A friend who's something of a well-known figure in the blog world suggested that I write about manhood and masculinity, and about whether contemporary versions of manhood and masculinity are "suffocating and marginalizing". Interesting topic, and one that does bear thinking about. Manhood and masculinity are dangerous topics these days--- concepts treated with hostile suspicion in the age of the gender wars. They're also elusive topics, though they've been that way for a while.
I can recall envying boys who came from observant Jewish families, boys who were bar mitzvah'd. They had a cultural ritual for manhood: today I am a man. I grew up with no rituals to tell me I was "a man", and it's not a word I ever use about myself. I'll describe myself as "a guy", or as male, or by my professional credentials. I'll never say that I'm "a man". Doing that seems like setting oneself up to have the claim mocked or disproved, whether by fate or other people.
I'm male, and of a certain age. I have post-graduate degrees, I have an office and a business card. But I don't have a wife or children, I don't own a house, I've never done anything physical. I certainly haven't done any of the things cultures have demanded of males throughout history--- I've never done anything martial, I've never fathered children for the community or my bloodline.
Right there of course you can see the beginnings of a problem. "Manhood" involves a tangle of things, an overlapping of things both symbolic and concrete, a knot of biology and both social and class markers. If "manhood" were just about being a biologically-adult male, one capable of fathering children, then...well, it would be a simple enough thing. It's always been more than that, though. Manhood is social. It's about being accepted as a man by other males--- and, yes, it's about being accepted by other males at least as much as it is about being accepted by females.
I suppose I should begin by thinking about my own definitions of being "a man" and where they came from. I always come back to the word "gentleman" rather than just "man". I know that when I think of what manhood should entail, I think of what makes a gentleman. There's a class thing there, of course. But then, I wanted those class markers. The personal markers I've associated with manhood are all things that have class overtones.