This is probably the worst idea ever, but the first thing I want you to do as we kick-start the first chapter of the book is to (drum roll . . .) turn off your brain. Flip the mental switch. I'm going to ask you a series of multiple-choice questions, and I want you to answer them as automatically as possible. Don't think too much. In fact, don't think at all. Go with whatever pops into your head first. Ready?
1. Which of the following occupations is the most manly?
b. Construction worker
2. If all were equally attractive, which of the guys below would the hot girls be most interested in at school?
a. The varsity quarterback
b. The valedictorian
c. The first-chair violinist
d. The yearbook editor
3. You just fell down a full flight of stairs between periods. Your backpack spilled across the floor, you're pretty sure your ankle's broken, and something like five hundred people are now eyeing you like a monkey just climbed out of your butt. What's the proper response?
a. Ask someone to call 911.
b. Ask someone to call your mommy.
c. Ask someone for a tissue, then start crying like a baby.
d. Get up and act like you completely meant to fall down the stairs. That bone shard sticking out of your sock? Just a little scratch. Walk it off.
Ten bucks says this is how you answered, in order: Construction worker, Quarterback, and the No-big-deal approach to falling down the stairs. How do I know? Because those were my answers, too. I'm a guy, and I can guess how most guys think, even with turned-off brains. Which reminds me-time to reboot. Unknot the noodle. That's all the nonthinkage you get for the remainder of this book. Let's get started.
What Is a Man?
Most of us have a pretty good idea of what it means to be a guy. A guy is active, strong, and masculine. A guy is athletic and competitive and a natural leader. A guy is tough, macho, and doesn't show pain. He's not controlled by emotion. He's laid-back, cool, and confident in all situations. He never cries, never shows weakness. He's in charge. He's a stud.
Also: we're wrong.
We've been brainwashed by the myths of manhood. We've been snookered by male stereotypes. What's a stereotype? A stereotype is a set of beliefs about the "typical" characteristics that are supposed to apply to all members of a certain group of people-women, men, blacks, whites, Hispanics, whomever. Stereotypes can be positive or negative, and are a way for society to distinguish one group from another. Occasionally they're accurate. But mostly they're oversimplified, offensive exaggerations.
We've all heard them, of course. You're aware of any number of stereotypes about certain races, from the supposed athletic prowess of African-Americans to the impressive work ethic of Asians. Distasteful? Yep. Racist? Probably. But did you also realize that there are stereotypes about men? It's true. As guys grow up and slog through the process of becoming a man-something you're knee-deep in this very moment, by the way-we tend to buy into wrong ideas about what a man should be. Those misconceptions are based on stereotypes, and the stereotypes are everywhere. You hear them at school, at home, in church, and especially in the media.
That makes things hard. As a teenager, you're at the stage in life where you're starting to leave behind the kid stuff and take on more adult personality traits and responsibilities. You're looking to established men to help you define what those characteristics are. Many of you are in luck, because you have good male role models in your lives-fathers, teachers, ministers. But some guys don't have those things, so they look elsewhere for tips on manhood. And most often, that "elsewhere" means Hollywood. Their models of masculinity are Brad Pitt, Ashton Kutcher, and Vin Diesel.
Good idea? Not so much.
A boatload of media researchers and analysts have studied the portrayal of males on TV and in the movies, and almost all of them have come to the same conclusion: The media's portrayal of what it means to be a "real" man in our society is, well, dumb. Narrow-minded. Clueless. Basically wrong. If you're taking your cues on manliness from the entertainment world, you're probably getting the wrong idea.
So it's time for a counterattack. Time to make some corrections, to offer you a real look at what it means to be a man (which, incidentally, is the idea behind this whole book-handy, huh?). To start, let's look at a bunch of those stereotypes about guys and then discuss what's real. Time to demolish the male myths.
Myth: Guys are action heroes in disguise, bringing muscles, mayhem, and mad combat skills to every situation.
Where It Comes From: Vin Diesel movies, old Bruce Willis movies, pre-Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger movies. Actually, pretty much any movie with explosions and car chases and guys with large tattooed biceps.
The Reality: Are you kidding? If I'm ever in some situation where suddenly I have to jump a motorcycle through a plate-glass window ten stories above the ground while machine-gunning a whole gang of bad guys with European accents, all while smoking a cigarette and wearing a tight-fitting shirt that emphasizes my enormous pecs-well, the next time that's required of me is the next time I'm wetting my pants. Many guys have leadership qualities. Many guys are good at taking charge of a situation. Many guys can even be heroic. But very rarely does that heroism call for a degree in motorcycle stunt-riding.
There are plenty of other ways to be a hero. A guy can be a hero by doing the right thing, by defending the underdog or by speaking up for some kid who's being picked on. Heroes come in all shapes and sizes. And you don't have to be impossibly ripped to be one.
Myth: Guys are violent, angry, and aggressive.
Where It Comes From: Again, movies and TV shows play a big role. So does the news media and, unfortunately, real life. More men than women have been convicted of violent crimes. Almost all school shootings have involved guys. Almost all serial killers have been guys.
The Reality: The reality is that, due to the presence of testosterone (a hormone that sloshes through you during puberty), guys have the potential to be more aggressive than girls. Males have up to eight times more testosterone than females, and studies have linked the presence of testosterone to aggressive behavior. And since aggression leads to violence, the most violent people in the world have been and are most likely to be male.
But does that mean all guys are naturally violent? Nope. Though testosterone has been linked to aggression, there's nothing conclusive that says it's the sole cause of it. Lots of things factor into our behavior, but few of them relate to biology. They have more to do with the way we were raised, with our decision-making skills, and with our level of maturity. Just because I'm a guy doesn't mean I'm kicking your teeth in if you look at me funny. I may occasionally allow myself to get mad or angry (and there's nothing wrong with that, by the way), but because I'm mature and in control of my emotions, I can keep cool whenever necessary. Violent outbursts-whether by a kid provoked into a fight at school or a major-league ballplayer who just got beaned by a Kerry Wood fastball-are impulses that give us a choice. We can choose to let the aggression loose and give in to violence. Or, we can do the manly thing and contain those impulses. Being a man means learning self-control when it comes to our competitive and aggressive nature.
Myth: Guys don't cry or show emotion.
Where It Comes From: Coaches, teachers, parents, older siblings.
The Reality: A lot of guys may be uncomfortable with the expression of any emotion that's not related to, say, your team losing the World Series, but the reality is that it's okay for guys to cry. Our culture gives us the idea that guys are allowed to show "tough" emotions like anger or rage or competitiveness while burying other emotions-like crying-that aren't as cool. We showcase the aggression and hide the vulnerability.
We're way off base. Crying doesn't make you any less manly. It doesn't make you a sissy or a wimp or whatever. In fact, girls like a sensitive guy.
There's just one minor problem. Did you know it's physically harder for guys to cry? No lie-there's a biological block in place that keeps guys from turning on the tears as easily as girls. It's a hormone called prolactin, which is related to tear production. Once guys hit adolescence, prolactin levels drop. So teen and adult women have much more tear-producing prolactin than guys. That's why they can get all weepy at the drop of a hat. And that's why guys are pretty much only able to cry when their dog dies, even if they're cool with showing emotion. This physical difference is true among men of all cultures. Worldwide, men cry less than women.
But that doesn't mean a guy shouldn't cry, or that it's somehow weak for a guy to cry. Not at all. Pay close attention at the end of any championship game in sports-the Super Bowl, the World Series, the NBA Finals, the Stanley Cup-and you're guaranteed to see a bunch of world-class athletes in tears. Look at legendary Kansas City Chiefs coach Dick Vermeil, who seems to get sniffly every time he gives a press conference. Watch the Academy Awards, and you'll see some of our country's biggest movie stars shed tears. Country superstar Tim McGraw-Faith Hill's husband-sings a song that says, "I don't know why they say grown men don't cry." And the Bible says Jesus wept when his friend Lazarus died.
Guys who cry are in pretty good company.
Myth: It's not cool for guys to succeed in school.
Where It Comes From: College and pro sports, movies where the jock always gets the girl, TV shows that praise athletic guys and handsome guys while making fun of smart guys. The statistics back it up. According to a book called Real Boys: Rescuing Our Sons from the Myths of Boyhood, by William Pollack, guys form an overwhelming majority of students at the bottom of the class in grade point average. From elementary school to high school, guys get lower grades, on average, than girls. More girls than guys attend college. More girls than guys get master's degrees.
The Reality: Aside from your spiritual beliefs, hardly anything has a bigger impact on your life than your education. Being a good student and getting an education are major, and the most successful people in the world are guys who busted their butts to excel in school. There's no question that it's cool to be an academic stud.
Then why do guys still worry about being labeled a dork/nerd/geek/Dilbert (take your pick) if they seem too smart? It has to do with the same masculine stereotypes we've already discussed. A lot of guys mistakenly believe that being creative or intellectual is somehow a feminine trait-that it's less than manly, a highway to Wedgieville. That causes guys to slack off when it comes to homework, study, and class participation. They may refuse to answer questions to keep from being called "teacher's pet." They may feel the need to disrupt the class by acting like a class clown, or by making snarky comments from the back row. I've even known guys to brag about getting a D on a test because they thought the subject matter was stupid.
In reality, it's stupid to think school doesn't matter. The education thing isn't always fun, but it's important, and it's one of those times you have to look past the here and now to the future. Getting a high-school education is the difference between a career in politics or business and a career handing out shoes at the Bowl-a-Rama. Getting a college degree is the difference between being a guy who drives for the trucking company and the guy who owns the trucking company. And if you want to get into college? Don't expect it to be easy if you slouch your way through high school. Unless you're a 6'11? dunking machine, universities aren't much interested in slackers.
Myth: The only thing guys are interested in is sex. And girls. And sex with girls.
Where It Comes From: You have to ask? Movies. TV shows. Men's magazines like Maxim or Playboy or Stuff. The locker room. The hallways at school. The parking lot. Church. And so on . . .
The Reality: Yep. Guys think about sex a lot. A whole lot. It's said that we males reach our sexual peak around the age of eighteen. That means your sex drive is highest as you near the end of high school, and all those years leading up to it will be accompanied by a constant heightening of your libido (which is a fun-sounding fancy word for "sex drive"). The combination of rambunctious libido and sexual peakness means guys are hugely interested in sex.
But is that all they're interested in? No way. There's more to life than libido, especially when you've decided to hold off on sex until you're married, which is a good idea (lots more on that in Chapter 9). Healthy teen guys are into a lot more things than sex. Guys think about sports and exercise pretty often (see Chapter 8). Their minds are on school and friends (check out Chapter 12). They're into church and helping others (see Chapter 14).
Here's the deal: If you find yourself having sexual thoughts-a-plenty, you're normal. Then again, if it's not on the brain 24-7, you're also normal. You're neither a freak, a perv, or a prude. Some guys have one-track minds, some don't.
A lot of guys like to talk about sex to get attention or to enhance their reputation, and they make it sound like girls are the core of their existence. Be aware, though-they're probably exaggerating. Any time guys bring up their sexual prowess, sexual activity, sexual experience, or sexual knowledge, they're most likely overstating everything. A guy who's had sex twice will tell you he's had it four times. A guy who claims to know all the sexual moves and positions probably read a page or two in Cosmo or took notes while downloading porn. Loser. Guys are masters of sexual embellishment, and as a result, it seems sex is all they're into. Don't be fooled. It ain't so.
It's entirely possible to get through your teen years without giving in to sexual pressure. Lots of guys have done it, and they all know one thing: There's a lot more to being a man than letting your penis be your guide.
Ways to Be Manly
The point of this chapter is simple. There are lots of ways to be a man. Real masculinity-the kind that's godly, the kind that's modeled after Jesus-isn't bound by any stereotypes of what a guy is "supposed" to be. Real men can be creative or artsy or musically inclined. Real men can be intelligent and successful in school. Real men can be nurses or teachers or ministers or chefs. Real men can have a meaningful relationship with a girl without it getting complicated by sex or romantic pressure. Real men can discuss their feelings, show compassion, and be sensitive. Real men can cry without it being a news event.
On the other hand, real men can also be lumberjacks. They can be construction workers or pro wrestlers or football players. They can be plumbers. They can be CEOs of billion-dollar corporations. Real men can pick their teeth with chain saws and file their nails with a belt sander and hunt Kodiak grizzlies with a handful of rocks and a box of rubber bands.
What am I trying to say? There is no one single way to be manly. And, guys, that's good news. As a teenager growing into a man, that means you can just be who you are. Even if you don't have muscles. Even if you don't have a harem of girls fainting over your every move. Even if the closest you get to the playing field is as equipment manager, you're no less a man than anyone else. You're free to be you. You can do the stuff you want to do without being worried whether it's "girly" or "gay" or "wussy." Because it's not. The only thing "girly" is a girl.
It's time to bust out of the stereotypes, guys. Be your own person. Be creative. Be real. Relax about who you are, knowing that on a daily basis God is shaping you into the man he wants you to be. Keep that at the front of your brain, and stay confident. Have fun and enjoy the ride-we'll make some stops along the way, but the final destination is manhood.
A helpful recap of the main points of this chapter:
- We've been snookered by stereotypes about what it means to be a man. Without good role models, it's hard to know what true masculinity is. Also, Vin Diesel is not a good male role model.
- Not all guys are hyperaggressive, stunt-riding action heroes. That would be cool, of course, but it's a myth.
- Not all guys are violent. A real man knows that violence and aggression are a choice, and he knows how to maintain control.
- Lots of guys believe it's weak for a guy to cry. It's not. It's harder-physically speaking-for guys to cry, but there's nothing wrong with it. Ask Dick Vermeil.
- There's nothing "stupider" than acting like school is stupid. You think it's uncool to succeed in school now? Better hope you still believe that when you're slinging burgers at the age of forty.
- Guys think about sex a lot. But not every guy has lovin' on the brain 24-7. There's more to life than your libido.
- There is no one single way to be manly. The most masculine thing you can do is be yourself.