What does it mean to be a man?

Part 2: What ideas of masculinity are out there?

A Key to Deciphering the Many Maps

The territory of masculinity is confusing and complicated. The journey to manhood is not easy to navigate.  And depending on whom you ask and where you look, you’ll see very different maps of this territory.

When you have many different maps of the same territory, the way to compare them and determine which to use for what purpose is to look at the key. Every good map has a key that tells you how it relates to the territory. Unfortunately, most maps of masculinity you’ll find don’t include a key.

This exploration will attempt to give you one.

This key to the question “what does it mean to be a man?” comes from our Exploration of the Meaning of Life: meaning comes from stories, stories come from values and generalizations, and generalizations come from facts.

Maps of Masculinity

The “most men are …” portion of an idea of masculinity is a generalization. Often, people will even leave off the “most” part and just say “men are…” For example, “men are competitive,” “men are goal-oriented,” “men always want sex,” etc.

Any time we’re faced with a generalization, it’s good to check the facts. What facts does the person making the generalization give (if any), are those facts true, and are there enough of them to justify making that generalization? It’s very common for people to make statements about all men (or all women) based only on their own experience of what men or women in their life have been like. While it can be interesting to hear people’s experiences of gender differences in their own life and culture, that’s not enough evidence to make a statement about all men or women everywhere.

What do you think would be enough evidence?

The next question to ask about a map of masculinity is “when and how is this map useful to me?” To answer this question, we need to look at

Masculine Values

The “if you’re a man, you should be…” portion of an idea of masculinity is a value. There are certain values and virtues that people often associate with men more than with women, such as courage, drive, sacrifice, or leadership.

Can you think of a reason why men should exhibit certain values more than women? Do you think there are certain values that are important to you because you’re a man? If there are some typically masculine values that aren’t important to you, or some typically feminine values (such as nurturance or beauty) that are more important to you, is that a problem?

If you come across an idea or image of masculinity, you can ask, “what value is this idea of masculinity promoting?” and “does that value accord with my values?

Stories about Masculinity

Stories about manhood have:

  1. Characters: the main character in stories about manhood and masculinity is generally . . . you guessed it . . . men!  Sometimes there are other characters too: people, forces, and institutions that affect men.
  2. A beginning: where masculinity comes from.
  3. A middle: what men are (generally) like now; what challenges and opportunities we face.
  4. An end: what the storyteller thinks men will or should be like in the future.
  5. A value: WHY the end the storyteller wants would be better than the middle (where  we are now).

Let’s test out our key.  Let’s look at a story about masculinity and see if we can spot these elements.

Continue reading Part 3: A Story about Masculinity

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