By: Andrew Otazo
This op-ed originally published in Spanish in el Nuevo Herald.
I love participating in “masculine” activities. It’s just how I’m wired. Removing 22,000 pounds of trash from Miami’s mangroves required lifting a whole lot of weight over my head. I also carried 35 pounds of trash 26 miles to raise funds for fragile coastal habitats. Three-mile open-ocean solo-swim through bull-shark-infested waters? Did one a few months ago. All-day sojourns in the Everglades? Sign me up. Biking 167 miles from Florida’s east to west coast? Hell yes.
My “masculine” pursuits afford time to ponder the definition of masculinity. For instance, do dress and appearance make a “real man”?
Ha! No. Heels, that most feminine footwear, were invented by Persian horsemen to anchor their stirrups. They were practically mandatory for chevaliers, generals, and kings throughout 18th century Europe. Cosmetics, long hair, tights, skirts, and uncountable other “feminine” articles have come and gone from male fashion over centuries. The Enlightenment Era “man of feeling” perceived public crying (see George Washington’s Farewell Address to the Army) and exaggerated displays of emotion as signals of true manly refinement.
Back to the question at hand: why are so many males so concerned with clearing the bar of being “real men”? Does physical prowess make them so? Eh, probably not, as the ability to lift heavy objects over one’s head seems a rather arbitrary standard. Perhaps it is a single-minded perseverance through challenges and obstacles that allows men to achieve their goals.
Men truly seeking to overcome seemingly insurmountable obstacles and complete the Hero’s Journey will be hard pressed to find a stronger, more entrenched foe than the millennia-old patriarchy. This oppressive system negatively impacting everyone’s (including their own) daily lives cannot be defeated without deeper culture reforms stemming from legislative and regulatory remedies in the form of civil rights, paid maternal leave, access to reproductive healthcare, and many other policy prescriptions. That means men must vote for candidates committed to championing women’s concerns at the local, state, and federal level.
Regarding challenges, cis women, on average, experience far more daily tribulations than cis men. In the U.S., women are paid 83 cents for each dollar earned by men for the same work. Black women earn 63 cents, Hispanic women earn 57 cents, and trans women earn 60 cents for every dollar earned by White men.
Meanwhile, 81% of cis women experience some form of sexual assault or harassment in their lifetimes (compared with 43% of cis men). Every night out, every date, every social interaction is coupled with inherent danger, and cis women and the trans community know it. 46% of trans women are victims of hate crimes, including battery and attempted murder. Black and Hispanic trans women report even higher incidences of violent crime. They choose to be true to themselves on their own terms despite almost daily threats to their physical safety from a society hardwired to reject them. Their simple act of existing makes the paragons of cis manliness’ lauded boardroom trials appear laughable in comparison.
It seems clear that women endure and are accustomed to more economic, physical, and societal obstacles than the average cisgender man. So, we return to the unanswered question: what makes a “real man”?
At the end of the day, masculinity is a nebulous cultural construct, constantly morphing in response to historic trends and norms. Males should stop trying to meet an impossible standard of being “real men” and simply strive to be decent people.
Such an obsession with “manliness” discourages active parenting of children and devalues most forms of care as “women’s work.” This prevents men from building deep, rewarding emotional connections with others and burdens women with the invisible work of managing a household. It also encourages risk taking and eschewing help, leading men to neglect their physical and mental health. Finally, it desensitizes men to the fact that access to abortion and other basic reproductive services are not esoteric “women’s issues.” They are of paramount importance for women to achieve even a modicum of true personhood, much less gender equality.
Some of my fellow men reading this may insist they already go above and beyond to champion women. They don’t sexually harass them. They mentor and foster women’s professional careers without qualifications. They encourage female family, friends, and colleagues to pursue their goals regardless of gender norms. But, these actions are not ends to themselves. They are the bare minimum because that is how decent people should treat each other.
So men, if you seek a real challenge and truly wish to prove your societal worth, reject tired, absurd tropes about what constitutes “manliness.” Set aside meaningless cultural expectations, champion women, follow their lead, learn when your opinion is unwarranted, and most importantly, vote for feminists. Otherwise, you will perpetually remain a child in a man’s body—who may be able to lift heavy objects over his head.
Andrew Otazo is a Key Biscayne resident, an Associate Director at Kivvit, and the creator of Miami Creation Myth.