Recently I offended a lady and she said to me, “You know wearing trousers is not sufficient for being a man.” And of that, I thought, well of course! For instance, women wear trousers; I don’t think of them as men, do I? But then she wasn’t just offering a piece of common information but rather implying that I was not a man.
Now I don’t think my actions had disqualified me from being a man so I didn’t take it to heart. But her insinuation brought up a subject with which I have labored for the greater part of my life, manhood! Am I a man? Who is a man? In short, what is manhood and do I have it? Not that manhood, that one I have but is it sufficient for me to be a man?
As most men in my context, I grew up with the stereotypes of manhood. Like masculinity, invulnerability, aggressiveness and worst of all, metro-sexual men are gay! Gay as in lesser men. And I am not saying that these qualities are bad in themselves but that I don’t think they should define manhood.
Before I define manhood, I’d like to explore the contexts in which it has been defined. First, manhood is socially defined. A given society with its challenges and opportunities comes to define roles of the genders and so the definition of manhood, the qualities, strengths, and weaknesses if any. This means that at least socially, manhood is fluid and not universal. In a hunter-gatherer society, for example, a man is strong and brings home the bacon. But in a modern society, the man may not need to be all that strong physically but rather smart and resourceful because he still needs to bring home the bacon.
Manhood is historically defined. No matter how far we’ve come, chivalry is still a huge turn-on for women. No matter how strong a woman is (and sometimes even stronger than the man), the man still opens the door for her, pulls up her chair at the dinner table, offers his coat when it is cold, brings home the bacon… even though she has a job! It is something we learned from our parents and our parents from their parents and their parents from our great grandparents.
Manhood is biologically defined. Some things we can’t deny, like the hair on my chin chin, small boobs, and extra appendages all because of a little hormone called mullerian inhibiting substance and an excess amount of testosterone. It is something we ought to not forget in our debates on equality of the sexes because we are not equal; at least biologically we are not! We are endowed with certain advantages like greater muscle mass and saved from the burden-blessing of childbearing and as a trade-off, we don’t have boobs. It is these biological differences that form the basis for employers giving 60 days’ maternity leave and only 7 days’ paternity leave, that ladies’ bathrooms are separate from gents’, that women do less strenuous work than men. Though we have to be careful in the application of these differences because biological differences are often on a continuum.
I actually won’t define manhood in this post because I think that that needs more research, extrospection, and introspection on every man’s part. After all, it is not universal.