Level 16 - Colossus
A Guy's Sense Of Manhood
Author: Robert Chambers
In a time when men have lost both their power and sense of usefulness, as wars once provided, they seek other means to make them feel good about themselves. They look for other ways to mask their insecurity, an insecurity that has men trying to prove themselves manly. It used to be that a guy's sense of manhood once flowed out of his utility in society (Faludi 7), but without a unique utility to society, they have to look to other means to gain security about their manhood, for instance, like by excelling in athletics, acquiring attractive females, or securing a lucrative job. For this paper I shall explore the two I am most familiar with and that are most commonly found in the youth culture. These two ways of proving masculinity, which appear to me the most common among young men, are the manner in which men deal with sports and women. Especially at a young and immature age, these things appear to be the only way to validate manhood. Hence it is with these means that boys and men are taught their gender roles. I shall explore how most men develop what they believe to be important to their gender role in society, and draw upon examples from my own life, focusing on the aforementioned topics of athletics and women.
Most men exhibit characteristics, which are not all that far from basic animal behavior, especially when you take away their sense of usefulness. Men, who were formerly known as the protectors of America, took pride and a sense of manhood form this title. It gave them confidence in themselves and it left them with a general sense of well-being. Without the feeling of security which arose from knowing one's purpose, men know have to resort to treating women like trophies to show that they are still manly. There are always exceptions to regularities, so for this argument I shall look only to what I think is the most common behavior displayed by men. It appears that most men think of women as objects to be showed off. Whether or not they act on these feelings, or whether or not they are able to act on this idea is another story. "Men are programmed to crave validation of their masculinity, and they frequently view women's bodies as a medium for that validation"(Brooks 441). Hence, women are treated something like medals of valor in combat. The guy who gets the prettiest girl wins the game and he is judged by his male peers to be manly if not the manliest. It is like reindeer, which judge one another on the size of their horns. The one with the biggest horns is judged to be the most powerful. One might think that men would be more civilized than this, but they end up acting much like cavemen, as society and in particular comics like Tim Allen poke fun at.
I too fall victim to this shallow way of proving whose has the most machismo. I can only date girls that I perceive to be very pretty. For me the personality matters, but even if the girl has the best personality in the world, she still has to be pretty for me to call her my girlfriend. As an average insecure male, I am always looking to show off my skills with the ladies in an attempt to validate my manhood. For example, two weeks ago I was invited to a party at a fraternity house, and you had to bring a date. Because everyone going was on the football team, guys that I am always in competition with, and because I have only been at college a short while, I felt that I still had to prove myself to everyone by having a gorgeous date. The girl I had been hanging out with most recently, however, was not that pretty but was fun. Because she was not beautiful I did not take her, and did not go to the party. Before this instance there was my prom dilemma which was equally shallow and also demonstrated my insecurity. I was not even going to go to my senior prom unless I was not taking one of the prettiest girls. The weeks preceding the prom, people described my behavior as though I were going interviews. I met with a bunch of girls and the best looking one who could also put up with me won the job. But it is not just me who felt this way about the prom. I remember a number of people telling me that the prom was all about the picture, and that it had to be with a pretty girl so everyone could see it. Thus I am in complete agreement with Brooks when he says, "To many men, the state of a women's body may come to be viewed as a masculinity barometer"(Brooks 442). I use these examples because I am positive that I am not the only one who thinks this way. I think most people think this way, although maybe not to my extreme. I also think, and am aware that it is not a revolutionary statement, but most people are insecure especially during their youth. With this insecurity most likely not just beginning with my generation, I believe the past centuries of teens have also felt that women were trophies and used them to bolster their self-esteem. I think the lack of a war to rally round and gain strength from, has caused this trophism to dramatically increase though.
Closely liked to this idea is the way men have been taught to feel about sexual activity. "Young men have been have been encouraged to be promiscuous - that is, to seek sexual activity with scant consideration of relationship needs, intimacy or emotional compatibility"(Brooks 441). In years past it seems to me that while someone who had many sexual experiences may still have been considered cool or manly, there used to more focus on treating ladies as the mythical gentleman would, with a high degree respect. From the old movies I see guys who take more pride in being gentleman. They used to often go out on dates with only their girlfriend, a tradition that has nearly diminished. This intimate way of sharing the evening with someone you like has been replaced. Now the most common thing to do is to pick your date up and take her to party where you share the evening with a large group of friends. I am not sure what exactly to attribute this lack of one-one dating to, but I am sure that it is not a good direction to be heading towards. With it, much intimacy has been lost and the treatment of girls as sexual objects will more easily continue.
Also prevalent in today's society is the glorification of the so-called player. A player is one who enjoys getting many women and who views the process of getting these women as a mere game. He is quite different from the gentleman described above. The media only adds to the veneration of players. Music, for instance, which is great at conveying messages to the youth, is full of exonerating players and the treatment of women as garbage. For instance last year's number one song according to the billboards contained the chorus "I'm not a player I just crush a lot." The word "crush" was originally the F-word, but this had to edited to get the song played on the radio. It is not just music, but all forms of the media that portray players in an enviable manner. I can definitely see these messages manifesting in my own life, and I can see many others using it as means to validate their manhood as well.
The other way that most young men prove their manhood is through sports. This is especially true in today's society where professional athletes are treated like gods. Athletics are often used to "construct a respected masculine identity"(Messner 463). It is just like trophyism, one's athletic success validates his manliness. For me nothing could be truer. Until I became one of the better athletes in my area, and gained public respect for that, I was a more insecure person. To me I saw nothing else to define who I was. I grew up in a family that stressed the importance of athletics, not to mention the fact that I have always looked up to my uncles who had great division I careers in sports: one even played pro football for a short while. I felt inferior to anyone with athletic success, or at least had a high respect for anyone with such success. I remember sophomore year I used to sit at a lunch table daily with the most distinguished athletes from the school. I felt I had no right to tease anyone or joke around with anyone because after all what had I done to deserve this right. They were all in the newspapers and were receiving scholarships from colleges and I was just a student. I felt an immense amount of pressure to excel in sports and to also be the toughest kid on the field of play. If I could accomplish these two feats, then I felt that I would gain the respect of my family, and to a lesser degree my peers. Nothing proves manliness better than being able to tell stories of your victories, or if not telling them yourself, just knowing that the rest of your peers know what you accomplished. I guess it is like a war veteran displaying his medals for all who enter his home to see. They say that sports are the closest thing to combat you can get, while still remaining indescribably different from the real thing. It follows then that this would be a great method to prove one's masculinity, as it closely resembles the way that men have done it for years.
This superficial way that men prove their manliness speaks volumes about how we perceive ourselves. Men now feel the need to be extra manly to prove themselves. In this case the old saying that the empty barrel makes the most noise can be used, for men do not have much else going on. Their gender roles are based on an inflated definition of what it means to be a guy. Not everyone is Clint Eastwood, but it seems that most strive to be like him. Today, society does not need this type of guy. Computer geniuses displaying no masculine features are more in demand. Hence men have made up other ways to prove themselves, even though they may be incredibly superficial and in the end only illuminate man's insecurity. What is needed is new way for man to be defined. The Clint Eastwood or Arnold Schwarzenegger way is out dated. With a new definition of masculinity, man's behavior should change, and he could once again feel the he contributes to society.