What does it mean to be a man anymore? I feel like for the generations before mine, this wasn't a difficult question. Things were so much more black and white then. Of course, I wasn't around to witness those years firsthand, so what do I know, I could be totally wrong. Perhaps our grandfathers and great grandfathers had the same identity crises that we do. Nonetheless, whether they had those questions or not shouldn’t have an effect on how we, as individuals answer the question, what does it mean to be a man?
Is a man simply the opposite of a woman? Someone who has big muscles, facial hair, a tribal armband tattoo, and a slight to moderate god complex; someone who never wears pink, who drives a big, lifted truck, who’s idea of a romantic date is to go see The Expendables in the theater. Is a man someone who doesn’t know how to change a diaper or how to cook a decent meal because those are a woman’s duties?
Or perhaps to understand what it takes to be a man we have to take a more classical approach. Does a man work hard at his job, clawing his way up the corporate ladder in order to earn more money and provide for his family? Does a man put in 70, 80 hour weeks at work, at a job that he may or may not enjoy, in order to make sure that his children can have the best of everything? Perhaps the path of a man is to get a job and stick with it for 40+ years, providing more and more for his family, until he can afford to retire and spend the twilight of his life wishing he’d enjoyed his glory years more.
Maybe though, and this is a long shot, but maybe it’s some combination of both? To me neither of them seems appealing, but what if we mix them together, and add in just one more definition of manhood? A man is truly nothing more than the opposite of a boy. At some point we are all children, obviously, and girls become women, while boys become men (generally speaking). So what’s a boy? A boy is still growing; a boy is someone who is too young to ask such existential questions. A boy is someone who is learning the most basic of essential life lessons while (hopefully) being protected and nurtured.
At some point in our lives we go through a change. It happens at a different time for each of us, and for some it happens in a bright, crisp, crimson moment. For others it’s a gradual change occurring over years of small events and the lessons learned from them. But at some point we become men, not boys. However, even after that change, maintenance is required; you don’t simply become a man and then stop changing for the rest of your life. And so, this brings us back to our original question, “What does it mean to be a man?”
We are told and shown thousands of different times in a day what it is to be a man. The advertising and entertainment industries would have us believe either of the first definitions that I gave. According to most of the companies that are trying to sell us something, a man is supposed to have ruggedly good looks, just enough stubble to look like he stayed at a lady’s house the night before and hasn’t had a chance to shave. According to them, a real man should have a 6 pack that is so defined it deserves a 0 after the six. According to the people that control what happens in front of the cameras, whether it be in advertising or Hollywood, a man is infinitely confident. He’s the hero of any story he may find himself in, he makes enough money to never worry about it, and he looks great whether he’s wearing jeans with no shirt or a suit.
But their depiction of a man is missing that third ingredient. It’s missing the last definition of a man; it’s missing that transition from boyhood to manhood. We all go through it, perhaps as you read this, you are remembering the moment you knew, or maybe you are reflecting on your gradual transition. Or possibly you haven’t made the transition yet, but you’re rapidly approaching it. Either way, the producers behind the cameras would have you believe that the transition from boyhood simply happens when you decide it does. Perhaps it’s a type of “body spray” (here’s a hint, if you use Axe body spray or anything like it, on a regular basis, chances are you’re still a boy), perhaps it’s a “real job”, or maybe it’s the truck with a bigger engine than your dad’s truck. Whatever it is, they tell you that it’s a material change; they tell you that this one change, this one thing will make you a man worth being.
That can’t be right though, can it? Manhood isn’t a thing you can buy; it’s not an external addition to your life. You don’t simply wear a scent, drink a whiskey, buy a suit, and voila! You’re a man! While external forces will inevitably play a role in your transition from boyhood, they aren’t the transition itself. Manhood isn't an external thing, it’s entirely internal, and it’s not a decision either, though that may be the catalyst, instead it’s an internal realization. It’s something that happens to you without your conscious thought. Manhood isn't something that you can simply manifest by sheer force of will, and it’s not something that you can apply like a salve on a wound.
Plenty of attention has been given lately to the misrepresentation of women in/by the media, but where is the outcry for the misrepresentation of men? It’s the other side of the same coin. Women are put under unfair pressures, and they are treated a certain way if they don’t conform, all because of the way the media portrays them. But the whole time, the same thing is happening to the men, and it quietly continues while no one lifts a finger to stop it. There are advertising campaigns to promote body positive images for women, and to encourage women to break the stereotypes set in place for decades. But those same companies still promote this false image of men with more abs then they have toes or fingers, and a cocky smile no matter what situation they are in.
And there’s the real issue, it’s the not the body image that is most damaging to the men in our society, it’s the implications of the mentality of a man. The media implies that a man is confident all of the time, that a man never needs help from someone just to stand on his own two feet. They’d have us believe that every man is a king of his own kingdom. While confidence is a GREAT thing, and absolutely essential for happiness, it isn’t manufactured like the media would have us believe. You can’t simply go to the gym, get a new deodorant, and some new clothes in order to be a confident and happy man. You have to work for it, confidence comes from within. I know all too well that it’s not an easy thing to find, but that it is very easy to fake, no matter how much damage it causes us to do so.
Through this misrepresentation we forget possibly the most important part of the transition from boyhood to manhood, we forget the boy. We lose sight of the fact that even though we are now men, somewhere inside each of us is a boy wondering what the F*$% is going on. Just because you’ve completed the transition to a man doesn’t mean that you leave your boyhood hanging on a branch like a forgotten cocoon, rather you carry it with you every day. The lessons you learned as a boy are just as important as the ones you learned that made you in to a man. They shouldn’t be forgotten or tossed by the side of the road, and your boyhood can’t be covered up with this or that purchase.
The media would have us toss aside the boy within each of us along with all the neuroses and the crippling self-doubt that came with our teenage years. We are encouraged to shed our fear and lose our insecurity and step in to the life of the supremely confident and successful man. But if we do that, we throw away the essentials that led us to become the men we are. You can’t wipe the slate clean at the brink of manhood and expect to be happy, no matter what the media tells you.
A man is strong emotionally, mentally, and most importantly, physically. < A man is only as strong as he allows himself to be.
A man can fix everything, all on his own. < A man knows when to ask for help.
A man takes what he wants, by any means necessary. < A man knows his limits, but can strive to expand them.
A man is the only thing keeping Society strong. < A man is an integral part, but just one of many in Society.
A man is constantly confident. < A man is constantly pursuing self-awareness.
A man doesn’t make mistakes. < A man owns his mistakes and does whatever it takes to get them fixed.
A man’s success is measured in material things. < A man’s success is measured in happiness and the lives we touch along the way.
A man leaves his silly boyhood dreams behind him. < A man accepts that the boy he once was will always be a part of him.
A man is fearless. < A man acknowledges his fears and learns to face them.
I’ll be the first to admit that I’m terrible at meeting some of the standards that I’ve set above, but perhaps that is what it ultimately means to be a man, and the same goes for being a woman. Perhaps to be a properly functioning adult all we really need is to accept our flaws and to constantly strive to fix the ones that need fixing, and to live with the ones that don’t. After all, perfection is nothing but a mirage. But maybe, as long as we strive and are in pursuit of our own perfection, we can hope to be perfectly imperfect.
PB. (Post Blog) if this topic is something that you want to read more about, I highly encourage you to explore these other blogs and sites for other view points on the topic. I don't personally condone every single view on either site, but the vast majority of them are refreshing and enlightening, and certainly entertaining.
The Art of Manliness: http://www.artofmanliness.com/
The Good Men Project: http://goodmenproject.com/