What does it mean to “be a man” about something? I’ve never heard, “Be a Woman” about something, so what’s the difference?
It’s not about sex, not overtly, of course. It’s about the connotation of the good qualities of men. Marlboro Man (before cancer killed him), John Wayne (or his movie persona), your father (if he didn’t beat you or abandon you), John Kennedy (of Camelot), Harry Truman, FDR, your football coach, your pastor, Charlemagne, Winston Churchill, Patton — in short, all the good values we boil down and call masculinity. Strength, decisiveness, power, intelligence, honesty, directness — who wouldn’t want those qualities? Who wouldn’t want to be a man, given these traits?
You could list all the negative stereotypes of men, as well, qualities like pigheadedness, cowardice, violence, misogyny, refusal to grow up, propensity to drunkenness, constant focus on sports, objectification of women, and so on, and no reasonable person would take “Be a man” to mean “adopt more of those qualities.”
The same goes for feminine qualities. We have the positive adjectives like empathetic, understanding, nurturing, communicative, collaborative, whimsical, and so on. And there are the negative adjectives like flighty, bitchy, catty, narcissistic, dumb, direction-impaired, clumsy with tools, two-faced, etc. No one in their right mind would turn away from the positive list, man or woman, and no one who’s a mature person would willingly adopt qualities from the second list.
If androgyny is an equal balance of masculine and feminine qualities, then it seems to me that there are two kinds of androgyny, the kind that has a balance of mostly positive traits from both genders, and the kind that has mostly negative traits from both genders. What a nasty person the second would be, violent, catty, pigheaded, cowardly, and dumb, and what a wonderful, whole person the first would be, decisive, caring, powerful, nurturing, and so on. Who wouldn’t aspire to a full and balanced list of those stereotypical adjectives from both genders, regardless of their sex?
In any case, I think the Be a Man command is usually taken to keep a stiff upper lip, to face your problems, to tell the truth, to do the difficult thing, to step up to the plate (baseball, not dinner), to “get ‘er done,” to hunker down, to find a solution.
So I’ve decided that I’m being a man about my GID, ironically, of course, by facing my demons, not slinking away from them, taking the bull by the horns, confronting my demons. It’s Beowulf facing Grendel, Jesus in the desert, James Stewart in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance or Vertigo or It’s a Wonderful Life.
My father was many things, but he believed that telling the truth was the noblest of virtues, something that trumped hard work, strength, power, or intelligence. It made up for weaknesses and foibles and plain old mistakes. I often heard him say, to superiors or inferiors, things like “I’m really sorry — I lied to you. The figure wasn’t $4000, but $3500,” even after a deal had been struck. Although he used the word “lie,” it wasn’t that he was confessing lying, although he did do that when he was a drunkard and coke addict, but it was a belief that revealing the truth was the right thing to do. A man’s word is his bond, and I also believe that and have tried to live by that code all my life.
Dad, I know this seems contradictory, but I was never more of a man than right now, when I am finally telling the truth. I hope you recognize that and forgive me all the other mistakes and lies and coverups and tight-lipped secrecy that I maintained all the years you were alive. I’m sorry about that and I wish I could have been honest, not only with myself, but with you, about this. I think you would have been supportive, but I’ll never know. I have squandered this chance at honesty, and it’s heartbreaking.