Last week, in the midst of the search for the remaining Boston bombing suspect, I tweeted out a note saying I wished folks would come up with a different term than “manhunt” because the behavior and actions of the Tsarnaev brothers were anything but the acts of men. As I said, “real men don’t harm innocents and real men don’t disrespect or abuse women.
Interestingly, it turns out Tamerlan Tsamaev was arrested previously for abuse, and had a history of controlling behavior and verbal abuse of women.
It all got me thinking a bit about what it means to be a man in today’s world and what the qualities of true strength are in a man. It is an important topic of conversation for many people, and there is confusion among both sexes about what it all means and the conduct we all would like to see in men today.
For many people, especially women, the older terrorist brother, Tamerlan, would be considered as an archetypal man. By most people’s reckoning, he was tall, dark and handsome. He was tough, carried himself with bravado, was a ladies’ man and a Golden Gloves boxer from Boston. People would normally associate those attributes with being a manly man.
It is also interesting to me that Christian Grey, the main character in the very popular book series Shades of Grey that became a phenomenon among many women, was considered strong and in-command in the bedroom. He was also incredibly controlling, just like the older brother bomber in Boston.
Everyone responds to strength, and women as well as men are attracted to the concept of a real man. But we have often confused compassion with weakness, gentleness with the feminine, and toughness with meanness. We ask ourselves why so many women are attracted to bad boys, get themselves involved in abusive relationships or allow themselves to be disrespected. I think it comes from confusing external strength with the place where real strength resides, and that is internal.
We could all debate for hours the attributes that might reside in a man of real strength, and I hope we can begin this debate and discussion today. I have come up with five key values I believe a man should possess to be considered a real man – a strong man.
1. Integrity – A man tells the truth even when it is hard. A man is honest with those in his life even when others might be upset. A real man’s words and actions are integrated into one being, and as best as possible he lives the words in his head and heart even through hardship and insults. A real man doesn’t say he is a good family man or a loving person and then live another life secretly.
2. Compassion – A man is kind and gentle to those he cares about and even to those he meets along the way that might be strangers or unknown. A real man picks up somebody when they are down or listens even though his time is tight. A real man can make a fist to protect someone innocent that is about to be hurt or can hold the open hand of a child as they walk down the street.
3. Honor – A real man respects people in his life and honors their importance through both words and actions. A real man honors another by not discussing his intimate shared actions with someone with the world. He holds the bonds built in private as a treasure that may just occupy the space of two people. Respect can mean carrying a shared time to the grave or it can mean opening the door for a woman as she walks into a room. In the real sense of the world, a real man is a gentleman. Being a gentleman isn’t weakness or meekness, it is character.
4. Play – A real man smiles no matter the weather and understands the incredible importance of being light and play. Even when things are painful or troubling, he can find a way to laugh and play in the midst of tears. He especially is able to laugh at himself and not take himself too seriously. Arrogance or bravado isn’t the qualities of a real man. They are a substitute for true confidence – a confidence built on a solid foundation of values and real self-esteem. A real man would rather have someone laugh with him than fear him. Real men are strong enough to play games on a playground or in the bedroom. Being a real man isn’t about being passive in sex, it is about making love in a powerful and playful way.
5. Tough – Lastly, a real man is tough – not tough in an “I am going to beat everyone up” kind of way, but in a “we can get through this hard time” kind of way. He can defend or protect someone when they need it and stay up all night if someone is sick. He is tough enough no matter how tired to get on a plane and show someone he loves that he cares. That is real toughness. The ability to keep going and fighting for what he believes no matter how tired.
These are just my start on what I think a real man might reflect and what strength in a man might look like. I think women have a huge part in this debate because they can signal the real kind of strength they are attracted to. Women need to begin to ask for strength in a man that involves not the Hollywood image of a bad boy or the sociopathic character from a novel, but strength that is rooted in the values like love, truth and respect. That is standard that we could all aspire to, and maybe would cause less violence in this world like shootings or bombings.
The opinions expressed by Matthew Dowd are his alone and not those of ABC News.