What it Means to be a Man

Published in Feminism - 3 mins to read

I’ve lived my whole life having varying degrees of shame about being a man (especially given that I belong to a handful of other demographics that put me in the most privileged among society), often with a lot of guilt that I don’t have more gratitude for the exceptionally fortunate position I am in, that I am not making enough of it. That I am not doing enough with it, not engaging with issues surrounding privilege out of some combination of anxiety, cowardice and apathy. I have always told myself that I am not a stereotypical, “manly” man, as a way of absolving myself of some amount of responsibility. Recently, in a mixed group at the pub, one of the men asked women who they thought the most masculine in our number was, and I was genuinely offended when they suggested it was me. I don’t really follow team sports (certainly not avidly enough to avidly defend my club-of-choice’s honour to a total stranger while 6 pints deep every Saturday afternoon), I try really hard not to be outwardly aggressive, I try not to be overtly chauvinistic. And I told myself for a long time that that was good enough.

But obviously it’s not. It’s not good enough for the people around me and it’s not good enough for myself either. Despair is not helpful. To not take responsibility would be the true thing to be ashamed of here.

I am really, really scared to write about this kind of thing. In many ways, I think it’s easier for me to write about mental health or suicide than this. I’m scared that I’ll say the wrong thing, that I am starting this journey far, far later than I should have and that I’ll inadvertently out myself as being a self-absorbed narcissist, or far less tolerant than I might like to tell myself I am, or in some other way reveal something about myself which will force me to confront the fact that I am a fundamentally worse person than I had believed. When I search for what kind of man I want to be, one of the few constants is an honest one. So even if I am scared of getting something wrong, I have to keep trying to express myself openly, because that’s the only way I’ll correct it.

I’ve been doing a fair bit of this aforementioned searching this week, and I regret not starting a lot sooner, because I think finding the answers is going to take a lot longer than I’d anticipated. Trying to find role models for masculinity is alarmingly difficult - both public figures and those to me embody qualities that I think are worth embracing as pillars of manhood, but none provide the full picture (sorry Ted). Even more alarming is to do the opposite, and try and think of counter-examples; virtually everyone man I can think of possesses some trait that I find less than admirable.

The takeaway though as, as mentioned above, firstly that despair is not useful, and second that some men have some qualities that I would like to pick ‘n’ mix into my own polystyrene cup of personality. It’s going to be a lot of conscious effort to find these men, these qualities, and then figure out how to apply them to myself to the point where I live and breathe them, and am the man I want to be. A good man.

But the work is my responsibility, and so it must be done.

See other posts in the What it Means to be a Man series