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Seminar Keyword: Man

The OED defines man as an “adult male human being.” In Old English usage, man was used to describe a “human being (irrespective of sex or age),” a sense that persisted until C20. The sense of the “adult male” is a lC10 phenomenon and had a universal connotation when used in words such as manslaughter and mankind. Man was also used as an indefinite pronoun, i.e., as a substitute for body, one, person, and people. As an interjection of surprise or emphasis, it became especially popular from eC20.

In relation to the usage of man as a reference to the State/government or some oppressive authority, the colloquial phrase “work for the Man” dates back to 1918. Variations of this phrase such as “the man is keeping me down” is an indication of the power exercised by the government or an organization over the common citizen. “Stick it to the Man” symbolizes resistance to authority, and essentially means to fight back or resist, either passively, openly, or via sabotage.

In present day, the phrase has been popularized in commercials and cinema. The term has also been used as a form of praise. This may refer to the recipient’s status as the leader or authority within a particular context, or it might be assumed to be a shortened form of a phrase like “He is the man (in charge).” In modern usage, it can be a superlative compliment (“you da man!”) indicating that the subject is currently standing out amongst his peers despite having no special rank.

“I Am a Man!” is a declaration of civil rights, often used as a personal statement and as a declaration of independence against oppression. Historically, in the U.S. and South Africa, the term boy was a pejorative racist insult towards men of color and slaves, indicating their subservient social status of being less than men. In response, “Am I Not A Man And A Brother?” became a catchphrase used by British and American abolitionists. In 1787, Josiah Wedgwood designed a medallion for the British anti-slavery campaign. The original design was by the Society for Effecting the Abolition of the Slave Trade. It was widely reproduced and became a popular fashion statement promoting justice, humanity, and freedom. During the African-American Civil Rights Movement at the Memphis Sanitation Strike in 1968, “I AM A MAN!” signs were used to answer the same question.

Present day preoccupations with man revolve around anxieties about the exposure of masculinity as a social construction. Practice of gender roles that privilege the notions of honor, leadership, and authority in men and discourages the same for women is defined by hegemonic masculinity. Western cultural notions of masculinity have emphasized the “inborn” inclinations for heteronormative display of power, strength, and a culturally bestowed self-assertion.

Real man and manhood have undergone changes in their use to recognize pressures to conform to constructed masculinity. Urban Dictionary points to the distinction between the usage of man versus real man. While the former represents the idea of male chauvinism and sexism, i.e., “Someone wanting women to make them sandwiches,” the latter symbolizes sensitivity, chivalry, and reason. Thus, quotes like “Real men stay faithful” or “It takes a real man to realize he made a mistake” abound on social media and the internet reinforcing the ideas of old fashioned chivalry, etiquette, and traditional family values.

A counterculture involves men donning pink shirts to underscore their comfort with their masculinity. Pink, a color that became associated with femininity and vulnerability in eC20, has often been taboo for men. Men wearing pink risk their masculinity being questioned and are labeled gay and effeminate. “Real Men Wear Pink” was the first to counter this stereotype. Studies have shown a correlation between men wearing pink and better education, higher income, and more appreciation from women. It has also come to symbolize support for breast cancer awareness and research.

The biologically essentialist connotation of a “real man” is used in the context of transmen or gay men. Values connected to “real man” are conflated with being born with a penis. Transmen are not considered “real” because they have transitioned from female to male, thus denied claim to masculinity. Debates regarding who or what is a man in these contexts reveal the current inherently social and cultural constructions of man. The North Carolina Bathroom Law gives transgender people access to bathrooms corresponding to the gender on their birth certificate causing an uproar amongst LGBTQ organizations. It has also contributed to the discussions about the privileging of anatomy to delineate a man.

American English (COCA) collocates include adjectives like ‘young,’ ‘handsome,’ ‘burly,’ ‘muscular,’ ‘enlisted,’ and ‘Marlboro.’ They perpetuate the stereotype of hyper masculine cisgender male shunning emotional vulnerability. Michael Kimmel, Gender Studies professor at Stony Brook and co-editor of The Handbook of Studies on Men and Masculinities (2004) explains the “Bro Code” of collegiate male etiquette as a brotherhood where respect is proportional to the disrespect allocated to young women during hookups. NYU Professor Niobe Way opines that many boys develop meaningful friendships that are socialized out of them during adolescence. By age 16, they shun male company although the desire for companionship remains. Some cultural critics link such mounting emotional vulnerability to the erosion of male privilege.

Some compound words with man have gained traffic over recent years, denoting the privilege and dominant behavioral tendencies enjoyed by men over women. These include mansplaining, manologue, and manterruption.

Mansplaining, a portmanteau of man and explaining, is defined as a condescending or patronizing way of explaining something to someone, typically by a man to a woman. A set of mannerisms in which a speaker’s reduced respect for the listener, or a person being discussed, appears to have no reason other than the speaker’s assumption that the listener or subject, being female, lacks the capacity to comprehend as a man. It covers situations in which it appears a person is using a conversation primarily for the purpose of self-aggrandizement — holding forth to a female listener, considered less capable, in order to appear knowledgeable by comparison. Mansplaining differs somewhat from other forms of condescension because it is rooted in a sexist assumption that a man will normally be more knowledgeable, or more capable of understanding, than a woman.

An elaborate and extended version of mansplaining, manologue is characterized by the proffering of words not asked for, of unsolicited views and irrelevant arguments. It stems from the practice of men taking, and being allocated more time to speak in almost every professional setting. Women self-censor, edit, and apologize for speaking.

Manterruption describes a situation in which a man interrupts a woman when she is trying to speak. When a man talks in a meeting, he gets heard, but a woman may be repeatedly interrupted or talked over by her male colleagues or called too aggressive.

The Men’s Rights Movement is a part of the larger men’s movement. It branched off from the men’s liberation movement in the early 1970s. It comprises a variety of groups concerned with issues related to male disadvantage, discrimination, and oppression. Some scholars consider the men’s rights movement to be a backlash against feminism. Men’s rights activists contest claims by feminists that men have greater privilege or advantage than women arguing that modern feminism has harmed men’s rights. Claims and activities of the movement have been criticized by some scholars. Some sectors of the movement have also been described as misogynistic.