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Okay, so I was one of those boys growing up who was repeatedly reminded that I was not "a real boy" and as I got older "not a real man." And it is that insult that I think we have an acknowledgment that gender is more than genitalia. The people who hurl that invective would never admit that, but I don't see how it is not true.

In my insecure days, I tried to do things that proved I was in fact a real man. I am gonna catch flak for this, but I quickly proved to myself that not only having male genitalia but -- ahem -- rather well endowed male genitalia was not, in itself, enough to prove to the "real men" of the world that I was one of them. There was just something about me that said I wasn't a real man.

So, what I want is a discussion on this point. Is a "real man" a gender? Is its antithesis, which is equally a male archtype, a sissy, a gender as well? Also are there other male genders? Or have I read too much into this?

So, let's discuss this in the comments. Give me your thoughts on males and gender.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Both my male and female role models--in the (14+ / 0-)

    family--were at once rugged and genteel. My great grandmother hunted rabbits with a .22 rifle but also could make a hell of meal and played the piano nicely. More than nicely, in fact. My grandfather had been everything from a farmer to a steel worker to a computer systems analyst. His wife worked in business, as did his sons. My mother became an RN in her early 30's, and later went back to school.

    Rugged country living was part of this as well as social and political liberalism (though my mother--far from "conservative" is, like me, somewhat observant of genteel customs. If I fail to open a door for her, she just waits there until I do!).

    I'm gay. No one in my family ever had a problem with it. I never questioned my personhood, even when I was bullied in school.

    I am a man. A gay man. I am, however, more interested in my personhood than my gender. I can camp it up with the best of them, telling witty stories with a cigarette in one hand and a Martini in the other, dressed to the nines. I can also put on shitkicker boots and a flannel shirt and go out and split wood, repair a boat, and shovel out the outhouse at our family's summer home, where I spend a lot of time doing "butch" (Manly?) things.

    My family showed me that persons of all genders can do delicate things, like play a musical instrument nicely, and do rugged things, like chopping wood or hunting rabbits, or shoveling shit.

    Gender roles really escape me for the most part, because I have seen persons of all genders do essentially the same things. It's an artificial, societal construct, and it needs to go away.


    by commonmass on Mon Jun 09, 2014 at 11:46:49 AM PDT

  •  "Gender roles" are flexible, where as actual (4+ / 0-)

    gender is not.  The concept of a "real man" is a societal ideal which has changed over time, and will probably continue to do so.

    "Because I am a river to my people."

    by lordcopper on Mon Jun 09, 2014 at 12:06:50 PM PDT

  •  that manhood has to be proven is almost universal (7+ / 0-)

    Girls become women simply by growing older and becoming physically capable of being mothers, and any associated ritual only marks what has already occurred.  But boys become men by doing something - be it killing a lion or reading from the Torah.  Biological maleness is necessary but not sufficient for manhood.

    It seems to me that while a man can do many things with what makes him a man, what's constant is the tools themselves: physical strength, discipline and drive, and mastery of his surroundings and the people in them.  This would seem to be why, although most societies clearly prize the sober, hard-working, and selfless husband, father, and citizen over all other men, they still often respect negative but vigorously masculine archetypes like the "jock" or the "thug" much more than the "nerd" or the "wimp".

    I think there's an idea that what lives in a man's heart is meaningless if he cannot or will not act on it, and even if a man wants to be the goodiest of goody two-shoes, he must first become powerful.  Do not deny boys and men their power - or the animal joy that it brings them - just teach them to affirm it through protection and service.

    There's also an "only Nixon could go to China" element at work: only men whose ability and willingness to dominate through violence cannot be doubted can get any respect when they speak of equality, peace, and so on, otherwise they're dismissed as just covering their own asses.  Same with questions of material support.  You only deserve it if you don't really need it; otherwise you should focus on getting stronger and gratefully accept what better men may or may not choose to give you.

    I think there's a widespread attitude - at least among the manosphere - that men (unlike women as childbearers) are seen as having no inherent value as people, and instead that their worth is measured by their achievements, which are subsequently demonstrated by their "trophies".  Boys should be encouraged and equipped for competition and heroism, not taught to be passive, self-abnegating, and penitent for the "original sin" of having the potential for aggressive and dominant manhood within them.

    Domestic politics is the continuation of civil war by other means.

    by Visceral on Mon Jun 09, 2014 at 12:27:00 PM PDT

    •  Thank you for this comment. During the (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Visceral, ImagineOhio

      conversations surrounding #yesallwomen, I attempted to make this very argument (rather inartfully), in order to begin a conversation about societal expectations of men (and boys), and how we go about changing them.  Despite the obvious truth, it was roundly rejected.

      "Because I am a river to my people."

      by lordcopper on Mon Jun 09, 2014 at 12:39:59 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  because women want to talk about women (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        ChuckChuckerson, ImagineOhio

        That's really what it boils down to.  Women want to have a conversation about themselves, and men coming in and saying "Well, what about us?" is unwelcome in itself.  "What about you?!  The whole point is to make it not about you!"

        I could argue that the feminist narrative is actually pretty restrictive; it takes full-spectrum male dominance - versus full-spectrum wealth dominance, which is disproportionately male - for granted so there's really no room for boys and men as anything other than patriarchal oppressors or as allies of feminism.  When men do creep into view, the idea of "testosterone poisoning" - that men are victims of masculinity and patriarchy and boys who want to grow up to be powerful and heroic men have only internalized their own slavery - guides the discussion.

        Likewise a conversation about what makes men and then what makes those men good or bad is a conversation that men are going to need to have with each other. Women really aren't going to have anything to contribute that isn't ultimately about women rather than about men; it's not ignorant or malicious, it's simply where their experiences and interests lie.

        Domestic politics is the continuation of civil war by other means.

        by Visceral on Mon Jun 09, 2014 at 01:06:19 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  I would disagree that women don't have, and (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          have not had, a voice in defining manhood.  Mothers, wives, sisters, grandmothers, aunts and girlfriends all have a voice in the concept of masculinity.  And as I've stated in previous comments, women (at least a large subset of women) have shown a preference for what some consider  the worst elements of manhood.  We have had the "Feminist Revolution", which has resulted in unprecedented freedom and opportunity for women.  The problem is that we've never had a national conversation of "what men should be".  Men are still raised in the same old culture.  Maybe that conversation can begin.

          "Because I am a river to my people."

          by lordcopper on Mon Jun 09, 2014 at 01:42:29 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  good men vs. bad men vs. what makes them both men (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            lordcopper, ChuckChuckerson

            My only other idea is that we're all dealing with the fact that there are two closely connected but ultimately distinct issues here.  First, there's the question of "What makes a man?"  Second, there's the question of "What makes that man a good or bad person?"

            I think that men start by first trying to define masculinity in and of itself - in a vacuum so to speak - while women leap ahead and try to and even insist upon defining masculinity in terms of its actions (especially its actions relative to women) and end up unable to describe the tool itself, only what it does.  On one side of this disconnect you have wannabe men reading the list of ingredients and stockpiling them for their own sakes and turning into gym rats, PUA creeps, and bling collectors who don't understand what's missing and why the world isn't throwing itself at them.  On the other side, you have women talking about some dark matter entity that has no substance other than its positive or negative effects and when someone labors to make for them the connection between cause and effect, women attack the cause if they don't like the effect, even if the cause is necessary for effects they do like.  

            I would argue that what makes a man in and of himself is exactly what we all think: power - the ability and willingness to assert himself physically, psychologically, etc.  What makes a man good or bad is things like honor, manners, compassion, solidarity that determine what ends he will direct his faculties toward.

            Domestic politics is the continuation of civil war by other means.

            by Visceral on Mon Jun 09, 2014 at 02:28:06 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  Men are only men if they're powerful? (3+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              Silencio, ImagineOhio, BMScott
              •  you need to be able to act on what's in your heart (0+ / 0-)

                You can think and feel and talk all you want but without the ability to act on it, something is missing and men and women both will judge you harshly for your lack of follow-through or commitment or whatever.

                Domestic politics is the continuation of civil war by other means.

                by Visceral on Mon Jun 09, 2014 at 02:34:16 PM PDT

                [ Parent ]

                •  Sure (2+ / 0-)
                  Recommended by:
                  Silencio, BMScott

                  But what's the connection to being a man, and what's the alternative for people who fail to do those things, if they're not men?

                  •  the problem is that there is no alternative (0+ / 0-)

                    You'd have to change the definition of 'man' to cover people who reject or otherwise fall short of that standard.

                    Domestic politics is the continuation of civil war by other means.

                    by Visceral on Mon Jun 09, 2014 at 02:46:38 PM PDT

                    [ Parent ]

                    •  Why? (1+ / 0-)
                      Recommended by:

                      Why not consider working toward the abolition of the binary "man"/"woman" way of categorizing people?  There's no necessity to gender.

                      •  they have many reasons (0+ / 0-)

                        The most significant is the belief in a greater or lesser degree of biological determinism that argues that people's identities are not for them to shape at will.  "Just because you say you are - or are not - doesn't make it so."

                        Second comes a "stolen valor" sort of argument where redefining masculinity - implicitly through "liberal" social engineering - to include a wide variety of things and people that are not conventionally masculine diminishes the significance of masculinity as a mark of identity and achievement.

                        Third is the claim of liberal nihilism.  Allegedly we take the whole "we're all the same on the inside" literally and are determined to abolish anything that implies that people have real differences.

                        Domestic politics is the continuation of civil war by other means.

                        by Visceral on Mon Jun 09, 2014 at 03:10:22 PM PDT

                        [ Parent ]

                    •  Yes (0+ / 0-)

                      Isn't that the point?  If you can't distinguish between one group of people you call "men" and another group of people you don't call men based on those criteria, it's not a set of criteria that answer the question "who is a man?"

                      You can say "All adults are at least 18 years of age, everyone else is a kid."  That, very effectively, answers the question of who is an adult.  Everyone you can think of is either an adult or a kid.  It works.  It answers the question.  

                      These kinds of distinctions about "who is a real man" tend to generate criteria that fail to answer the question.  You can't separate people into real men and not(real men).  You also are left with a group of not(real men) who are also not(real women) and you can no longer assert that adults are men or women.

                      You either adapt the criteria or abolish the categorization  It becomes harder and harder to hold to those ideas.

                      •  you illustrate the confusion they hope to fix (0+ / 0-)

                        The social conservatives are operating on the assumption that all these people who don't fit neatly into the "masculine men and feminine women" double binary are the product of a deliberate and implicitly successful effort to "adapt the criteria or abolish the categorization" as you put it.

                        That the old labels don't work very well anymore is not disputed on the right either, but their answer is that we need to go back: promote traditional masculinity and femininity and make it clear to boys and girls and men and women alike that this is how they ought to act not only to fulfill society's expectations but also to be true to themselves.

                        The twist is that ranking men is seen as distinct from separating men from not-men, in the sense that a private fresh out of boot camp and a sergeant-major whose chest is covered with medals are both soldiers, but one is clearly superior to the other.  While both grant to each other a certain level of respect, especially compared to what they believe is due to non-soldiers, the superior is seen as entitled to obedience and greater honor.

                        Domestic politics is the continuation of civil war by other means.

                        by Visceral on Mon Jun 09, 2014 at 03:35:08 PM PDT

                        [ Parent ]

                •  Visceral (2+ / 0-)
                  Recommended by:
                  AJayne, BMScott

                  I think you're making serious overgeneralizations about "feminists."  Feminism is a very, very diverse category.  And I know with certainty that some would not recognize themselves or their beliefs in what you've said above.

            •  Well it's obvious the word "man" is not simply (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:

              a noun (an adult male), but rather a value statement.  That alone will make it difficult to arrive at a consensus.  You've obviously given this some thought.  Maybe you should diary it and try to have that conversation here.  It would certainly be interesting discussion.

              "Because I am a river to my people."

              by lordcopper on Mon Jun 09, 2014 at 03:10:47 PM PDT

              [ Parent ]

        •  #YesAll Women was about women (7+ / 0-)

          It was by and for women, and not a discussion about men. It's as if the hash tag was #YesAllHockey and you started talking about baseball.
          Women don't exist as just an adjunct to men. The hash tag was so women could voice their feelings, not so anyone could judge them or tell them not to feel that way.
          Don't read anymore into it than that. It wasn't a threat. If you can't relate to the hash tag, just move on.
          If you could read the comments unjudgmentally, you might learn something. For example, imagine what would be on #YesAllTallPeople. Perhaps comments about how they are tired of hearing "How's the weather up there." Maybe you'd think of a tall friend and how often you've said that to him or her, and then think, "well, I won't say that anymore!"
          Simple as that.

          This comment is a natural product. The slight variations in spelling and grammar enhance its individual character and beauty and in no way are to be considered flaws or defects.

          by blue muon on Mon Jun 09, 2014 at 01:58:32 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  Good advice (3+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            Silencio, blue muon, BMScott

            I learn a lot by reading posts from different perspectives. But when the pie fights start, the teaching/learning gets lost.  If I don't agree with the diarists POV, I'll read the comments until an ego war gets going, and move on.  It's not my job to police the 'net in case someone is WRONG!  

            "The light which puts out our sight is darkness to us." Thoreau

            by NancyWH on Mon Jun 09, 2014 at 02:08:11 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

        •  Here, and above, I think you get some things wrong (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          blue muon, BMScott
    •  These men who are seen as having (5+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      blue muon, Silencio, NancyWH, martydd, BMScott

      no inherent value still manage to make a higher salary than the woman in the next cubicle somehow though...just for showing up.

      I wonder if you realize that your comment suggests that a woman's inherent value comes from having a uterus.

      I think there's a widespread attitude - at least among the manosphere - that men (unlike women as childbearers) are seen as having no inherent value as people...
      Gee, thanks, but no thanks.
    •  Rituals to contain masculinity? (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      blue muon, Wee Mama

      I've often wondered whether the many different types of manhood rituals are different societies' attempts at channeling or controlling the potential negative repercussions of masculine traits. Strength and violence, when directed at large animals that serve as food, is a positive, but when trying to maintain a tribe or a community, can be destructive.

      Cruelty might be very human, and it might be very cultural, but it's not acceptable.- Jodie Foster

      by CPT Doom on Mon Jun 09, 2014 at 02:11:49 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  wouldn't surprise me at all (0+ / 0-)

        Discipline - both to do and to not do - is one of the central themes of the "masculine mystique" or whatever you want to call it.  Men are expected to be able to summon and direct their strength and aggression at will.

        Domestic politics is the continuation of civil war by other means.

        by Visceral on Mon Jun 09, 2014 at 02:43:55 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  I love love love the southwest Indian rite of (0+ / 0-)

        passage where a young man was given a bag of special corn seeds and sent off to spend the growing season planting, tending and harvesting them. In the fall all the young men came back from their fields to share their seeds with the tribe.

        The main fields were interplanted with all the special strains - voila! Hybrid corn! And a tribe where the young men had several months of peace and quiet to think, and knew they were helping to feed the whole tribe.

        Is it true? Is it kind? Is it necessary? . . . and respect the dignity of every human being.

        by Wee Mama on Mon Jun 09, 2014 at 05:53:54 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

    •  The first statement is not entirely correct: (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      there are and have been cultures in which girls must successfully complete some kind of ordeal in order to be recognized as women.  Such rites of passage are more common for men, but they do exist for women as well.

  •  A very wrong (but funny) response to your... (7+ / 0-)

    question from one Sam Malone:

    Sam: I mean, a real guy doesn't have to jump on sharks and dodge poison darts just to prove he's a guy.
    Diane: I'm astonished.
    Sam: A real guy just has to score heavy with the babes. That's all.

    I'm a better cook than my wife. She has a much better sense of direction.

    What's a "real man"? Someone who is standup, loyal, honest, and a person of character.

    What's a "real woman?" See above definition of "real man," in the above paragraph.

    Whether you prefer wrestling grizzly bears or knitting is irrelevant.

    How about I believe in the unlucky ones?

    by BenderRodriguez on Mon Jun 09, 2014 at 12:46:35 PM PDT

  •  I think (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    elmo, RfrancisR, Silencio, BMScott

    The concept of a "real man" is not itself a gender, but something male-identified people use to police the gender identities of others.  

    It tends to be exactly as flexible as necessary to draw boundaries.

  •  I don't know how to translate this perspective (5+ / 0-)

    into contemporary language, but in my family growing up it was simple: if you're born male you're a boy or a man; if you're born female you're a girl or a woman. My parents recognized certain conventional expectations of boys and girls but that's all they were - conventions. Following the conventions didn't make you a man or woman and breaking the conventions didn't stop you from being a man or a woman. I think this kind of biological essentialism (to give it a name) was behind why my brother could be an artist and I could be a scientist with no sense of conflict or confusion until we had to deal with the outside world.

    That approach has obvious shortcomings for trans folks, but it is somewhat freeing otherwise.

    Is it true? Is it kind? Is it necessary? . . . and respect the dignity of every human being.

    by Wee Mama on Mon Jun 09, 2014 at 01:16:18 PM PDT

    •  Yeah (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      blue muon, Wee Mama

      I mean, if I understand, they were saying, "When you were born, you seemed male to us.  To be a man, all you have to do is wait, and you will become one.  Unless you don't want to be a man, nothing will stop you from becoming one."

      It's an assumption they might have made for you, that you would grow up and want to remain your assigned sex and perform your assigned gender.  But parents do make tons of assumptions about their kids.  You kind of have to.  But if nothing else, it wasn't going to be something they felt empowered to take away from you, at least if you didn't want to give it.

      [male pronouns above since that's the topic here]

      •  In Jared Diamond's "The Third Chimpanzee" (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Mikey, Wee Mama

        he speculates that the size of the human penis, which is far larger than necessary for its function (compared with that of a gorilla), evolved as a way of proving individual masculinity to other males of the species, the same way gorillas evolved the silver back.
        Female humans don't really care all that much about its size or appearance. If it really were a factor in attracting women, mens fashions would be a lot more revealing. Racing stripes, anybody?

        This comment is a natural product. The slight variations in spelling and grammar enhance its individual character and beauty and in no way are to be considered flaws or defects.

        by blue muon on Mon Jun 09, 2014 at 02:13:06 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  Not a serious gender (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    RfrancisR, blue muon

    In my experience, the expression “real man” is strictly for laughs.  In kidding someone about not being a real man, there are several general principles, a few of which are as follows:

    1. Real men don’t spend a lot of time looking into mirrors.

    2. Real men don’t wait in long lines.

    3. Real men cannot pronounce French words correctly.

    4. Real men don’t watch foreign films (except for chopsocky and spaghetti westerns).

    5. Real men don’t talk about their feelings.

    When people want to call someone’s masculinity into question in a serious way, there are plenty of slurs available besides denying that a person is a real man. The humorous connotations of that expression would undermine the intended insult, if that is what it was.

  •  I guess I never understood the importance (8+ / 0-)

    of being a "real" anything.

    I've been told most of my life that I'm not a "real" women because I don't have children.  Do men hear the same thing?   What is it that supposedly makes a man "real?"

    I guess it's not important to me if someone else defines me as "real" or not.  I live with my own experiences and my own expectations.

    I would hope that men can do the same.

    My dogs think I'm smart and pretty.

    by martydd on Mon Jun 09, 2014 at 01:51:16 PM PDT

    •  It's "no true Scotsman" (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Silencio, NancyWH, blue muon, AJayne

      Once a group determines that being a man means something, or being a woman means something, or being white means something, or whatever else, it's instantly going to crash into people who don't fit that meaning.  

      You can either change your interpretation, or you can exclude the nonconforming person by saying they're not a "real"___.

      Per wiki:

      Imagine Hamish McDonald, a Scotsman, sitting down with his Glasgow Morning Herald and seeing an article about how the "Brighton [(England)] Sex Maniac Strikes Again". Hamish is shocked and declares that "No Scotsman would do such a thing". The next day he sits down to read his Glasgow Morning Herald again; and, this time, finds an article about an Aberdeen [(Scotland)] man whose brutal actions make the Brighton sex maniac seem almost gentlemanly. This fact shows that Hamish was wrong in his opinion but is he going to admit this? Not likely. This time he says, "No true Scotsman would do such a thing".[
      Really, it's just a form of cognitive dissonance, but one that helps you police whatever category you've taken up.
  •  If you've never seen the classic (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Silencio, blue muon

    movie, "The Big Country,"  I highly recommend it. It explores the very question you pose in this diary.

    Charlton Heston plays the archetypal western "manly" man. He's pitted against the character played by Gregory Peck, a thoughtful, well educated and well traveled Easterner.

    The story turns out in a way you might not expect for a movie made in 1958.

  •  Growing up (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    AJayne, Wee Mama

    I was lucky enough to have gotten a good deal of my masculinity from my mother, and my femininity from my father. At 6'1" 150 lbs, my mother could put most guys away.  My father was the strongest gut around, but he made great breakfasts, and often did the family wash.

  •  Common topic in our home (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    My husband and I discuss these ideas fairly regularly.  To me the very concepts of a "real man" or "real woman" can be absolutely stifling if taken too seriously.  We're both big fans of living in the grey area because we believe there are many of us who don't (and don't want to) have limitations placed on us based simply on our plumbing.  Conformity is overrated.

    Of course being part of the LGBT community has been instrumental in learning to seriously examine societal gender expectations and demands in this regard & feeling more free to reject them.

    Just to clarify, I'm a woman, married to a man, and we both consider ourselves as part of the LGBT community.

    This is a very interesting topic to me as I don't really hear too many men addressing it.  Pardon my in in-eloquence here but it always seemed to me that since the women's liberation movement in the 70's this has been an issue that really needed more attention.  After all, it's not like the movement didn't also profoundly impact men (at least in the U.S..)  

    Thanks for posting this.  

    •  Something I just learned (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Wary Idealist

      In the '70s, there was a nascent men's movement, modeled on the feminist movement.  That movement addressed this very question, and accepted the (feminist) idea that misogyny affected and hurt men, as well as women.  The concern of that movement was not to discover some authentic "manhood" but, rather, to shine light on and ultimately reject the gendered expectations that constrained and hurt men (e.g., always-be-getting-laid, be a breadwinner, don't cry, judge your worth on economic and romantic success, and so on).

      Our society needs (a) more old-timey feminism and (b) a resurgence of that sort of "men's movement."

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