real sorry.”
First thought: What would the commentariat of the Internet do with a guy like this? They’d hang him. They’d want his picture and name plastered all over creation as an example of The Evil Men Do. Burn him! Burn the witch!!
Second thought: This is exactly the kind of guy who needs a book like The Art of Manliness. He needs more opportunities to engage, intentionally, with what it means to be a good, decent, upstanding man.
Third thought: Have we moved, as a society, beyond letting people stick a foot into their mouth without wanting to castrate or kill them? Are absolutely stupid things to say so unforgivable that people can’t be allowed to take them back?
If I hadn’t sat still and expressed a sort of passive disapproval, he would never have had time to work his way into an apology. And that would be a shame, I think. Because he seemed like a decent if unpolished young guy who crapped out on a tasteless joke.
Young man, drop the joke, put your hands up, and slowly back away.
If we’ve moved to a place where we can’t allow that to happen without shooting the guy down with our unforgiving judgment, how much better are we than George Zimmerman with our thought police neighborhood watch demands?
He screwed up. He knew it. He tried to make amends. Sometimes that's all we can do.
I still don't know whether I'll go back to the barber shop. He did a decent job on my hair, though.