Or else I just said a load of bollocks. Comes with the territory, I guess.

Once in a while I ponder what it is to be a man. Usually after being prompted by some article refuting narrow minded gender dichotomies. Like this one I read the other day. I won’t attempt to repackage what this guy wrote, because he did such an excellent job of it. I will use it as a springboard for some stream of consciousness musing on the nature of gender construction. I mean, it is a construct. You know that, right? There are certain undeniable biological differences, but those differences do far less to define us as individuals than society’s perceptions of those variances. We so readily seek to ascribe gender values to activities, actions and opinions. It’s all kinds of absurd and damaging. We build up these unobtainable paragons of masculinity/femininity that we’re meant to follow avidly. We’re told that certain values will endear us to our gender representations. As a guy I need to be dominant, forceful and powerful. I must lead unflinchingly or swallow cinder blocks and ask for seconds. Showing weakness is more than frowned upon, it’s seen as a betrayal of the rigid gender stereotypes that society has formed. You’re not just letting yourself down, you’re letting the team down.

Rarely has this been more prevalent than in New Zealand male culture. Growing up through the kiwi bloke mentality means there are several ways to show your manliness:

  • Sports – The playing of, the watching of and the speaking of. They’re an outlet for aggression or vicariously experiencing the action through watching. Sports talk is water cooler talk. Our national game revolves around throwing people to the ground to steal their MacGuffin. If you tackle well or walk off the field with debilitating injuries, you’ve played like a man. If you don’t, what are you? A pussy?
  • Drinking – Drink big or go home. It’s how we’re raised. You drink till you throw up, then grab another 6-pack. When I went down to Dunedin with a mate I saw three shirtless dudes skulling flavoured milk then vomiting on the sidewalk just to see what it would look like. Regular nights in the city meant seeing people lying on sidewalks wasted, or throwing up in gutters. On ya, mate.
  • Male camaraderie. But not in “that” way – Back slaps and arm punches, aggression as affection. Affection however, invites aggression. Feelings are “gay”, plain and simple. Which is, of course verboten.
  • Sex – The quest of, the glory of conquest. Women as objects, men as righteous victors winning out over the opposition of consent. Basically any regressive misogynist shit you can think of and it’ll be part of the lexicon.

The language in particular echoes overseas trends. Anything bent out of shape is tarred with a feminine brush. Transgressions are seen as unmanly, thus unworthy. You clearly don’t wanna be a soft, wimpy, gay, pussy, do you? I’m not the first to suggest that values of weakness, timidness or fragility that we ascribe to femininity are hurtled as insults towards males, shepherding conformity through verbal abuse. Far be it for guys to act anywhere outside of the myopic spectrum of male behaviour. What would my bros think?

Since it always comes back to me, it should be fairly obvious where I stand on the issue. I mean, I left. From a young age I felt like I didn’t fit in back home. I didn’t like sports (which already discredited my status as a New Zealander, let alone a male) and had little interest in typical male activities. I was a bookish nerd. I liked playing with toys and constructing elaborate adventure scenarios. I loved videogames and comic books. As a child I developed romantic affections for fictional characters at a young age. Princess Allura from Voltron, the Pink Ranger from Power Rangers, every Disney Princess. I developed crushes on girls in class from age 6-7. As a child I knew I wanted something, innocent as it would’ve been. To hold hands or kiss. To play together. Nothing more than that. Still, to feel this kind of affectionate pull as a young male New Zealander would’ve been frowned upon as “girly”, thus I rarely expressed it. I was always a sensitive and emotional kid. I was overweight and unfit. A terrible combination, because it put me in a prime position for bullying. I’d been taught not to fight back, so I never did. I just kind of took the abuse and cried about it later. I decided at around age 5 or so that New Zealand wasn’t the place for me. Took about 21 years to make good on that choice.

I mean, don’t worry guys, I turned out ok. I developed a rhino’s thick hide, jeers and taunts fall off me like rainwater. My young affections blossomed into genuine affection and appreciation for women. I think my backlash to the national masculine consciousness forced me towards feminism as a way to deal with the pervasive misogyny. Despite whatever words were used to describe my dalliances from male stereotypical values, it’s done little to affect my sexual orientation. If it did and I found myself interested in something outside of the mainstream, that’d be fine too. I’ve got no doubt that my cultural upbringing helped me become more empathic and accepting towards those who find themselves outside of rigid gender dichotomies.

So what does it mean to be a man in 2014? Very little. Be who you want to be as long as your actions won’t harm others. Don’t define yourself by the way others see you. Live your life in a way that befits you becoming your greatest self possible. You owe yourself that much.

TL;DR: Be a male, whatever that means to you. Just don’t be a dick.

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