Thomas Patterson: Big Boys Don’t Cry (Probably)
It’s obviously a thorny question, made ever more unanswerable by the constantly changing station of men in 21st century life, where brawn is no longer as important as a Twitter account and where having to wait an extraordinarily long time for an Ocado delivery is the closest many of us will come to hunting/gathering our own food. Most articles that claim to be exploring this pertinent post feminist dichotomy don’t actually discuss what is it to be a man; rather they discuss HOW to be a man.
To be specific, lest we lose track – the question on the table is: how to be a REAL man.
See, Esquire, GQ, Vanity Fair and, yes, Razzle, have already decided what being a REAL man is – and apparently it’s being a white, wealthy cross between Don Draper, James Bond and David Beckham who also knows how to treat a woman and pet a kitten at the same time (never mind the fact that the very fictional Bond and Draper are both miserable bastards who would both kick a kitten if it got in their way and then kick a lady out of bed and then probably kick the kitten again for good luck, then kiss the kitten better. Then shag it) and Beckham is a product of an emasculating, ruthless PR makeover machine, who won’t be happy until the poor wretch is a bollock-free, metro-nonsexual, tattoo-covered knicker advert on legs. Or Victoria, as she’s known at home.
Though the titles’ constituent ideas vary, there are orthodoxies: Yes, of course, a real man should carry cash in his wallet; he should still fit into the clothes he bought at 30 when 50; should know his drink limit and stay within it; should not be caught wearing his girlfriend’s knickers (a real REAL man would text his partner to find out how long she was going to be out for and remove said knickers AT LEAST 30 minutes before she was due back. Or so I have heard…).
Two lists in particular, however, have taken my eye in the last month – Buzzfeed’s ’40 Things Every Self-Respecting Man Over 30 Should Own’ and the Goldman Sachs Elevator blog’s ‘How To Be A F%#king Man…’ (the coy percent sign and hashtag hiding the c and k in ‘fucking’ are very much an unmanly form of censorship, I feel).
The Buzzfeed piece is a variation of the form that, instead of telling us how to be a man, offers us a list of items that us ‘self-respecting’ men should have acquired by age 30, if there’s any chance of our manhood being taken seriously.
Some of the items are common sense – a pair of black dress shoes, a tailored suit, sunglasses. Some, such as a car and jumper cables are unnecessary if you live in a city with a good public transport like London or New York. And some, such as the duct tape and tool-kit, though useful, when combined with the stocks, cologne and chef’s knife make the list seem more like a primer-kit for American Psycho’s eponymous slick killer, Patrick Bateman, than a regular self-respecting man over 30.
The Goldman Sachs Elevator piece is the usual list of archetypal homilies that characterize this sort of lazy ‘share on Facebook’ tripe, including the old chestnut “Always carry cash. Keep some in your front pocket,” alongside “You will regret your tattoos,” and (because it was written for bankers) “if you are handling a small white baggy in a bathroom stall, face away from an open toilet”.
A lot of the suggestions are simply bizarre. “Own a handcrafted shotgun. It’s a beautiful thing,” runs a particularly odd nugget – and I say this as a man who went to a posh school filled with the types of people who own Suffolk and use it as their own personal shooting range. Of all the beautiful handcrafted items one could own, the shotgun is the item they’ve listed here, not a writing desk or a watch or a musical instrument. Clearly, in the world of manly advice, the shotgun best exemplifies the phallocentricity at their heart of being a REAL man and just imagine what the ladies will think when they see that yours has been finished off by hand…
So what is it to be a man? Having read these lists, I’m more confused than ever but I think it has something to do with being a misogynistic coke-sniffing, duct-tape carrying fitness enthusiast who knows where a good toilet is and has both money and a rocket in his pocket. And if I’m wrong, there’ll be another list along before you know it. In the meantime, perhaps it’s best we go back to the original question. What is it to be man? You won’t find the answer in the articles above and unfortunately you won’t find it here either. I’d love to help you but I’m too busy shopping online for artisan pasta. Hear me roar.
Thomas Patterson is a Journalist and Screenwriter. His areas of expertise include Psychedelic music, NASCAR, G.K. Chesterton and Louchery.