What is a real man?
I was born in the early 60’s and raised to respect women. The weaker sex? NO, not the weaker sex. Why do men hold a door for a woman? Why do men protect women? NOT because they are the weaker sex!
Real men protect women and children because they are revered, precious to us. We hold a door to show respect, not because they aren’t strong enough to open it themselves.
From the dawn of man, men have been the hunters and gatherers, while women ran the roost. Women were in charge of the most important aspects of life, the home, children, food, money, the essentials of life. Men were called upon to be strong, not just physically, but strength of character and will so they could face and overcome the dangers of the world. It was a symbiotic relationship where each role was equally important.
Have there been men throughout history who perverted and twisted these roles? OF COURSE! Have there been women who dominated and manipulated men? OF COURSE! Do we deny the basic truths of life because of the misguided people in our past?
Fast forward to the 60’s, 70’s, 80’s, the rise of “Feminism” was essential for our future. However, as so often happens passion rules reason and the pendulum swung too far. For me true feminism is choice, that women have the choice to be whatever they want to be, to pursue their dreams the same as men. I have worked with brilliant female executives and known truly amazing homemakers. I have the utmost respect for them all. What is wrong with either choice? We are doing a disservice to women decrying one role over another.
We often fall prey to the allure of what is most visible and discount the unseen as less valuable. Every spring, cog, and gear of a clock is essential for it to work. Remove one piece and it fails. Such is life. Every job and role in our society is equally important and this idea that people can only be fulfilled through highly visible achievement is a great lie! I grieve for all the wonderful women who have suffered feelings of inadequacy, because they were coerced into believing that their choice to be a mother and wife is somehow inadequate. I also grieve for all the women who were denied opportunities because someone thought a women could not or should not do “that”. Both of these are wrong.
You see REAL MEN do not do that. Real men are confident enough in themselves not to see others success as a threat. They do not feel the need to dominate or diminish others as a way of validating themselves. Real men find this self-esteem through accomplishment, through an understanding of what it really means to be a man. Men who face challenges and persevere no matter how difficult they are, and succeed, understand that self-esteem is not given to you by someone else. It is not derived from an award for participation, it comes from accountability, doing the right thing and seeing things through to the end.
There is a freedom, a peace of mind, that comes from looking back and knowing you are proud of what you accomplish, and equally as important how you accomplished it. The integrity of what we do defines us, not the task itself. It doesn’t matter if you are digging a ditch or building a rocket, doing your best is what matters.
Do men need validation? OF COURSE! Do men need role models and guidance to understand and embrace these concepts? OF COURSE! Do they need to be emasculated? NO!
As a young man I was lucky. I learned some of these concepts at a gut level before I fully understood them. I was picked on a lot while in school (bullied), so I understood what it meant to be an outcast. However, my father was a builder and from the age of 11 I worked on construction projects with a wide range of interesting characters. None of them gave me any special consideration because I was the bosses son. To the contrary they expected more from me. It was because of those years of hard work, and wanting to make my father proud, that I developed my self-esteem. By persevering and finishing every dirty and difficult job I was given, I EARNED the respect of these hard men. That was something no one could take away.
I’ll share a few short anecdotes that I feel illustrate how a real man should act, and how so many of the people surrounding the Harvey Weinstein’s of the world failed.
I was waiting tables at a restaurant one night and had a young couple sitting at one of my tables. As I turned the corner the man slapped the young girl in the face. I immediately changed course, walked over to them and told him to get out. I invited her to stay until her brother arrived and her boyfriend (who was waiting outside) left. Her brother told me this was not the first time. He made sure she got home safely. Should I have sat by and done nothing? Is that any different than a women being harassed in front of you?
A year or so later, I was managing the sister restaurant to that one, and an attractive woman was drinking at the bar. We closed at 3 am. As closing time neared this young lady had reached her limit. I asked her how she was getting home because she was not safe to drive. She told me she only lived a few doors down. I volunteered to walk her home. After escorting her inside her apartment she tried to pull me onto the bed. I did NOT take advantage of her, I went to get her a glass of water and by the time I got back she was out cold. I pulled off her shoes, put the covers over her and locked the door behind me. Think about the predators in the news and what they would have done to this poor woman.
A few years after that I was managing another restaurant and three young men were sitting at the bar. We had a 15 year old girl bussing tables. These guys in their early 20’s were hitting on her. The bartender told them her age and to leave her alone. Soon enough one of the guys grabbed her on the bottom. One of the waitresses brought the upset young girl over and they told me what happened. I promptly asked them to leave. Escorting them out of the door we exchanged some words and 2 of them jumped me. Fortunately for me a number of people inside saw what was happening and a crowd came out to help send them on their way. Real me have no tolerance for someone who hurts a child.
By emasculating men in our culture we deny the need for them to be protectors of the vulnerable and innocent. We have created the false notion that someone else will help them, or that it is not our responsibility. It is everyone’s responsibility to help those around us, whether in public, the workplace or the home.
Real Men do not harass women, prey on children, persecute people with disabilities, bully anyone, or practice racism. They stand up for what they believe in, they don’t embrace what they don’t believe in but they don’t harm others.
Real men don’t weigh the cost or the risk to defend someone, when right is on their side. If a powerful executive is sexually harassing another employee they stand up and say NO. It is only by ostracizing and taking away the power of the predators that we can protect those who need it.
I remember all too well in the 80’s how the “sensitive man” was being promoted. The idea that men needed to cry more, get in touch with their feelings. Men ARE sensitive. You see the challenge is that in order to be a protector you have to harden yourself at times. You have to put your emotions on hold so that you can use reason in the face of trials. In order for us to bring those emotions back men need to feel emotionally safe. It is vulnerability that scares men because of the expectation, the need, for us to be strong. When we are vulnerable, how can we protect others?
What many people don’t realize is that often the day to day struggle of providing for a family, the worries of what dangers lie in wait for our families and friends, requires real strength. Life is not a sitcom or TV drama where everything wraps up in an episode or two and goes back to normal. Men have a moral obligation to persevere in spite of the difficulties around them to work through the challenges we face in life. That requires strength of character, self-control and discipline. We need to learn that even when we fail, if we get up and try again we can overcome adversity.
We won’t learn that in safe spaces or games without winners or losers, we learn that through trials. We do our children a disservice if we don’t teach them how to thrive in the face of challenges. And we deny our nature trying to demasculinize men instead of teaching them what it means to be a Real Man.