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What is a man?

It’s here! International Men’s Day is the 19th of November this year, and it’s a day when men across the world are encouraged to speak up about issues that affect men. There’s no shortage of topics to discuss; from lower life expectancy and a higher suicide rate than women, to unfair treatment in separation and divorce proceedings in court.

But the even bigger questions are…

What is a man?

How do I know when I am a man?

Why does this matter?

What is a man?
Whether someone is a man is not simply a matter of gender and age; I have met forty year old boys, and fifteen year old men. Nor is it a matter of virility; There are males who have fathered many children, and men who have never had sex. It’s not wealth, or health, or authority, or almost anything that our current culture obsesses over.

I struggled through answering this question for myself when I was growing up, for you see, my parents were divorced and my own father wasn’t around. My mother did what she could but she could no sooner help me understand true masculinity than I could help her understand true femininity.

The answer to this question comes from asking another question, and that is, what is the purpose of power? Men, for better or worse, have been in charge of society since the dawn of time (with a few rare exceptions). We are physically stronger than women are in most cases. We are a gender gifted with power in the physical, societal and cultural senses.

So why do we have power? What should we do with it?

History has shown that power, when used for one’s personal gain, is always destructive in the end. Look at what happened in the French Revolution, where those who hoarded and abused power were overthrown by those they thought weaker than themselves… their power led to their destruction. Consider the harm done when a husband beats his wife, misusing the power he has to achieve the selfish goals he has for himself.

By contrast, when power is used to protect and provide for others, it is constructive. The peaceful actions of Jesus, Ghandi, and Nelson Mandela when they could have used their power for their own selfish ends saw ripples spread out from them that ultimately changed society and the world for the better. The policeman who risks his life to stop a wife-beater, putting his body in the firing line by going in physically rather than simply pulling out his gun and shooting the abuser is a man who is using his power for good in this world.

The power that we as men have in this world, is a power intended to be used to protect and provide for those who do not have it. To be a man, therefore, is to protect and provide for those in your life as you are best able to, in a selfless rather than selfish manner.

How do I know when I am a man?
Despite what our society says, I didn’t become a man when I had my first drink, or when I found hair on my chin… it wasn’t the first time I had sex or when I became a father that did it either. It didn’t happen when I turned 16, 18, or 21, and it certainly didn’t happen when I got my first car.

Just as the definition of what a man is, is found in deliberate action and choice, so too is the definition of who I am found in my deliberate action and choice. I became a man the day that I realised that my power is not for me to use for myself, but to use for others… the day I recognised that with rights come responsibilities, and that to abuse my power and my rights is to not be a man at all, but to remain a boy.

Why does this matter?
There are some who argue that there should not be such a thing as International Men’s Day… that every day is Men’s Day because across the world men use the power that they have for selfish purposes; The husband who beats his wife, the father who forces his daughter into an arranged marriage, the politician who takes funding away from homeless services and gives subsidies to multi-billion dollar companies. It happens in little ways and big ways, but the reality is that it happens every day, in every city and town in the world. There are many, many males who abuse their power.

The reality is that they are not living their lives as they should be. They do not deserve the honour that comes with being a man.

If we as men are content with this sort of behaviour, then I have to agree with those who speak against International Men’s Day. As long as we are a willing party to the abuse of power by men, we have no right to speak about the struggles of being a man.

This is why what it means to be a man really and truly matters.

This is why this International Men’s Day we all have some work to do.

Lovework
This week, either you are a man or you are a male.

If you are a man, then you need to speak up about what it means to be a man… share with your friends, your family, your co-workers and colleagues.

If you are a male, then this is your chance to step up and become a man… it’s never too late. Accept the responsibility that comes with the power that you have been given, and begin to put right the wrongs in your life.

Yours for true manhood,
Ben Pratt

Ben is a father of four and a devoted husband who hails from Armidale in rural NSW. He is currently studying ministry and is a keen advocate for men’s issues at a local, national, and international level.

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