Am I a Man or What?
Daily we are bombarded by the media with images of what makes a “man.” Sometimes they are neutral characteristics, but often they are characteristics that could be divided into two categories—sinister and stupid. This is June and that means it’s the one month of the year when it’s okay to say nice things about men—especially fathers. But, predictably, many of those “nice things” are said with a sneer and implied qualifications. I could give many examples, but for now I’ll settle for one. My daily newspaper includes a monthly insert about health. It’s clearly aimed at women. Throughout the year one finds no articles about men’s health—except in June which is allegedly “men’s health month.” This month (June, 2014) the magazine includes an article that is titled on the cover (I’m paraphrasing it slightly) “Dumb mistakes men make about their health.” Inside the article is headlined “Male Fails.” Instead of offering positive and helpful guidance (although some of that is included if you look for it) the article mainly points up how men fail to take care of themselves physically. The tone is snide, sarcastic and puts down men. The message is “It’s men’s own fault that they die younger than women.” That may be true, but it’s also true that men get very little help from government health agencies and non-profit health organizations. Most messages about health are aimed at women.
Lately, based on the images of men in advertising (especially television commercials) and the media in general (including billboards, magazines and all public messages) I’ve begun to wonder if I’m really a man. Here’s why:
1. I don’t own “duck tape” (isn’t it really “duct tape?”) and don’t watch “Duck Dynasty.”
2. I don’t enjoy hunting or spectator sports and don’t own a gun.
3. I don’t burp, pick my nose or fart in public and don’t scratch myself below the waist in public.
4. I don’t drink beer.
5. I like to shop and buy all my own clothes.
6. I cry at (some) movies.
7. I share the house work with my wife (and she shares the yard work with me).
8. I don’t even understand the attraction of “professional wrestling” or boxing.
9. I like to decorate our home.
10. I don’t hang out at bars.
11. I pay attention to my health and go to the doctor at the drop of a hat.
12. I don’t smoke cigars or a pipe (although I have been known to occasionally in the past).
13. I read fiction.
14. I believe women are equal with men and would like to see a woman become president.
16. I’m scared to death of snakes.
17. I shower and shave every day.
18. I don’t tell dirty jokes or laugh at them.
19. I like pasta salads but don’t eat red meat.
20. I don’t know how to fix anything.
21. I like to talk—even about my feelings.
22. I’m a neat freak and a multi-tasker.
23. I’m not (I hope) ridiculous.
24. I push the toothpaste out from the bottom of the tube and never leave the cap off the tube.
25. I always put down the toilet seat.
On the other hand (puffing out my chest a little):
1. I work out three or four times every week by lifting weights and running.
2. I enjoy barbecuing meat (chicken and fish only).
3. I’m very linear in my thinking and goal-oriented in my living.
4. I’m better at giving advice than listening.
5. I have a pretty full moustache.
6. I like to watch documentaries about World War 2.
7. I don’t like most “Hallmark” movies.
8. I once owned a 1962 Corvette and ruined it by racing and driving too fast.
9. I dread weddings and “gender inclusive” wedding and baby showers.
10. I know how to boil water but not much else when it comes to cooking.
It seems to me the American mass media (especially advertising) specializes in gender stereotypes when it comes to men and loves to make men look ridiculous. It seems to me American culture values men mainly only if they are soldiers or contact sports athletes. It seems to me it’s okay (in American culture) to stereotype and ridicule men but no other real group of people. On the one hand, you’re only a man if you are adept at using duck tape (I still think it should be duct tape!) and love contact sports and beer, but on the other hand if you do those things you’re held up to ridicule.
I’m confident in my manhood, but I worry about boys and young men who are seeing and hearing mixed messages in culture and especially the media. They are told, on the one hand, to “man up.” But if they try to be a man, even a good one (which is hard to figure out what that is), they are told their manness is bad. “Why can’t men be more like women?” is the constant message. And those of us who do not fit the media’s stereotypes are ignored or belittled.