‘Good Guys’ on TikTok are filming themselves doing stuff for their family, but why are we putting men on pedestals for doing what women have always been expected to?

The real work happens when no one is watching.
TikTok ‘Good Guys Are Filming Themselves Doing Stuff For Their Wives
Edward Berthelot

Scrolling on TikTok, I'm greeted in one video with a robotic AI auto voiceover saying “Let’s make my wife a coffee”, as the first 2-seconds show milk jump-cutting to fill a fancy coffee glass before shots of coffee are poured in, swirling through the milky mixture.

The man videoing hands the finished coffee over to his wife, who is sitting on the bed, her suspicious face uncomfortably close to the camera lens. She pauses and frowns “what did you do to it?”.

I scroll down, still on the hashtag #healthyrelationship, and the next video shows a father making his bed before waking up his toddler. “I’ve got up with our daughter 90% of mornings since she was born and that’s what works for us, quite literally the least I can do is get up early and party with our girl… plus I love knowing that mama gets the extra sleeps she deserves”.

I like this video automatically, and save it for the weekly round up of positive, silly and moving TikTok content that I share each Friday on my Instagram stories. But then I pause, and un-save it.

TikTok content

This content can also be viewed on the site it originates from.

Out of curiosity, I wonder if there’s a TikTok corner dedicated to fatherhood and decide to look it up. Streams of videos showing touching moments between fathers and their kids are served to me, but I notice a slightly different type of content: Good Guy Demonstrates Basic Kindness To Wife And Goes Viral For It. There’s something worth exploring here.

Over the past five years, the conversation around masculinity, gender roles and accountability has become far less of a ‘gender studies degree topic’ and more of a cultural dialogue.

Instead of reminding women they can “have it all” – a 40 hour a week job, do the majority of the domestic household labour, be the emotional regulator for their entire family, have a side hustle, friendships and hobbies, and look good – mainstream discourse has began to note that having it all is quite literally a batshit, and impossible, plot of a movie you’d actually never want to be in.

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It’s fair to say that “Do you! But also! Do everything else for everyone!” doesn’t work. Mothers live under a compounding burden of lack of parental rights and gender inequality, and you can’t reframe-your-mindset or make-better-decisions yourself out of that structural inequality, but having a partner, community or support system around you that share the burden of the every day makes a hell of a difference.

So, it’s understandable that we’ve seen more and more women in heterosexual relationships speaking out about the gnawing stress of “kin keeping” AKA the invisible work women do that often goes without credit; from remembering and organising gifts for the wider family networks birthdays and creating the magic of Christmas, to booking appointments, cleaning, creating a cosy, comfortable home and reminding family members of tasks.

A few of these emotional admissions went big time viral on TikTok, where the hashtag #kinkeeping has 13.4 million views and, in response, there’s been an increase in content of men demonstrating how they are trying to “step up” in terms of domestic labour, thoughtful gestures and caring for their kids (and sometimes, but rarely, their own emotional literacy and development).

Some of these videos are considered: men share, candidly, their personal realisation that they were socialised into a gender role that was damaging their relationship and their family dynamic and how they’re trying to grow, but most are just, like, making their wife a cup of coffee or showing them waking up before their wife and framing it as a selfless sacrifice.

What’s more frustrating is that the comments sections are packed with women praising these men for showing their partners and wives kindness – and look, I get it, if you have been parched in the desert, you’re going to lose your shit when you see water but sometimes, it’s a mirage.

As a patriarchal culture, we are desperate to see the evolved man; a cis, het men who has ‘done the work’ and is showing up more intentionally, is cognisant of his past, a society that facilitates his ability to not show up in basic ways for this partner and is trying to do better, but we have to be careful not to praise men online, or put them on pedestals, for doing what women have always done.

The danger is that – and I am positive this is already happening –too many men will perform these tasks in order to manage perception of themselves (both internally and how they’re viewed) or to gain followings and social status.

In the complex arc of gender equality, the power dynamic that allows men to opt in and out of the effort relationships require in ways women have always been forced not to, means that anything that can be corrupted; an act of service can become self-serving. People of all genders have the ability to do this anyway, of course, but a culture that praises men for doing anything that isn’t nothing, makes this way more likely.

The mainstream dialogue around ‘toxic masculinity’ (which is woefully inadequate and click-baity by the way) as well as the growing interest in more equal or healthy relationships means the language used by experts is seeping into everyone’s lexicon.

Most men know there’s a cultural conversation around redefining masculinity that’s growing and so they can offer the language of bell hooks or JJ Bola without never having studied or read it.

They know women want to see more ‘vulnerability’, they’ve heard that mean are being forced to wear a ‘mask’ and they recognise themselves in the conversations around wanting to ‘grow’ as a man.

In fact, I believe we saw the unsettling nature of the combination access to this language coupled with a culture that wants to pedestal “good men”, when Johnathon Majors – an actor who had waxed lyrical on the importance of vulnerability as masculinity and redefining his own much to the adoration of Twitter – was arrested for alleged charges of assault, strangulation and harassment.

On April 19th, a report revealed multiple additional alleged victims were working with the Manhattan district attorney’s office on additional abuse allegations, and Disney halted his movie (we should also be asking why this didn’t happen with the allegations against Ezra Miller).

It occurred to me that Majors had made a point of discussing healthy masculinity and, if the allegations turn out to be true, many of us had believed a man that was perpetrating the absolute opposite – not healing, but harm – in private.

Most men posting videos of themselves doing nice things for their wife, or performing their duties as a parent on TikTok, will be doing so without ever thinking much about why exactly they feel the need to show it. But it’s worth questioning. Because the type of men who need to be seen doing it are not showing up selflessly.

In the words of Aldo Leopold “Ethical behaviour is doing the right thing when no one else is watching”. We should be welcoming growth that is authentic, not a Tiktok trend that puts men on pedestals for doing what women have always been expected to.

But with social media incentivising the good guy narrative, the question becomes not only how do men make sure they’re showing up for women without there being anything for them in it, but furthermore, when will men realise that their growth away from toxic gender roles affects them positively, too?

And on a personal note, why, again, is it a woman writing an article deconstructing this for them?