Wednesday, 27 August 2008

Real men

What the hell is a real man? There are still plenty of men out there raging against feminists they claim have emasculated ‘real men’ and turned them into pathetic shadows of their former selves, trailing helplessly in the wake of powerful, castrating amazons.

Phew, what a negative, self-hating attitude they do have. And there was I thinking men’s lives have been hugely enriched by all these loud-mouth feminists urging us to express our emotions, be more sociable, listen more, show more sensitivity to others and be generally more civilised.

Journalist Sarah Churchwell wonders why these old-style men still see heterosexuality as ‘a zero-sum game, in which any gain made by women entails a loss to men (a loss always located around their testicles, for some reason), instead of just, well, happier women.’ Exactly.

When men talk about being real men, she says, what they really mean is upholding the traditional, unchallenged stereotype – ‘hirsute, drunken and boorish’ and ‘a selfish jerk’. And they’re not going to take any advice from women, no sirree.

Of course there’s no such thing as a ‘real’ man any more than there’s a ‘real’ woman or a ‘real’ teenager. Men are just what they turn out to be which surprisingly enough is pretty varied and unpindownable.

The lauding of ‘real men’ is invariably an attempt to bring back a male-dominated society in which men rule the roost and women do what they’re told, preferably in the kitchen, the bedroom and the cosmetic surgery clinic.

As regular readers know, I’m not even sure what masculinity means, if anything. I’ve never felt masculine in my life. I may look like a man and act like a man but that’s only what I’ve been taught to do. The real me is something much subtler and deeper.

The concept of a ‘real man’ needs to be dumped in the dustbin where it belongs, along with ‘the good old days’, ‘Britishness’, ‘the generation gap’ and all those other meaningless phrases people trot out to justify some reactionary, narrow-minded rant. I’ve never doubted my reality, thanks.


  1. Well my granny reckoned the poen "If" captured it pretty well, and that makes no reference to women being downtrodden in any way shape or form. I tend to agree with her. She also had an inherent mistrust of "isms", I guess she and Ferris Bueller shared that one, and again, I have to express concern at the way any "ism" can be used as a means to pursue an agenda other than that originally intended by the instigator of the "ism". For example the claim by Israel that Europe's condemnation of its use of cluster bombs was anti-semitism.

  2. I'm with Thrifty here (usually am) but IF is a mantra in our family as well and the "You'll be a man my son" works just as well if you feminise it. I hate stereotypes and hate being steriotyped so I see where you're coming from.

  3. Thrifty - Wow, it's a long time since I read that poem! I take it to mean being a man (or woman) is just about being sensible and level-headed rather than pursuing some absurd gender stereotype. Hear hear.

    Baino - Ditto! But how hard it is to just be ourselves and forget all the stereotypes. Especially when the media is awash with them.

  4. Glory, glory for your rant! I have felt similarly regarding the definition of womanhood.

    Oddly, even though we women have gone around challenging all manner of perceptions regarding womankind, they still linger. And they linger in the minds of men AND women. Concepts of feminine beauty and male strength (even though they change over time) continue to drive our preferences.

    I long to find the man who Loves me. Just ME. This woman who is strong and fragile, powerful and weak, Loving and self-absorbed, intelligent and emotional, and on and on.

    I hope that I would see and Love him as he is; without need for male stereotypes nor prejudice against them. I would simply Love him.

    Ummm, nice thought. Sadly, it seems elusive outside my mind.

  5. The men in the photo, u have posted aren't real men. What about them is real, what part of them is just as nature intended.

    Every inch of them, well maybe not every inch of them, every visible inch of them has been enhanced in some well. They both have a ridiculous gym habbit and have been primped, prined and wax within an inch of their life.

    Am almost ashamed to admit it, but I am just as bad: gym, jogging, rollerblading, tae kwon doo, yoga, rock climbing and swimming are just some of the things I do to keep fit.

    Throw in the hair products by L'oreal. The cosmetics by Clinque. Jeans by Diesel and Dolce & Gabbana. The T-Shirts - Shirts and Tops by Hugo Boss and D-squared. The Shoes by Gucci - Prada - DCShoesUSA - Osiris and K. Swiss (spot my attempt to be less pretentious), Sunglasses by Christian Dior - Oakley - Ray Ban and Police. Suits by Ozwald Boateng. And Underwear by Ginch Gonch and Andrew Christian. There really is no hope for me.

    I spend a small forture on clothes, cosmetics and gym membership. Plus the small fortune I spend on various hobbies, in a bid to make myself more interesting. I have actually turned into the sort of man I hate to be around and I'm so far gone, there is absolutely no hop of return.

    I am deeply ashamed, at this point.

  6. Gayle - The comments on an earlier post of mine maintained it was women rather than men who were obsessed with female beauty, while men tended to accept women as they were. They said women were competing with each other rather than trying to please men.

    But yes, if only people could appreciate us for what we are, in all our complexity, and not see only certain bits of us.

    DJ - Oh dear, you're pretty far gone! As you say, you must spend a fortune on all those designer clothes! And how do you find the time for so much exercise?

    The guys in the pic certainly aren't real men, that was the point, they've turned themselves into something totally artificial because they think that's what they're supposed to do.

    Interesting though that so many men these days wax and remove body hair and consider it quite normal, few men would have done that when I was young.

  7. Thankfully I haven't gone as far, as waxing.

    Maybe there is hope for me after all.

  8. I make the time for exercise in the various forms which I have allowed it to take place, by being an early riser. It's not to difficult, during the summer break. But it will be absolutely horrendous once I start back to uni.

    Either my schedule or my sanity will have to give, and I can't make up my mind which one it should be.

  9. Yes, what is a real man? When I was home, a few times male relatives would tell my kids to, "Man up!" -- as an admonishment to toughen up or not cry if they hurt themselves. It was weird because the belief still persists that toughness and coldness is being a real man. It's too bad.

  10. DJ - I hope it's the exercising that will give a little and not the acquiring of necessary medical skills!

    Liz - Absolutely, how long will it take for that crazy tradition of male toughness and coolness to bite the dust? It just causes so many problems in people's relationships.

  11. Hmmm, I tend to take it as being your own person and not paying much attention to nonsense put forward by anyone, be they male or female. I don't have a whole bunch of time for anyone who tells me I should be X/Y/Z, regardless of their gender unless they can back it up with good reasoning, and I am certainly not going to just to suit someone else or their agenda. I may well have views that might clash with some feminist perspectives, that would be my business once I don't force my views on anyone else. Works both ways though, someone who wants to force an unwelcome view on me can take a long hike off a short pier. I'm no new man, or real man, I'm me.

  12. Thrifty - Good for you. If only more people had the courage of their own convictions and didn't feel they had to live up to some sort of fashionable image or expectation. And I agree that feminist perspectives aren't always right, but my God there are some hidebound males who really need to be booted into the 21st century!

  13. Indeed, exercise and frivolous spending will take a back seat to university.

    I have already made it through one year, I am currently top of the class. As always. And some of the things on my list I don't do all the time. Such as rock climbing and rollerblading.

    But I will definately have to start living like a regular person again.

  14. Great post! As a woman, my definition of a 'real man' is someone who will nurture and protect his family, should he choose to have one. At the very basic level, this is what both genders are about. A woman's role is to have children, nurture and protect them, a man's role is to provide children, and nurture and protect them and his mate.

    Of course this is very simplistic and doesn't take into account alternative lifestyles or men who choose to be single, childless or celibate, none of which makes them less of a man.

    That probably sounds contradictory, but what I mean is that conforming to a stereotype of what the media tells us is 'manly' doesn't make you more of a man. Doesn't matter if you shave, wax, fart in bed and belch the national anthem, to me, being a man (or a woman for that matter) is being true to yourself and your ethics, simple as that.

    It's more manly to stand up for your beliefs and 'wimp out' of something everyone else is doing, than join in. Whatever it is they want you to join in with.

  15. DJ - Top of the class? No false modesty there then!

    Jay - Welcome! "Being a man or woman is being true to yourself and your ethics". Amen to that. I see your point about stripping men and women down to their essential interests, but as you say that's not necessarily having children. Some people are completely focussed on work or on some challenging leisure pursuit.

    But we're still battered by so many clichéd gender assumptions from the media and people we know it can be hard to resist them and just be ourselves.

  16. I can't add much to what's already been said. I hate to be told to act or behave in a certain fashion to adhere to how or what someone thinks I should behave.

    Be yourself - that's as real as it gets!

  17. Quicky - Indeed. But how easily some people categorise vegetarians or the sports-averse or gays or even childless males as "not real men". Who can fathom such thought processes?

  18. Good discussion: this question stuck in my mind as I was driving back from Amsterdam today. When I run through the people that have most impressed me as (male) role models over the years, three qualities stand out:

    1) Confident and centered: They understand who they are and are comfortable with their place in the world. It's not arrogant or self-centered, but just an easy belief that is infectious.

    2) Aspirational and creative: They want things to be better than they are, and have insight to how to accomplish it. They credit others, but they look constructively forward and upward. They believe that we can do better.

    3) Decisive and active: They are not afraid to take a decision and to act on it: they roll up their sleeves, can organize help when they need to, and get things done. If it fails, they are accountable; if it succeeds, they are gracious.

    I know that these are not male traits, and maybe I should think of them as 'real person' qualities. But if I could live up to these three, I think I'd be a successful person. (I'm not taking into account qualities to be a successful partner in this list: the necessity of building relationships and mentoring others is another facet entirely).

  19. Dave - I guess what you're saying, like others above, is that the qualities that make for a fulfilled man are not what's 'masculine' but just whatever makes the most of life and inspires other people. And those qualities can be found in women as much as men. I would thoroughly agree with the three you mention, though I don't think I do very well on any of them!

  20. Excellent post, Nick. We all want to be free of the restraint of stereotypes and what constitutes 'manly' or 'womanly'. And everything in between.
    And we start at birth, don't we? I cringe at the pinks and blues I see around me in this newly fecund universe (anybody else noticing all the babies out there?).
    A study done on babies has noted that baby girls are touched and held and hugged more than baby boys.
    it starts right there.

  21. www - You're right, research shows boys and girls are so heavily subjected to gender stereotypes from the moment they're born that by age three they're already well gender-ridden. From then on it's increasingly difficult to break free of that early brainwashing.

    We just don't notice all the routine stereotyping that's going on all around us every minute of the day. Starting with pink and blue, and hugging and not-hugging, as you say. Plus different names, different clothing, strictness or tenderness etc etc.

  22. I guess its all about cultural scripting. What got passed down as 'the way to be'. Most of it is a response to circumstance hence the old days required a toughie - more recent times a more emotional intelligence. I like the role of men as described by Malidoma patrice some in his writings. Men were the hunters, the protectors but also the holders of the secrets: medicine and shamanism. Men should be deeply spiritual. Thats a real man in my opinion, one who can percieve the unseen.

  23. QV - Malidoma Patrice? He wasn't on my radar, must do some research! I think the problem is that men often aren't responding to circumstances, which is why women accuse us of being insensitive, resistant to change etc. A bit more responsiveness would be a good thing. Again, when you say a real man can perceive the unseen, that's something women are usually better at - if the unseen means emotions, atmospheres, hidden nuances etc.