Give me but ten who are stout-hearted men
Offered for your consideration as word of the year is a phrase that has become increasingly commonplace: man up.
It is not easy to pinpoint when men stopped acting like men. My own minor epiphany occurred some years ago while I was waiting for my wife at the airport. I noticed a man of approximately my age—late forties or early fifties—wearing a T-shirt stretched tight by a paunch that was not the work of a day, shorts, and spindly shanks ending in a pair of athletic shoes that looked as large as luggage.
A grown man dressed like a child.
It was those huge shoes, I think, that suggested adolescence, like a puppy that has not yet grown into its paws. The dissonant note was supplied by that straining gut.
This trend in adolescent dressing strikes me as an emblem of a flight from adulthood, which means a flight from responsibility. I see it elsewhere in the weasely non-apology—“I’m sorry if what I said/did offended anyone”—that public figures recite when they have been caught at something reprehensible.
I wonder whether the flight from responsibility can also be a partly explain why more women than men are pursuing academic degrees while the boys continue to concentrate on sports* and video games.
Let me head off any comments to the effect that it is women who are responsible for this, emasculating men by invading and conquering what was formerly male territory. Let me instead suggest that if your manhood was so fragile that a girl could take it away from you, it must not have amounted to much in the first place.
Whatever the origin of the phenomenon, the prevalence of man up suggests that the culture is recognizing that it is time to remedy the situation. So, gentlemen, I present my three-point program for manning up.
1. Stop whining. If an occasion calls for wearing a suit and tie, do so without complaining.** Pay your taxes. Learning new skills is hard. Marriage isn’t easy, and raising children is fraught with difficulty. Suck it up and stop complaining.
2. Take responsibility. For God’s sake, pick up after yourself. Mere possession of a Y chromosome does not entitle you to valet service. Get a degree in something other than weekend boozing. Get a job, and do the work instead of expecting someone else to do it for you. Pay your own way. When you screw up, and you will, often, apologize and take the consequences.
3. Act the part. Adulthood and responsibility do not come naturally or inevitably. You become an adult by trying to act like one, and over time the role comes to fit. Look for models worth imitating, and imitate them. Other men have done it before you. You can too.
*As good a time as any to repeat Gore Vidal’s sardonic remark from decades past: "A peculiarity of American sexual mores is that those men who like to think of themselves as exclusively and triumphantly heterosexual are convinced that the most masculine of all activities is not tending to the sexual needs of women but watching other men play games."
**A tip: If your necktie seems to be strangling you, it may be time to buy shirts of a larger collar size. Chances are excellent that your neck is a good deal fatter than when you were nineteen.