I'll never forget arriving in Canada and being welcomed into a lounge full of men watching Ice Hockey. It was entirely within the context of the conversation when one of them confidently confessed: "I pee sitting down".
Yikes! You would have thought he had just taken his clothes off! What followed was a barrage of verbal mocking and teasing, like: "What are you, gay?", "I always knew you were a girl!" and "Don't sit and watch hockey with us—go and join the girls in the kitchen."
If I had quizzed the guys at the time I'm sure they would have said it was supposed to be light-hearted ribbing, but there was no denying the heart of the teasing was brutal, horrific and completely unacceptable.
Opinions like these contribute to depression, self-harm and suicide—as well as perpetuating stereotypes of men not being allowed to do "non-manly" things, like tuck their shirts in, wear pink, or show their emotions.
As if there is a set of rules of what men can and can't do.
I love what Flight of the Conchords sang;
When's a man a man?
Why is it so hard to be a man?
Am I a man?
Even from their peers, Ashanti Branch says, "a lot of our young men believe if they have a moustache, are tall, strong and can get really, really angry then that qualifies them as a man."
Even more, "It is much cooler to show how angry you are, how cool you are... but showing how smart you are isn't respected."
Silently and subtly, we allow irrelevant values to hold a high priority.
Follow the leader
Last year when David Cunliffe apologised for being a man, he did two things that should have been respected for someone vying to be a national leader. He expressed qualities like vulnerability and compassion, while also putting out a challenge to address a dark and horrible issue like sexual and domestic violence:
"So the first message to the men out there is: wake up, stand up, man up and stop this bull****."
As Chris Trotter said, "No intelligent person reading Cunliffe's sentences anywhere else in New Zealand would dispute them. The perpetration of psychological, physical and sexual violence is overwhelmingly a masculine phenomenon. And while not every male is guilty of assaulting and/or raping women and girls, the violence inflicted upon females by a minority of males does contribute to the maintenance of a patriarchal culture from which all men derive benefit."
But, other than a glimmer of recognition for the challenge, most of the focus was spent on the apology and how odd or insulting Cunliffe's remarks were. And that's largely where the challenge or discussion on domestic violence ended.
It's abhorrent such a complex and horrifying issue was dismissed so quickly, and disappointing it's easier to maintain respect by not confronting the matter or engaging in the discussion.
I remember when Sir Edmund Hillary died in 2008, and the then Prime Minister Helen Clark called him "simply the greatest living New Zealander". My co-worker was furious, undeniably outraged.
"Why is he the greatest?!" she exclaimed. "Because he climbed a mountain?!"
"Well, I guess also for his ongoing humanitarian efforts in Nepal" I tried to justify to her, and perhaps also to me.
"But what was he like as a father? My husband isn't about to go and climb a mountain—but he's selflessly been a damn good father to our children! And he won't get recognised for that."
Of course we all know it's easier to label one person who achieved a feat for the first time, rather than blanketing an honour across an unspecified number of people from a whole gender. But I got her point, and I've seen it first hand.
The majority of young people struggling with education, addictions or crime seem to lack positive male role models in their lives. We need to encourage and support the men in our "villages", regardless of whether they are thriving or tempted to run away—or not living up to a certain image of masculinity.
"Being a man" doesn't come with a set of rules and regulations, but instead comes with knowledge you are loved by God and called to love others. Being made in the image of God means you are free to be who you are, regardless of whether your passions involve strength like wrestling, or tenderness like gardening.
It's more than being able to drink beer, "pick up chicks" or go hunting.
It's more than getting angry, denying your emotional side or never wearing a certain colour.
It's also much more than never sitting down to pee.
Matt Browning is a storyteller and lover of ideas. He is currently setting up a social enterprise for youth unemployment in Rotorua, New Zealand – taking youth who are dropping out of high school or coming out of youth prison, and hiring them full time so that they can get the experience needed to be hired in the future.
Matt Browning's previous articles may be viewed at www.pressserviceinternational.org/matt-browning.html