A Real Man

The following is not a list of traits required for manhood. There are enough of those already.

This post is a response to a comment posted on this article by Jeff Perera which is itself a response to the article Toronto, City of Sissies by Christie Blatchford. The following will make more sense if you read at least Jeff Perera’s article, but it’s not entirely necessary.

Here’s the comment I’m responding to:

Very well written.
Ms. Blatchord seems to forget that there is more to being a whole person than outward appearances.
To me, a man is someone who is aware and in touch with his emotions, all of them.
A man hugs his children and kisses his wife (or partner.)
A man defends those who can’t defend themselves.
A man cries at sad, sappy movies, laughs at funny ones, and cheers at UFC.
A man hugs his friends because that’s what friends do.
Lastly, a real man isn’t concerned with the opinions of those who would confine them to little boxes. They just aren’t worth the time.

Here is the response I wrote as a comment:

Thank you for this. While reading it, it occurred to me to wonder about what we say about women or “real women”.

I first considered the phrase “A man defends those who can’t defend themselves” and mentally constructed “A woman defends those who can’t defend themselves”. I promptly concluded that while a woman would probably be praised for standing up for someone weaker, society doesn’t explicitly expect her to do so, in the same way.

I then looked at all of the other phrases, and concluded that (in general) we don’t state expectations like this about women. We may have them (eg. we expect women to hug their kids and kiss their partners) but we never state them in lists like this.

I have read countless lists of things men must do or not do, and feel or not feel. I recognize that your list is personal, and it is certainly more reasonable than most, yet it is still such a list. Your list does not confine men to a “little box”, but it does confine us to a big box, and that’s still a problem.

If we’re going to work towards achieving gender equality and freedom of personal expression, we have to take away all of the boxes and all of the lists, and accept that manhood isn’t defined by any characteristics at all. I realize that it’s scary to do this, but I feel it has to be done.

While writing this, I made some interesting discoveries via Google searches that I wanted to share here.


The first is the results of searching a real man versus searching a real woman. Nine of the top ten results for men are sites describing traits men must have to be “real men”. The results for women are mostly unrelated to this idea, except for this article that declares “A Real Woman Wants A Real Man” and proceeds to tell us (again) what a real man is like. Two of the real woman results are lists like the man ones, but both are from fundamentalist Christian groups, and the lists include such remarks as “A Real Woman… Wants to do God’s will.” and “A Real Woman… Knows her body is a temple of the Holy Spirit”. These definitely do not follow any widely accepted definition of what a “Real Woman” is, and according to traffic ranks Alexa.com, the first manliness site (askmen.com, which has several articles on the subject) has 22,000 times the number of pageviews as the fundamentalist site (chastitycall.org). At any rate, it’s clear that the cultural pressure of character is much higher for men than for women.


Google search results indicating that Google views "man" as a synonym for "person", but not "woman".

Really, Google? (Screenshots taken December 27th, 2011)

The second discovery I made is more surprising and less relevant: Google treats “man” and “person” as synonyms. This is not true for “woman” and “person”, which is a relief—then man and woman would be synonyms, and we’d have to retire the gender binary forever! What a shame…

I presume this has something to do with conversions such as chairman and chairperson, or mailman and mailperson, but the fact remains that it’s an inaccurate synonym.

I’d like to conclude by returning to the idea of better rules: at least one of the top “Real Man” articles espouses “modern manhood” rather than the “rugged” ideals of the past, these are still lists of expectations and rules. I’m willing to acknowledge that the better rules might be a necessary step on the way to full openness to all possibilities of unique manhood. Personally, I don’t think so. I think we need to stop putting such demands on people altogether. On that note, “man” and “person” can’t be synonyms, because you couldn’t possibly make such a list of traits necessary for personhood: “To be a real person, you have to acknowledge all of your emotions.” That just sounds silly.

All of us experience emotions, and all of us sometimes neglect to fully honour them. We’re still just as real, as people, and as men or women or any other gender.
A portrait of Malcolm Ocean

I'm Malcolm Ocean.

I'm developing scalable solutions to fractal coordination challenges (between parts of people as well as between people) based on non-naive trust and intentionality. More about me.

Become more intentional
Check out Intend, a web-app that I built to help people spend their time in meaningful & intentional ways and be more playfully purposeful. Intend logo
Connect with me on Twitter!