Trying to capture what it means, socially rather than physically, to be a man seems challenging. Nothing in our culture, so far as I know, really indicates the passing of boyhood and beginning of manhood. There are hardly even any aspects of manliness to hold onto that really determines the separation between the two. What does a man wear? What does a man do? Is it okay for a man to listen to Tegan and Sara? How much murder and rape is too much murder and rape (historically speaking, there is no such thing as too much)?
Some societies have rituals and traditions that are carried out to determine becoming a man. For example, the Hoo-di-nikki sect of the Too-ba-loochi clan from the western region of the African continent requires boys of the tribe to watch either the first two or last three seasons of Cheers on DVD to cement their passing into manhood. The closest my life ever came to something like that was the feeling I got when I realized Space Jam wasn’t a documentary—which was last week.
Cultural images can sometimes represent the ideal of manliness. I remember seeing Clint Eastwood wearing a poncho and sombrero, his face stoic and weathered as his pistol rested in its holster, and thinking, Now that’s a man’s man. Plenty about that image shouts the ideals and expectations of manhood. After awhile, however, I realized that what I was really doing was shaping an idea for masculinity from an actor. An actor, for those unfamiliar, is basically someone who pretends to be something he or she isn’t. So any schema I constructed was being written around a guy who was doing something kids do for fun on the playground—wear ponchos and sombreros.
Maybe we’re not supposed to know what it means to be a man. Perhaps it’s more important to consider what it means to be human, making something like gender less precedent when it comes to constructing our identities. Or maybe we should go back to the quantity of murder and rape one is able to produce as a measurement of manliness. I’m sure that has worked before.