Artwork by  Giampaolo Sgura

Artwork by Giampaolo Sgura

Hello. My name is Anca and I’m a heterosexual woman, but popular opinion has it that the kind of men I like are “not real men.” This is something that is being driven home to me every single day. Every time I read an article about male androgyny (which is ultimately just a personal style option and says nothing about a person’s actual sexual orientation) or even something as innocuous as an adorable six-year-old boy wanting to be a princess for Halloween, the comment section is quick to notify me that the article subjects are “not real men,” but “pussies” and “gay.”

There should be an equivalent of Godwin’s Law for these commentators – along the lines of “Sooner or later, in the comment section of an article about male androgyny or alternate style options there will appear a person alerting the audience to the fact that these are not real men.” I call them “the real man police” and, while they shout that they have the right to an opinion, it’s very easy to be loud about your opinion when your opinion is backed up by generally-accepted societal standards.

Of course, a guy doesn’t even have to go for full young-David-Bowie-style androgyny. It’s enough to wear a scarf – a non-masculine accessory, because real men don’t get cold, apparently – in order to be deemed a pussy. Clothing options aside, it’s enough to be reserved, soft-mannered and obliging to the people around you to be deemed a pussy.

David Bowie, artwork by Rex Ray

David Bowie, artwork by Rex Ray

I’ve always liked men who have softer facial features (“pretty boys”), a calm, easy-going disposition and a soft manner (“betas”), intellectual/artistic interests (“nerds”) and, if not an interest in fashion, at least the ability to wear clean clothes that actually fit them (“gay”).

Of course, having to hear 24/7 that the men I like are not real and that they must be gay, did not, in the past, have good effects on my psyche. At one point, I even tried to convince myself that I too, like many other women, also like “manly” men. Needless to say, it did not go well. Pretending to be someone you’re not, or liking something you don’t is never a good option. I have, in the meantime, made full peace with the reality that I do, in fact, like pussies. I can’t read popular romance novels because when the male protagonist begins his alpha-male posturing, I think, “What?? You can’t talk to people like that!” and slam the book down.

I prefer Luke Skywalker to Han Solo, Spider-Man to Superman and Kato to The Green Hornet. You get my drift.

The first time I was notified that the men I like are not real was back when the first Lord of the Rings movie came out. Like many other teenagers all over the world, I thought Orlando Bloom was really cute. However, I soon learned that many of my teen female peers thought that liking Orlando Bloom is lame because he was not a “real man.” Besides having soft “feminine” facial features, Bloom came across as a rather reserved, soft-spoken individual, who kept out of the tabloids, in stark contrast with the “Hollywood bad boys” like Colin Farrell (who seems to have calmed down in the meantime).

My problem is also geographical. I live in a very macho Eastern-European country where, despite the fact that pick-up artist tactics and general intimidation and manipulation of women abound, there is virtually no information about these things and about how women can read the warning signs in order to protect themselves.

The matter of consent, which, granted, is controversial even in Western countries, is barely talked about here. Furthermore, women write lifestyle blog articles about how it’s a woman’s fault if she gets cheated on or dumped, because she has not put enough effort in the relationship, not mentioning anything about the effort the man has to put into the relationship. The fact that I find it extremely hard to trust a co-national is not about snobbery, as it is about a genuine concern regarding the way they were raised, which is often in the spirit of rigid gender roles, machismo and entitlement.

However, while I have learned to be confident in what I like, I have also learned to hope for the best, but expect the worst. I am used to catcalls and general rudeness. I am used to macho entitlement, and to being called all sorts of names for talking about my opinions and likes. Kind gestures from men always come as a surprise. Once, in London, a young man who was in front of me at a coffee shop queue let me order before him. My “thank you” came out a little too enthusiastic because this had honestly never happened to me before, while the opposite – of men cutting in front of me in queues – happens quite often. Of course, this was a complete stranger, but I did notice that he seemed quite reserved, calm and wore smart-casual, well-fitted clothing. In short, one of those pussies I like.

Because I am quite open about my preference I’ve been called immature and even a closeted lesbian.

Never mind that I don’t remember ever having been attracted to a woman, or that “lesbian” is used as an insult, which speaks volumes about the attitude towards women who are actually lesbians – it’s becoming increasingly clear to me that this is just one of those knee-jerk reactions against people who don’t abide by generally social rules and expectations. The subtext is, “How dare you be yourself and talk about what you like when I live by the book?”

And what about you, dear straight male reader? Do you dare to be yourself when society tells you that straight men “should” be a certain way? Have you ever been ridiculed and/or called gay for putting effort into your appearance or for not liking/engaging in typical manly-man activities? Ever been threatened for intervening on behalf of a woman that other men were harassing/catcalling or making uncomfortable in any other way? Ever been called a sexless nerd? Ever talked to an attractive woman as you talk to any other human being, showing genuine interest in her opinions and likes? Ever preferred a book to football, yoga to kickboxing, coffee shops to bars, etc.? Those who ticked “yes” to two or more of the questions above – just keep on doing what you’re doing. I can’t be the only one who thinks you’re great.

Anca Rotar is a Romanian-born writer, over-thinker and caffeine addict. She is the author of two books, Hidden Animals and Before It Sets You Free, both available from Amazon.com. Among her interests, which she finds it hard to shut up about, she counts fashion, yoga, city breaks and deadpan sarcasm. She is also currently studying Japanese, so wish her luck. You can sample bits of Anca’s creative writing here.