A friend recently said on Facebook that he hated the word emasculated because it supposes that masculinity is superior to everything else, specifically femininity. His comment is in the double digits for likes.

Around the midpoint of the year, I was struggling to rekindle my original passion for the project when one of my favorite MANtors expressed his own theory.  He thought that real men don’t have to do any of these activities in order to feel manly.  In the true journey towards manhood, all these challenges would be superfluous.

Q recently discovered a trailer for a documentary that posited that the three most destructive words a young male can hear are “be a man.”  The filmmakers theorized that pressuring adolescents to embrace masculinity increases anger and violence, hampers emotional maturity, and does more harm than good.

They’re all wrong.

Well, no, they’re not wrong wrong, but it’s not as dramatic when I qualify it.

Hypermasculinity is a destructive behavior, and the word masculine does have questionable connotations. But we don’t have to consider manliness as inherently troublesome or without merit. A lot of good can come from being a man, and although the archetype has become nearsighted in the wake of societal changes, we don’t need to strike it from the dictionary forever.  We just need to expand its definition.

q in coney island

I strive for masculinity that is not granted by gender, but earned through grit. I’ve had male and female MANtors in this project from ages eight to eighty, and I would call each and everyone of them manly. I understand the need to fit people into categories for simplicity’s sake; you were born with a Y chromosome, so you are a man. But it’s time to move away from the thinking that anything about manliness could be determined at birth.

This discomfort around the concept of masculinity allows both males and females to be less than their best selves. It’s far easier to poke holes in a concept than to live up to its lofty ideals. It’s true that experiences alone do not award manliness. Getting married or having a kid does not automatically validate your man card, but that doesn’t mean we should avoid having these experiences; rather, our actions and behavior in the midst of these experiences reveal our manly worth. If we consider masculinity in those moments, it becomes a positive ideal. Maybe we do need to change the word to something else to start fresh. MANfidence? EnlightenMANt?

If I want to use this new word that retains all the positives of being a man and refuses its hang-ups and restrictions, I suppose I need to define it in greater detail.  I may be a few paragraphs away from calculating my own manly worth, but as someone who as spent an entire year examining masculinity in all its forms, I am uniquely qualified to write this new definition.  So in this commencement speech to the Man University Class of 2014, I give you the four tenets of being a man:

Want to read more? You’ve reached the end of the preview, but the full text of this entry and many more can be found in my book, BE A MAN: How I Spent One Year Drinking, Shaving, Farming, and Fathering My Way Toward Masculinity.

Click on the book to the left and you’ll find more information on how you can purchase the book in paperback and e-reader versions.