What Does it Mean to be a Man? Part Two

I think in really seeking to answer this question the first thing we have to ask is what kinds of things define true masculinity. For instance, should we say that a man is defined by his belongings? By his appearance? By his abilities? Etc. What are the kinds of things that are important for true masculinity? This is, of course, a topic that many people spend time talking and writing about. However, I think that we can weed out a few of these on very basic grounds. First of all true manhood cannot be defined by one’s belongings simply because, if it was, a father could die leaving everything he owns to his 2 week old son and that 2 week old must then be considered a man. Obviously it is ridiculous to consider a two week old a man, and so we can throw out ‘belongings’ as a key to manhood without further question. The same argument could be used for position. If a king died and his 3 month old inherited the crown he obviously could not be considered either a man or a king, this is why we used to appoint regents. So, we can determine that traits which exist solely outside of the individual (i.e. money, status, reputation, etc) do not constitute the basis for manhood, and at the same time we can also conclude that age has at least some influence (even if only a negative one) on determining manhood. That is to say, while age may not be able to tell us who is a man, it can certainly tell us who is not a man.

Assuming then that manhood is defined by one or some combination of the internal qualities of a man we must determine what those qualities are. In brief these qualities may be listed as: appearance (or a man’s physical body), abilities (or the combination of his natural physical, mental, and social capacities), skills (or those facilities which he has learned through study and/or experience), emotions (or the feelings and moods that characterize him), and character (or the traits which affect his capacity and willingness to employ both his internal and external means to a task). Taking these in order we can first ask if appearance could be considered a test of manhood. Certainly men do have a distinct appearance and there are clear physical differences that distinguish males. However, there are also some males who are easily mistaken for females and vice versa. Clearly the normal distinguishing features of males and females used in everyday society (i.e. the presence of excess flesh in the breasts in females, or excess hair on the face, along stronger and wider builds and features in males) cannot be used as a determination of true masculinity because these features are not universal. There are men with excess flesh in the breasts and women with excess hair on the face. Similarly, the mere presence or absence of a penis cannot be considered a determination of true masculinity, because this returns us to the same problem as the external factors (i.e. infant males have them, but aren’t considered men).

Similarly, we must clearly reject abilities as a true mark of manhood because this would remove the enfeebled from the possibility of true masculinity. The history of the world is rife with males of inferior physical and social capabilities who can nonetheless be called great men, and certainly are true men. Franklin Delano Roosevelt is the first man who comes to mind. While his was physically enfeebled he stands still today as a giant in the minds of many. Certainly there are many others for whom the same could be said. There are many theological, mystical, and scientific figures of great stature who were socially inept or physically handicapped. The only ability that could potentially be considered here as a determination of true masculinity would be mental acuity (simply because I cannot think of an example to counter it), but I must reject even that because again a person of great intelligence may be a cretin and a worthless person. I will say that at a certain point, like age, intelligence may become a determining factor in what is not a man. For instance, a male with an IQ of ten is incapable of doing anything. He has an appearance, but no physical, mental, or social abilities, no skills nor the ability to accrue skills, and no character of which to speak. Thus we may conclude that this male is, for all intents and purposes, a child (at best) and certainly not a man. However, I think that this could only be used in extreme cases for those whose intelligence keeps them at a very low developmental level. For instance, I do not know of any culture modern or historical in which a five year old could be considered a man, and thus a male whose IQ would not allow him to develop past the capacity of a five year old could not be considered truly a man.

I think that’s probably enough for today. I’ll address the internal qualities of skills, emotions, and character later.

What Does it Mean to be a Man?

In modern America we have no clear concept of manhood. There are a thousand different voices shouting from a thousand different directions about what they think manhood should be. There are people who think that a boy becomes a man when he can grow a beard. There are people who think a boy becomes a man when he makes his first million. There are people who think that having sex makes a boy into a man. There are people who think that having a large penis is the real mark of manhood. There are people who think that taking another human life makes a boy into a man. There are people who think that a first job makes a boy a man. All of these point to the desire for a rite of passage. A clear marker of the shift from childhood into adulthood (and lets be honest here, simply saying that a child becomes an adult at 18 is both arbitrary and ridiculous).

However, even if we accept any one of these rites of passage, there is still no clear idea of what manhood is or what it means to actually be a man. American culture of the mid 20th century argued that manhood meant a desire to acquire and possess a modest amount of meaningful things (this is exemplified in the entertainment of the day which focuses strongly on the ‘desire of a man’ to own his own home). Of course, if we run the clock back a hundred years then the mark of a man was not owning a home, but owning land and buidling his own home upon it. However, ownership of anything seems ridiculous as a mark of manhood. Ownership of land, a home, a car, etc says nothing about who the person actually is or of what he is capable. Ancient rites of passage emphasized a trial of ability instead of a test of means.

This can be seen in the rites of many tribal groups which provide a task of some kind for the boy to complete. He may have to hunt and kill a bear, build a canoe to escape a deserted island and return to his home island, or survive in the wilderness on his own for a period of time. This is certainly a better mark of manhood. These tests of ability also show some degree of the character of the individual. Hunting a bear requires great courage. Building a canoe requires patience. Surviving in the wilderness requires endurance and determination. These trials both test the individuals ability to be a positive addition to the tribe and aspects of his character that are important in each particular culture.

This is a part of the problem we have in America. Every voice shouting about manhood has a different idea about what aspects of character are important. Some of them emphasize wildness, some emphasize greed, some emphasize brutality, etc. Some of them really say nothing about the character of the individual (i.e. getting your first job). The problem is that we don’t have any clear idea concerning what a man is, and thus we don’t have any clear idea concerning how to identify a man. Hopefully, over the next few days, I can codify my own thoughts on this and at least have some clear idea of what I see as manly and why.

That Little Chip the Size of the Moon

I’m the guy who’ll do your shopping for you. I’m the guy who’ll give you a massage when you’re tired. I’m the guy who’ll catch you when you fall, and I’m the guy who’ll make sure he’s on the bottom if we both fall. I’m the guy who opens doors, let’s you go first, and pays whenever he has the money. I’m the guy who will hold you when you cry, respect you even when he doesn’t want to, fight for you even when he thinks you’re wrong, but let you know what he thinks to. I’m the guy who’ll make dinner and clean up afterwards. I’m the guy who’ll wait ’til your ready for a first touch and a first kiss. I’m the guy who’ll buy flowers for no reason. I’m the guy who’ll text you in the morning to let you know I’m thinking of you. I’m the guy who’ll take the lead when everyone else is lost. I’m the guy who’ll apologize when I’ve screwed up, and the guy who’ll ask for your forgiveness when I’ve hurt you, even if I don’t think I should need to. I’m the guy who’ll forgive you when you ask, usually before. I’m the guy who won’t hold the past against you. I’m the guy who’ll love you even when you don’t deserve it. You say I’m not what you’re looking for? What’s wrong with you?

… Yeah, I know, it sounds pretty arrogant, doesn’t it? This popped into my head and it’s true… well, most of the time at least. I am all of those things and more. I was thinking about posting this on my facebook page, but my goodness it sounds so stuck-up. Proof that I’m also a jackass I guess. That being said, I think I’m fairly solid evidence for the saying that nice guys finish last. I am a genuinely nice and I can’t count the number of times I’ve had a girl tell me that I’m ‘just not what she’s looking for’.

I probably have a chip on my shoulder. Honestly, I think that’s what happens whenever someone has a repeated pain in their life. I’ve known lots of people with chips on their shoulders, and I have yet to find one who got rid of it on their own. We are all weak people and we all have pains that we can’t deal with on our own. It’s easy to assume that this pain is valid, that other people have done this to you, or that it represents the way the world ‘really is’. It’s easy to not even notice that the chip is there, and even when you do notice it, it’s very difficult to get rid of.

The chips that people carry around generally have a good reason, and they generally take a mixture of love, patience, and truth to heal. Until a person realizes their carrying around this thing that looks ridiculous to everyone else, there really isn’t anything that they can do about it. And even when they do realize it, changing the way you look at the world is incredibly hard, even when you have help. It’s that much harder when you’re trying to do it alone. It takes people, sometimes lots of people, of the right type and temperament to help lift that chip off of your shoulder and help you see the world the way it really is.

So, I am a genuinely nice guy, but I think I have a chip on my shoulder about it. I’m frustrated, even angry sometimes, especially when I see women choosing not-nice guys over me. Guys that treat them poorly, guys that are controlling, emotionally and physically abusive, or that demand sex at the earliest opportunity. Yeah, it makes me really mad, not just at the guys, but at the girls who choose them over me. I’m also simply frustrated with the consistent rejection that I’ve received from women. It’s hurtful, it’s frustrating, and it has created quite a chip on my shoulder. It’s also tempted me, many times, not to be a nice guy. Honestly, I’m happy that I haven’t done that. I’ve been a confused guy who didn’t know what I wanted, but I’ve never used a woman to make myself feel better. I hope I never do.