“Try not to become a man of success, but rather try to become a man of value”.
What the hell is a ‘real man’?
I recently phoned a radio station talk back request; they were asking for feedback from women on whether they thought today’s man had gone ‘soft’. I was so annoyed at the question itself that I actually rang and ended up on the radio. The radio program decided to run with the talk back request after Channel Nine’s Karl Stefanovic made recent comments in an Australian magazine. Karl was interviewed and confidently gave his opinion on what was wrong with the Aussie man today. He said: “I think they’ve gone soft,”
“I think they’re confused. I think their idols, a lot of whom are only in their twenties, are confused and male identity is being watered down.”
Karl also recently told the Education Minister Christopher Pyne to ‘man up.’ Whatever that means! Karl, cobber! What the hell does ‘watered down’ and ‘soft’ actually mean anymore?
I hate to say it, but in some respects Karl might be right. He may have a point in that the limited role models presented to us (and especially held up to our young men) are all cut from the same cookie cutter. However, that’s where the agreement in opinion with Karl ends for me.
The media does present to us the same “blokey” idea of what a real man is, straight out of the Solo Man advertisements of the 1980’s. This happens constantly through advertising, sporting sponsorship and social media. They serve us up sports stars, up on sexual assault charges, young celebrities rich in money and poor in judgement, men who have buff bodies, but poor relationships with themselves and women. They give us examples of supposedly ‘real men’. ‘Real men’ who can chug down a record number of beers straight after the game and rampage a community on Mad Mondays. Rarely do we see a diversity of men who are smart, funny and wise held up as role models.
Unfortunately a diverse range of men is said not be sexy enough to sell products and win sponsors. Sadly we are force-fed what we a small minority think the ‘real man’ looks like and behaves like. No wonder people may be a little confused about what makes a ‘real man’ For those of us that can see through the BS it’s much easier to see it for what it is, but for some people this is what they aspire to be. The recent Good Sports Campaign, What are your kids really learning? This campaign brilliantly highlighted that children are particularly vulnerable to replicating their sporting hero’s habits, good and bad.
The media could consider delivering a much more diverse range of Aussie men as role models. A variety of people who have different strengths. Most importantly they have a level of wisdom, self-awareness, vulnerability, kindness and honesty. Men who are survivors, everyday heroes, trail blazers and just kind good decent humans.
So why does it even matter what Karl says? Well it’s because, he himself could be considered a role model by many. He also has a mass audience and a powerful microphone every morning when he co-hosts the Today Show on Australian television. Whether Karl likes it or not he is a role model, even an ambassador for change. What he says about men to men does matter. Sure a lot of people dismiss what he says but many don’t. I don’t want to crucify poor Karl here because I too have used horrible statements like man-up to men I love in the past, but the difference between Karl and I is that he has a far greater reach and impact on people then I do, please don’t think that’s an excuse on my part, it’s simply a fact.
Violence against women in Australia (especially partner violence) is at it’s highest in decades; some might argue it’s at epidemic levels. We don’t need to go back to valuing the opposite of soft which is hard. Why do we not value kind, rational and compassion over hard approaches and behaviours? Surely we have moved forward from this barbaric and arcane thinking. Do we really want our young men of tomorrow to harden up? I certainly don’t.
The terms Karl used Hard, Man –up and soft are all loaded, they are all associated with this idea in order to be a man you have to be tough, strong and aggressive. It is simply stereotypical BS, from the past that we don’t need to support. Men are perhaps more real if they are the opposite of those terms.
This encounter with the radio station got me thinking. I’m raising two boys, but I have never asked them what they think being a “Real Man” actually is? I realised we rarely take the time to ask men these questions in life. As women we have daily conversations about what a woman is due to feminism and the mass media and the perfect body on magazines being thrust in our faces. As I researched I struggled to find campaigns that actually addressed the subject of “real men”
I did find however find two Campaigns that I thought might be useful for Karl to check out.
There are also ‘Real Men’ going about their business everyday in our communities that would make perfect role models, we just never hear from them. Real Men like:
- The Men at Men’s sheds helping other men across Australia mensshed.org
- Men who help out young men through charities: bigbrothersbigsisters.org.au
- The Men who pledge to make a difference http://www.whiteribbon.org.au/standup
- The Men that fight for the rights of others everyday http://www.staychatty.com.au/
- The innovative men who go against the cultural grain https://www.hellosundaymorning.org
I could go on for another 100 pages; these examples are everywhere. They are everywhere but not visible in the mainstream media, certainly not on our billboards and in magazines.
The article, in which Karl expressed his disappointment in today’s Aussie man, also went onto to say that Karl wasn’t alone in his thinking. Hold on a minute! I must have missed their research that backed this fact up. I don’t think most do agree with Karl, some do of course but not everyone.
Want I believe (and this is strictly just me guessing) is for the first time in history where it is acceptable for men to be themselves whatever that is and that their masculinity or their ‘manhood’ is not questioned because of it. Granted we still have some way to go in some areas, but overall we can accept being a real man is so much more than just manning-up. This has to be a good thing, diversity allows for everyone to belong. The tough stiff upper lip “Aussie bloke” can now say I’m not coping, I need help, and this is ok. It has meant so many more men survive self harm and suicide. The point is we have hopefully come to a time in this Country where the male identity can be whatever he chooses to be.
Here is what some of my male friends said when I asked them what they thought a real man was.
- Real men don’t just eat Quiche, they cook it too
- Real men are not stereotypes derived from mainstream media.
- Real men will walk away
- Real men cry at sad things
- Real men admit to their mistakes and try not to make them again.
- Real men believe in equality for men and women
- Real men know that pride takes a backseat
- Real men are lovers not fighters
- Real men are passionate, loving, caring and kind
- Real men are self-aware and understand their impact on people and the world around them
- Real men are not directed by their egos
- Real men can be funny
- Real men are gay, straight; transgender, transsexual, and any other label society can come up with to describe sexuality
- Real men respect others despite whom they are or where they rank
- Real men shop at discount stores, do the dishes, pick up the kids and cook dinner
I am a mother raising two boys. I hope that I’m raising them to be none other than kind, gentle, loving and compassionate men. I hope they never feel they have to man up to be a real man. Even though I’m sure in the past, I too like Karl have been guilty of saying this BS statement to my good Husband. I know now what an impact that had, and I will never use those words again, simply because the men in my life don’t need to be anything but themselves. Good, kind loving men.
I do want to thank dear Karl however, as he has enabled us to have a good conversation about what a “real man” is. That in itself is invaluable in helping forge identifies and have a sense of belonging.
“Man must evolve for all human conflict a method which rejects revenge, aggression and retaliation. The foundation of such a method is love.”
Martin Luther King, Jr.