This article is written out of annoyance with Steve Pavlina’s How To Be A Man article.
I first read that before I even realised that a man was the exact opposite of who I wanted to be. (Note to new readers: I am a transgender woman who discovered her identity around age 22). At the time, I was still tangled up in the mess of “trying” to be a man and trying to define what women and men were.
First I sort of believed that article and tried to fit myself into the ideas. (Didn’t work).
Then slowly as I revisited it a couple of times over the years I increasingly got the sinking feeling that something was just not right.
Now that I have the experience of having lived as both a man and a woman, and now that I have well and truly formed my ideas about feminism and gender, and particularly now that I understand myself as a woman and have to deal with BS ideas about gender which disempower me every day, I know exactly what I find wrong with that article.
So without further ado, let me present: How To Be A Man.
How To Be A Man
1. Identify as a man.
OK, I see you wanted more than that.
See, what I find simply BS is that we have to come up to expectations for our gender at all. If you’re a man, you don’t need to work out “how” to be a man: you already are a man!
And supposing you could be more or less a man… why would that matter? Supposing you always let women make the first move, romantically, and that puts you at only 20% man. Who cares?
But society tells us that if a man is not a “man”, then he is also not worthy as a person. That’s why it can be an insult to tell someone they are not a man or that their manhood is somehow lacking.
As a transgender person I have special triggers related to people telling me I am not a woman, but supposing I didn’t have them, I could imagine hearing someone say “You are not a woman!” and replying, “Well, you are not Caucasian. Take that!” Whereupon they would have a confused look on their face, as in, “What? Of course I’m Caucasian.”
Because, frikkin hell, of course she is Caucasian. And of course I am a woman. (Again, some people would argue about that, but only because of bigotry and social inculcation regarding gender. I am just as much a woman as anyone else).
I understand I’m inadvertently adding another issue to the mix when using myself as an example for obvious womanhood. Some people might get confused about this (though IMO they shouldn’t – how hard can it be to accept that gender is primarily an internal phenomenon, and that my internal gender, regardless of the state of my body, is just as valid and primary as theirs? Oh, but I’m derailing my own post even further).
As I said, some people might get confused about this particular example, so how about I compare someone telling you, “You are not a man!” to someone telling a cat, “You are not a cat!”.
You get it now?
If you’re a man, you can’t not be a man. And if you’re a cat, you can’t not be a cat.
So we don’t need to write articles on “How To Be A Man”. We don’t need to tell each other whether we are being a man or not at any given time. It’s just absurd.
And, in fact, I’d say it’s sexist. Because it’s comparatively pretty rare to tell someone they are not woman enough. Sure we attempt to restrict their behaviour like crazy, but usually the threat is not losing their membership in the Woman Club.
On the other hand, men are faced with this threat every day.
So why is “You are not a man” or “You’re not man enough” frequently used as an insult, whereas “You are not a woman” or “You’re not woman enough” rarely used as such?
Because society perceives manhood as good, strong, and valuable and womanhood as bad, weak and low value.
Seriously, how else could “You’re such a girl!” mean anything negative?
Sexism is alive and well, and you can see it in our gender policing. Men are told to be “really men”, and what this does is maintain their dominant position over women. If you could let them “woman up” or “get their woman on”, and see that as a positive thing, then maybe this split between men and woman wouldn’t be so strong, so oppressive.
I mean, consider Steve Pavlina’s tips on How To Be A Man:
A man understands and respects the power of choice. He lives a life of his own creation. …
A man doesn’t require the approval of others.
When I first read this article, maybe that sounded good, because I could identify with being strong and not needing others’ approval.
But fast forward to today, and I understand myself as a woman (and as always having been a woman) and yet, I still identify with being strong and not needing others’ approval.
And a note for the clueless: this is not because I am transgender. Psychologically I am objectively a woman in every way. But thanks for asking.
By saying that a man understands the power of choice, etc, he is basically saying that a woman doesn’t. Or, (as I assume his answer would be along these lines) he is at the very least implying that these traits are less important for a woman.
What’s more, the language seems to suggest that you are somehow not a man if you are weak and need others’ approval (?) and that somehow being a man is something to be strived for in itself (??).
Again, this puts women in a bad light because as we can’t or don’t strive to be men we miss out on all this implied merit of “succeeding” in this herculean task of being a man.
Or how about his point number 2:
A man who claims his #1 commitment in life is his relationship partner (or his family) is either too dishonest or too weak to be trusted.
I think you could make a case for this sentence written generically:
Someone who claims their #1 commitment in life is their relationship partner (or their family) is either too dishonest or too weak to be trusted.
Even then, if you have a big family which needs a lot of taking care of, or maybe a partner who is tetraplegic and needs constant outside help, what would be the shame in dedicating your life to them?
I mean, sure, perhaps a man feels more like a man if he’s going out and saving the world rather than focusing on just a few people.
But two things:
1. I have an expansive purpose to go out and save the world (or that idea written in less grandiose words), and I am a woman.
2. What would be so wrong about a man dedicating his life to a small set of people?
It just doesn’t make any frikkin’ sense to me. Do we take away someone’s Man Card if he focuses on a small set of people?
Or returning to the sentence written generically. Let’s assume it is weak and disingenuous to say that you only care about a few people. This could be true: it’s rare that your family or partner takes up so much energy that you can’t have other purposes in life. If this is the case, why do men get the monopoly on being strong or honest? If it’s really such a bad thing to dedicate yourself so fully to just a few people, then women are looking bad by implication.
I think it may be possible that women may be more inclined to focus on family or a partner more than other goals. But if so, that would be a tendency, and not a rule. In the same way, men focusing on external goals rather than their family would be a tendency, not a rule. And going against the tendency doesn’t make you “not a man” or “not a woman” (whatever that means), it just means… well, nothing, really. It just means you’re going against the tendency.
Responding to every point in Steve’s article would take too much time. I think you’re getting the gist, anyway. Either we’re equating being a man to being good, in which case we’re being sexist. Otherwise we’re making statements similar to telling a cat that he is not a cat. Which is just absurd.
One point I just had to critique though was this one:
A man is an active giver of love, not a passive receiver. A man is the first to initiate a conversation, the first to ask for what’s needed, and the first to say “I love you.”
OMG. Does Steve know that lesbian relationships exist? How does he think those work?
I’m bisexual, but I’ve only been with two men in my life. The first one, I came on to. The second one came onto me. Additionally I’ve tried to approach a third man who turned me down.
Am I not a woman for approaching a man? Was he not a man for having been approached by me? Additionally, who cares? We had some good times. Are we obligated to erase those memories because we were breaking the gender law?
Besides this, I find it very disempowering to suggest that women can’t approach men. Asides from it just not being my experience, it also means that if I like a man I’m obliged to limit myself to making subtle hints in the hope of him making the first move. Which is just useless. Most of the time he probably wouldn’t even notice, and besides, why do I have to humiliate myself by downplaying my desires? No, if I want something, I go (try to) get it. That is empowerment.
Sorry Steve: you are being sexist.
And you know I love you. You changed my life a billion times over. But here, let me say it: you’re acting sexist and could do with working on this part of yourself. Telling women they should be passive, disempower themselves, and just wait for a man’s advances? That’s being sexist.
With these examples made I want to get back into the discussion of ideas like “How To Be A Man” in general.
There is no one way to be a man, or a woman. There is no rule to what a woman or a man is like, only tendencies. And every tendency is broken by someone (usually, more than just someone).
Saying that those people should NOT break the tendency is bullshit. That is gender policing. That is enforcing a meaningless conformity.
It also distracts people from the possibility that maybe, despite their bodies, they might not be a man. (Or a woman). Take my case for example. After years of getting incredibly confused trying to be a man, I realised that I wasn’t a man after all.
And there are other options than just Male-To-Female or Female-To-Male transgenderism. There are also non-binary genders, meaning people who identify as neither one nor the other of the two cardinal genders.
These are real, as real as my gender, as real as your gender. Just as I have an internal gender and body-sense which allows me to understand myself as a woman, non-binary-gendered people often have an internal gender and body-sense which is somewhere in between (or beyond) what men and woman have.
(You have an internal gender and body-sense too, by the way. It is just harder for cis people to identify because there is no conflict between the internal and external).
And of course there are also people who are born with intersex bodies and have a non-binary internal gender to match.
What all this means of course is that if someone is apparently male but is in fact female or non-binary, then saying, “Be a man!” is even more absurd and stupid and just plain wrong than it usually is.
And this also helps highlight the fact that it is okay to be female or non-binary, even if you are male bodied. The implication of “Be a man!” is that it is not okay to be one of the other options for a male bodied person. And that is just wrong.
And finally it is possible to identify as a man but choose to define that as you like.
“Woman” and “man” are boundless identities. There is really no limit to what you can do while still identifying as a woman or a man.
It’s hard to say exactly what a woman or a man is, except that you know it when you are it. (Or sometimes you don’t, but with further exploration you can usually find it out).
For me being a woman has something to do with association with other women, something to do with identifying with and “feeling” a woman’s body, even when I don’t quite have one yet, and something on an energetic level which I just can’t describe.
There are other aspects too, though I’d call them “femininity” more than “womanhood”, and these aspects can also be had by men, or conversely, not had by women. However there is a tendency for women to have them more than men, and their presence in me helps affirm my gender identity in the context of the other, more defining traits.
Little “clues” brought me to my gender identity, such as how I felt better when I had a female name and when referred to as “she”, or how female clothes made me feel so much more comfortable, or how taking female hormones gave me an immense, unbelievable sense of inner peace, such as I had never felt before.
So that’s about all I can say about what a woman is, or, by contrast, what a man is. The rest, you are free to define as you will.
You can be a masculine woman or a feminine man. There is nothing stopping you. You can combine masculine and feminine traits to the proportion that feels right to you. You can be a man, wear woman’s clothes, and be a martial artist. You can be a woman, always take the initiative in romance, and obsess over babies.
All that really matters is how you identify. (And you can even flat out refuse to identify as anything, if that floats your boat). Nothing you can do can change who you are, or who you identify as, unless you want it to. And if society tells you “you are not a woman” – or a man – who cares! My breakfast wasn’t my breakfast this morning. The computer I’m typing on is not a computer. Ceci c’est ne pas une pipe. Who cares, I’m still going to eat, I’m still going to type, and I’m still going to think that ceci si c’est une pipe.
Stop trying to be your gender, recognise that your gender can never be taken away from you, and just be who you are, whatever that is.
That was a good climax on which to finish the article. But I have one more thing to say.
All this talk about how to be one gender or another tends to obscure our true gender variation. As I said, there are so many ways to be a woman or a man.
If you really want to know how to be your style of woman or man, then look at your gender conditioning and how it restricts you. Look at how you do one thing or another out of a fear of not being man enough, or woman enough.
As you become aware of those internal restrictions, slowly let them down, one by one. It will be uncomfortable at first, and you will probably encounter resistance from your social circle, so do it gradually. For example, try challenging what you’ve always been saying about not liking kids, if you’re a man. Perhaps you were just saying that so society will accept your manhood better. Perhaps you really do like kids.
Or if you’re a woman, maybe you’ve been secretly wanting to go to the gym and get a ripped, muscular body.
These are just two options. You will probably have different things you want to explore. Just follow your urges, and, as you come up against social barriers, challenge yourself to ignore them and just be yourself.
Another thing to take into account is that perhaps you are holding back on being as masculine as you could be (if you are a man) or as feminine as you could be (if you are a woman). This may be because you want to distance yourself from gender stereotypes.
This is particularly the case for women, as femininity is held in poor regard in society; women are respected more in the workplace if they are not overly feminine, and some branches of feminism encourage women not to be feminine because it is supposedly “constructed” (but then don’t seem to put the same emphasis on expressions of masculinity… hmmm). I have written elsewhere that this constitutes sexism.
So as well as exploring your internal restrictions regarding expressing cross-gender traits (femininity if you are a man, masculinity if you are a woman), explore in the same way your restrictions regarding same-gender traits. It may be that you are more masculine or more feminine than you think.
That is how to be a woman or a man.