© Tadeusz Rolke
Millions of people in six hundred cities and all seven continents of the globe took to the streets last week to march for their rights in a new man’s world. The women who marched were white, black, and every color in between. Women of every faith, background, sexual inclination, and nationality. Ninety-six years after they won the right to vote in the United States, they make 78 cents for every dollar earned by a man.
Actually, 64 if they are African-American.
56 if they are Hispanic.
62 million girls around the world are denied an education, 15 million married before they turn eighteen, 125 million subject to genital mutilation. Is it any wonder they are unhappy?
It is a man’s world, but what does that mean in post-truth, post-binary times? If we must inhabit it, a definition of terms is necessary: What exactly makes a man?
A man is ‘an adult human male’ whose demeanor and behaviors are meant to reflect the material conditions of life:
Procreate. Provide. Protect.
In ancient Sparta, manhood was conditional to proof of strength and resolve. Centuries later, in ancient Rome, marriage and procreation made a man. In seventeenth century England, it was allegiance to the king, apprenticing under a knight, fighting for God, country, or the favor of fair lady in a jousting match. Hawaiian and Hindu boys of low status had to earn the right to be men through shows of piety, courage, or skill. The boys of the Native American Lakota tribe, by staring at the sun with pegs piercing into their skin.
Virility, violence, strength, and power. It has always been a man’s world. But there has also always been another definition for the term:
In its plural form, ‘man’ means human beings in general, regardless of sex.
On what defines a human being, Rudyard Kipling wrote a poem for his son, John, in 1895. A to-do list of conditional statements, of two conjunctions, if and then:
If you can keep your head, if you can trust yourself…
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
Self-reliance. Fortitude. Integrity.
If you can dream, think, meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And then start again,
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’
Detachment. Courage. Grit.
If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,
Modesty. Self worth.
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
If a man, if man could be and do every item on that list, then ours ‘is the Earth and everything that’s in it,’ and what an earth it would be.
It takes more than words, status, resources and power to make a man. To these conditional statements, here are a few more I would add, inspired by the good men of my life:
If you can define me, define anyone, not by what, but who I am,
If you can hold my hand and take me dancing, but also have a conversation with me,
If you can say thank you, please, I love you,
If you can really see me when you look,
And when you do,
Dare to see a brain, heart, spirit, human who is equal to you.
If you can understand that respect is communal, human rights are universal, and yours are directly linked to mine,
Procreate, provide, protect with me, not for me,
Then you would be a man, a good man, and I would be happy in your world.
For the good men in my life.