What does it mean to be a man?

Part 4: What kind of man do you want to be?

It’s useful to have a key to decipher all of the conflicting maps of masculinity you’ll come across, but ultimately the most important question is, how do you determine what kind of man you will be?

If, as we’ve seen, meaning comes from stories, then what manhood means to you will come from what stories you tell yourself about your identity as a man.

  1. How has your past been shaped by being identified as a man? Have you been treated in particular ways because people saw you as male? Were you given different toys to play with? Encouraged to engage in certain activities that your female peers weren’t? How has being male affected your relationships with other boys and men? Girls and women?
  2. Where are you now? How do your past and future meet in your current life? How do all of the factors above influence the way your life is right now, what you do in the course of a day, how you relate to people? Do you relate differently to people of different genders because you are a man? How is the way you dress, talk, and act related to being a man? How are all of these characteristics of your current life related to your hopes, fears, and intentions about the future, about who you want (or don’t want) to become?
  3. Where are you going? Who would you like to be in the future? What would you like to be doing? What do you want to look like, how do you want to act, talk, treat other people? How is this influenced by your past and present experiences of being a man? How is it shaped by positive models of masculinity you’ve seen?
  4. Why? What values are reflected in the man that you’d like to become? To clarify this, you can do the exercise in our exploration, “What do you Value and Why?” Is there something particularly masculine about these values, or could they be expressed equally by women and genderqueer people?

Your ethics and values are an excellent tool for determining what kind of man you want to be. The way you express yourself in the world should reflect what’s most important to you (your values) and how you think you should treat other people (your ethics).  If you’re being encouraged to adopt some particular form of masculinity, ask whether it accords with your values, and if not, whether it can be modified to do so.  And your ethics and values can be guidelines as you experiment with new ways of presenting and expressing yourself.

You can try on different personas, different masks, different stories, until you find what resonates with your inner being and what doesn’t. Discovering who you are is a process of experimentation that involves a lot of discovering who you’re not.

You can look around you and see whom you admire, in the past or present, public figures or close acquaintances, men or women, see if you can figure out what qualities you admire in them, and try to emulate those qualities. If possible, find an adult you admire to mentor you in becoming the kind of man you want to be.  (We also offer small-group mentoring over video-chat.  You can sign up here.)

Here are a few men talking about what they think masculinity should be. Which of these do you most resonate with? Are there any you don’t resonate with? Why?

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