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Jasmine Moreno

English 114 B

Professor Adame Neftali

2 February 2018

What is a Real Man?

From the moment boys are born, they are taught to man up and conceal emotions that may be

seen as fragile. At a young age, they tend to admire superhero personas that portray masculinity

and heroism. Instinctively, these boys develop a mindset that embraces the idealistic qualities a

real man should have. Although there are many perceptions on what it means to be a man, the

most common stereotypes society expects from men are to be physically strong, authoritative,

and show no weakness. These stereotypical characteristics have had a great influence on men in

today’s society, confusing them and impacting them negatively.

When asked what a real man is compared to a good man, most people will respond with

different answers just like the students of Dr. Kimmel. Dr. Kimmel is a sociology professor, he is

also the founder and director of the Center for the Study of Men and Masculinities at Stony

Brook University. In the article, “A Master’s Degree in…Masculinity”, the author Jessica

Bennett writes about Dr. Kimmel’s conversation with his students and his view on masculinity.

When he asked “what does it mean to be a good man?”, the students responded with “carrying”,

“putting other’s needs before yours”, and “honest”. Then he asked “what does it mean to be a

real man?”. They answered fast this time saying “take charge; be authoritative”, “take risks”, and

“it means suppressing any kind of weakness”. To Dr. Kimmel this revealed that the people in

society, more specifically in America, were confused on what it means to be a man.

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I also agree with Dr. Kimmel that people in America are confused on what it means to be a

man. We have so many influences from pop culture telling us what a real man is and we choose

to believe and follow it. Everything from sports, music, books, movies, and television shows

portray how society sees men. For example, in films and television shows men are still viewed to

objectify women. Most action films and shows also display men as aggressive and violent. Since

these are all seen as signs of “masculinity” most male roles will have these characteristics. We

fail to realize that characteristics of a real man are different for everyone.

The documentary The Mask You Live In by director Jennifer Newsom, discusses how in

America we have “created an idea of masculinity where men do not feel safe in their own

masculinity”. Due to this lack of safety men constantly feel the need to prove themselves to

others. They have to be athletic, muscular, a womanizer, and never show emotion. If any boy

was ever to mess up or not meet certain expectations they would be bullied. To avoid being

bullied a boy in the film even distanced himself from his close friend. Since his friend did not

demonstrate masculine characteristics he did not want to be seen associating with him or else he

would also seem less masculine. Instead he made new friends, became an athlete, and dated the

head cheerleader.

These expectations that men do their best to meet end up hurting them in the long run. For

example, men are expected to be strong and show no emotion. They have to bottle up everything

they feel because it would seem weak if they did not. Instead they hide behind a mask and tell

everyone they are fine. The problem with holding back emotions is if a person keeps them for so

long they begin to accumulate until one day they will just explode and it can possibly destroy

them. They may even use alcohol and drugs as outlets or distractions which is unhealthy. This is

what happened to a boy in the film who was dealing with so much pain. His parents had divorced
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and to top it all off his father was deported back to Mexico. He now lives with his mother in the

United States with his two other siblings. He felt he could never express himself without it being

seen as a sign of weakness. Instead he decided to use drugs and drink to relief his problems, of

course this will only work temporarily.

Boys that hold back emotions often feel alone and believe there is no escape which develops

into mental health illnesses and can lead to suicide. According to the documentary, “fewer than

50 percent of boys and men with mental health challenges seek help”. This characteristic of

having to show no emotion not only increases chances of developing a mental illness for boys

but also prevents them from seeking help. The documentary also states that, “the third leading

cause of death for boys is suicide”. If only they had someone to talk to or knew it was okay to

express themselves the statistics would be very different. Although these statistics are upsetting

they are also an eye opener to society. It makes people question if these expectations they have

for boys will benefit them in the long run or ruin them.

Personally, I do not know what it means to be a man, but I believe it means something

different for everyone. I grew up as an only child although I do have two older half-brothers. My

half-brothers never lived in the same house as me therefore I never witnessed their behaviors

growing up. The only representation of a man I had in my family was my father. My father is my

family’s rock, we depend on him financially and emotionally. He always says he has to be strong

for my mom and I in difficult situations but he never hides his emotions when things get really

bad. He is definitely one of many representations of what it means to be a real man.

In conclusion, due to the society we live in today men are confused on what it means to be a

man. We need to inform boys from a young age that they need to be themselves. Teach them that

it is okay to show emotions and that being physically strong does not determine a person’s
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manliness. Allow them to be in theater and strive for good grades without being seen as “not

cool” or even be bullied. We need to move away from stereotypes and allow them to be their

own version of a real man.

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Works Cited

Bennett, Jessica. "A Master's Degree in ... Masculinity?" The New York Times. The New York

Times, 08 Aug. 2015. Web. 28 Feb. 2018.



The Mask You Live In. Directed by Jennifer Siebel Newsom. Representation Project, 2015.