How to Be a Man: The Newly Updated Rules

How to Be a Man: The Newly Updated Rules

Lately we’ve been talking a lot about men and how they are doing more than ever to embrace women’s progress and challenge old notions of masculinity. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t confusing for them. The pressure is still there to be “men,” whatever that means, and, in fact, it seems no one is sure what it actually means.

In a nutshell, it means whatever you want it to, dudes. It really does. Take this one and run with it. Just as women have, you, too, can carve out your own version of what it means to be a man. This is awesome, and can be extremely liberating if you think about it.

In a piece over at The Cut, Ann Friedman offered up a few current points circulating in the ether these days about the crisis of masculinity in 2013, and it all boiled down to one richly worn, leather-bound hot beef:

What’s striking isn’t the lack of consensus on what defines masculinity now, but the utter confusion about how to go about doing so. That’s because America is finally getting around to having the conversation about what it means to be a man that, decades ago, feminism forced us to have about womanhood. Women still face social consequences when they don’t conform neatly to gender norms, but many of even the most ideologically progressive men are just now starting to talk about how to break with masculine stereotypes and still hang onto a sense of gender identity.

The idea, she explains, is that men are kind of stuck trying to do both things — they are hanging onto certain traditional markers of masculinity, but also doing things that by past standards, would be considered feminine. The moisturizing facial soaps. The caring. “This theory might explain why you can often find rugged pickaxes in high-end clothing shops of urban America,” Friedman writes.

But this is exactly what women did, too, and it is part of the natural process of moving away from rigid gender roles. As women slowly entered the workforce and earned a paycheck and greater autonomy, as they infiltrated nearly every strain of American life once cornered off for men alone, it isn’t as if they singlehandedly shed the trappings of femininity, no matter how much right wing nutjobs tried to argue otherwise.

Hey, even the most powerful women in the world still seem to know how to slap on a coat of lipstick, one of the most allegedly obvious markers of gender there is. But we embrace the ambiguity of being female no longer meaning any one true thing. It’s just part of our deal now. We can, as a result, do lady things when we want and understand the fun of it, the appeal of it, the role-playing of it. No, everything isn’t perfect. It still gets in the way of being taken seriously. We’re working on it. Help us.

What this means is that men don’t have to throw the baby out with the old-fashioned shave water, either. If feeling like a man is growing a beard, having just-so shined shoes, or pickling, have at. No one is taking away your right to play dress up.

Keep on doing mostly all the old things they want (if desired), but with that has to come the ability to accept the inherent humanity and equality of others. So if your man activities are things actively involve denying women a spot at the big table, then it’s bullshit. And you’re going to hear about it.

Sorry. That’s where we are now. That’s where the needle has moved.

The problem with gender roles has always been how they are valued and how rigid they are, how they translate in the real world. If we said all along that men and women were totally equal and meant it with laws, paychecks, attitudes, autonomy and actual quality of life, we wouldn’t even be having this conversation.

So as the gender that’s already done more of the unpacking (and putting away, and rearranging, and dusting twice a week) of the rigid gender role we’ve been signed up for since before birth, we can certainly sympathize with this transition. But we can also offer some guidance.


You’re a dude if you say you’re a dude.

That’s it. That’s the whole way it works. If you say you feel like a dude, by all means, you’re a dude. Same here. I’m a woman because I say I am. Because it’s a social construct. I don’t brush my hair 100 strokes a side every night, don’t wear heels, and don’t wear very much makeup, and don’t want to have the big precious wedding. But I’m still a woman. Doing X thing — crying, caring, cooperating — doesn’t change you being a dude unless X thing is literally you deciding to leave behind your identity as a dude. Short of you consciously saying you’re going to become a woman, you can do any stuff you want to do and still consider yourself a man. Wear pink! Grow your hair out! Paint your toenails! Wear a dress! Cry! Care for others! Express feelings! And so on. I’m not saying it’s only that simple. We have a long way to go before we can accept the full spectrum of how gender is interpreted or expressed. But know this is a huge fucking step in that direction.

Gender is a special fun hat.

Put it on when you want, take it off when you want. Don’t take it off at all if you don’t want to. That’s OK too. If you think it’s fun to chop wood on the weekends because you get a dude boner for it before you go work as a nurse, I hear you dude. I love a weekend magazine-and-cucumber-face-mask thing on a Saturday. It doesn’t define you to your core. It’s a set of behaviors you can embrace or reject. It’s not your whole value.

But come Monday, that’s irrelevant.

Yes, you may notice my eyes have zero puffiness and I may see that your arms are nice and buff, and we may like that, but we are here to work, so shut up about it. Be a professional.

Come Friday, realize that you might actually be trying the cucumbers on the eyes after you see how great it is at reducing that eye puff, and I may be the one doing the wood chopping.

I’m working on building upper body strength. What of it? You need to relax. None of this changes anything. We might find this super hot, too.

If you don’t want to be defined by your paycheck, don’t define us by our bodies. Or youth.

It’s a trap, see? Both ways. The more we are ruthlessly discarded for not having the right kind of ass age, the more you are ruthlessly discarded for not having the right kind of car. Shallow people are more than welcome to pair off by ass-car while the ass-car getting is still good. Please do. It narrows things down for the rest of us.

If you could please stop expecting me to naturally know or want to know how to care for a baby or apply makeup, I won’t scoff when you don’t know how to change a tire or repair a leaky faucet.

Just as your gender allegedly requires that you fix everything in sight as some kind of natural born problem solver, mine assumes I’m allegedly a natural with babies, my ultimate destination. How about we both pretend we never heard that, and simply stop making assumptions about gender and ability.

Women can ask you on dates. If you don’t like it, don’t act like it’s some violation of nature.

It’s how it is now. If you judge a woman for “making the first move,” please advertise up front your deep deep prejudice. Again, it helps the rest of us narrow things down.

There is also nothing wrong with clarifying about whether you’ll split the cost of that date, or alternately offering the date to be the treat of the asker.

It’s about having a dialog. This way, we can talk on an individual level about what makes sense for us the way the two of us interpret gender on dates, not the way it was done in some movie or by someone’s parents in some other era that is not our own (unless that’s what we want).

No gender has the monopoly on crying or feelings. Emotional literacy and caring about people is the mark of a well-rounded HUMAN. We all suffer when this is assigned to only half of us.

Dude, you can totally cry. If a woman thinks that’s fucked up, SHE is fucked up. Find someone who likes your pickaxe-and-feelings combo.

Wear whatever you want, do the facial hair thing or not.

You’re still a dude if you think concealer might even out those circles. If dressing like Paul Bunyan makes you feel more masculine, please wear that to the book club we’ve joined to discuss the latest historical fiction while I’m dressed like Helena Bonham Carter in Howard’s End. Afterwards I’m still going to go to my job, vote, and want to talk about Syria, and I expect you will too.

No one’s value is the value of their paycheck.

As the gender who has a lot of experience with that paycheck being smaller, we can tell you that it’s no picnic to earn less than you know you’re worth, but it sometimes makes you bust your ass all that harder to prove it. And that’s when realize that perhaps the most person you really needed to prove it to was yourself, anyway.

Your value is purely how good of a person you are.

Really. It is. So stop thinking of yourself primarily by gender and more as a person, the sort who wants to be an equal, a good parent, a good listener, a resourceful human, a full human. I promise it’s going to light the way. Beard optional.

Image by Jim Cooke.

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