A few weeks back I wrote a well-received post about the stupid advice that’s out there for young women. But it’s not just women– men, too, are bombarded with false messages about what it means to be a man.
Watch any popular movie or TV show and you might notice this: to be a man, it seems, is all about being the biggest and the strongest and the most violent. It’s about being the toughest and the hardest and the most devoid of feelings. To be a man is to have the most women at your disposal and to move on to the next one the day after.
But let me tell you, there’s nothing that puts these posers to shame like a real man.
Being a real man is as much about the strength of a man’s character and integrity as it is about the strength of his biceps.
It’s more about his ability to process and to come to know his emotions than to shut them off like a light switch.
And it’s more about his ability to respect women than it is to “get them in the sack.”
Today let’s pick apart three misconceptions about what it means to be a man, because, hey, why not? Can you think of a better way to start off your week?
Misconception #1: Men shouldn’t have feelings
Take a look around and you’ll quickly notice that for some strange reason, men are not supposed to have feelings.
This is just plain stupid.
Everyone has feelings, even Jesus (I mean, Jesus wept, right??!). No one— not a single person on earth— is immune to this. So why in the world should anyone have to pretend like his feelings don’t exist?
Awhile back I came across a poignant and refreshingly honest post by blogger Jonathan Mead on the subject. In his post entitled “The Lie of Masculinity,” Jonathan writes:
“… I was slowly learning that men are supposed to be strong, not vulnerable & aren’t expected to express their emotions.
I was learning that men are considered queer if they don’t act brash and overbearing; that men are supposed to be dominant, not submissive.
I was learning that men are horny, not sensual.
The most dominant imprint in my mind was that who I was was not okay.”
The thing that’s funny about our culture is that being vulnerable has somehow become the opposite of being strong, when in fact this is far from the truth. After all, what takes more strength: shutting down or opening up? This perception ought to be flipped around: to be vulnerable and to show emotion or even weakness is to be courageous and strong; to be closed off and shut down is to be cowardly and weak.
Don’t get me wrong; I’m not advocating becoming a complete wimp and hysterically crying on the football field or anything like that. It’s just that there is nothing even remotely wussy about having feelings or about learning to deal with them in constructive ways. Furthermore, there is nothing at all wussy about being human. Far from demasculizing men, teaching them to recognize and to accept and to constructively deal with their feelings in fact strengthens their sense of themselves, of their humanity, and of their manhood. Our men deserve to be instilled with a sense of “OKness” about their feelings rather than with a sense of shame. They deserve to have their feelings respected and honored, not pushed aside like broken toys. Having feelings isn’t just OK; it’s healthy and necessary. It’s time we started teaching that to our boys.
And as a somewhat irrelevant and mildly inappropriate aside, I’ll add the following: there are few things in this world sexier than a man who can let down his guard when the going gets tough and allow a tear to roll down his not-quite-shaven, beautifully square jaw.
Misconception #2: To be a man is to conquer the most women in whichever way you so desire
“You the man, Charlie!” I heard someone say the other day. I turned around to see a group of guys, likely in their early 30’s, gathered around a heaping plate of buffalo wings. Charlie continued to tell his story about “nailing some Natasha chick” and then coming back home to his girlfriend. “Let me tell you, Natasha was HOT…” His friends laughed and ordered him a shot. One of them gave him a high five.
LOL. This is just silly.
Sorry Charlie, but you are not, and never will be, “the man.”
I don’t care how hot Natasha is or how many girls you can charm into your bed— you are a far, far cry from being “the man.”
The Man is the guy who respects the woman he’s with. Whether it’s his date or his girlfriend or his wife, The Man realizes that the measure of his manhood is not the number of women he goes through but the quality of love and respect that he gives to the woman who is worthy of such things. The Man knows that any woman of quality won’t be hanging with a guy like Charlie for long.
So if Charlie wants to feel like “the man” for hooking up with Natasha, he can go right ahead and keep pretending— it makes no difference in the way things are.
Because when The Man comes home, he has a woman who will love him until the day he dies, who will stand by him and back him up and who would do anything for him. The Man doesn’t find it to be a difficult choice between Natasha or his wife. He’d lay down his life for the mother of his children. He’s a man of honor and character and integrity, and as a result, he’s got a woman who will respect him with everything she has.
When Charlie comes home, he’s got nothing but herpes and a girlfriend who’ll chase him with a golf club.
To be clear, I’m not just talking about infidelity here: I’m talking about respect in general. A real man respects women, particularly the woman he is with.
Sometimes people play the “guys can’t help it” card. It’s evolutionary— they’re designed to chase and to hunt and to ensure the continuation of their species. Which may have some truth to it, except that we live in the year 2011. Men are no longer primordial cavemen, and one of the trademarks of being human is the ability for self control and rational thought. To suggest otherwise is in fact insulting— it infers that men are nothing more than wild boars running loose in the animal kingdom. While I find that thought somewhat amusing, I ought to punch myself in the face for thinking so. Degrading men to the level of a caveman or an animal is not unlike degrading women to the level of an object– to use their “animal instincts” as an excuse for their behavior is to insult their intelligence and to question their capability to act as rational human beings. We’re all human; it’s time we started acting like it.
So do me a favor and next time you see a REAL man treating a lady like she ought to be treated, pat the guy on the back and give him a high five. “You da man!” you can shout to the high schooler who’s opening the door for his girlfriend or to the college kid who’s walking a girl home from a party to make sure she’s safe or to the grown man who’s coming home to his family after work. These are the men who deserve our recognition, not the other way around.
Misconception #3: To be a man is to be the biggest and the strongest and to win at all costs
Most guys like to beat each other at stuff. They like to compete and to fight and to be the biggest and the strongest and to prove that they’re better than the other guy.
Which is mostly fine– I don’t necessarily think that a little competition is a bad thing. But I do believe that it’s not the most important thing. The one thing that overrules winning is simply this: the pursuit of excellence. Contrary to popular opinion, winning and excellence are not one and the same. If you look closely, there’s a difference: winning at all costs is simply winning for the sake of winning. But the pursuit of excellence involves more than just winning; it involves the pursuit of greatness— it means striving to become the best man you can be, a man of character and integrity and virtue. Winning and excellence sometimes coincide, but not always. If you want a great guide on pursuing a life of excellence, consider pre-ordering the new book, Manvotionals: Timeless wisdom and advice on living the 7 manly virtues by Brett and Kate McKay of the popular blog, The Art of Manliness. “For centuries, being a man meant living a life of virtue and excellence,” write the McKays. “But then, through time, the art of manliness was lost.”
In my mind, being big or strong or beating people at stuff means nothing unless you’ve got the character and integrity to back it up. I have the feeling that any great man or woman will tell you the same.
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In the end, what men want is respect. This is often why they dismiss their feelings and chase women and work to be the biggest and the best and the most impressive. The only problem is that they might have the wrong idea altogether about what it means to be respectable. It would therefore behoove man, and society as a whole, to reevaluate what it means to be worthy of such a thing.
To be worthy of respect is to embody respectfulness in every true sense of the word. A man deserves respect not because he is the hardest or the biggest or the most promiscuous. No; a man deserves respect precisely because he shows respect— to women, to his emotions, to the commitments that he makes to his family and to society and to himself.
That, my friends, is the stuff that a real man is made of.
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[Image by Nicholas_T]