There are all kinds of men in this world. Thin men. Fat men. Tall men. Short men. Skinny men. Hairy men. Loud men. Obnoxious men. Timid men. Flamboyant men. Ferocious men. Hipster men. Daredevils. Douchebags. Atheists. Diehard romantics. Righteous. Vigilantes. Right wing. Left wing. Gay. Straight. Bisexual. Self-made. Self-taught. Self-aware.
But what makes a man?
See, we all know that if you mix sugar, spice and everything nice (plus a large helping of Chemical X), you’d get a Powerpuff Girl. Can you make a man the same way? Replace Chemical X with Chromosome Y? Or is it all testosterone, cigarette fumes, single malt, revved up engines and golf clubs?
Obviously not, because where would you find a golf club in India?
I asked a few of my friends instead.
‘Balls and a penis,’ said one well-meaning pal.
‘The Y Chromosome,’ another one joked. He’s a professor.
‘A well groomed beard,’ someone else chipped in.
His actions. How he works his tools. How he handles his women (don’t ask, my friends are a mixed bunch). His survival skills. His scent. His character. His job. Confidence. Integrity. Wisdom. The answers trickled in through messages, and slid into my DMs like d*ck pics (and some of them were equally flaccid). They were characteristics, yes, but not the ingredients for the quintessential man. Could you source them locally? Would I have to go to the supermarket? Farm those seeds myself? Bid at an auction? Would I find a recipe online or would the store-bought microwaveable version work?
I didn’t have a clue, so I did the only thing that made sense.
I scoured the internet.
Page after page popped up, till I was swamped under a sea of bits, bytes, memes and GIFs. The internet, I realised, had a lot to say about what makes the perfect man. From the heartwarming (What makes a man really happy?) to the eye opening (What makes man a man in the eyes of God?), from the titillating (what makes a man AMAZING in bed?) to the downright depressing (What makes a man an alpha male?), there were secret hacks for everything.
But yet, after scanning through hundreds (okay, six) of pages full of listicles, blogs and popup ads for penis-enlargement pills, I still didn’t have a solid answer (how to last all night long, yes).
I’ll tell you the problem. They all told you to be larger than life. They all told you to ooze confidence like toothpaste. They all told you to dab copious amounts of charisma like it were hair mousse (this was no beauty tutorial though). But most importantly, they all told you to man up.
Man up. It’s a funny phrase. What could it mean? I first heard the term almost two decades ago, and found it endearing. It’s the natural successor, I guess to ‘grow a pair’, which itself took ‘get a backbone’ away from the spinal cord right to the nether depths of your groin.
Getting a backbone, however, didn’t associate courage or toughness with being a man. But now, even if you aren’t coping very well with something, are down with the flu, or simply don’t want to do something daredevilry (or debauchery) — that is every situation that can illicit the phrase from a well-meaning passerby — you are simply seen as the opposite of masculine. See, sometimes you might just want to say: ‘I’m sad. I’m depressed. I’m drowning. I am dying. Am I lonely? Am I going to be all right?’ but you can’t — because no one cares. You’re a dude, baby. Not a baby, dude. These crown jewels are for showing, aren’t they?
It seems that we’ve finally reached that point in our life where you can only be more masculine if you stick to the norms. Have that double measure of single malt. Play golf with the crew. Yell at the waiter in the restaurant. Deadlift 150 kg. Micro-manage an entire office floor. Fight a tiger with your bare hands. As you get older, the rules of masculinity become tougher and tougher (just like people expect you to be), but no one tells you what makes you more machismo.
But that’s the thing, boys don’t become men when they strut out their muscled chests and pick tabs (or sometimes, even fights) at the bar — on a side note, I only pick up my drinks at the bar —boys become men when they become themselves.
Because the truth is, the world (and most men I know) would be happier if people could just be who they want to be. So dress the way you like. Do what you want to do. Take that dance class. Go study French. Sing a Miley Cyrus song at karaoke (‘Party In The USA‘ is a great way to test out your vocals). Bake that cake. Knit that sweater. Read that self-help book. Go for a recital. Don’t drive if you can’t.
And if someone tells you to ‘man up’? Just tell them to man off. This isn’t Sparta.
So what makes a man then?
You’ll have to wait for the sequel to find the answer to that question.
Until then, I’ll go prepare for my Pilates class.