What makes a real man?

Facials, fishing and sport? I’m worried that I’m not a real man.

Bay of Plenty Times Weekend has reported that more Tauranga men are getting facials and eyebrow shaping. A beauty salon is offering Men Only nights with fishing magazines and Sky Sports.

The closest I’ve ever come to getting a facial was when a woman I work with stared at me funny for a moment before trying to yank a wayward eyebrow off my face. It hurt and I don’t trust her any more.

Nope, I tell a lie. I used to wash my face every night with something called face cleanser. My wife bought it for me once. It’s soap for your face, as opposed to soap for the rest of you. I cleansed my face each night until the bottle was dry. That was years ago. I just splash with water now.

I’m happy for men to primp and pamper themselves as much as they like. To be honest, it’s the fishing magazines that bother me. And the car magazines and the sports. If that’s what men want then I’m not a man. Those are areas where I fail the real man test, whatever the real man test might be.

Over summer I found myself sitting around a table with some real men. I could tell they were real men because they knew the difference between a fan belt and a cambelt whereas I had to look it up later.

“The problem with these academics,” said the real men, “is that for all their reading they wouldn’t know which way up to hold an engine manual.”

Academics was a derogatory label in this context. You’re obviously not a real man if you don’t know how to change a fan belt. I let them have their mockery while quietly filing my points of objection in the footnotes of my imaginary counter argument.

Anyway, I do know how to change a fan belt. You take it to a mechanic.

It’s true that I prefer a good book over a greasy engine any day of the week. Does that make me less than a real man?

I’ve been reading a book about human evolution and modern diseases, called The Story of the Human Body by Daniel Lieberman. Our evolutionary history thrills me. I’d love to go back in time and cheer for the early humans. I’d take an iPod with speakers and play Also Sprach Zarathustra when they start using sticks as tools.

I wonder when the first man decided he preferred art to mammoth hunting? When did the first man trim his beard for cosmetic effect? And what did the others think? Did the females in the clan grunt at him to quit faffing around and help with the saber-tooth carcass?

I’m no hunter gatherer. You’d never survive in the wild with me as your alpha male.

I provide for my family by sending emails. My foraging skills are limited to the supermarket. I assume broccolli grows all year round.

I don’t have to harvest, kill or butcher anything. It took all my fortitude to saw the head off a trout that was staring at me from the kitchen bench after my sons returned from a fishing trip with their grand parents.

I find myself in no man’s land. I’m unlikely to get a facial and I don’t fix cars or hunt wild animals. What kind of man does that make me?

I think it makes me an ordinary human being. There’s no such thing as a real man. There are only people and we’re all gloriously different, each and every one of us.

So wipe the grease off your hands, put on some Strauss and enjoy that eyebrow shaping. You deserve it, girl. 


First published in Bay of Plenty Times Friday 17 January 2014. Reproduced with permission.