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On the ‘I’m Not Like Other Boys’ Phenomenon

What men can learn from women about the damage of ‘othering’

In Trump’s America, it’s increasingly rare for the entire internet to unite against a common enemy. But last Friday, Robbie Tripp was able to pull it off, a beautiful sight to behold when you consider that Twitter can’t even agree on hot dogs or corncobs.

But no one could seem to help themselves from roasting the “wordsmith, public speaker, creative activist” for an Instagram post in which he declared just how brave he is for loving his “curvy wife”:

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|| I love this woman and her curvy body. As a teenager, I was often teased by my friends for my attraction to girls on the thicker side, ones who were shorter and curvier, girls that the average (basic) bro might refer to as "chubby" or even "fat." Then, as I became a man and started to educate myself on issues such as feminism and how the media marginalizes women by portraying a very narrow and very specific standard of beauty (thin, tall, lean) I realized how many men have bought into that lie. For me, there is nothing sexier than this woman right here: thick thighs, big booty, cute little side roll, etc. Her shape and size won't be the one featured on the cover of Cosmopolitan but it's the one featured in my life and in my heart. There's nothing sexier to me than a woman who is both curvy and confident; this gorgeous girl I married fills out every inch of her jeans and is still the most beautiful one in the room. Guys, rethink what society has told you that you should desire. A real woman is not a porn star or a bikini mannequin or a movie character. She's real. She has beautiful stretch marks on her hips and cute little dimples on her booty. Girls, don't ever fool yourself by thinking you have to fit a certain mold to be loved and appreciated. There is a guy out there who is going to celebrate you for exactly who you are, someone who will love you like I love my Sarah. || photo cred: @kaileehjudd

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There are countless ways Tripp — a social media personality who, ironically, has given a TEDx Talk on millennial narcissists — misses the mark, and they’ve been discussed ad nauseam over the course of the weekend. Tripp reduces his wife to her body type; he wants an award for simply being a decent person; and he makes the impossible body-image standards that are placed on women all about him.

But given 48 hours of reflection, I’m most interested in how Tripp ultimately uses his praise of his wife’s “thick thighs, big booty [and] cute little side roll” to assert how he’s different from other men, a hallmark of the “good guy” who it turns out really isn’t that good after all. His Instagram post is part of a growing trend among men who feel compelled to distance themselves from the toxic aspects of masculinity by bravely asserting “I’m not like other boys,” and in so doing, reveal that the exact opposite is true.

“We’ve come to a point in the gender wars where certain repugnant male behavior is no longer up for debate among reasonable people,” Nona Willis Aronowitz wrote two years ago, long before our country watched a “battle of the sexes” play out on a national stage and ultimately elected a “pussy-grabber-in-chief.” In this context, Tripp’s post drops at a unique point in history in which men can no longer claim obliviousness to their own privilege. Ideas like “mansplaining,” “gender pay gap” and “consent” are now commonplace, not fringe topics discussed solely by liberal elites on fancy college campuses.

Viral culture also has made it so that the average man, regardless of his feelings toward women, is probably aware that the label of “feminist” is trendy for men to claim and brings with it a serious (if self-serving) upside. At the very least, being a male feminist can get you laid, as it does for cuckbois and woke misogynists. At the very best, it’ll result in fawning media coverage (see: early Matt McGorry) for a man like Tripp who makes his living trading in internet popularity. It was actually this kind of coverage that was Tripp’s undoing, bringing his post to the court of public opinion. At first, coverage was ecstatic: “Husband’s Love Note To His ‘Curvy’ Wife Should Be Required Reading” and “People Are Applauding This Man For Celebrating His Wife’s Curves On The Internet” read some of the original headlines, on HuffPo and BuzzFeed respectively.

Despite the misguided praise from some media outlets, Tripp’s post couldn’t stay cute for long. It pissed people off because it exemplifies the main problem with contemporary Male Feminism™, which is all about performance, not practice (e.g., James Deen). It’s not enough for Tripp to simply love his curvy wife; he also has to let the world know how much he loves her (and, of course, her curves).

But that’s not all: He also expects to be congratulated for doing it. Being a feminist is something women have been doing for decades now, but unlike men today, we have been demonized for it. Tripp and all of his fellow vocal, performative male feminists need to remember that there have long been negative consequences for women who have called themselves feminists.

And yet, all of this online virtue signaling is really nothing when compared to how it plays IRL. One example — Sam Escobar’s Tripp response, which Allure posted on Friday:

“On dates, straight men who genuinely believe they are making the world a better place by dating a human being above a size eight have said things to me such as, ‘I like a girl with meat on her bones’ or, less originally, ‘real women have curves,’ then proceed to body-shame thin women as a rule, which is actually a pretty goddamn unattractive — not to mention unproductive — thing to do.

My personal favorite ‘Curve Lover’ line: ‘Don’t worry, you don’t have to eat salad around me,’ as though I am only pretending to like kale because Kevin the PR Executive is sitting across the table — as though all attitudes surrounding bodies and all decisions about food are secretly about him rather than the owner of the body or the consumer of said food. Sorry, Kevin, but you’re just making me really self-conscious about what I’m eating, which is a whole other problematic ballgame.”

Escobar nails the subtle implications of of “I’m not like other boys” rhetoric. Women have been doing something similar for years — which may be why it’s easier for me to call it out as bullshit. When I was coming of age in the early aughts, positioning oneself as “not like other girls” was how women would peacock for the opposite sex, attempting to distance ourselves from aspects of femininity that we saw as potentially undesirable. For instance: “I’m not like other girls—I don’t take two hours to get ready.”

We’d figure out later, with the rise of the “cool girl” ideal, that we were really only doing this because the standards of hotness for women had shifted and this was a new way to garner validation from men. We were dragging other women in order to make ourselves more attractive. We were actually a part of the problem.

Men like Tripp fall into the same trap. By trying to distance himself from toxic masculinity, he only reveals his own complicity in it. By wanting an award for simply loving his wife’s body type, he’s only demonstrating that he fetishizes her for it — something that makes him look a lot like the bros he says made fun of him growing up.

All of which made me think about a shirt Frank Ocean wore during a recent concert. “Why be racist, sexist, homophobic or transphobic when you could just be quiet?” it read. I wish Tripp — and the myriad other men who act like him — understood that there’s a much better way than Instagram to show you’re not like other (toxic) boys: How you live your actual life.