For the past week or so, these song lyrics have been earworming in my head:
“When I was born, they looked at me and said, “What a good boy, what a smart boy, what a strong boy.” And when you were born, they looked at you and said, “What a good girl, what a smart girl, what a pretty girl.”
For too long, we humans have let ourselves be defined by our bodies. I’ve seen women friends go through it after mastectomies or hysterectomies, questioning their womanhood when they no longer feel sexy or fertile. And if you believe what media tell you, men have been in a similar quandary since a New York Times piece asserted that fatherhood reduces testosterone levels, and its follow-up appeared in the Fashion & Style section–apparently assuring that no straight man would ever read it.
(Ha! Aren’t stereotypes fun?)
I’ve been thinking a lot about my physicality lately, mostly because I’ll be 46 next week and @HuffPost-50 just followed me on Twitter. (No offense, HuffPo, but OUCH.) I’ve also just joined another gym, and whenever I re-re-re-commit to a physical regimen, the first few weeks get more painful. (Double OUCH.) So sure, I’m coping with body changes like everyone else. But if some new study tells me I’m supposed to “question my manhood” because my testosterone might have dropped, I call horseshit.
Like most “new studies,” this one’s got a lot of holes to fill. And to her credit, the author mentions a lot of them. Stress and sleeplessness, for example, could be huge factors. And since I’m divorced and have 50-50 custody of my kids, my testosterone level must be bouncing around more than flubber in a water main. (Attention, scientists: I’d be more than willing to submit to further research if it means hanging around the Philippines for a few weeks.)
Plus, “new studies” make great copy, especially if they strike fear into us by threatening our manly manliness. (New study! Fatherhood makes you lactate and shop at Zappos!)
For all the study’s flaws, I want the underlying science to be true. I want to believe that Nature is telling men to shift our energy from making babies to looking after them. And I want to believe that irresponsible “overgrown boy” behavior derives from what men have been trained to think we should be, rather than what we are. Because that idea remains our greatest hope that men can continue becoming more engaged with their kids and being taken seriously as viable caretakers.
Still, men seem to have been brainwashed to think of manhood strictly in terms of strength and potency. And I think the main confusion that’s got our jocks in a pinch is that we’re treating “manhood” and “maleness” as interchangeable terms. Which they absolutely aren’t. Maleness is something you’re born with, based on your Y-chromosome; manhood is something you earn, based on how you live your life. So do I like the idea that my testosterone might be down? Probably not. But as long as it doesn’t specifically affect my health, there’s no way it’s going to make me worry about whether I’m still a man. If anything, it will only tick me off if I have to keep waxing my back every summer.
If you’re wondering whether you measure up as a man, complete Very Scientifically Generated Quick Quiz. Select one:
- I confront my problems. I’m responsible and loyal. And I consider the needs of people who depend on me, even if that means setting aside my innate narcissism.
- I’m about as Alpha a male as you’ll ever find, and I knocked up the maid and hid the lovechild from my wife and the voting public for ten years.
Who’s the man, now?