“Collin, you’re going to get beaten up. You’ve got to grow up sometime, be a man.” This sentiment has passed through my ears so many times that it has morphed into an idiom. I was told that I was too old for my hobbies when I was 10-years-old.
When I moved to Louisiana, I was the kid who didn’t hunt, didn’t like guns, and didn’t have a single piece of camouflage in my wardrobe.
“You’re going to have to grow up one day.” When is this mythical day, and what will it bring? Will I finally be able to grow real facial hair? Will I need adult diapers? Will I wake to find myself in deep credit card debt?
I’ve had the same hobbies since I was 8-years-old. I put together Lego sets, collected action figures, plush toys, and Pokémon cards. I also wrote short stories and played video games.
None of those hobbies just ‘went away' when I entered high school and college. If anything, those hobbies have evolved with me as I get older.
Instead of bringing a plastic bag full of common Pokémon cards to grade school, my college desk is full of carefully-sorted and sleeved Japanese Pokémon cards. I trade, sell, and share my collection with other collectors around the world. I collect Japanese Kirby plushes, and it hasn’t affected my efforts to be a moral person, an involved citizen, a good son, brother, or boyfriend.
My ‘manliness’ comes from my desire to help others, my want to do good by those around me, my desire to provide comfort and love to others, and my goal to do right in the eyes of God.
That’s why it’s so damaging to tell young boys that what they like isn’t 'manly' enough, or that their hobbies are 'girly.'
What are the motivations behind statements like that? What were others around me worried about? Girly, childish, and unmanly interests, fashion taste, and tendencies are not indicators of moral character.
Conservative thinking has, in recent years, rallied around the idea of being a 'man,' perhaps in light of controversial gender-related social issues.
When defending the notion that masculinity exists and is valuable, many conservatives have pivoted far to the other extreme that numerous defenses of 'manliness' make masculinity seem shallow, superficial, and undesirable.
A recent viral Twitter post is an example of what I mean. A video circulated showing a buff man forcing his baby son to use a power drill, with a caption promising the world that the son would grow up to be a 'real man.'
Will that kid become a real man because he loves to fix houses? What kind of guarantee is that?
When I struggled to fit into Louisiana culture, a family member of mine suggested I punch my wooden walls to strengthen my knuckles, even if it meant bloody fists. I did this ridiculous ritual just once, and I remember sitting on the floor thinking, "What good is this doing me?"
I wasn’t going to evolve suddenly into a macho kid who liked manly stuff. The thought that I wasn’t doing something right stung all the same.
A lot of characteristics we might call masculine seem to be traits that come with moral maturity. Courage, strength, resolve, wisdom, and the desire to protect seem to be God-given baselines for genderless moral good.
Of course, men and women are naturally inclined towards different things, but God-given human value doesn’t come from the stereotypes that women are housekeeper babysitters and men are hunter-gatherer protectors. Our value comes from a place deeper than that.
Men who love fashion, hate hunting, and play with pink toys aren’t lesser. The value of a man comes from his moral character, and the path to that character shouldn’t look the same for everyone.