Feeling “Manly,” and Other Lies

I just fixed a couple things around the house that needed fixin’. A few years ago, I (with the help of a good friend) re-did our kitchen. My in-laws got new cabinets for THEIR kitchen, and the ones they were replacing were in way better shape than the ones we had in ours, so we took their old cabinets and I designed a layout that worked with their gently used cabinets. Today, one of the cabinet doors had a screw that pulled out, stripping the hole… So I had to figure out how to fix it — Hopefully without re-drilling all the other holes for the cabinet doors (so the line would look right). I was given the advice of putting some toothpicks in the hole with a little wood glue (it worked perfectly, by the way). So yeah… I fixed that.

And since I was hanging out in the adhesives aisle, I figured I would get the stuff I needed  in order to fix a shoe whose sole had detached. A few months ago, I found a pair of really nice shoes at the thrift store. After wearing them one time, I realized the sole was detaching from the shoe. They were (are) literally my only nice-looking pair of shoes, so I wanted to fix them… But I didn’t want to spend $30 to fix a pair of shoes I bought for $7. I asked the advice of a friend who is a cobbler, and he gave me advice on the steps to re-attaching a sole to a shoe. So I fixed those too! There’s a little rush I get when I fix something that needs to be fixed. It feels good…

Two things: The first one is kind of an aside, but it’s something I was thinking about today. Here it is: In some ways, not having a lot of money is kind of cool. Yeah, I know it totally sucks in a lot of ways too… But if someone is swimming in money, they don’t get pushed into experiencing the fun of learning how to fix a pair of dress shoes they bought at Goodwill. If a wealthy person’s $200 Johnston & Murphy dress shoes start to fall apart, they just bring them in to Goodwill and buy a new pair. But fixing those shoes felt GOOD. And I learned something new… Which is pretty cool. Also, if someone has money to spare, they might just hire someone else to build them a new kitchen… But then they’d miss out on the fun of inviting a friend over and listening to David Bowie’s collected works, drinking a bunch whisky in the middle of the day, and using dangerous power tools — All at the same time.

Screen Shot 2018-11-28 at 1.48.29 AM

It is not at all surprising that “Tim The Tool Man Taylor” turned into a Trump supporter. Though, I guess dropping the “Man Taylor” is easier when signing autographs…

Now I know EXACTLY how our toilet works. You know how? Because I have had to fix if many different times… Partly because we don’t have extra money to call a plumber. I have completely taken apart our dishwasher, fixed it, and put it back together again. I did the same thing with our washing machine. I watched YouTube videos until I knew what I was doing. Repairmen and electricians are expensive. And NOW, there are a bunch of things I know how to do that I didn’t used to know how to do. And that feels pretty good, you know?

Which leads me to the second (and more important) thing I wanted to write about: Knowing how to do things feels good for EVERYONE… Not just men. After I fixed the cabinet and cobbled my own shoe, I sent a text to my wife that said something about me being a stud. And I was ready to post something on social media about feeling the most “manly” when I have fixed something around the house. And it reminded me of this:

But the feeling I was feeling wasn’t “manliness.” It was just a sense of accomplishment. It was the good feeling a person gets when he OR SHE sets out to do something, and then gets that thing done. How the hell have we created such a skewed and uneven understanding of masculinity that we have labeled something as simple as being self-sufficient and capable as traditionally MALE qualities? It probably has something to do with centuries and centuries of MEN being the ones who wrote the rules and the dictionaries.

Seriously though, some time look up the word “Manly” on thesaurus.com and see a list of some of the synonyms: Courageous, Bold, Heroic, Noble, Self-Reliant, Virile, Brave, Confident, Fearless, Powerful, Lion-Hearted, Resolute, Stately, Strong — Just to name a few…. There are many more. These traits are not examples “male” qualities… These are examples of traits found in quality human beings. These are VIRTUES. Want to see the ENTIRE LIST of synonyms for the word “Womanly”? Here it is: Female, Girlish, Ladylike, Maidenly, Matronly, Motherly, Womanish. THAT’S. IT. Our very language reinforces the patriarchy with every definition.

Ask a kid to define “Manly.” Then ask that same kid to define “Womanly.” Listen to their answers. Just imagine how these messages are internalizing themselves in our young women… This messed up idea that when a woman acts courageously, she is acting MANLY?!? Seriously, consider how utterly harmful this is… Not to mention how harmful it is to our young men when they accept these definitions as Truth. Imagine the harm that is caused when men believe that showing their emotions is somehow “feminine,” and being feminine is weak. You don’t have to imagine it… We see it with each new mass shooter… every one of them male. We see it with suicidal soldiers who think that they can “man up” their way out of depression and PTSD. It’s everywhere.

There are a lot of ways that men and women are different. But Bravery and Boldness… Strength and Self-reliance… Confidence and Courageousness… These are not the differences between men and women — These are the differences between broken people and human beings at their best. 

And here’s the truth: Conservative men aren’t really upset at the idea of people trying to “redefine masculinity.” They’re upset that the changing of the traditional definition of “manliness” will result in the loss of their male privilege. They act like they just “don’t like change,” but really they’re pissed of at the idea of changing the rules to where most of the best human qualities and characteristics aren’t exclusively used to describe THEIR GROUP anymore…

But I, for one, am done equating a sense of accomplishment with feeling “manly.” And I’m sorry for how often I’ve done this in the past. I am still learning. And that is a GOOD thing. I still have so many warped ideas about masculinity and what it means to be fully human. I think about this often as I muddle my way through trying to be a good father and parent to two daughters and a son… Trying to help them become better versions of themselves. But one thing I am sure of: I will not pass along to my son the lie that becoming a “real man” has anything to do with mastering traditional “manly” skills. Being a “real man” today is more about unlearning the toxic masculinity that created and sustains a society which teaches our kids that being a virtuous human being is somehow “manly.” Real men are confident enough in their humanity and self-worth to stand WITH women and help them tear down the patriarchy.


Thanks again for reading. If you have kids in your life, talk to them about this stuff. Teach them to challenge stereotypes and traditional gender roles. Catch yourself when calling things “girly” or equating manliness with virtue. Or saying things like “man up” or “get some balls.” And speak up to challenge the people in your lives when you hear them pass along these harmful tropes. Last thing — If you’d like to support this blog, you can BECOME A PATRON, or you can LEAVE A TIP on Paypal. You can also help me tear it down on Facebook and on Twitter. Love y’all…

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2 Responses to Feeling “Manly,” and Other Lies

  1. marymtf says:

    My father was a handyman. A lovely, loving man, gentle and sweet. But he was a man. No one else in our family is handy.
    It’s nice of you to be inclusive, but instead of that stupid film, if you’d given as your example a real person, like your wife, or female friends who are capable I’d have been more impressed. Or perhaps you could have given a real example of women being inclusive of men. Good luck with that. They’re too busy empowering girls.
    I have sons and grandsons. I have granddaughters too. I have noticed differences in the sexes. It’s not a bad thing. It’s Mother Nature. Both sexes have something worthwhile to offer that are complementary.
    I like to be inclusive of both sides. There’s absolutely no reason to empower one side at the expense of the other and if you look closely that’s exactly what’s happening now.

  2. Pingback: The Not-So-Subtle Sexism of Team Sports Names | The Boeskool

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