Will Conley stirs up conversation in the name of provoking thought.
I like to stir the pot. Two years ago I asked my Twitter followers, “What is a ‘real man?’” I didn’t supply any context, didn’t give any advance notice. I just asked the question and waited.
Now There’s a Man Who’s Not Afraid to Look Like a Complete Idiot
Initially, no one understood what I was talking about. “Real man”? What do you mean? Can I have some of whatever you’re on?
The term “real man” is loaded. To be clear, as Good Men Project co-founder Tom Matlack commented on a documentary review I wrote, “it’s not about being a ‘real’ man but a good one.”
He’s right, and yet the “real man” archetypes and attitudes still affect average men every day because our entire culture is neck-deep in them. So we need to examine the hell out of them until there’s nothing left.
Carl Jung’s Nads and the Police
Some of my Twitter followers who saw my question didn’t think I was high, but they were a bit self-conscious.
“Wow, and in only 140 characters?” wrote one respondent. “Gonna have to give that a little thought. Pretty sure it will be subjective, though.”
But I didn’t want well-formulated responses. I wanted instant, knee-jerk reactions. I wanted to find out what my followers thought just under the surface of their conscious opinions. This would give some insight into the broader, collective attitudes of our culture.
Unlike individual opinions, collective attitudes aren’t pretty or sophisticated. Collective attitudes are blunt, unrefined, and arbitrary, because we don’t come up with them ourselves. We inherit them as raw lumps of information through our surrounding culture and genetic material. They live below the surface of conscious thought.
Don’t believe me? That’s OK. It’s not my idea. Consult the works of Carl Gustav Jung, the psychology demigod who had the nads to call bullshit on Sigmund Freud before doing so was all the rage. Jung also inspired the Police song “Synchronicity,” ergo I’m right.
I had to dig deeper.
Jedi Marketing Tricks
Most of us are only dimly aware of our own built-in assumptions. What we think we think is often not actually what we think. Don’t believe me? That’s OK. That’s not my idea either. The market research industry has operated on that principle for nearly a century. I figure market researchers know what they’re doing, what with they running the world and all.
I wanted to short-circuit my followers’ cognitive defenses. So I repeated the same question but in different terms, clarifying it a bit but not too much. I didn’t want to lead anyone towards an answer they thought I was looking for. Again with the market research theme, this is standard operating procedure for conducting a consumer interview or a voter focus group.
I asked, “Is there even such a thing as a ‘real man’?”
And: “What is a ‘real man’ post-Rosie the Riveter, post-Cold War, post-New Age?”
The responses started to pick up after that. In just one hour I got about fifty answers from among my approximately 2,000 followers at the time. The answers were alternately insightful, personal, humorous, irreverent, irrelevant, and philosophical.
I replied to most of the tweets to encourage further participation. I retweeted every response so they could interact with each other—and to show people they would get a free retweet if they participated. I know, dirty trick, playing on my friends’ egos like that, but it was for a good cause, right? I mean, as long as we’re being all market research-y on their ass in the first place, we might as well get down.
Besides, it was fun.
This Is the Part Where I Backpedal
I tell you all this for context—a luxury my followers didn’t have at the time—and to help you decide whether the responses to my question represent the broader culture. (At the time, my followers were a pretty general audience.)
I can’t say for certain whether my particular “Twitter focus group” methods culled more genuine responses about masculinity than a regular human conversation would have done. What matters is I was trying to get at the truth—the real truth, not the probably-trues that we all accept, internalize and forget about.
So here is how, subjected to the awesome power of my (amateur, likely impotent) Jedi mind tricks, some of my followers responded to the question, “What is a real man?”
It’s all relative.
Daniel Boone, if you’re to believe the theme song. (And who doesn’t?)
I love Daniel Boone. Not the real one, the TV one. The one that was a “real man.” The TV one.
A real man is a male that has realized the essence of maturity.
A boy that has faced his fears and can commit to family and community.
Edmund Hillary, who, when he returned from reaching the summit of Everest, famously said, “We knocked the bastard off.”
Check out @PePeLeDouche. Real man all over the place. Prime example.
This @PePeLeDouche character is evidence that the modern man is sadly in the dark as to what it means to express his masculinity.
The advent of the douchebag is perhaps attributable to a failed attempt at defining “real man.”
I’ve made a real fool of myself mistaking a very gay man for one of most masculine men I’d ever met. Couple of women too!
I’d have to say my 6-yr old. He always holds the door open for me and sweetly says, “Ladies first.” Real “man” there!
A man who is confident in who he is, and treats a woman with respect, love and careful honesty.
That is an unanswerable question.
Just be real.
Stands up for what he believes in, willing to consider other perspectives, doesn’t take himself too seriously. Can express feelings, creative thinker, fun, willing to help others and community. Oh, and a great sense of humor.
Re: “Is there anything a ‘real man’ would never do?” Worry about being a real man.
Are you STILL talking about men crying? 😉
If we want to identify the roots of the problems we face as men, women, humans, and participant species on planet Earth, we have to dig ever deeper into the soil of each other’s hearts and minds. I encourage you to start strange conversations in unexpected places—and don’t be afraid to look silly while you’re at it. We’ve got your back.