As swift as a coursing river. With all the force of a great typhoon. With all the strength of a raging fire. Mysterious as the dark side of the moon. According to Disney’s Mulan, these are the requirements for being a man.
Putting Donny Osmond and Ancient China aside for the moment, I have been thinking a lot lately about what it means to be a man in 2017. As a college instructor, I always find it important to take issues of sexism and gender representation to task in my sophomore composition courses. In past classes I’ve taught, my students and I have spent weeks talking about issues of gender in Harry Potter. More recently, however, one of my classes read and discussed an article regarding different types of masculinity displayed in How I Met Your Mother. Over and over again, pop culture proves to be an effective vehicle for getting students to think critically about masculinity, femininity, gender relations, and gender stereotypes. But the question remains…in our more open-minded, critically conscious, and self-aware society, how do we define what it means to be a man or a woman?
Over time, we have painted a portrait of the “ideal” man (and, no, unfortunately it does not include raging fires or the dark side of the moon). Men are expected to be strong physically, mentally, and emotionally. They are to be stoic in the face of trial, serving in direct contrast to their overly sensitive female counterparts. A “real” man is the protector, the breadwinner, the disciplinarian, and the head of the household. A man engages in many pursuits, namely watching sports, drinking beer, chasing women, and working with their hands. This is a pretty common perception of what it means to be a man, and film and television often reinforce this notion.
Ironically, none of the men in my life feat tidily into this definition of the “real” man. I know men of various ages that are much more nostalgic, sentimental, and emotionally driven than their female partners. I know plenty of men that take a backseat to their wives in terms of earning income, managing the household, and making family decisions. I know several men who would rather read a book of poetry or see a theatrical performance than attend a football game. I know strong men, weak men, shy men, bold men, committed men, flaky men, and every type of man in-between. So, clearly, our long-held notions of what it means to be a man no longer accurately represent the living, breathing men of 2017.
So what is a “real” man, then?
A real man is a man that respects women, children, the environment, his fellow men, and himself. A real man is unafraid to show emotions or admit moments of weakness. A real man views his partner as his equal and pays his equal dues when it comes to cooking, cleaning, parenting, managing the household, and supporting the family. And, of course, a real man never gives up on the things that are most important to him.