Saturday, October 28, 2006
On being a man
I will mention, however, that I have nothing to do with "Mens Rights" groups. I don't know anything about them, but I do know that the few folks I've seen or heard advocating for Mens Rights haven't been the kind of people I appreciate. I reserve judgment on the need to fight for the rights of men, but so far I don't know of anyone who is doing so in a manner that I can accept.
What I believe is that manliness is a virtue. And what is manly? What makes being a man a good thing?
Well, I've heard it said that the Y chromosome is actually a mutation on the X... i.e., that it's more likely that God created Eve and Adam, and not the other way around... at least, if God had actually created humans from dust, rather than causing them to evolve (or watching them evolve) up from single celled organisms. Is this true? I actually don't know, and if it was true, it would be foolish (or, dare I say, "weird") to try to infer more from it than is justified.
Nevertheless, myths are not bound by foolishness or weirdness, and if Athena can spring fully formed from the head of Zeus, so too can I imagine that manhood was the result of a striving from humanity to find something else, something missing, and something necessary.
And that something is, of course, the warrior spirit
Does this mean that woman do not posess, or understand, or embody the warrior spirit as much as men do?
Listen: I'm not here to talk about women, I'm here to talk about men. If you think I know the essence of womanhood, let me show you something that should help set you straight that I'm a man. (That "something" is my beard. Who out there is dirty minded enough to think I was referring to something else?)
I can talk about what makes a woman a good person, and that would apply to men just as easily, but I can't talk about what makes a woman a good woman.
You see, this is one of the things people screw up when they start thinking about gender roles, and such. Men and women aren't opposites; they are different, but the differences can be very hard to express. To say that men embody the warrior spirit is to tell a story that might help us understand manliness. We could then tell another story about how women embody the warrior spirit and use that to help us understand womanliness. We could then debate (hopefully, said debate would be lubricated by alcohol if appropriate) whether it's the same warrior spirit. In the end, we might understand more about men and more about women, and still not be able to articulate what, exactly makes them different. But what of it? Sometimes wisdom answers questions; sometimes it just helps you figure out what the questions are.
I believe that men are are at their best when they seize upon the spirit of the true warrior. Of course, since I call Jesus a warrior, I'm not saying that means that men are about going out and beating people up. I'm instead saying that there's a certain striving to achieve great things, that is part of being a man. There's a certain energy, a certain desire, to go out and make a mark in the world.
It's a feeling that is very easily open to abuse. A lot of things that feel like accomplishments aren't.
Let's say someone calls me a wimp, and says I'm scared to stand and fight. These days, it seems like the manly thing to do is to stand my ground and kick his ass. But what does that accomplish? Even if I'm such a great fighter that I can kick his ass without getting hurt, without even exerting myself too much, all I've done is bring some pain into the world, when it wasn't there before.
A real man can shrug off such an attack, and recognize that it doesn't mean anything. After all, the warrior spirit is concerned with changing the world, not protecting one's ego. Preventing a needless fight is an accomplishment; fighting needlessly, over a meaningless bunch of words, is just stupidity. There's no need to fight over something that's not even real.
A real man, a true warrior, cares only about the reality of the situation, and not about the perception. Army Specialist Joseph Darby was being a real man, a good man, when he forced an investigation into the abuses at Abu Ghraib, and all real men in the military were grimly proud of him for having made sure things were made right. The overgrown boys worried about how it hurt the military's image, and made the war harder to fight; they blamed Joseph Darby for making things harder, rather than blaming the perpetrators of the abuse. The real men blamed the perpetrators; they knew the perpetrators had made the war harder to fight, but they accepted that as a fair cost for what had happened on their watch. The real men knew it should never have happened, and felt guilty that it had, and the greater danger, and the higher cost, would remind them how important it is to guard against such abuse... because the overgrown boys will cover it up, and keep it secret, until it causes a huge mess.
You don't change the world by hiding things; would Jesus be a great warrior if he'd faked his own death, and pretended that he'd risen from the dead? Would he be worthy of love and admiration if he let such a terrible lie be spread? A true man, a true warrior, demands that the world be changed in honest ways. A true warrior is willing to be open and aboveboard, because only true changes will be lasting.
It's natural for men to compete, I think... it's part of the warrior spirit. You never know exactly how good you are until you know how good others are, and a man will strive to be good at things. But a man will want the competition to be based on reality. Sportsmanship - trying to compete fairly and well - is a manly virtue. Anything too close to cheating is rejected by a real man, and it's a damn shame that this virtue is not more widely accepted.
I heard of a football player who thought his tackling job wasn't done unless he'd hurt the opposing player, just a bit. He might be a big strong guy, able to accomplish physical tasks that I'll never be able to dream of, but he's not much of a man. (Or, more truthfully, "he wasn't much of a man", unless and until, he realized his job was to make a clean tackle if he could.)
A real man would rather be ranked dead last in his neighborhood bowling league than to ask his buddy (who owns the bowling alley) to wax 'his' lane a special way for him, because bowling under a hundred, doing the best you can, is more of an accomplishment than breaking 150 if you're cheating.
Similarly, a real man is satisfied with his lot; if he's always going to be the worst bowler in his league, well, that's okay. He'll show up, drink beer, joke around about how his bowling sucks, and have fun. And sure, he'll practice, but if practicing all he can leaves him the worst bowler in the league, that's cool. Maybe he'll decide he's more interested in checkers than bowling... but if he enjoys bowling, he's not going to let himself stop enjoying it just because other people are better than him. Someone is always better than you, at everything... there's 6 billion people on this earth; you'd have to be better than six billion other folks to be the best, and let's face it, the odds are pretty small, no matter how good you are.
Men strive to better themselves, to strengthen themselves, to undertake challenges. One of the saddest things about the employment situation in the US is that so many people have to make so many job changes so frequently that they don't get that same kind of challenge, and that same sense of accomplishment... nor do they, nor the companies employing them, get the benefits of this continued striving. Modern management views workers as expendable resources, instead of looking for ways to harness this desire to strive for accomplishment.
I remember hearing a science fiction story of a man whose lover had been frozen twenty years earlier. He mourned that he couldn't compete with another man, who was like him, but twenty years younger. "Who could compete with himself, twenty years younger?" he asked, and the sad answer was "any man who'd continued to grow, instead of stagnating." And he, by watching over his lover's frozen body, realized he had stagnated... a man twenty years older might not be as strong, as fast, or as fit, but will strive to replace those with the wisdom, patience, and the greater experience that only age can bring.
While there are competitions where youth is an asset - athletic feats, certainly - the truest competition is living life, and making yourself, and the world around you, happier that you're there, and a man who doesn't keep growing in that respect needs to drink more deeply of the warrior spirit.
What about one of the big ones? What about how a real man deals with women (or other men, if he's gay)?
When I was growing up, I got the impression that a lot of guys felt that women had "the goods" and guys were supposed to acquire those goods... and that getting those goods was a goal where your success was measured in how often you did it, and the quality of the people you did it with.
I was surrounded by those ideas, but they never really sunk in, because it never really made sense to me. Sex isn't any kind of competition. Women aren't holding sex back out of reach out of some desire to exert control. (Or, if they are, screw that; Ms. Thumb and her four daughters don't play games like that, and that makes them better sex partners than a woman who does.) If they're not jumping into bed, it's because they're not sure they want to, yet. A real man beds a woman by making her think it'll make her happier to have sex than she'll be if she doesn't. And then, a real man makes damn sure that she *is* happier to have had sex with him than she'd be if she hadn't. A real man isn't proud that he can have sex with 'his' woman when he wants to; a real man is proud that she's got smile-lines etched in her face, and that he has a matching set on his own.
A real man recognizes that sex is powerful juju, and won't use it to cause harm. If cracking jokes about sex makes a person uncomfortable, he stops, because he knows how much sex means to him, and he wouldn't like it if someone was monkeying around with how he felt about sex. A real man doesn't whine if his nudie calendar makes a female co-worker uncomfortable; he can take a peek at naked women any time it's not bothering someone else. A real man doesn't complain if 'innocent compliments' and such are causing other people problems; he's here to make the world a better place, and sometimes that means minding one's manners.
And a real man realizes that his sex drive is a wonderful thing, a holy thing, which means that it positively must not be misused. If a woman isn't happy to be having sex, a real man would rather jerk off than go any further. A guy who thinks that it's okay to pressure a woman about sex might be too old physically to still get a boner in the middle of history class, but he hasn't gone past that point emotionally. A man knows that it's easy to get a bit stupid, to read a bit too much invitation into a woman's words and actions when aroused, and a man makes sure he's disciplined enough not to let a misread signal to cause him to do more than cause some mild embarrassment. Sure, he'll flub it once or twice... I reckon most men remember that time they grabbed for a tit when she wanted nothing more than a hug or some hand-holding, or whatever mistake they made. But a real man learns from those mistakes. He can be aggressive, making sure she knows he finds her attractive... but he also makes sure she knows, deep in her heart, that his desires are no reason for her to feel pressured.
There's more, of course... but that's all I can write at the moment.
It's kind of a shame there aren't more people speaking about manhood, because I think a lot of the people who think they know what being a man is all about are wrong.