This post is a part of an ongoing series entitled MIP (Man In Progress). After my 25th Birthday I decided to improve three aspects of my life, my physical well-being, my romantic relationships, and my writing career. My philosophy is that a writer’s work and his life are irrevocably intertwined and in order to improve one, we inevitably have to improve the other.
I’ve been thinking lately about manhood. I’m 28 and I’m still not sure what kind of man I’m supposed to be.
There was a time when a man was supposed to aspire to be the breadwinner of a family. Before then, he was to aspire to be the sole protector of his race. A man was a beast, a killer, a hunter. He was carnivorous and mean. Today, a man is supposed to aspire to be a leader in his field, an innovator, a trailblazer.
In a way, women’s liberation meant that not only did a woman’s identity not have to be tied to her romantic relationships, but now a man’s identity no longer had to be tied to his romantic relationships, either. Today, marriage and family are less seen as integral to gender identity as they once were, and now we may speak of our genders as reacting to these paradigms–we consciously untangle gender from relationships: being a woman does not necessarily mean being a wife or a mother and, subsequently, being a man is no longer about being a husband or a dad.
Being a father can be talked about separately from being a man these days, when, before, it would’ve been inconceivable to separate the father and the man–or the husband and the man–for it was generally thought that a man should grow up to become a father and a husband to someone.
Manhood In Popular Culture
Today, men in popular culture (in film, TV, and books) are often represented as The Bloodthirsty and Emotionally Retarded Warrior, The Absent Father, The Cheating Husband/Boyfriend, The Drug Addicted Washed Up Loser, The Struggling Mentally Unstable and Irresponsible Artist, The Abusive Lover, The Cynical and Greedy Business Tycoon-type (usually the villain of the story) and, finally, The Self-Obsessed Narcissistic Quarterback/Fraternity Brother-type who seems to always be immune to failure.
Now, my female readers will do good to mention, at this point, that there are far worse fictional representations of women in modern media than those of men, and they would be right to make that assertion. However, I would argue that although men tend to have more positive representations in modern media than woman do, it doesn’t mean that men should still not find current media representations of their gender profoundly disturbing.
And if my female counterparts still would like to assert that there are a ton of “positive” representations of men in mainstream media today, I would argue that by analyzing these so-called “positive male representations,” you will find that even these “positive” character types are quite problematic:
- There’s The Sweet and Loving Uncle/Dad/Grandpa type: but these characters are usually minor and often aren’t that necessary to the plot other than to give the story a touch of “warm-heartedness.”
- There is The Noble Hero type: but this character is often too saintly to be true (or, for that matter, any more interesting to observe other than his always-striking good looks).
- And yes, you will often find the All Around Good Guy type character: however, even the existence of this “all around good guy” is made problematic because he’s often surrounded by a bunch of moronic, greedy, horn dog, jackasses as male friends or brothers, which makes it seem as if the “All Around Good Guy” is actually only an anomaly among the male species–and, furthermore, leads you to wonder why such an “all around good guy” would even keep such terrible company, unless, secretly, he, too, is as terrible as the company he keeps.
- Finally: who doesn’t love the Idiot Best Friend type who, although is stupid, is always loyal, loving, and great for comic relief.
All these shallow and outdated “positive” representations of men in modern media leave this modern man perplexed: among all these types of men who exist on all the screens America views, why don’t I find any one man that I feel compelled to become? Am I the only one who sees in these representations only mere shadows of the men I actually know? Can it be true that men are satisfied completely with the way they have been portrayed in the media? Do they really see on the screens of modern media the type of manhood they hope to emulate? Or do all the men of America agree with me that something on the screen is severely lacking in substance and truth?
My Thoughts On Manhood
To be honest with you, I find modern popular culture profoundly disappointing in its ability to guide me in what kind of man I’m supposed to be, and as there are no instruction guides on “how to be a man” in the 21st Century, I’ve decide to develop my own guidebook from scratch.
So here we go:
- I think being a man has more to do with taking responsibility for your actions and your own behavior and not blaming your bad behavior on your childhood, or your naturally excitable libido, or “peer pressure.”
- I think being a man means being honest no matter what relationship you decide to engage in (or if you decide to opt out of romantic relationships all together)
- Manhood means thinking and believing the things YOU think and believe because you’ve learned that those thoughts and beliefs work for you and make you happy–not because they work for someone else, and make someone else happy–or because they make you the kind of man society wants you to be.)
- Being a man, believe it or not, is about being sensitive and tender with others–and with yourself most of all. In fact, the most integral, defining feature of manhood is sensitivity and tenderness, for it is only through both sensitivity and tenderness that men can adequately protect themselves from harm–and prevent themselves from harming others
- This is a strange world indeed that would have men conform to a widely accepted framework of manhood, and then have men be convinced that, by conforming to this framework, he will gain access to his own hidden power. But this is a myth and it is the irony of all ironies, because, in fact, it is by going against the grain of what a man is “supposed to be like” that a man finds his true grace and power. The power to create ones own “working definition” of manhood, and holding true to that unique definition, is another vital aspect of manhood
- Finally, a true man, I believe, can sing his song. He can allow his creative nature to run wild and free down the rushing torrent of life. I myself have found the conventional views of manhood so limiting to a man’s creative impulse, that I truly believe that the modern man is being “neutered” because of it. Sexually, men are allowed to run a mock these days, but creatively they are impotent. And yet, not allowing themselves to be creative deeply affects a man’s sexual energy. This is why so many men today seek physical pleasure but remain unsatisfied because they “skip” over the spiritual and emotional aspects of sex which would make the sexual act profoundly more enjoyable and fulfilling. It is the spiritual and emotional aspects of his sexuality that would help a man unlock his full creativity, if he only let it. (Moreover: I do not think it is mere coincidence that we see far more women gathered in modern creative circles than men: it is because men have got it “stuck in their heads” that to be creative means their manhood will be threatened, and so they must avoid being creative or else risk losing what makes them “real men.” But balance must be restored here: we must equalize things so that both men and women feel free to fully embrace their creative impulses.)
If in the old paradigm, a man must be “savior” to others, in the new paradigm he must be savior only to himself. If in the old days, a man had to be violent in order to be considered honorable and strong, today it is a man’s capacity for loving tenderness that will warrant him the highest honors and make him indomitable against any foe. If the old view of a man was for him to conquer and posses another’s treasures and land–this bloody quest being his destiny and birthright–then let the new view of man be one in which he must conquer and posses his own hidden land and his own hidden treasures–land and treasures that have been reserved for him until the day he develops the will and the courage to access them.
If we, men, seek to be this “new” kind of man, we may find the love of others flowing more freely to us than ever before. We might find ourselves less broken and less alone. We might find ourselves less greedy, restless, and wanting; and more fulfilled, satisfied, and happy.
I have to agree with most of my female counterparts when they say that “men suck.” They’re right: we do suck and we have sucked for centuries. But that is no excuse to stop hoping and wishing for fundamental change.
In fact, the horrifying and disappointing behavior men have displayed over the centuries is the greatest excuse for a profound and quick change in all modern men. (It is never too late to make up for all those years of us sucking.)
All it takes is for each man today to say themselves: “I am no longer going to take cues for how to be a man from the outside world: from now on, I look within.”
>>> BLOG NOTICE: I will be taking a four-week hiatus from the blog and will be returning with new posts on September 15, 2014. In the meantime, I’ll be sharing some classic C2C posts for your enjoyment, have a good rest of your summer, Courageous Creators!
Today’s Courage Exercise
If you are a man, look within to see what kind of man you ought to be.
If you are a woman and agree with me about the state of modern manhood, share this post with the men in your life and encourage them to look within themselves for the proper way to be a man in today’s society.
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