On Being A Man

Bear Grylls, Chief Scout and twice runner up of the Annual Silliest Name In Showbiz Competition (he lost out to Englebert Humperdinck in 2012 and controversially to Mila Kunis in 2013 after some confusion over how her name was spelled), has recently said that children should be allowed to use knives and that there is a crisis in masculinity, that modern men don’t know what it means to be a man.

Via beargrylls.frBehold the saviour of masculinity!

I have to say that I disagree with him, but that was probably apparent from the fact that I didn’t just link you to the page and let it speak for itself. Now I want to make it clear that I’ve nothing against the institution of Scouting (apart from the forced adherence to monarchism and Christianity, of course). I was a Beaver, a Cub, a Scout, and briefly a Venture and I enjoyed the majority of the time I spent with the organisation (and no there isn’t a photo of me as a Scout that I’m willing to show you. Ask my mum, she’s bound to have some). More than anything else, Scouts allows you the possibility of doing cool things like rifle shooting and starting fires. It’s a bit like playing Call of Duty, but with funny words like ‘woggle’.

Via wallpaperswa.comAnd less nuclear fallout.

Anyway, why don’t I think there’s a crisis in masculinity, like Mr Grylls and others have asserted. I think the problem is that they’re focusing entirely on the wrong role or roles for men in the first place. Yes, thousands of years ago there was a role for men that centred around our biological predisposition to body strength and other such traits, which made men more likely to be hunters and gatherers than women. But the point is that was thousands of years ago. We don’t need to do that any more and, frankly, that’s a good thing because dying of a spear wound is not something that you particularly want to try.

Not that a man can’t be practical, of course. Being able to create stuff with your hands (and power tools) is pretty damn awesome, I find, even if what you create doesn’t always come out perfectly. One of the reasons I enjoy woodwork is because it means you can create something from – not nothing – but something useful from something less useful. Okay, it doesn’t sound as impressive now, but what I mean is there’s a sense of achievement. Being able to fix stuff around the house is always good too. But this isn’t a role that only men can assume and there’s no reason why it should be like that anyway. I love fixing stuff, but if I had a significant other who liked to strap on a tool belt and join me (haha, join me, unintentional pun) then that’s just fine and dandy. What I really enjoy about woodworking and fixing stuff is the sense of a job well done and more than that the overcoming of a particular puzzle or problem. It’s the mental side of it that is the most rewarding, I find.

We’re told that the advent of technology and equality of choice for men and women (though whether women have truly got that is a different question…) has eroded the male role in society. But I don’t see that as a crisis. Why do men need a separate function or role in society? Can a man not be happy to be a father and a family man just because women are mothers and family women? Can a man not be happy to achieve success and admiration in his field just because a woman could do the same? It seems to me a bit of an over reaction. If you’re still basing your male role on provides sustenance, protects everyone, and makes people pregnant, then go and see a doctor and have them examine you for a hole in the head where your brain should be.

I’ve been teased before for knowing how to sew, because that’s apparently a woman’s job. I suppose the same people who thought this would reckon that cooking is also a woman’s job. And washing and ironing. In short, all of the things that you need to do in order to be alive, independent and presentable. Apart from ironing, of course, because no one really needs to do ironing. I can sew because sometimes things need repairing and I need to be able to repair them, not expect a woman to do it for me. I can cook because I need to eat to live. Calling these women’s jobs is saying that you exist co-dependently, that you need someone else to make it through a day. If there’s one thing I think a man should be able to do it is stand on his own two feet.

Not that there’s anything wrong with needing people. We all need someone’s help sometimes. The history of human existence proves that more than anything else. We’ve made a tremendous amount of mistakes and we keep on making them, but the one thing that shines through is we are always better when we work together. Of course, the more you can do as one person the more you can achieve with the help of others. Life has a way of knocking us on our asses every now and then, the world would suck if we didn’t have people there to lift us up again. There’s another thing a man can easily be in the modern world – a person who helps people who need it. And if you’re still the I must be the strength to fight away the enemies kind of thinker then maybe consider that the role of being someone’s protector comes not from the fact that you are strong, but because you are compassionate. A strong person could just protect himself. Choosing to defend others is done because you love them, because you pity them, because you care for them. It is emotion that makes you a protector, just as surely as that emotion can make you stronger, make you braver, make you better.

And it can for women too. There’s no escaping that. Women can do all of those things to. Women can be protectors and lovers and carers and helpers. They can be there beside you to make you brave and be brave for you when you can’t face it. But why does that mean that men don’t have a role? Our role as men, as it should have always been, is right there in the Cub Scout Promise – to do my best and to help other people. That’s the most important. The modern man stands on his feet, recognises the strength of other people, men and women, and provides help and inspiration and support for other people’s weaknesses, to the best of his ability for as long as he can. He knows what it means to be defeated and to succeed, he feels love and despair and fear and compassion and he uses that to help others. That’s what being a man is.

So by all means, go ahead and learn how to light a fire properly or to survive on nothing but urine and bugs for a month, but it won’t necessarily make you better at being a modern man. The things you require aren’t skills, but feelings. Not brawn, but brains. The only muscle that matters is your heart.

Via lifehack.org


4 Responses to “On Being A Man”
  1. James says:

    Just want to take you up on ‘forced Christianitism’ or whatever it was you said back then. Do a little research dear brother and you will find the Scout Association caters for all creeds and has promises to match so Muslims can make a promise to Allah or other faiths to their own Gods. also in what could be described as one of the most important moves in Scouting History, one does not now have to believe in a particular religion at all and a new promise has been introduced with no mention of religion! However yes you still have to do your duty to the Queen, although what this entails is not entirely clear in normal day to day Scouting. Perhaps singing the national anthem? Well we see footballers do that before every international match! are they accused of forcing monarchism?

    By the by interesting read, i feel that some of the skills of the past may have been lost and by bringin those skills back we surely gain a respect for the world in which we live rather than turning it into some sort of concrete monstrosity.

    RE Children using knives! Why not? if they are taught properly and how to use them safely. They are after all a tool, an object that helps you to achive a certain thing, they use saws etc in Design and Technology are they any less ‘dangerous’ than a knife. i understand that there are a number of deaths related to knives each year, but with better education and understanding instead of demonising a tool would it not perhaps lose its mysticism? after a knife does no damage until in the hands of someone!

    Rant over


    James xx

    • Nick says:

      The core Scout Promise still maintains its duty to God line and an alternative version was not commissioned for those without faith until last year and only came into usage at the start of this year. Speaking as someone who has not had belief in any gods since 1998, I’d say that was quite a late addition, though a welcome one. The Scout Association claims that it seeks to explore belief and faith, but that is not something I recall at all from my own Scouting days. I am happy, though, if this is changing, but in a multicultural society a version which refers to no specific faith with alternatives for those that wish to include their chosen faith in their promise would much better serve than assuming everyone is a Christian prima facie. Also, Scouts may or may not feel comfortable rejecting the core promise with its ‘duty to God’ or may not know that they are able to. How early can one reasonably state that they hold a faith? To quote Marcus Brigstocke “a child is no more a Christian than he is a member of the Postal Workers’ Union”. I don’t know at what age a faith could be considered thought through and genuine, but assuming a serious confession of belief at an early age seems to me unreasonable and unrealistic. It seems to me unlikely that a child of 11 would necessarily feel comfortable disagreeing with a Scout Leader when being taught the promise. What is left is presumably an presumption of faith based on parental belief, but again Brigstocke. It is a bit of a knotty problem, but to me having a core promise speak of one particular God is forcing that as the default position. I’m sure it would be said that the Scouting Association was founded as a Christian institution and has remained so, but just because an idea is tenacious does not mean that it is worthy.

      As for duty to the monarchy, you cite the idea of footballers singing the National Anthem before a match. They are not themselves forcing monarchism, they are simply singing the song that has been chosen by others to represent their country. But the fact that our country can apparently only be represented through asking the intervention of a supreme being to ensure the safety of an unelected head of state is most definitely enforcing monarchy and also Christianity. Leaving aside that it is perhaps one of the most dreary anthems of all, unlikely to inspire very many people to feats of greatness, it is saying that the best thing that represents our country on the international stage is our adherence to a social system that assumes some people are preordained by God to rule over others. Also, one cannot avoid singing the National Anthem without it being picked up on by the national press and vilification ensuing. Why should a footballer, or anyone, have to sing that song to represent their country? I’d argue that you can be proud of the country you call home without necessarily agreeing with the state religion or the state’s political structure. To me, being English and being British do not mean liking the system of monarchy and my desire for the government to be ultimately and completely run by people elected to that position and who can be removed by the same public that chose them does not stop me being proud of being English and British. There is not currently a song to represent that which is officially recognised as an anthem. Should a Scout wish to opt out of the National Anthem, can they? Would they not be told that they should be proud of their country? I was when I was younger. Whatever the practical every day ramifications of such a promise, making someone take an oath (which is what the promise essentially is) in front of their fellows which assumes a dedication to the Queen or King and not to the country regardless of what political institution it is run by is forced monarchism however you wish to slice it.

      I agree with that, of course. I have no problem with people wishing to learn survival skills or any of the skills one might pick up from the Scouting Association. My point is that I disagree with Mr Grylls that knowing these skills makes you a man or that not knowing these skills means that you don’t know your place in the world. There are many things that can be learned about oneself and others from survival expeditions and courses – leadership, team work, quick thinking, self reliance, self esteem, confidence and so on. That’s all very laudable, but it doesn’t make you a man necessarily nor is it the province of men. Running away from technology doesn’t better suit you to living in a world where technology is everywhere. It makes you worse at it. Engaging with and utilising technologies has been the key to human development since humans have existed. Tools are a form of technology and all technologies are tools. I agree that there are useful things to be learned from survival skills and expeditions, but I disagree that doing it will overcome some great crisis for men, particularly as I don’t see that there is a crisis for men. I also agree that respect for the natural world is essential and some may learn that from such activities, but it still doesn’t make you a man. My criticism of Bear Grylls was that his version of masculinity is not one that works in the modern world not because we have lost our way but because we have developed and adapted and changed what it means to be human and what it means to be a man. The more ancient definitions do not apply. The skills are useful, the ideology is not.

      There is nothing inherently wrong with a child using a knife after proper instruction and with correct supervision, depending on the child of course. I didn’t actually say there was, I just mentioned it because it was the newer of the two news stories and was one that set me to thinking about what I wrote here. Mr Grylls six year old child was injured whilst using a knife unsupervised. Perhaps he doesn’t see a problem with that and that’s up to him. He’s the parent. I’d say six is a little early for a child to be using a knife, because I wouldn’t expect a six year old to properly take on the instruction or responsibility that comes with knife use. Children a little older would, I think, be able to and that’s fine. You have to judge it by the child, of course, but teaching children respect for knives is, I think, very important. Your argument that a knife does no damage until it’s in someone’s hands smacks a little too much of “guns don’t kill people, people kill people” for me. The gun helps. It’s harder to do so without it. But I concede that a gun has a limited number of applications, whereas a knife has many more. I certainly agree that there are better ways to tackle knife crime than to demonise the knife, but there isn’t, so far as I know, a law prohibiting children from using knives under correct supervision. There are laws against going armed and malicious wounding, for very good reason. Respect for the knife, respect for each other. But as I say, I have no problem with a child using knife once they have been taught proper respect and responsibility. There is, however, a great difference between allowing a child to find out for themselves that a candle will burn you if you touch the flame and that electricity will hurt you if you put your fingers in a live socket. All things in degree, because nothing is ever black and white.

      Thanks for commenting.

  2. James says:

    You are right of course, one should be able to choose which promise to use, but you have to remember the Scout movement was formed over 100 years ago when this country was not as multi-cultural as it is today and faith was a huge part of everyday life. Of course most Scouts who are invested use the core promise but the fact remains is that they do not have to and being Christian, Muslim etc is not a pre requisite requirement of becoming a Scout or a leader etc. I would also ponit out that the Boy Scouts of America still do not allow homo sexuals to join their organisation. Is this any different to not allowing Christians etc?

    I feel that you see that doing your duty to the Queen as forcing monarchy on people is a little irrelevant, i think here the Queen simply refers to the country as a whole, remember there was a king before this and the next three monarchs will also be kings. the duty simply refers to being a citizen of a particular nation not literally serving the Queen. remeber the promise also advocates helping others and keeping the Scout Law which contans many qualities which children, both girls and boys, would do well to bear (no pun intended) in mind. i know you have no beef with the Scout Association in particular and there are many things that i find with their rules etc. a little outdated in this modern world but it is after all helping thousands of youngsters to do and achieve much more than they could ever do themselves, and its a lot more rewarding than an Xbox for example!

    I agree that having the skills demonstrated in the programme and as portrayed by Mr Grylls and those of similar ilk, Ray Mears etc. do not make one more of a man but as you say there are other qualities which are born out of knowing or having a particular skill set. one often reads of people stuck on mountains or in forests who were woefully unprepared for the situation.

    Of course giving children education around dangerous objects will help and yes perhaps six is a little young to be using a knife unsupervised but by cutting yourself you respect your skill limits with said object and are therefore more careful next time! you could also apply your logic to any situation, for example is a car considered a dangerous object? there are surely many more deaths on the road than through knives each year. as for working with children and knives, how early is too early surely sowing the seed at a young age builds the idea that when used correctly knives are useful (we use knives at Forest School with 3 year olds after all, obviouly under heavy adult supervision!). I of course am not advocating giving every child a knife and allowing them to do whatever they wish.

    Just playing devils advocate! as you say nothing is ever black and white and these are particularly thorny issues.


    • Nick says:

      As I said, just because an idea is tenacious doesn’t mean it is worthy. Things can be changed and updated to suit the world in which they are now based – in fact, they must or they will become irrelevant. I would say that the duty to God is not a core part of the principles of Scouting and as such could be phased out. Traditions should not be immune to critical appraisal. The Boy Scouts of America are therefore an organisation with extreme prejudice (which is also, I believe, unconstitutional, but then my American legal knowledge is perhaps not what it should be). But I’m not sure what your point is – obviously discriminating against anyone because of their race, belief, gender, sexuality, culture or social background is wrong. How does that equate with assuming Christianity unless otherwise stated?

      Not really an irrelevant view, there is a difference between the Queen or King and the country and stating one or the other completely changes what it is you are promising to do. It is an archaic and outmoded wording that no longer describes the practice that you describe. Even if it only entails doing your duty as a citizen, a professed republican may well not wish to promise to do their duty to the queen. You may argue that it is only a matter of wording but not of meaning, but words have a power all of their own. But really, these were secondary concerns to the main point of what I wanted to say. I admire the Scout Association and what it does for children, but we shouldn’t be afraid to raise questions about specifics just because we like the whole. An organisation that teaches good citizenship should be based on tolerance and equality (which the Scout Association is where other similar organisations are not – The Girl Guides don’t allow male members after all), and that would include creating a space in which no particular belief system, political or religious, is elevated above another.

      A car *is* a dangerous object, which is why there are laws about how you can and should drive a car and penalties for not doing so. We also licence people to drive, meaning they have to demonstrate to a legitimate authority that they can drive within the limits of law and safety. There being more road deaths than knife related deaths is kind of irrelevant, because the two aren’t really comparable statistics. Cars are subject to all sorts of mechanical failure beyond human error that can affect their safety in a way that knives are not. Knives also don’t tend to travel at significant speeds. Traffic collisions resulting in deaths aren’t always the result of malice, whereas the majority of knife related deaths I would imagine are from malicious attack. You’re more likely to become a victim of crime if you’re carrying a knife. But the reason legal access to cars, knives, and weapons, such as guns, are restricted are because they can be dangerous if used incorrectly. There is nothing evil about a knife in and of itself, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be cautious about who we let use them and when. As for age, well, I don’t know. I was talking about giving a child a sharp implement that they use without complete adult supervision, which you agree should be limited to someone older and trained. There’s a difference between using a knife where an adult helps you to do so and using a knife with an adult supervising and using a knife by yourself. But having a hard and fast rule doesn’t help. Some 8 year olds are more mature and responsible than some 11 year olds.

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