The Girls Step Up To This

I've been thinking a lot about Steve McNair, and how men process intimacy, marriage and sex. But first I need to say that this is an awkward post. I think after reading this, none of my boys will have a beer with me for at least a year. But since I'm mostly a homebody these days, anyway, I figure I don't have much to lose.

I'm pretty libertarian about these matters. I really have no idea what arrangement Steve McNair had with his wife. I also think the people in a relationship ultimately are the ones who should outline it's boundaries. I believe that monogamy isn't for everyone, and that those who choose to live in other ways don't deserve to be shamed. I think men, in particular, struggle with exclusivity. This is my belief--but I've been challenged on it, repeatedly, by women. So I don't take it as fact--it's just how I feel. And it may well be wrong.

But all of that aside, I think it's about time for men to take more responsibility for their bodies and sex lives. Women, I am told, have to constantly think about protecting themselves. They have to give more thought to what situations they end up in. Who they're sleeping with, and who they're entering into a relationship. Rape and physical abuse always hangs in the air. Men, I think because of sheer physical strength, believe that we don't have to think this way. We think we can take few shots at the bar, screw whoever, wake up at nine, hit the waffle house, and then drive home with a great story to tell.

People should read up on Sam Cooke--greatest soul-singer ever, dead in a cheap motel, with no pants, after a prostitute took his clothes. We should think hard on Steve McNair, shot in his sleep; he fell out on the couch and never woke up. He had no idea what happened. I don't know if that fits the exact definition of domestic violence, but it's damn close. I keep wondering what he was doing with a 20 year-old girl who worked at Dave and Buster's. I understand the regular temptations, but the recklessness of it all is amazing.

I don't want to blame McNair for his own death, but the fact is that men who are reckless, often leave behind families to pick up the pieces. I can't imagine the personal work his wife will have to do reconcile all of this, and then explain it to their four sons.

This isn't one of those "men's rights" riffs, and it's clear that men will never face the same sort of physical dangers that women face. But I think brothers could give a little more thought to who they take their clothes off in front of, or at least who they go paragliding with. I've seen things go wrong for men in so many other ways. Brothers forbidden from seeing kids. Brothers paying insane alimony. Brothers coming outside and finding their car missing. Brothers wondering if a kid is actually theirs. The temptation is to rail against women. A more introspective approach would begin with, "What the fuck was I thinking?"

I think brothers need to bury the mythology of the "Crazy Chick" once and for all. Maybe if I was Denzel, I wouldn't be calling for that. Maybe I'd be calling for more crazy chicks. Moreover, having already survived my wilder, younger years, this may be hypocritical. I don't know. But we need to think harder about what we do our bodies. It ain't like the old days. The girls are packing heat.

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Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

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