What about all the men who go about their business, doing a daily job, working every day just because that’s what needs to be done?
Masculinity has a bad reputation. If you define it in a certain way, masculinity is the cause of most, and possibly all, of the world’s problems. That list routinely includes war, violence against women, the sex trade, and pornography. It may also include poverty and drug use, if you define masculinity in just the right way.
I’ve never been convinced that masculinity is all bad or that it’s the root of all evil; that’s always seemed like too simple of an answer to those complex problems. And if masculinity gets all the credit for the bad stuff, shouldn’t it also get credit for the good stuff that’s happened too? Men also developed democracy, stood for nonviolent conflict, and created some of our most amazing art. Isn’t that part of masculinity?
For me, one of the best and most beneficial parts of masculinity focuses on strength of character and perseverance. We teach boys and men to be decisive and resolute, to choose a plan of action and carry it out, whether that plan takes seconds or years. We rarely talk about this as part of masculinity. In Stiffed, Susan Faludi traced it to the World War II writing of reporter Ernie Pyle who emphasized and celebrated GIs for being “quietly useful.”
It’s the masculinity of the “little guy” or the “everyday Joe.” It’s about going to a glory-less job every day because you have to have the paycheck, whether you’re supporting just yourself or your entire family. Even when that job is wretched or you feel wretched, because not going to work means not getting paid, and that’s not acceptable.
It’s about doing a job because it needs to be done, even though it won’t bring any glory or recognition. That description is often used when it’s a matter of national “need” or national “service,” but it’s just as relevant when it’s about taking care of one’s home. How often do any of us really want to mow the lawn, recaulk the tub, clean, or do the grocery shopping? No glory in any of that. Yet those tasks are all necessary and make our individual lives a little better or easier, in one way or another.
At some point, a decision was made that this was the way to make money. We stick with it, for better or for worse. For most guys, liking a job is irrelevant. And for most people, changing careers is not an option; the loss of pay for starting over won’t allow it.
Do guys occasionally grumble about any and all of this? Yes, absolutely. Do we also understand that the job has to get done? Yes, absolutely. We’ve made our decision, and we’re going to carry it out as long as necessary and as long as we can.
Most guys know they’re never going to get the glory or public recognition that goes to a Colin Powell, Eli Manning, or Stephen King. When recognition comes, we’re often not quite sure how to respond; we say “anyone could do it” or “I was just doing my job.” Especially when that recognition seems out of proportion to what we do day in and day out, perhaps because the recognition only comes every 10 or 20 years.
The recognition is important though. As boys, we’re taught to do. We believe that we’ll be recognized, loved, and honored by the people around us for doing what needs to be done. For being quietly useful.
—Photo xavi talleda/Flickr