Be a Man?
The Big Lebowski: What makes a man, Mr. Lebowski?
The Dude: Dude.
The Big Lebowski: Huh?
The Dude: Uhh … I don’t know sir.
The Big Lebowski: Is it being prepared to do the right thing, whatever the cost? Isn’t that what makes a man?
The Dude: Hmmm … Sure, that and a pair of testicles.
It’s a question that plagues most guys, both the renaissance and oafish varieties. The grab-bag of answers to what makes a man for thirtysomething, urbanish gents includes: Make money, have a solid track record with the ladies, be a good husband, reproduce, be a provider daddy and so on. Acceptable measuring sticks, one and all.
But that’s hardly the whole picture. Less tangible manly qualities tug at the subconscious and are just as important as the Checklist of Life. Toughness, duty, power and being cool. The consensus on how to define those traits is hardly clear. They’re shades of grey, really. Like charcoal.
Ask a friend if he’s a man and watch him squirm.
Part of the problem is that Gen Xers never had good role models. Take the nineties, when we came of age. Man, that was a hard time to be a man. Kurt Cobain, Bill Clinton, O.J., our dads. Not much there, eh?
Don’t get me wrong, it’s still harder to be a woman. And stereotyping a gender has its pitfalls. There are probably some guys out there who are totally comfortable with their masculinity. I just haven’t met them.
So what are men particularly good at, besides lifting large objects? Drawing a blank? I am. Maybe that’s for the best, equality that is. But I it’s easier to think of decidedly feminine traits that are net benefits for society. Being able to recognize, accept and verbalize emotions, for one thing.
Let’s face it, male insecurity drives most of the world’s problems. Ever have a boss with little-man’s syndrome? Then you know what I mean.
I’ll go back to the nineties, the first few years of which I spent in a testosterone-addled haze. The skills I brought to the table–physical strength, blistering rage, destructive tendencies–would’ve helped me be cannon fodder or a ditch digger. (That’s why I liked this job so much.) But not much else.
Those hallmarks of meat-headery were decidedly uncool back then. It was the decade of the sensitive man. And although being a steakhead is making a comeback (see MTV), we’ll never get back to the “Mad Men”-style chauvinism of our grandfathers and fathers. And that’s a good thing.
But our forefathers had WWII and the Vietnam War to define themselves. I don’t envy them for getting drafted, being shot at and watching buddies die. The volunteer armed forces changes all of that. On a side note, I just read Jon Krakauer’s “Where Men Win Glory: The Oddysey of Pat Tillman.” I defy you to read that tragic tale and say you stack up next to Tillman as a man.
What do we have as defining events? The Internet? Playing with computers. Badass.
Take the anti-man, faux Mark Zuckerberg from “The Social Network.” How emasculating was the final tell-off line from Zuckerberg’s ex, when she spits out: “Good luck with your, video game.” Actually, fuck that, the line is about infantilization, which is worse than being emasculated. Talking about my generation …
Anyhow, the military service question is my baggage, part of it at least. But it’s somewhat related to why “Fight Club” was such a mega-hit. Somewhere deep down in there most guys want to know if they could be tough. I’ve certainly asked that question, and have done tourist stints in various tough-guy pursuits.
Boxing was one of the most deeply-satisfying things I’ve ever tried. I felt a little bit more like a man getting hit, and occasionally landing a few jabs of my own. But the most rewarding part was confronting the fear of standing in the corner, waiting to see what you had. And believe me, hitting the bars after a solid day of sparring was hard to beat for male-bonding.
Every guy needs someone in their corner. And knowing what that feels like, literally, makes a difference. Let’s face it, we’re a group of genetic misfits, us guys. Take a few swings at a bag some day and tell me it doesn’t feel a little too good.
But the fact is, I’m much more at peace with what it means to be a man these days. It’s one of the best parts of being in your thirties. All that superficial shit feels less important. And I have to say that the Big Lebowski was onto something. Doing the right thing, even when it’s hard as hell. That’s manliness. But I may still have to get back into the ring.