What is a man?

“What is a man? A miserable little pile of secrets? But enough talk, have at you!”

-Dracula, Castlevania: Symphony of the Night

Ah yes, the famous intro sequence to Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, a videogame I have fond memories of. The question Dracula poses to the unsuspecting Richter Belmont during their confrontation, it is rhetorical as Dracula despises humanity. But truly, what is a man? What is it to be masculine? To be feminine?

Dracula to Richter before their battle in Castlevania: Symphony of the Night

Well, my honest opinion is that masculinity and femininity aren’t exclusive to their respective sexes, we exhibit both, and thus, should find balance and harmony between the two. To only carry one over the other is dangerous, and for masculinity, it can lead to war and aggression against other males, and perceived importance over woman.

To be man has both been a boon and curse for me, as I used to think being a man was a sin, and that I was only meant to do wrong. Of course, this isn’t the case as I now see that those thoughts were insecurities and anxiety on my part.

Let’s talk about sex for a moment, or rather, let me share a secret I held for a long time. I was a virgin right up until very recently. Can you believe that? It always surprises me how much it hung on my mind when I think on it, the fact that I hadn’t had sex till I was 31. It always damaged me mentally because I always thought I was “supposed” to have sex when I was 16, 18, or 20. Since it hadn’t happened, I was always on edge around women because I didn’t want to look like a man that didn’t know what he was doing, but also because I didn’t want to be looked at as a child that still hadn’t gone through this “rite of passage.” Because of this, I always carried assumptions, or tried to read situations so that they wouldn’t ever lead to sex. But the more I resisted, at times, the more I wanted, and I have hurt some women that caused me to lose their trust and friendship forever. And was it even because I wanted sex? The fact I cared so much about my lack of sexual experience is laughable now. It is great no doubt, but it isn’t everything, connection is, and that connection comes from a greater understanding of our own femininity/masculinity.

The alpha male mentality was always on my mind. Of course, what is the alpha male? I suppose Arnold Schwarzenegger comes to mind with his depiction as a bodybuilder, and boxing was also something I pursued because it made me feel like a “man.” When I trained, it gave me a sense of empowerment, and I felt more like a man since I was in control, and all of this was unconscious since I never acknowledged nor saw this in me. To be in control, to be aggressive in my hobbies and assertive was what I thought made me a man, but it was also because I thought women found this attractive. I was always under the impression that women didn’t date men that lacked a spine or experience. Those were actual thoughts of mine, and they weren’t the healthiest of thoughts, and they didn’t leave much room to explore and learn about myself.

There is a group of men led by Anthony “Dream” Johnson that try to hold on to the old ways of manhood called 21 Studios, and they also try to deliver a similar message to women, that is, a return to womanhood. The message is one that reminds women of their supposed subservient nature, and to be desirable for men by looking a certain way, acting a certain way. One of the men, Alexander J.A Cortes, has a list of things women have to be, from always shaving, being feminine, and wearing pink. I am surprised this list didn’t have “always smiling” on it, which is also really dumb to tell anyone if you think on it. The context of telling a women to smile when she isn’t or doesn’t feel like it is one where the worth of her being a women or being attractive comes from her smiling, and if she isn’t happy, she isn’t worth a damn.

This group believes that men have to be a dominant figure in society, one that is both strong and resilient. Anthony Johnson said that “…no man wants a strong woman. Who would want a muscular woman?” I have heard this before when I listened to a response to Anita Sarkisian, the feminist that talks about sexism and the female image in movies and videogames. She was referring to strong female role models in video games since there are a lot of “damsels in distress,” like Princess Peach, and Zelda; while female protagonists are usually portrayed as hyper-sexual, like the former Lara Croft before her new look. Things have been changing in video games though, like with The Last of Us 2 featuring two female protagonists, neither of them sexualized, and the writers crafting less typically feminine storylines, rather, very human struggles.

Strength refers to willpower and mental fortitude, but most of the men responding to Anita would say things like “Women are biologically inferior,” “Men are physically stronger,” “The stories are about men and their fantasies of women.” I could go on. It should come as no surprise that these same men hate the story of The Last of Us 2, as it seems the creators are shoving these female protagonists down our throats and ridding the game of the one male protagonist. I don’t know about you, but a single mother is probably one of the strongest people out there, heck a mother in general. I mean, if a woman can be a mother and have such care in the lives of their children, how can that not translate to other roles in the world, like management or running a country? The fact that some countries with female leaders live in unity with little division is a testament that women, if given the respect and time of day, can and will flourish in such positions.

Why is there a willful misunderstanding on the word strong anyway? The word and meaning has been hijacked for men and only men, since the idea that men are the creators and engineers of our society continue, when we have made strides to create an accepting environment for women to flourish and do as they will. We have evolved beyond the need to hunt and gather, so why keep up these roles? But this change goes against the values of the alpha male since men are supposed to rule. And because, according to Anthony Johnson, men are being systemically attacked for being men, and men now have to take responsibility for the wrongdoing they may have done in the past, the perspective that men are superior is shifting away, and doing so is emasculating and disempowering men. This all sounds like the way the “All lives matter” group respond to “Black lives matter,” taking the claims to heart, and fighting tooth and nail to disprove the notion that white people aren’t racist by claiming that BLM are the real racists.

Anthony “Dream” Johnson speaking at a 21 Convention

However, I understand this, but only because I was so insecure in myself as a man. I would think that men were problematic, and I had it in me to be a rapist or a sexual deviant. I constantly thought, after hearing many women come forward about sexual assault from some men, and stories from my own family, that men are inherently evil. This however, created this sanctimonious mindset of righteousness, believing that I was a good man versus all other men. I would act jealously and callously towards some men and women. I judged many men and women that would act against specific standards, like from the bible, and I would think they were less than or weren’t worthy of my attention. It is interesting how a mindset that is supposed to be empowering can actually be so bigoted and hateful.

My belief that men are to be a specific way, or to be “alpha” rather than “beta” was always on my mind, with any interaction, whether it was with other men as we sized each other up, seeing who has the biggest penis perse, or with women to prove that I am a knowledgeable man worthy of her respect. At times when I was vulnerable, or when I forgot about that mindset, it felt nice and I felt like I was really me, but I would be reminded either by friends, the media, or family on what a man is, usually with self-destructive consequences. It was almost like the alpha mentality was never who I was, but a role I needed to fulfill.

I do think we have to take responsibility for ourselves at some point in our lives, but the notion that men are the breadwinners, that they are the protectors of mankind, that they are the movers of the world, it really places men on a pedestal, and really inflates the ego. A thinking of importance can pervade the subconscious, and can translate to how men can treat women, with some form of ownership or control since men are the important ones. Even the idea of entitlement seems very skewed, in that the hyper masculine male deserves so much from life, because of this inflated ego and raising of it. And that isn’t to say men aren’t deserving of good things like a nice partner, a nice house and so forth, but that it is absolutely a necessity is what is problematic. Some men take it too far, like those incels you might have heard about.

Elliot Rodger talked about his hatred for women, interracial couples, and his inability to find a girlfriend in his manifesto before going on a killing rampage that is known as the “Isla Vista Killings.”

An incel is a man that is involuntarily celibate, and they blame women for not fulfilling their end of the bargain with regards to sex and meeting a mans needs. They have an extremely negative mindset of women, and treat women like they are aliens, or anything other than human. Misogyny is the main topic of discussion, along with self-deprecation. Almost sounds like the men running the 21 Studios, minus the self-deprecation. With the idea that women are to serve and be complicit to every mans needs, it leaves little room for autonomy for women, which, I think, is the point for these men, and the alpha mentality.

Anthony Johnson, when he first made the announcement of the 22 Convention, a convention to “Make women great again,” he started by talking about the rebellious women these days. He described her with a photo and some captions, which said “Men prefer debt-free women without tattoos,” and the picture was of a white woman in a field of yellow flowers with a radiant light on her, smiling, attractive and happy. He made this declaration as he, and others like him, think the feminist movement have ruined women, and that to be motherly, nurturing, and caring of children and other men has been replaced with a need to be masculine. In other words, to pursue a career and education is to be a man, and thus, ruins the family, and is why single motherhood is a thing at all, not because of men.

Interesting choice of words. From the 22 Convention website

Biologically speaking, there is reason for certain roles and ideas, and that is our hormones. Men carry more testosterone then women, and testosterone is the driver for aggression and sexual drive, and it leads to more risk-taking with decisions over the preservative mindset women carried. But the thing with humans is that we carry both testosterone and estrogen, the “male” and “female” hormones. Carl Jung has talked at length about the need to embrace and understand our anima/animus, which is our feminine/masculine side. If we can embrace these within us, we can better understand and live harmoniously with the opposite and recognize that we are not so different. Barbara Smuts, an anthropologist, has a list of 6 things from the past that have contributed to our patriarchal society today:

  1. Less females to compete over
  2. Elaboration of male-male alliances
  3. Increased male control over resources
  4. Increased formation of hierarchy formation among men.
  5. Female strategies that reinforce control over females
  6. Language and evolution of it, which leads to ideology

Division of labour may also be why men like Anthony Johnson think men are the movers of the world. But even my boy Socrates, in Plato’s words in the Republic, has talked about equal opportunity for the guardians of their civilization, and equal education and status with the only difference between men and women being that women are the child-bearers. However, he says this means an abolishment of private property and the family, and that we are equal in the care for everyone since female guardians would need to continue their duties.

I missed out on so many friendships and relationships with women because I carried these ideas. Ideas of control. Ideas of domination. Ideas to house and change women to meet my needs, and all without really thinking about it or being aware of it. My self-deprecating feelings of being a man also got in the way. Suffice to say, my thoughts were really messing me up. And then add in the fitness culture of vanity and expectation of looks, and well, you end up really losing your stride if you aren’t aware or looking beyond the superficial.

And I don’t think these standards are exclusive to men. If we stripped away all the things that make men think woman are beautiful; luscious hair, big breasts, or big lips, they would still be beautiful. Anything external will not make anyone more beautiful. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but if specific things are continuing to be coined as beautiful, then it pressures women (and men) to do things they would otherwise never need to do. Starve themselves to be thin, workout endlessly, receive botox, get hair extensions, and receive plastic surgery. All to appear beautiful, taking away any individual beauty they already had. The pressure this puts on women must be high and can wreak havoc on a woman’s psyche and mental health, because the standards are so impossible to meet. And this also applies to the workforce. It is disturbing that a woman’s beauty is important in deciding if she is to be hired or not, which I have seen when employers throw out a resume when a woman doesn’t look the way they want.

There are a large group of men and women in our society that fight these norms, or rather, dismiss them in their entirety to be themselves, with no concern for what others think of that norm. I find it incredibly admirable, and I think they are to be looked up to in ridding the stigmas that surround men, the anxiety and mistreatment of women, and how we are supposed to be. However, these men and women have been attacked and brutalized for centuries. They are looked at as inhuman to some religious groups, and certain rights have been restricted to them as well. They are the LBGTQ+ community, specifically, the gay population.

The first time I saw Philadelphia with Tom Hanks and Antonio Banderas was my first time seeing a gay couple on screen. I didn’t even know what being gay was till that movie, and even still, it wasn’t till they were in the hospital together was when I realized they had a different kind of friendship. I enjoyed the film, even though my youthful existence didn’t understand what the film was really about (I was 7 or 8 at the time). Over the years, the term gay has become an insult that has been tossed at people or things thought of as insidious. I have used it many times with my friends when they upset me, or in jest. And it was always a thing to never look like for a man. So many things are considered gay, and so you must never look that way or risk being insulted and scrutinized. Fruity drinks for example, sitting too close to a man, talking about feelings, showing femininity in speech and mannerisms, not objectifying women (this one still boggles my mind), and subservience to a partner (whipped).

Antonio Banderas and Tom Hanks in Philadelphia

The thing is, gay people have defied the stereotype of a man, and created a community that accepts them for who they are. And we, as a society, ought to celebrate that. How wondrous is it to dismiss any notion of manhood, or the alpha male for that matter? An alpha in our society is one that speaks over others, takes charge, knows everything, and can do no wrong. Sounds like a narcissist if you ask me. The gay population are champions in my humble opinion, and it is sad that they are still reviled by religious extremist groups, or worse, killed upon suspicion in some countries.

The repression of men in other countries is also a problem. In Japan, there is stress and expectations on the male population with regards to a career, and the expectations from women since courting in Japan follows some old school traditions of a male dominant household. But those stresses are why they have had to make changes since they have been suffering from a population crisis since many couples aren’t getting married or having children, with many men choosing inanimate objects as suitors. The growing prevalence of many pieces of media that reflect a subservient woman appeasing every mans need is similar to a dystopian future, like in Bladerunner 2049. Whether dating simulators, “Gacha” type games on mobile devices, or J-pop singers that maintain purity for the sake of their fans so they will continue to buy their merchandise or spend time with them after a show, it is all so these men can shy away from their supposed responsibilities of their societal standard, and to also easily revel in the fantasy on what a man is and what a woman is to them,

At least it isn’t like that in the west, I hear you saying. Well, then why is the suicide rate greater for men? Why is depression common for men as well? And why is homelessness prevalent with men too? And punishment for not following the rules is high with regards to the homeless since they couldn’t uphold societies end of the bargain, you know, of being the atypical man that follows these standards.

This alpha male, hyper-masculine attitude leads to entitlement and anger when things don’t go their way. You can see it with all the men reacting to COVID-19, the wearing of masks, and even the response towards BLM. Donald Trump epitomizes this, and it really makes you wonder if the entrepreneurship idea of first impressions, and how you are to conduct yourself is flawed in some way since his behaviour at times reminds me of a child. And that is the weirdest thing of all: the alpha male mentality, and toxic masculinity as a whole are traits we thought of when we were kids, when we would try to prove to each other we were manly in some way. In other words, to act in such a way is to be childish. It is almost like Peter Pan and his refusal to grow up. These men are refusing to acknowledge that women are autonomous, and that they must look inside and see themselves for who they are. We are no longer a hunter-gatherer society, and there isn’t a need to continue to follow the mating habits and sexual selection habits of our ancestors. All of that was done in the name of evolution, but we have changed and created an open society, and part of that means we as humans have to accept a change to our mating habits and our sexual selection preferences. No more expectations for a physique, height, weight, money, or anything else I failed to list. These are all products of an old way of life that is no longer important. If you hold no expectations for a partner or a friend, you may find yourself in a very wondrous relationship. And that is my problem with being an “alpha” male: there is no cream of the crop, we are good enough because we are human.

I am happy with the progress we have in our society, and I am glad everyone can seek autonomy and freedom in their pursuits. The expectations of society seem to be dwindling. Roles with jobs are shifting and changing. While hyper masculinity is prevalent in the restaurant industry since cooking is such a male-dominated profession, at least cooking is no longer looked at as a “woman’s” role. We have seen many women in powerful positions, like leading a country or being an executive to a large company. And there are many female scientists as well, which should prove that women were never less intelligent then men. I was also reading that if we give overwhelming positivity to a woman’s success, there is no real difference between the sexes in achievement. So even if you were to say to a young girl that she is capable and strong, and that she can be anything she wants, she wouldn’t think or understand division of labour. I would rather live in a world where my niece can flourish in what she wants, then to feel limited because of her sex. I think we are on the right direction, and Anthony “Dream” Johnson only wants a nightmare to return.

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