I’m not the strongest guy in the gym. I’m the 6-foot-2 inches, 145-pound kid who looks like a lost child in the weight room.
I rarely drink to excess. You’ll mostly find me drinking beers moderately instead of chasing shots of vodka with shots of vodka.
I don’t hook-up with a different woman each weekend. It doesn’t take an abacus to calculate how many women I’ve been with sexually.
And I’m OK with all of this because it doesn’t make me any less of a man.
I’m sure anybody who watched the Super Bowl this year saw the “#LikeAGirl” commercial. A series of older women and one man and one boy were asked to run like a girl, throw like a girl and hit like a girl. They all performed weak and flamboyant movements for the camera.
When the same questions were asked to young girls, they performed the movements with all the heart and intensity necessary. The commercial wants to rework the meaning of “like a girl” and make it into a more positive phrase.
I was so intrigued by this commercial that I wanted to find the answer to the question – what’s it take to be a man?
Despite living in a progressive time and country, we still have many traditional values and ideas when it comes to fitting in with people. I’ve encountered different groups of men who will welcome you only if you dress a certain way, have a certain body type or behave with a certain demeanor.
Let’s say you don’t want to chug your drink – they call you a bitch. Let’s say you don’t have muscles – they call you a wimp. Let’s say you don’t hook-up with a woman when you had the chance – they call you a faggot. You become an outcast.
In order to not be an outcast, some men start to become stereotypical “macho men” – they feed into negative behavior and become people that other men want them to be instead of just being themselves.
The Director for the Center for Diversity, Pluralism, and Inclusion at Plattsburgh State, J. W. Wiley, said, “The biggest problem is that men shouldn’t be trying to fit in with other men, they should be trying to fit in with other people.”
“You’ll have better luck trying to fit in with people than trying to fit in with women or with men. That general approach, if the people are good people, will serve you well, and you’ll probably make fewer mistakes,” Wiley said.
As a well-educated and diverse individual who associates with people of that nature, Wiley said he doesn’t encounter the stereotypical macho man firsthand too often, but if one of his students hands in a paper that describes them being offensive toward women or acting homophobic, then he will address it.
“I’ve had a young man say in a paper that he hugged a guy and said ‘no homo.’ How old are you? You can’t display affection to another man without having to clarify that you’re not gay? In general, most people who have lives aren’t trippin’ off other people’s realities,” Wiley said.
Wiley brought up the point that not everyone comes from the same social and economic standings. He said you don’t have to be rich to be a good person, but sometimes the opportunities that come with money offer you more of a chance to travel, see the world, and invest time into other cultures and ways of living. You become more open-minded because of this.
“I thought all white people didn’t like me coming out of South Central LA.” Wiley had this mentality until he attended California State University Long Beach. “I had some white people in my classes that went out of their way to say hi and be cool, and I thought ‘shit, that’s a trip,’” Wiley said.
Wiley said he met one of his first white friends in college who to this day is still one of his best friends. “We’re tight, and that only happens by giving people chances. The biggest opportunity you have is meeting good people,” Wiley said.
As a sophomore on his high school’s football team Wiley was 5 foot 2 inches while the rest of the men in his family were much taller. He said this made him feel inadequate, and to make up for it, he was hyper-aggressive on the football field.
“Aggression, which is very much tied to masculinity, is one of the defaults we have when we encounter difference. We either run away from it, or we growl if not bark at it because we don’t know how to encounter something different with love,” Wiley said.
We’re living in a time when we say it’s OK to be gay, we say it’s OK to be the intellectual type instead of the jock, we say it’s OK to be different, but it’s not enough to just say it. We need to practice it.
The real question guys should be asking themselves isn’t, “what’s it take to be a man,” but rather, “what’s it take to be a person.”
Email Griffin Kelly at firstname.lastname@example.org