When I hear it, the feminist in me can't think of it as anything other than a really limiting way to think about gender — and, because it's usually used to shoot down someone acting in a way that's perceived as "feminine," it strikes me as kind of insulting. But as this video from Cut Video illustrates, not everyone sees it that way.
The concept of "manliness" is both complex and flawed. That's why every response to "What does 'Be a man' mean?" is so vastly different.
I expected to hear: "Be tough," "Stop acting like a baby," and "Don't show emotion." Instead, this video showcases a deeply personal and honest collection of introspective answers that range from proud, disappointed, insecure, angry, optimistic, and, yes, even feminist. Here are a few of them:
Some found it "kinda sexist."
"I find it kinda sexist. Someone says 'Be a man,' well, there are strong women as well."
— Kyle, age 15
"Stupid. It's almost a sexist phrase too, like, if you're not being 'a man' it's kinda saying you're being a woman in a way too?"
— Cole, age 17
"Sexist. It's a very accepted form of sexism. 'To be a man' implies that you need to be something specific."
— Sillias, age 42
For others, being a man is about courage.
— Solomon, age 8
— John Jr., age 18
"Someone who can be a hero to someone."
— Aaron, age 24
Many saw "Be a man" as a call to action.
"Focused. 'Cause to be a man you need to be focused and strong and have a good understanding of the world around you so you can be a better person."
— Sam, age 20
"To stand up for what you believe in."
— Dan, age 34
"Trust your instincts. Be strong. Don't let people push you around. And be kind to women."
—Thomas, age 50
The lessons: Gender is complicated, and so are the ways that we talk about it. Being a man doesn't mean one thing. It's up to every individual to define it for themselves. Did watching this video expose any of your own prejudices about manhood? It did for me! And that's not easy to admit. Without realizing it, I projected my own ideas of how the men would respond before I even hit play. As we grow in our understanding of gender and identity, we should think just as deeply about how the phrases we use and hear every day might mean different things to different people. It's a lesson I'm going to remember.