NR Digital


Real Men Wear Aprons

by James Lileks

The president’s recent defense of Western civilization wasn’t just a dog whistle to the alt-right. It was a cur clarion! A mutt muezzin! A hound holler! Or so some insisted. It’s not proper for a member of Western civ to go somewhere in Western civ and praise Western civ. You’re supposed to utter hoary hosannas about universal values.

Like . . . dinner? Everyone likes dinner. Right?

But dinner is fraught with icky Western-civ problems. Consider grilling. Oh, sure, they do that in other cultures, but other cultures have exotic things like spices and traditions where they, like, thank the earth for the meat? They’re spiritual about it.

In the West, grilling sausages is so problematic, and not just for the phallic symbolism; it’s intersectional as heck. It’s part of the oppressive matrix of patriarchal stuff, and that makes fretful sitzpinklers write things like this in Slate: “I’m a feminist. I’m a dude. And I hate that I love to grill.”

This makes him 0.063 percent more Manly than the guys who love that they hate to grill, so give him that much.

His opening confession:

I’m uncomfortable with the pleasure I take in something so conventionally masculine. Looming over the coals, tongs in hand, I feel estranged from myself, recast in the role of suburban dad. At such moments, I get the sense that I’ve fallen into a societal trap, one that reaffirms gender roles I’ve spent years trying to undo. The whole business feels retrograde, a relic of some earlier, less inclusive era.

You could say the same thing about changing the oil in your car, or the missionary position. He finds a picture of days gone by, when he grilled with his peers.

It bears the stain of unintentional masculine cliché. Gathered around the coals with beers slung low, we’re all but enacting a myth of the American man, telling a story in postures and poses. No longer mere Ph.D. students, we have become bros.

O the terror: Someone looking at them with their low-slung beers — apparently they’re crouching like apes — might think these are not highly educated males working round the clock to undo gender roles. Those lads are engaged in some dangerous myth-enacting. You can imagine their conversation:

“Hey bro, I know we’re all Ph.D. candidates who are developing new sociological strategies for untangling predominant modalities of gender and class, but standing here with a cold, carbonated malt beverage by a fire, I find myself unable — nay, unwilling — to feel angry about Playboy magazine’s decision to run nude photographs again. Is it just me?”

“No, bro; I too — did I just say ‘bro’?”

“You did, bro.”

“What have we become? Everyone put down the beers and back away from the grill! We’ll meet in the kitchen and chop some basil.”

The author continues:

It’s not that I think we’re doing anything consciously sexist.

As opposed to the men who pop a Pabst and swagger up to the grill, intent on doin’ some sexism. Pour on some lighter fluid, Jack; I’m in the mood to pay women 70 cents for every dollar a man makes.

Friends who were there that day remind me that we were actively making light of cookout customs even as we were participating in them.

Don’t worry, old chum! I was there, remember? We were mocking the tropes of masculinity as a way of asserting our ownership over retrograde gender norms! Don’t you remember how Seth said, “Yee-haw, gonna burn me up some meat like a Texan”? He’s gender-fluid! He wouldn’t grill without irony.

I suspect that everyone in the photograph identifies as a feminist. Yet the three of us look suspiciously like characters in a commercial, one where masculinity itself seems to be for sale.

Oh, you wish, pal. Here’s the thing: Women, even feminist women, aren’t interested in men who get hand-fluttery about the implications of gendered grilling. They want a man who can cook the damned hamburgers. The top three things women never want to hear include the following sentence: “Sorry everything’s burned, but I felt conscripted into a role from a less inclusive era, and I guess I was estranged from myself.”

Female-Identified Partner: What the hell are you talking about?

“Well, it’s, like, a suburban-dad thing? From the Fifties? Women were oppressed. You read my paper about the BBQ aprons men wore and how that was a masculinization of a female attribute, an assertion of male power into female spaces. Or maybe you didn’t read it.”

FIP: I read it. Okay, I skimmed it. Thing is, the hamburgers were burned on one side and raw on the other.

“I thought that expressed the poisonous duality of our dichotomous gender conceptions! If anyone should get that, you should. You’re the one who liked it when I wore mascara for Halloween.”

FIP: Oh for God’s sake, next time pretend it’s the Fifties but you’re Lenny Bruce and cook them right, okay?

“Can I be Jack Kerouac?”

FIP: I don’t care, just be a man.

“I don’t know what you mean by that.”

FIP: And that makes two of us.

– Mr. Lileks blogs at

Send a letter to the editor.

Get the NR Magazine App
iPad/iPhone   |   Android