From the earliest age, boys are taught that there is a certain range of behaviors and feelings required of them if they will ever be considered men, and that straying beyond these borders is really not acceptable. “Act like a man!” “Real men don’t cry!”
Vignette: I’m eating lunch at work, sitting with some other men. Bob (no real names, of course) tells us he has just traded in a sporty roadster he’d been driving for a four year old mid-sized import sedan. He was able to pay cash for the sedan, which eliminates car payments as part of a larger effort to repair his credit, damaged by a business that went under some years earlier. Makes sense, doesn’t it?
Not to Carl! He starts on Bob right away. “You bought a WHAT? Why do you want a pussy car like that? That’s a woman car.” I snap at Carl, defending Bob’s right to drive whatever the heck he wants, especially as it’s part of a sensible financial plan and not some display of Homo Sapiens Americansis’ peacock feathers.
On an intellectual level, I am puzzled by gender-insults being hurled at a car. But in a deeper way that I can’t get rid of, I know exactly what Carl means. After all, I, too, have been trained in the finer points of “manliness”; on the playgrounds and in the locker rooms of my youth. How many years of such training am I up against here? In some sense, is Carl just another prisoner of the Man Box?
Males are trained right from the start of life to be in control. To obtain money, cars, and girls (only girls!) for sex. To be aggressive, tough and athletic. Failure at any of these things is failure to “be a man.” To display any weakness or sensitivity, to cry, and oh especially to feel any attraction to another boy is truly a failure to “be a man”.
In this TED talk Tony Porter recounts an early experience where he had to deal with this pressure. Watch to the end (about 10 minutes) for what a nine-year-old had to say.
Nine years old.
Now as we all, know, beer is the Official Beverage of the Man Box. You can plainly tell by watching TV on a weekend afternoon for the repertoire of 30-second dramas recounting beer’s benefits, and its noble efforts at helping all men obtain money, cars, and girls (only girls!) for sex. One brand recently took it to its logical conclusion and offered a view of the other side of the coin. In this video, we explore not the benefits of remaining comfortably within the Man Box, but the penalties for venturing outside it.
Oh, no! You stepped outside the Man Box! You will now be crushed to death, as obviously must happen. Afterward, your friends and lovers will forget that you ever existed. Within about three seconds.
At this point, I think the only counter I can offer is awareness. Be aware as men (or as women in relationships with men) of when the Man Box is restricting us from something natural, something right. Then step outside it.
I promise the giant beer cans are not gonna get ya.