Masculinity is a tough topic to discuss in an open forum nowadays. Invariably, within the first few sentences (which makes up the preview seen on most social media platforms), everyone that takes the time to scan the headline above will place me into one of two categories: the man’s man (or purveyor of toxic masculinity) or the ally (the self-loathing apologist for the patriarch).
I’m neither of those things.
As our society continues to strive for progress and a more universally accepting culture, we’ve yet to overcome one of the fundamental tenets of humanity: our inclination to gather in like-minded tribes. That instinct drives us to seek out others that share our cultural sensibilities, but as our numbers grow, the effort turns toward omission rather than inclusion. Soon, it’s no longer about finding others that are like you, it becomes about keeping out the others that aren’t.
So, the role gender plays in our society becomes as polarizing as the roles of political parties, religions, and anything else we can find it in ourselves to gather pitchforks and light torches over. While there are real and legitimate grievances at the core of each of these societal debates — those grievances aren’t the ones we discuss most often. Instead, we participate in skirmish after skirmish, squabbling about semantics or about a perceived offense that occurred at another time, in another place, to another person we feel aligned with. Republicans and Democrats, atheists and believers, gay and straight, men and women — every line we can draw between two groups in our society comes with an argument about how each deserves to be treated, but more importantly, each comes with its own list of social ques deemed acceptable by the tribe(s) you belong to.
Speak out against Conservative leadership and risk being called a “cuck.” Speak out against Liberal leaders and you’ll find yourself labeled a fascist. Speak up for women and you’re virtue signaling, but speak up for men and you’re just a run of the mill sexist. Like a scared new guy in prison, you can try going it alone, but more often than not you find yourself backed into a group that’ll support you with the same force used by the one that attacks you. I’m not a religious guy to any extent, but I had the audacity to write the line, “there are no atheists in foxholes” in an article and found myself engaged on multiple social media platforms by folks insinuating that I don’t respect people who aren’t religious — as in people like me.
First of all, guys, Marines don’t dig foxholes, we dig fighting holes. And second, you’re so sure I’m out to offend your team that you didn’t bother to read the article and see that I’m one of those “free thinkers” you claim to be defending. The problem is independent thought, truly independent thought, doesn’t easily fall into the neat categories we concoct with our straw man arguments. If you offer something your support, you’re immediately saddled with the worst elements of it in a public lashing — say Trump did a good job in North Korea and you’ll be inundated with tweets about his immigration policies. Say you like Glocks and the 1911 guys will come out of the woodwork to tell you that your gun is made of tupperware. If you’re a conservative that’s pro-choice, you’re not conservative enough. If you’re a liberal that’s pro-defense, you’re practically a traitor to your party.
You’re either with us or you’re against us.
I’m inclined to tell you that these imaginary lines we draw aren’t real but the thing is, they are. We manifest them into reality through sheer power of will and their realness is demonstrated in the ways they enact legitimate and lasting change in the world around us. Careers end, lives are ruined, friendships dissolve and as we grow more and more polarized, we find ourselves where we are today: in a nation where high ranking members of the opposing political party are held in a worse regard than the dictators we recently feared would launch nuclear missiles at us.
While in New York City for work recently, one of our intrepid editors and I walked eleven miles over the course of the day — making stops, doing recon for the following day’s activities and so forth. Finally, we decided to take a break and meet some friends at a nearby bar. As I walked in, sweaty and tired, I ordered a Bud Light — a light and refreshing way to commence the night’s drinking after walking damn near a half marathon.
“You can’t order a Bud Light here! Be a man!” One of our buddies exclaimed, his shirt noticeably not soaked through with sweat. He was right. The internet has taught us that Bud Light is just piss, that the Irish drink dark booze with dirt sprinkled in it and real men prove their manliness through brand loyalty and doing as they’re told.
I mean, I felt like a man at the time. I was still a pretty big guy, beard was intact, plumbing in place. Hell, a quick glance in the mirror above the bar seemed to confirm that I was still Irish too, but for some reason the thing my Irish male body wanted at the moment wasn’t on the approved list of beverages for manly men — does that mean I’ve been wrong about what’s manly? Or maybe I’ve just been wrong about me?
Or maybe it only means shit because we let it.
“I don’t give a shit what bar we’re in,” I replied, nodding to the bar tender to continue pouring my inferior order. In my mind, being a man has never been about doing what other people thought was cool, it’s about a whole mess of stuff, but none of it includes masculine etiquette at a bar full of rich people in Manhattan.
My friend didn’t mean any harm, he’s just a citizen of the world as we inhabit it. Somewhere along the way, we forgot to eat bacon because we like it and started eating it because it was cool. We stopped ordering the drinks we’d prefer so we can order the ones other guys think are manly. We’ve stopped choosing our own politics, preferences, and positions in favor of falling in with the prison gang-equivalent that looks or acts the most like us, and then we participate in the ostracizing behavior that forced us into our respective corners just so we can solidify how well we fit in.
You’re a racist.
You’re a toxic male.
You’re a fascist.
You’re not even a real man.
I’m a Marine veteran, a weight lifter, a husband and a dad. I work hard for my family, I’ve amassed a good collection of stories, I fix my own cars and shoot guns in my backyard. I also teared up a little at the end of “Cars 3”. I don’t give a shit if crying isn’t on the prescribed list of “manly activities,” because I don’t give a shit about the list at all.
Politics are no different. While so many Americans claim a bit of land on either side of the aisle and dig in for the long fight, I choose my beliefs a la carte. Libertarians want more state’s rights? I’ll have some of that. Republicans want to get defense back on track? Yes, please. Democrats don’t care who gets married? Honestly, neither do I — so I’ll add that to my plate too.
And so on.
It makes it complicated to vote, I’ll admit – because you have to Google the candidates and actually find out what they stand for rather than just choosing between a capital R or a capital D, but in the end, I feel better knowing that I chose a candidate that supports defense and won’t spend his entire time in office chasing down a random social issue I can’t find it in my heart to care about.
Human beings are prone to gathering in groups, and that mindset has served us well. In fact, the United States itself began as just such a group, but over time, it’s grown so large that many within our country no longer feel as though they can identify as a part of the American tribe… so, they began to form new ones within it. There’s nothing wrong with seeking communion with like minded folks — but we do ourselves a disservice when we outsource our decision making to the will of the tribe.
I’ll vote for who I want, drink what I want, support those I choose to support and believe what I find reason to believe.
Let’s make that what real men do.
Images courtesy of the author
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