Thought Catalog
March 13, 2013

What Are Men Good For?

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What is the issue?
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In August, Greg Hampikian wrote an Op-Ed piece for the NY Times, “Men, Who Needs Them?” and essentially asked: since we have artificial insemination… are men still necessary? Every so often some writer or thinker gets the big idea humanity has finally transcended Nature and wonders if we can ignore the laws of the natural order. Usually it’s a man. This time it’s a man… asking about the power of women.

I’m a natural-born feminist. I love that women are gaining power. I’ve always considered women as equals in every way possible. But it seems our man, Greg, wants to go one better. He suggests women are the only necessary part of humanity. To my ears, that ain’t kosher. It’s time someone defend men from this ridiculousness.

The question, “Does humanity still need men?” speaks right to the heart of the rapid ascent of women. The advances of women are coinciding with a diminishment of what it means to be a man. However, women aren’t trying to shove men out of the picture. Women aren’t saying they want to replace men. Women want equality, respect and their rightful place in society.

Greg Hampikian may be suffering from the opposite of penis envy. He may have womb envy — I don’t know. Or maybe he hangs out with different kinds of women than I do. But the women I know don’t want a world without men. Sure, there are moments when the idea sounds enticing. Then again, so does eating a whole chocolate cake.

The real issue isn’t that women are gaining power, but the sad fact men are getting left behind. Which is unfortunate because women may not like some of our throwback caveman behavior but they don’t seem ready for us to disappear. Women just want men to join the rest of the world in the 21st Century.

Why do men have such a bad rep? In many ways we deserve it. It’s easy to pin the doom-and-gloom of the world on men. The old patriarchy is a fair and large target. When we switched from our hunter/gatherer lifestyle over to farming, men shoved nature-loving, goddess-worshippers out of the way and started preaching about how men had dominion over all of Nature, including women. Those early farmers scared society into believing men were central figures in the drama of humanity. Who else would protect the farm from bandits and safeguard the women and children? And for millennia we’ve used our strength against everyone.

Now lifestyles are undergoing another radial shift. Society is finding we don’t need the strength of men the way we once did. Folks like Greg Hampikian have started to ask, “What are men good for?” It’s a fair question. But one of the answers isn’t we need to sweep men from the world stage, prop us up in a museum exhibit next to a T-Rex, and let future-kids point and giggle at us in our natural environment… a “man-cave.” Men are still good for something, damnit! We’re more than sperm factories and a way to make women and children laugh.

When did men become such a punchline? Nowadays, when someone adds “man” to a word it just makes shit sound ridiculous… like “man-scaping.” Sure it reminds you of yard-work, but it’s not masculine. The word is grooming. Every time someone says “man-scaping,” a Hell’s Angel loses his wings.

The fact men are now essentially a dick joke is our own damn fault. For decades, if not centuries, feminism did the heavy lifting required to answer what it means to be a woman. Meanwhile, men kept cruising along like an old ’57 Chevy, still thinking we were the coolest ride on the road, even as hybrids and electric cars began to zoom past us. It’s time we answer what makes a real man… besides a pair of testicles.

I’m partial to Hunter S. Thompson’s view of masculinity. I’ve lived by his quote: “Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming — “Wow! What a ride!”

His hedonistic swagger works for me. But his words are not some one-size-fits-all prescription for how to be a man. The universal Hemingway myth he believed in is deader than Dillinger. Not all men want to barbecue, go fishing, and shoot animals… and they shouldn’t feel bad because they don’t want to do that stuff. For many, those old school masculine ideals are as wrinkled and flaccid as grandpa’s pecker.

Thankfully, the spectrum of men is wide and our variety great. Any evolutionary biologist will tell you diversity is crucial. It’s a damn good thing there’s not one way to be a man. But… there are certainly better and worse ways to be a man.

Some boys had to learn to play the piano. I had to learn to be a man. My father left when I was nine. Don’t cry for me, Argentina. It happens to lots of boys. When he left, I said, “Looks like I have to figure some shit out on my own.” I contemplated manhood from many angles like Michelangelo considering his statue of David. And like my man, Michelangelo, I took that raw block and chiseled off anything I didn’t need. I’m far from a masterpiece. But I did figure out how to be a man.

It took me a long-ass time because the other boys’ dads often made me feel like shit. They didn’t do it on purpose. They tried to help but I hated their pity and the fact they knew I lacked a “positive male role model.” Despite how it felt, I appreciated them. I soaked up their masculinity, even if I was a punk about it most of the time. My bad attitude was about as inviting as a horsemeat sandwich. So it took me years.

Studying them, I took my friends’ dads, selected their best features and created a make-believe dad-in-my-head. He raised me. Motivated by my need, I found the core of real masculinity in a way you can’t discover from movies or television. And any artist knows imitation is the best place to start. Real men only exist in the real world. So we have one key question to ask: What kind of real man does the world need?

For role models, let’s ignore the old bastions of masculinity like sports. Someone like Kobe Bryant is not a role model. He’s a douchebag. In all seriousness, I’d say a great role model of a real man is Will Ferrell. I know… you may be saying, “You’ve lost your mind if you think Will Ferrell is an example of modern masculinity.” But think about it for a moment. He doesn’t take himself too seriously, yet he’s loyal and committed to his friends and family. He has fun at the game of life. It would be a better world if there were more Will Ferrells and fewer Kobe Bryants.

Another guy who’s not a typical role model of masculinity is Gandhi. But dude got it right when he said, “As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him.” Real men understand we can’t hang out in our caves. Otherwise, we only affect the cave. And let’s all agree to stop saying, “man-cave.” That shit’s not helping anyone.

Old school masculinity is still a great place for us to start. But the values we no longer find useful must fall away into the grind of the past. Our job is to recycle the old ones into new values.

Consider these old school lessons still worth their salt:

A man protects women and children

A man doesn’t let fear dictate the boundaries of his life

When a man gives his word it means something

Chivalry is still sexy

And here’s an example of a recycled lesson:

A man doesn’t need to be the breadwinner… but he does need to work. Taking care of children is a job. A stay-at-home dad is a real man.

Another facet of masculinity that needs to change is our relationship to our emotions. We can’t have a barber or a bartender as our emotional counselor. We have to open up. Rather than remain mute about our pain, shame, or anger, we need to tell others, especially the women in our lives, how we feel. I know… I’m not a huge fan of opening up either. And I don’t mean we need to become poets of our pain. However, there’s nothing to fear from emotions. We have ‘em and tequila shouldn’t be the best way to release them.

Honesty is an important trait of a real man. Emotional honesty is just a new way to be a man. Think of our veterans and how many have to learn how to admit they need help, that they hurt, that they’re confused or scared. We can’t let another generation of men be shackled with shame about being hurt or scared. I’m not using the vets to prove a point. They’re the frontlines of an emotional fight we all need to join.

If we learn to bravely speak the language of emotion, we get good stuff, too. For instance, we learn to share happiness with the women and children in our lives. And when times are tough, we won’t keep making the same old mistakes such as trying to fix a woman’s problems like she’s a leaky faucet.  Women hate that.

Speaking of women, a real man knows women love to do fun stuff. Women like to go places and savor new experiences. A smart man benefits from women. Let’s stop treating a woman’s desire to do stuff like it’s… “more shit she has planned for the weekend.” What better way for a man to enjoy the world than with a partner-in-crime?

The world’s changed. Women gained power and they’re not gonna give it up. So… either we choose the superhighway to the future and travel alongside women. Or we take the slow muddy road of the past and get left behind. It’s up to us to update our ride and hand the keys to men of the future. Otherwise, turncoats like Greg Lampikian will get their wish- we’ll be replaced by a turkey baster and a freezer full of sperm. TC Mark

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