I had long struggled with doubts about my masculinity, particularly before D-day. But, when I tried to discuss it with people they thought I was worrying about being feminine, homosexual, or androgynous. Though there’s really nothing wrong with any of those things, they seemed completely irrelevant to what I was trying to discuss. It may seem obvious, but it’s finally quite clear to me why we seemed to be talking about two different things. “Being a man” is one phrase that has at least two different meanings.
I’ve long noticed that people often confuse the concepts of nationality, ethnicity, and religion. Sometimes we might say someone is, for example, Irish. But, wait. That guy’s not from Ireland, yet you’re calling him Irish. Why? We’re using the same single word to describe both a nationality and an ethnicity. Maybe for the latter, we should call that person Celtic instead of Irish, but we often don’t.
A similar confusion is possible when someone speaks of “being a man” or “being a woman.” Yes, the opposite of man is woman. And, the opposite of the popular connotation of “manly” is “effeminate.” But, in the other definition of “man,” it is part of a spectrum where the opposite end of the spectrum is “boy” or “child.”
Why is this important to me? I really do need to “be a man” to feel better about myself. Striving to “be a man” according to the first definition of the term led me to some unhealthy choices. I went about trying to prove my masculinity through sexual experience, honesty and integrity be damned. Failing to “be a man” according to the latter definition also led to poor choices, such as letting my mother interfere, failing to protect my wife, and failing to value courage, honesty, and integrity, at work and at home.
I do think our popular culture leads us to think of “being a man” more as the opposite of weak or effeminate rather than as the opposite of being childish. Though I should have understood the difference and its implications long ago, I really only thought about it clearly when I was studying for my recent religious conversion. I don’t think the concept can only be found in religion. But, our secular society could probably produce healthier and happier people by putting more emphasis on “being an adult,” as opposed to just “being a man” or “being a woman.”