Thursday, July 5, 2012

Be a man!

When teaching Macbeth to my high school seniors, one of the motifs that I point out in the play is that there are several characters commenting on what it means to "be a man".  The title character himself states: "I dare do all that may become a man.  Who dares do more is none!" only to have his wife dismiss that notion, saying that he was only a man when he was willing to kill the king in order to get ahead in life.  She sways him over to her definition of what constitutes masculinity:  ruthlessness and ambitiousness.

Recently, I had somebody tell me that he hoped that I didn't raise my son to be a "pussy" like me.  He said it because I had deleted him from my friends list on Facebook.  Why did I delete him?  Because he couldn't have a debate without engaging in personal attacks, and sometimes he engaged in personal attacks even when there wasn't a debate.  After being asked several times by various people why I'd keep such a person on my friends list, I finally realized that yeah, maybe there wasn't any point in having a person on my list whose sole purpose in life seemed to be to try and humiliate me.  Anyway, the line insulting my masculinity came in a private message after I dropped him from my list.

I'm not too worried about it, as I'm pretty comfortable in my masculinity, but it got me to thinking about what "being a man" means in today's world.  I finally was prompted to write about it after witnessing the behavior of a little boy, just a few months older than my son, at the playground today.  I'm hoping that kid was just having an off-day, but he was blocking my son's way and pushing him.  (I'm not saying that my son has never pushed before, but he stops as soon as I tell him not to.)  Even more disturbing, he stood in the way of a little girl and used his whole body to pin her to the wall of the play structure.  I think if I ever saw Logan do that, I'd lock him away in a dungeon somewhere.  (To the boy's mom's credit, she did take him home because he kept misbehaving.)

Now, I don't think that anybody would defend that kid's behavior and/or say that there's something inherently masculine about it, but I couldn't help but compare it to the way my son behaves.  Generally speaking, he's a sweet little guy.  When my friend was over just this evening, he asked my friend for a hug and told him that he loved him when he left.  At the playground, he often finds himself playing with little girls (they're usually a few years older than him).  Also, when I explained to him why the little boy was being taken home by his mom (Logan seemed really concerned that the kid was crying) Logan reached over and gave me a hug.

Maybe I don't have my head screwed on right, but those qualities aren't what I think of when I think of typical "male" qualities.  Don't get me wrong though; I'm not worried about it.  Even if I was, he shows plenty of stereotypical maleness:  he's a little daredevil, he falls down and picks himself right back up while saying "I okay!", his knees are rarely without scabs, he rocks out to heavy metal music, and he likes to have growling contests with me.

Some time ago, I was reading some blog comments, and the discussion was about gay people who raise children.  One guy said that he didn't think that two women could teach a kid how to play football or "be a man" (no matter how "butch" they were - I remember that exact phrase) and the same was true vice/versa for two men who had a little girl.  The first thing that I thought was that Logan's never going to learn much about sports from me.  Does this mean that he'll never be a real man?  My wife loathes shopping as much as I do.  If we had a girl, does that mean she wouldn't learn how to be a real woman?

Again, I'm not worried about it, but to me the notion that two women can't raise a "real man" is ridiculous.  Even if athleticism equaled manliness, I think it's safe to say that there are plenty of women who teach a young boy some sportsmanship.  I was recently reading an article in Time about the U.S. Synchronized Swimming team.  There's also a video where the reporter, Sean Gregory, tries to take a lesson from the women.  Guess what?  Those women, who do what many would think of as something decidedly feminine, kick some serious ass.  They could teach any boy a thing or two about dedication, perseverance, and all those other things that makes up a stellar athlete.  (Gotta point out that one of the team members is a former student of mine.  I was willing to make arrangements with her to finish up the semester early so she could train and get ready for the Olympics.  So, what I'm saying is that any success they have is really pretty much due to me.)

So yeah, I'm not going to be very good at teaching my son about sports.  My wife played tennis, so maybe she can take the reins on that one.  And if something ever happens to me, I'm sure that he'll grow up to be a fine man with only her guidance.  (I'm not eager to put that to the test.)

So, what do I think it means to be a man?  I'm not sure, exactly.  I'm a bit more concerned about making sure that my son is a decent human being.  I don't care if he becomes a professional quarterback or a professional drag queen, so long as he's doing what he wants to do and treats other people the way they ought to be treated.

Toward the end of Macbeth, we get another idea of what it means to "be a man".  Macduff, upon learning that his wife and children have been killed by Macbeth's assassins, is told by Prince Malcolm to "Dispute it like a man."  Macduff responds by saying, "I shall do so.  But I must also feel it as a man.  I cannot but remember such things that were most precious to me."  Heartlessness?  That's not manliness to Macduff.  Being a man means having a heart.  The rest is just details.

1 comment:

Matthew Holderfield said...

Macduff sounds like a pussy.