01 October 2004

Call yourself a man?

So you’ve got body hair and a driver’s licence. Does that make you a man or just a grown boy?

So you’ve got body hair and a driver’s licence. Does that make you a man or just a grown boy?

The Masai of Kenya reckon you’re not a man until you’ve killed a lion, which is hard on the remaining lions and occasionally hard on the young men.

Other rites of passage include circumcision, wrestling bulls the ground, diving off cliffs into the sea and drinking beer until you puke.

Unfortunately at this time of the year, a lot of young blokes celebrate finishing high school by destroying themselves in car accidents.

According to some pop songs, becoming a man involves losing your virginity. But then, contemporary music’s wisdom is like many of its adherents – a bit spotty.

Drinking and manhood
A while ago, Loaded magazine ran a list of things that make you a man: in keeping with the publication’s lager mentality, some of the conditions ran along the lines of, “You’re not a man until you’ve had such a hangover that you can’t walk.”

That would preclude some teetotalling giants of history, like Mahatma Gandhi, from ever being regarded as men. It would also mean that a number of females of our acquaintance had disqualified themselves from womanhood during their student years.

Perhaps a more fitting qualification would be, “You’re a man when you can stay civil, lucid and not undergo a personality change while alcoholically challenged.”

Another, more poignant qualification set by the Loaded writers was this: “You’re not a man until you’ve told a woman you love her and meant it. And you’re not a man until you’ve told a woman you love her and not meant it."To which one could add cynically, "You’re not a man until you’ve married Britney in Vegas and divorced her at least two hours later.”

A few other suggestions:

  • Control your anger. If you’re a Hollywood actor who has his stunts done for him but who dives behind a low wall when a stray breeze might mess up his hair, hey, it’s a job. But combining that with punching a photographer makes you a phoney.
  • Be a family member. A real man calls his mom to find out if she’s over her bronchitis. And he gets up when one of the kids has a nightmare.
  • Take responsibility. If you’ve slipped into the habit of allowing your partner to remind you that your bills need paying, try doing them before the next reminder. Being able to say, “Thanks for remembering, but I’ve already done that,” is very empowering. And it reminds your partner that she’s your lover, not your mother. The same applies to life insurance, a will, alimony and everything else in life.
  • Be courteous. On a date you can berate the hired help because your steak is overdone, or you can say, “I know you didn’t cook this steak, but obviously the chef had it wrong”. The waitron’s paid to put up with a quota of uppity patrons, but your date will watch how you deal with the little people.
  • Learn and teach. Be willing to admit that you don’t know the new software. Be willing to share what you know, which indicates that you’re confident enough in your abilities to not feel so threatened that you keep your bit of knowledge to yourself. Be willing to show the new guy in accounts where the coffee filters are kept. Also, if you’re old enough to regard yourself as a man, you can probably teach someone something or contribute, whether it’s working at a soup kitchen or teaching disadvantaged kids karate.
  • Keep yourself in shape. If you catch yourself saying that size 40 trousers aren’t bad for a 40-year-old guy, change your routine and plan to drop a few trouser sizes this year.
  • Do something new. Pick a challenge for the year, whether it’s running a marathon or learning a new language. Rule of thumb? Make it something that’ll make your friends go, “What on earth for?”
  • Do something that scares you. Ballroom dancing? Parachuting? Public speaking? Working with the terminally ill? Dating again after divorce? Asking your best friend’s ex-girlfriend out? Take a deep breath and extend your boundaries.
  • Accept that contraception is your responsibility too. Enough said.
  • Give pleasure as well as receiving it. Nice guys come second. Enough said.
  • Control yourself. If the mantra that “Real men don’t rape” holds true – which it certainly should – then maybe the human tribe needs to redesign its ethos: when you hurt someone or something weaker than you, you’re less of a man.
  • Deal with failure. Sooner or later something that matters to you won’t work out. Can you handle that?

(William Smook)



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