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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    What does it mean to be a Man?

    Allison Dumkacolumnist
    Allison Dumka

    I woke up the other day to NPR blaring an obnoxious interview with Laura Sessions Stepp, writer for the Washington Post. The topic was “”What does it mean to be a Man today?”” (Cue my eyes rolling.)

    Sessions Stepp, author of “”Unhooked: How Young Women Pursue Sex, Delay Love, and Lose At Both””, said that she was intrigued by the latest “”Pirates of the Caribbean”” film. Apparently, Johnny Depp wears lace on one of his sleeves; a metaphor for the question facing contemporary masculinity, according to Sessions Stepp, “”Swish or Swagger?””

    Swish or Swagger, indeed. These words sum up her question about masculinity in American society: should men choose clothing, action and mannerisms based on “”Swish,”” a tendency toward all things feminine, or “”Swagger,”” the traditional tendency to boast, brawl and act tough? I groaned, listening to her analysis. I am thoroughly sick of this dichotomy.

    My extreme irritation stems from two things; first, why are we still stigmatizing men who choose things that are traditionally femme? Women are socially permitted, if not lauded for, participation in many “”masculine”” endeavors — for example, knowing how to change a car tire or speaking up about one’s opinion.

    What is so damn awful about men referencing female characteristics? I thought America got over its extreme fear of changing gender roles with the rise of the metro phenomenon.

    While I’m sure no one has bad dreams about men sporting pomade-slicked hair, the media frenzy surrounding the metrosexuality seemed to imply a big, scary threat to masculinity. The name itself indicates a middle ground between gay and straight, paved with hair products and self-waxing strips … standbys of the female bathroom cabinet.

    The cultural conversation about metro men stands as an example of America’s fear of blurring gender lines.

    Regardless of who uses it, pomade provides excellent texture. It’s awesome. Other traditionally “”female things”” that are awesome include: being encouraged to express one’s emotions clearly, being able to cook and separate lights from darks, and tweezed eyebrows.

    The second reason I hate the philosophical gender question is that it has very little depth. When Laura Sessions Stepp discusses Johnny Depp’s lace, she is emphatically not talking about any quantitative differences between the sexes that ought to be taken seriously. For example, college educated women still make 79 cents for every dollar that a college educated man makes. Men must register for the armed services, and women have the privilege not to do so, even in a time of war. Women are sexually assaulted on a regular basis on college campuses in America, and men ask themselves the heavy question – Am I still a Man if I use pomade? Exactly.

    Furthermore, Stepp’s question of Swish or Swagger implies that men today are uncomfortable because of these two (supposedly) mutually exclusive categories. As though it may, perhaps, be illegal to like pro sports and the Food Network at the same time. It is only this type of old-fashioned analysis that prevents men from feeling comfortable exploring non-traditional roles.

    Traditional gender roles may offer some framework to make sense of relationships, or a framework for a generic, crappy column in the Washington Post. But they do not offer a realistic framework for the future. Women can no longer be expected to act docile, sweet and passive. Men can no longer be expected to make the first move. Women do not have to stay at home, and men do not have to be the sole breadwinner. I’m not convinced these formerly strict roles were ever valuable in the first place.

    So, what does it mean to be a Man?

    Who really cares? My yoga-practicing boyfriend and bike-building self are too busy having a good time to answer trite questions about gender roles.

    Allison Dumka is a political science senior. She can be reached at

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