Grown-Up Man

Back in January, Gillette posted a short film about the need to understand manhood differently than we have. I thought it was beautifully done, and badly needed. A lot of men disagreed. Its YouTube post shows about 800,000 likes, compared against a million and a half dislikes. Commenters called it emasculating. “What Gillette is doing here is trying to lower our testosterone to the point we won’t have to shave anymore.”

(Poor babies, afraid for the health of their testicles in the face of a little advertisement. And they call US snowflakes…)

The pushback couldn’t have been unexpected. It was twenty years ago that Susan Faludi published Stiffed: The Betrayal of The American Man. In this crucial book, she laid out stories and analysis of the ways in which our expectations about appropriate masculine behavior have laid our own trap of disaster. The four cardinal orientations of manhood—stoic self-sufficiency, unquestioning loyalty, ritual competition, and boastful vanity—have left us hollow, uncentered.

It’s not just women who are bombarded by cultural messages about appropriate gender behavior. In the past half century, Madison Avenue, Hollywood, and the mass media have operated relentlessly on men, too. The level of mockery, suspicion and animosity directed at men who step out of line is profound, and men respond profoundly—with acquiescence.

And I’m tired of acquiescence. It’s time to stand up.

I can’t give you all of the context, but I have a scene in one of my novels where the protagonist goes to do some life coaching at a fraternity, and talks about the ways in which a recently disbanded fraternity on that same campus had failed so badly in their very conceptualization of manhood. He talked with them about what he came to call The Ten Understandings of the Grown-Up Man:

A Grown-Up Man understands that respect is a given, that it starts out full and can be diminished rather than starting out empty and needing to be won.

A Grown-Up Man understands that he can enhance the lives of those around him, no matter who that might be.

A Grown-Up Man understands that he is at his best when he is surrounded by strong, capable people, and works to help others become stronger and more capable.

A Grown-Up Man understands that dignity is always to be defended, and that he has a responsibility to intervene in the face of cruelty.

A Grown-Up Man understands that loyalty can be expanded rather than restricted.

A Grown-Up Man understands his responsibilities before he signs on, and then fulfills those responsibilities beyond expectations.

A Grown-Up Man understands that his body is for use rather than for vanity, and tunes his body to the uses that he cares about.

A Grown-Up Man understands that his beliefs and values are conditioned by his experiences, and that others have different experiences that reasonably lead to different beliefs and values.

A Grown-Up Man understands that he will never know enough to act with perfect confidence, but understands also that action is necessary even in the absence of confidence.

A Grown-Up Man understands that the admiration of fools is worth nothing.

Grown-Up Man is not a status to be attained.

Grown-Up Man is an aspiration to strive for.