I read this piece by Ken Solin at The Good Men Project and it got me thinking:
The only rites most men in our culture experience are religious rituals like confirmation and bar mitzvah that many of us in the audience had undergone as intended introductions to manhood. But they paled in comparison. For me—and I suspect for many others—they were empty gestures, rote recitation of ancient Latin or Hebrew that required no comprehension, commitment to principles, or courage. We hadn’t overcome any physical or emotional challenge that would change our lives forever. No wonder guys are so fucked up, I realized. No one’s teaching us to behave like men. And how can we become men if we have no idea what that means?
When I was a little girl, boys wore blue. They played football and played with G.I. Joe dolls. In the invisible legion of girls I rolled with, we were supposed to be dainty and wear dresses and they were supposed to be bossing us around on the playground, preparing for a life that would involve them being the boss of a wife and children.
I never liked this arrangement. I respected that boys were physically stronger than me, but I would not let them sass me with that “I’m the boss of you” attitude. I turned down my first opportunity to ride a bike when my foster mother told me that if I wanted a bike it’d better be pink and not blue. At the time, I hated pink with a passion so I crossed my arms like the brats I’d seen on TV and refused.
Speaking of TV: Movies, music and popular culture were my main frames of reference for what manhood was and should be. Men, in general, were heroes or deadbeats. The reality of their inner lives or complexities were foreign. Older men who became my mentors showed me some of the nuances, that men could be intelligent and giving and as sensitive (if not more) to a range of emotions as women.
Beyond that, I thought their main purpose was to rescue me or be rescued by me. From what? It didn’t matter.
The question of who men are has fascinated me since college, when I went to a liberal arts school that was primarily female. There, men were defined by their sexual conquests, which was strange, considering the odds were stacked in their favor — socially and statistically. We were 60 percent women and 40 percent men. The men were athletes or drama majors, they were sometimes leaders, editors at the school newspaper and class presidents.
But who were men in relation to single women? They were supposed to be smooth conquerors of my heart, I thought. Chivalrous protectors, mysteriously simple. Brute and honest. Distant and stoic.
Which means, I never came up with a good answer.
As I grew older and my conception of men as full beings grew less dependent on female chauvinism, I became acutely aware of how being a man could grow complicated. They were expected to be providers, to repress any female-like tendencies lest they be booted out of the man club. I could relate, since I had been a provider on my own for years, and I repressed my emotions for years, too. By virtue of anatomy and growing up in a world of women, though, I was not a man and could not know what it was like to be one. But this kind of essentialism is dangerous. It means that the us vs. them mentality continues in the mancession, he-covery landscape in which we find ourselves. If no one knows what a man really should be or can be, how can women know how to connect with them and relate to them inside of relationships and outside of them?