The Eclectic Autodidact: New full-time job sign of manhood


I moved up to full time at work a few weeks ago. Technically, it's a promotion but it feels more like I drifted into it after two months of working full-time hours without technically being full time. Starting in January or so, I'll qualify for benefits as well. That means I will officially have a full-time job with benefits before I turn 30. So I guess that means I have succeeded at life and can now coast from here on out until the icy hand of death claims me.

It's kind of funny, but I had gotten so resigned to being stuck working part time and using MassHealth that I had basically discounted the idea I might someday be one of those people who works a full eight-hour day and has employer-subsidized health care. This spring I'll even be able to see a dentist for the first time in probably five years, which probably isn't going to be pleasant, but I'm alright with that.

Now that I'm Mister Full Time, and the envy of other liberal arts majors, I have fulfilled my expected duties of a man. I can now bring home the soy bacon and get bypass surgery when it clogs my arteries.

In general I am not a very "manly" person. I don't follow sports, I don't eat meat, my girlfriend can beat me at arm wrestling. My job (full time!) is in a field that is at least 75 percent female. I have the physique of Peter Pan. I've started playing the flute again. These aren't things I'm uncomfortable about. I grew up in Williamstown, a town where designer purses are men's accessories.

To be an all-caps MAN is a balance between the qualities of responsibility, maturity and protectiveness with, on the other hand, steaks, beer, football and "No Girls Allowed" signs. A "real man" is both a dedicated provider and an immature meathead.

In a lot of cases man is an accidental pejorative for something that is emotionally stunted. A "man hug" is the awkward hug between men that consists of a shoulder check followed by backslapping. A "man crush" is when you really like Ryan Reynolds and watch all his movies but are awkward about saying it. A "man cave" is a room to hide in and watch TV without interacting with other people.

What it means to be a man has changed a lot across history. We are no longer expected to ward off predators or rival tribes. We have civilization now so we don't have to be confined to the narrow roles vaguely dictated by our biology. Most cultures past and present have some sort of ascension to manhood ritual, whether it's a spiritual ritual with sacred texts, a social ritual with the trappings of childhood giving way to the trappings of adulthood, or a more physical ritual involving a sharp bit of flint. The transition to being an adult in an important part of being an airquotes man but a) most coming-of-age rituals are just awkward ways to avoid talking about puberty and b) there's nothing in them that could not be applied to women as well.

The real difficulty in defining manhood and manliness is the definition will have to inevitably involve a comparison with womanhood. Here again the terminology does a disservice, for while we can talk about what it means to be "manly," the word "womanly" is only ever used in the more disreputable fiction. Part of the duality of manhood now comes from the fact that currently most gender roles are as obsolete as a sharp bit of flint. And thus since the responsible provider aspect of manliness is no longer restricted to the Y chromosome by law, manhood has been backsliding into boyhood. That's why we get the semi-macho, slightly ironic posturing that defines modern manhood, with its love of bacon and Chuck Norris. It's striving to rebuild a vanishing aspect of life as if it were possible to kickstart ancient Sparta through an overdose of testosterone.

So at the end of the full eight-hour day I can provide for myself like an adult. I'm slightly closer to not living hand to mouth. That may not make me manly, but I think it is a sign of manhood.


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