You Should Care: What it means to be a man

by Elisabeth Wilder – Horizon Columnist

“Man up.”

It was written on the back of my high schools women’s basketball team t-shirts. “Man up” was their theme for the year. It was shouted at the end of every team huddle, before the start of a game, and written on every poster hung around the school. To them, the phrase meant that they would play more aggressively, be fearless, act belligerently, go harder on the court, and most of all, they weren’t going to play like girls.

“Stop acting like a girl.”

Is what it might as well have said. Man up? What was wrong with being a girl? Why were men associated with being aggressive, belligerent, and dominant? Was that supposed to be a good thing?

“Don’t be a pussy!”

In the hyper masculine culture that we live, phrases like these are uttered interchangeably everyday. Our culture that tells us that being a man means being aggressive, violent, and sexually dominant.  Our culture fears femininity, because the stereotypical traits that coincide with what it means to be feminine are the exact opposite of what we have defined what it means to be man.  To be a man means that the traditional roles of women must be counteracted. If women are the caretakers, nurturers, and submissive ones, then men must be the providers, dominant, and the aggressive ones.

“Grow a pair.”

"Tough Guise 2," a documentary by Jackson Katz, explores the connection between violence and American media's warped depiction of masculinity.
“Tough Guise 2,” a documentary by Jackson Katz, explores the connection between violence and American media’s warped depiction of masculinity.

Men cannot escape these messages, they’re everywhere. In the news, media, movies, music, action figures, and just about any other place we can look. The message is clear, not only is the meaning of being a man to not be a woman, it means proving your masculinity. To be a man means that you must demonstrate it through fighting, lack of emotion, crass language, or the sexual conquest of women. Being a man means that you can’t show weakness, vulnerability, or fear because men are supposed to be tough and powerful.

“Don’t act so queer!”

When men do show traits that have not been deemed masculine, they are quickly shoved back into place with slurs such as this that imply that being a man pertains specifically to their sexuality or behavior. Being a man is fighting to resolve conflict in movies. It’s half naked women grinding on rappers in music videos. Masculinity is equated with guns, knives, and explosives. Men with big muscles and toned bodies are the ideal image of men plastered in magazines, action figures, commercials, movies, and TV shows. Manhood is equivalent to the number of women a man has slept with. Manliness is likened to how big and strong a man is. To be a man is to be in control, to be strong, to be assertive, to be forceful, and to be rugged. A man’s gotta be a man.

“Don’t be such a little bitch.”

And it’s a huge problem. Even talking about the issue of hyper masculinity has the potential for a man get this response. Harvard graduate, author, and educator Jackson Katz has devoted his career to exposing the harmful effects of a culture that teaches that manhood is associated with violence and aggression. In his latest documentary Tough Guise he explores this phenomenon with shocking evidence. Men commit 86% of armed robberies, 77% of aggravated assaults, 99% of rape cases, 90% of murders, 86% of domestic violence cases resulting in injury, and have committed 61 of the 62 mass shootings in the last 30 years.

“Boys will be boys.”

What a horrible and deceitful excuse. If biology is the only thing that separates men and women from committing heinous acts, why aren’t all men committing these atrocities? In countless reports, why is the United States the leader in violence in comparison to other wealthy nations? Even if biology were the culprit, are we not more than primal instinct? Do we give in to every biological urge such as cravings for fats and sugar, desires to promote ones self interest over others, or to cheat? All of which can be argued are “rooted in biology.”

“Don’t be such a wuss!”

This, this has to stop. Not just for the sake of fewer cases of rape, murder, and abuse, but because we cannot keep telling boys, young men, and guys that this is what it means to be a man. While the cases of violence are alarming, what is equally disturbing is the fact that men make up 80% of suicides in the United States. We can’t keep feeding our sons, brothers, friends, boyfriends, husbands, uncles, and men of all sorts this lie. This fallacy that their identity is in wrapped up in the women they sleep with, the people they have power over, how many guns they own, and the heavy things that they can lift.

“Don’t make me take away your man card!”

But this culture and the language that comes with it will only end if we stop using gender and sexuality as insults and putting men inside a narrow box. We need to stop using femininity and homosexuality as slurs. It’s not womanly to eat a salad. Sharing your feelings doesn’t make you gay. Choosing not to retaliate with violence doesn’t make you weak or girly. Not having sex with an unconscious girl doesn’t make you a wuss. Having the courage to be who you are, dress how you want, and say what you really feel shouldn’t make you the target of insults and gender policing.

“Enough is enough.”

Men, you are more than what you can bench, how much money you make, who you are dating, or how many fights you’ve been in. You, are what defines you, not the media, movies, action figures, books, status, or your golf handicap. Be a man, but be whatever kind of man you want to be.


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