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Men’s Voices, Men as Allies

Check-In: The Benefits of Being: A Whole New You

by Pat McGann, director of outreach of Men Can Stop Rape

Most of us men live a doubled life. On one side of our yin-yang existence is masculine entitlement and on the other masculine failure. Typically, most criticisms of traditional masculinity have addressed privilege, but it's important to recognize and address how our feelings of inadequacy as men can fuel a drive for entitlement and power. All of us as men will to varying degrees fail at proving our manhood. Very few of us have the physique of a WWF wrestler. We aren't able to be one with the Force, like a Jedi Knight. We can't fly or turn invisible or scale the side of a building, like comic book superheroes. We can't play basketball with the fierceness and skill of Michael Jordan (and neither can Michael anymore). We all experience moments when we aren't “real men.” Our failures are our dirty little secrets. They go unspoken, are left unrecognized and unmarked among men, unless they are used to diminish another's hold on manhood. We are supposed to conceal their existence. To admit failure is to confess our inability to meet the standards of manhood. We attempt to erase inadequacies with our accomplishments, control, bluster, and at the furthest extreme, violence. Our masculine inadequacies are unrelenting. They grip like an iron fist.

At least that's what I discovered about myself while I was in San Diego at the 8th International Conference on Family Violence. My first morning there, having trouble adjusting to West Coast time, I woke about 4 am, and in the still darkness of the Town and Country Resort hotel room realized that even after years of working to redefine myself as a man, many of my masculine deficiencies still have a tenacious hold on me, even though I thought I was largely free of them. They are many and varied and apparently are deeply embedded, and while it might be easy to act as though they have no sway over me, I don't think it would be particularly productive. It's time we publicly begin acknowledging our failures as men to neutralize the harm they cause and to recognize that they offer us a way into transformation. They are the seeds of change. They offer us ways into new and healthier masculinities. In the spirit of change, I offer some of the shortcomings that still have a place in my masculine identity. An entire catalogue of them might be a bit much for all of us, so let me focus on two topics in particular: physical appearance and sports.

Physical Appearance. I'm largely bald, which is less of a mark against me than it might have once been, but there's a difference between having hair and choosing to shave it all off, and just not having much hair on your head. There are, of course, many products like Rogaine intended to restore or at least maintain that healthy, sexy head of male hair, signifying its importance within the traditional masculine image. No man is more ridiculed than he who uses the sweep-over, meaning he employs long strands of hair from the side of his head to cover the baldness on top. It is a poor subterfuge. Not only is it easily seen through, but it is incapable of standing up to the first whiff of wind. Numerous male stars and musicians have gone to the trouble of having hair implants. I attempt to compensate for my baldness by buzzing my hair close to the scalp but can't quite bring myself to go to the trouble of using a razor and shaving cream. So I exist in limbo land, somewhere between the smooth, manly head and the sexy, full-bodied coiffure.

As for my face, it is simply too round – not at all plump but instead lacking in the angular edges that characterize a rugged handsomeness. While this keeps me looking young for my age, it also places me outside the knock-down, gotta-have-that-man looks that occupy a room of full of people when you walk into it. My cheekbones aren't particularly prominent, my nose is a little on the pug side, and I don't have a cleft chin. I have always wanted a cleft chin. There's something about a chin with an indentation that just says "real man." I hate to shave, so I've almost always grown a beard since my mid-twenties, but even that is a poor representative of the masculine ideal because facial hair at its best is thick and course. Mine is light and even a little spotty in places. I really, for example, have very little in the way of hair between the two sides of my moustache. Oh yeah, and I wear glasses. I'm a four-eyes, which pretty much automatically destroys my chances for a lifetime achievement in ruggedness. Glasses automatically render you vulnerable, especially when you have put them down somewhere and can't find them, so you have to ask your partner, who has her glasses on, to see if she can find them.

As for the rest of my body, I'm not sure I really want to go there other than to say I've always been fairly thin, sometimes even scrawny, so if I'm going to compete with the likes of the super-sized male bodies strutting around in the media nowadays, I better start drinking my protein powder and working out. More muscle mass please. The only problem is that most protein powder has sugar in it, which is a no-no for someone like me with Type II diabetes, and I am not a gym rat. You're more likely to find my head buried in a book than in a weight machine.

Sports. I've already implied in some ways my relationship with sports as a man. Although I once upon a time had fantasies of slicing down the field, football in hand, dodging one tackle and bulling my way through another, looking mean and lean in pads, or sprinting down the court, everyone amazed by my speed and dribbling, then making a no-look pass for the winning lay up, my physique and height have somewhat limited my star status. I played flag football in seventh grade and was sent in for one play in one game – that was it for the season – as a defensive end, and the runner on the opposing team went down the other side of the field with me trailing well behind. Probably my one moment of triumph in organized sports was at the age of twelve when I hit in a winning run at bat and received the game ball. But that year – my only year of baseball – I ruined my arm from failing to properly warm up before throwing from centerfield. Everyone tried to get me to play again the following year, but I simply refused.

After playing countless hours of basketball in our driveway, I decided to pursue that sport as my next athletic activity and participated in try-outs for the high school team at Christ the King. Only it turned out there really were no try-outs because only around 50 students populated the school and no one was turned away. I immediately learned I wasn't as good as I thought I was when I kept going up on the wrong foot for a left-handed lay-up, and the coach sent me down to the other end of the court to practice by myself. I ended up being thought of as a player with a lot of unrealized potential. Perhaps I didn't want it badly enough, didn't push myself to the edge, caved at key moments. My first practice with the varsity after having had the flu for a week, the coach asked me if I wanted to play with the JV team that night, and when I said yes, every JV player said, all right, McGann's playing with us and slapped me on the back.. I had once heard that the star player on the New Deal team played with the flu the night we beat them and threw up in the restroom during halftime. If he could do that, I figured I could push my way past my exhaustion and shakiness. The team needed me. I was going to be a star. Only I wasn't. When the game began, I could barely make it from one end of the court to the other, and after trailing behind everyone for the first five or ten minutes, I finally decided the most reasonable thing I could do for all concerned was walk off the court and sit on the bench.

Now, I don't participate in contact sports, or even really much in non-contact sports. I exercise in the morning at home, go for long walks, and that's about it. I'm protective of a back that has given me trouble in the past, and my knees don't even let me dance the way I want to anymore, much less play sports. I don't watch baseball or football or golf or tennis or hockey or soccer on TV. I read the Washington Post sports section so I'm at least marginally in the guy-loop. Every year, though, I wait for basketball season, not because I have teams I cheer for, but because I love the poetic motion of someone in the air, the ball arcing and swishing through the hoop.

I could continue with other categories – career, sex, tools, cars, and undoubtedly many more – but I think I've made my point. All that I've written about is probably familiar in one way or another to the overwhelming majority of men. We persistently fail to live up to impossibly high traditional masculine ideals. Because of this, we worry about being judged by other men and women, which in turn keeps us striving for those ideals we can never fully, absolutely reach. It's easy to become our own harsh judge. But if we accept that we are all failed men, not only will we experience release, we will recognize our deficiencies as a defining part of our humanity. If we dare to speak our manly shortcomings, if we are confident enough to embrace their existence, if we think big and act boldly, a whole new masculinity is waiting to take shape.

Written by Pat McGann. Pat McGann is the director of outreach of Men Can Stop Rape.

Provided by: Men Can Stop Rape


Men Can Stop Rape mobilizes male youth to prevent men's violence against women. We build young men's capacity to challenge harmful aspects of traditional masculinity, to value alternative visions of male strength, and to embrace their vital role as allies with women and girls in fostering healthy relationships and gender equity.

Visit Men Can Stop Rape at www.mencanstoprape.org


Strength speaks from the heart.

If there's a man in your life who represents a masculinity based on true respect, a sense of community and connection, and a commitment to gender equity, take a minute to publicly let him know just how much you value him. Write a sentence or two in his honor to appear in Men Can Stop Rape’s Profiles in Strength web site gallery.

And don't think Men Can Stop Rape is speaking just to women. Men, stand up and honor the male role models in your life who taught you there's a different, healthier way to be a man!




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