Thoughts on Manliness & Becoming ‘My Own Man’
Disclosure: I’ve joined the Netflix #StreamTeam and have been compensated for writing this post.
What makes a man manly? I’ve ask myself this question thousands of times. It seems to have a thousand different answers. Manhood is a tricky subject for many. It is a constantly changing set of ideas that differ from person to person and friendship to friendship. Stereotypically in the media the idea of manhood references physical strength, aggression, and genitalia. It also includes loves of typically “manly pastimes” like hunting, football, beer and providing for the family.
I often wondered how “manly” I really was growing up. I’ve doubted my own manhood many times. I never really liked sports. I didn’t have anything against them, but I also didn’t know more than a handful of players names in any given sport. To this day the full scope of rules in a football game elude me.
The religious environment I was surrounded by growing up said it was all about chauvinistic traits when dealing with members of the opposite sex in general. “The man is to rule of the women” sort of bull. Equality of the sexes was something I didn’t learn about until later in life. I was taught a very black and white view of the world by my former religious leaders and I feel as if it harmed me (and others). It kept me uninformed about all the shades of gray that there are in the world. And not just about sex and manhood, but about everything from politics to parenting.
My thoughts on gender identification and manliness changed radically once my dad came out as gay. He and my mom were married for over 20 years and had three children before he came out. I was in my early 20s at the time. I was pretty closed minded up until that point because I thought I’d never known a gay person. Its funny to me now that I could have every thought that then.
All I knew about gay people were the horrible things my pastors at the time had told me. My outlook changed overnight when all those terrible things I was told about “those people” didn’t match up to the kind and loving father I’d known all my life. The next few years were filled with conversations with my dad about life. We talked in a way we’d never talked before and it was great. We shared thoughts, ideas and stories that covered the full gambit of subject matter anyone talks about. Nothing was sacred enough to avoid talking about. Religion, politics, relationship and more filled hours and hours of phone calls and in person meetings over coffee or food.
It is from within this context that I watched My Own Man from director David Sampliner. He spent a seven year journey documenting his search for manhood in a sort of coming of age story. Edward Norton produced the film and even makes an interview appearance when talking about his friend and the journey the film takes viewers on.
My Own Man connected with me on a level that made me understand in a new way what I think about manhood. I was lucky enough to be able to interview David Sampliner about his film, his evolving view on manhood and more specifically his experiences as a father.
The documentary talks about community, family and what manhood means to both the director and the general population. It also made me think of some of the old questions I used to ask myself:
- If sports are considered manly does playing or religiously following sports make a man manly?
- Is the manliness of a sport like hunting minimized if there are also women interested in it?
- Is a man’s worth made less if he loses his job and the wife covers expenses for the family?
- Is a heteronormative man more manly than one of another persuasion?
I’m my 30 plus years on this planet I’ve come to one conclusion. The most manly thing a person can do is be a decent human being and look out for others. That means the more of an asshole a person is the less of a man I consider them to be. Manhood is not based on who you love, but how you love them. Giving of ones time is much more important than giving of ones money. It is about treating those around you with respect and helping those who can’t help themselves without expecting payment in return.
Do yourself a favor and watch My Own Man on Netfilx tonight and let me know what you thought of it in the comments.