Get All Worked Up about Real Men


Speaking from experience, I have to say that raising a son is different than raising a daughter. Before anybody gets into an uproar, notice I didn’t say, “harder” or “easier,” I said “different”, not the least of which is the different issues boys and girls face as they prepare to enter adulthood.

Joseph Campbell, Desmond Morris, and innumerable sociologists and psychologists have written millions of words concerning the fact that in virtually every human society, there’s a profound difference in the ways that boys become men, as opposed to the ways that girls become women.

In most cultures, typically, a girl crosses the threshold into womanhood once she begins to menstruate. This means she’s physically capable of doing things only a woman can do, namely bear children. However, from society’s perspective, this is a more or less passive event. It’s biological. It just happens when it’s time to happen, and the girl doesn’t have to actually do anything to cross that threshold into adulthood.

For a boy, however, it’s different. There’s no natural or biological event that “triggers” his passing into manhood. It’s therefore more difficult to define when a boy crosses that threshold into manhood, and as a result, most societies have created rites of passage” which clearly draw the line of that threshold. The bar mitzvah in Jewish culture is but one example. At the age of thirteen, (usually), Jewish boys are considered responsible for their actions, they commit to following the Torah, and they are considered men. (Yes, there’s an equivalent ceremony for Jewish girls, called the bat mitzvah, but its popularity is of a relatively recent vintage, barely one hundred years. The bar mitzvah traces at least to the Middle Ages, and some forms of the ceremony are even older. But I digress).

In other cultures, adolescent boys have become men by way of ritual circumcision, or by performing some manly” event for the first time such as participating in a hunt or some kind of raid on a neighboring tribe or, yes, even some sexual event.

While it’s now the twenty-first century, and we don’t have to go out and kill and skin a bison anymore, it can’t be denied that for the male gender, there’s still a social dividing line between adolescent boys and adult men and, just as importantly, between adult men who behave in certain ways and “real” men who behave in different, more socially acceptable ways.

Consider Rudyard Kipling’s famous poem, “If.”

“If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;

(And so on for twelve more stanzas, finishing with:)

If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!”

More or less sound advice, but the key word, in fact the very title of the poem speaks volumes. IF you do these things, you’re a man.

It’s even ingrained in the language. “Big boys don’t cry.” “This’ll make a man out of you.” “This’ll put hair on your chest.” The metaphors are clear. Son, you have to do this, you have to achieve something before you can be considered a man. Until then, you’re still just a child.

My point is that boys and men seem to be stuck. If you don’t adequately complete the rite of passage or cross the appropriate threshold, what happens then? Do you have to wait in some anteroom for the less-than-completely-masculine for another chance to take the test?

For that matter, what is the appropriate test for manhood these days? Bison are few and far between, and ritual circumcision has gone out of style. That hasn’t stopped social commentators from mouthing off about what’s appropriate behavior for “Real Men” and the apparently “less-real” variety.

Back in the 1980’s, Bruce Fierstein sold millions of copies of his book, Real Men Don’t Eat Quiche, for example. Susan Faludi’s more serious book Stiffed hypothesizes that the American man has been systematically emasculated by… get this … American society. Feminism has apparently chopped off our collective balls, fellas. We’re just not the macho guys we used to be.

Modern conservatives are great at delineating who are bona fide members of the Penis Club and who aren’t. For example, take the present occupant of the White House. Born in Connecticut, the spoiled scion of an east-coast old-money family, Ivy-Leaguer, draft dodger, substance abuser, multiple-business failure and all-around wastrel, George W. Bush successfully marketed himself as a go-get-’em type Texas good ol boy who uses a chainsaw to clear brush on his Crawford ranch, the sort of fellow “you could go have a beer with,” as if this was the perfect sort of qualification for President. At the same time, the Bush propaganda machine successfully marketed Al Gore and John Kerry as being wafflers, pseudo-intellectuals, serial exaggerators and even stiffs.”

It’s continuing with the present Presidential campaign. Republican Presidential hopeful Fred Thompson, for example, was a Senator for just one term. He sponsored no groundbreaking legislation, chaired no powerhouse committee, delivered no impassioned speech on the Senate floor. He’s most famous as an actor. Yet, he LOOKS like a Real Man. He’s tall. He’s got broad shoulders. He’s got a deep, booming voice. He’s got a hot trophy wife. Those seem to be, in the eyes of his supporters and the pundits, sufficient qualifications to pursue the nation’s highest political office.

Dennis Kucinich, on the other hand, also happens to have a hot babe-a-licious wife, but since he’s short and kinda mousy-looking, not to mention the fact he doesn’t look good on TV, well, he’s not a genuine Presidential candidate.

Ann Coulter even went so far as to call John Edwards a “faggot,” which is apparently the ultimate put-down when it comes to qualifications for the White House.

Getting away from the race for the White House, it appears that Real Men dig NASCAR, they hunt and fish and shoot guns, they shy away from operas and classical music, never keep lapdogs in their homes, don’t get into “feminine” professions such as secretarial work, nursing, or elementary school teaching, and never do anything even remotely effeminate in nature or, worse, suggesting homosexual urges.

That’s the big one. Reverend Ted Haggerd and Idaho Senator Larry Craig had their macho credentials taken away when they got busted engaging in homosexual-type activities. Never mind the fact that both men had kids, shot guns, and gay-bashed with the best of them. Once that single pink card came up, boom. Turn in your union badges, guys.

The only exception to this rule seems to be those photographs of Rudy Giuliani in drag that keep floating about. Nobody’s challenged his bona fides. Maybe it’s because he’s been married to three different women. I dunno. Frankly, I find the whole thing confusing.

That’s part of my problem. When I’m trying to figure out what to teach my son about being a man, the rules about “Real Man”-dom don’t make any logical sense. Real Men don’t dance ballet, but nobody can deny Mikhail Baryshnikov is in the Manly Man Hall of Fame. Real Men don’t cook, but Paul Prudhomme does all right for himself. Real Men don’t read or write poetry, but then there are William Shakespeare, Robert Frost, and the aforementioned Rudyard Kipling.

I’ve therefore taken it upon myself to set up my own test for what constitutes a “Real Man.” It’s not so much a rite of passage as it is a quiz.

And what are my credentials for setting up this test for Real Manhood? Easy. I have a penis.

Not enough?

Okay, I understand. Can’t be too careful these days. I’m qualified to determine who’s a Real Man and who isn’t because I’ve fathered children. I drink beer. I own two pistols, a shotgun and three rifles, and I can shoot them all. I can name the teams, the final score, and the MVP of every Super Bowl ever played. I’ve got an extensive collection of straight porn and I know the appropriate way to slip a dollar bill under a G-string during a table dance.

Now that that’s out of the way, here we go.

A Real Man eats quiche, steak, Caesar Salad or whatever the hell he wants to eat, and he drinks wine, beer, iced tea, or water if that’s what he wants to drink.

A Real Man can tie a necktie or an ascot or just wear a T-shirt if the mood strikes.

A Real Man says to his son, “If you want to quit the football team to dance ballet, it’s fine with me as long as you’re happy.”

A Real Man stands in the middle of the street and yells, “We’re here, we’re queer, get used to it!”

A Real Man cries when his wife is giving birth, or when his daughter’s getting married, or when his lover dies of AIDS, or at the horrors of war, or whenever he feels like it.

A Real Man says, “I love you,” when he means it.

A Real Man says, “I’m sorry,” when he means it.

A Real Man says, “I’m an alcoholic,” or “I’m depressed,” or “I’m addicted to gambling,” or “I have a problem, and I need help.”

A Real Man…

A Real Man…

A Real Man doesn’t give a flying fuck what other people say a Real Man should be.

J.T. Benjamin
December 2007

“All Worked Up” © 2007 J.T. Benjamin. All rights reserved.

Smutters Lounge Categories

Smutters Lounge Authors

Smutters Lounge Archives

Pin It on Pinterest