What does it mean to “be a man”?

08 Nov
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I have been doing lots of reading and research into perinatal distress and started reading and thinking about Dad’s in that process… So often they are overlooked in a lot of talk about these issues or topics when it comes to parenting…

Alan Law wrote a great post about Post-natal depression in Dad’s for The Spinoff recently. It got me thinking and exploring a slightly different avenue than I expected when I walked into the door of my office to do some research this morning…

How much detriment are we doing to everyone in our societies by some of the ideas, perception, language and attitudes to masculinity in our society?


Some of these ideas and concepts just straight up promote the objectification of women and exacerbate the imbalance of power between genders in current society…

Now that’s huge in itself as there is obviously a whole host of issues and social ill’s that we continue to see examples of in our world (if you are looking for examples think rape, consent and social and culture norms and standards etc).

But that wasn’t my point for this post in particular.

What struck me as I was reading and watching videos and drawing mind maps was, what horrible things are we doing for the mental health and happiness of the boys and men in our lives and society by not talking about this stuff?

Alan linked to some great resources in his post, one of which was this video of a TED Talk by Tony Porter. This has been on my watch list for a long time but I just finally watched it.


[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=td1PbsV6B80]

Its 11 minutes long. Seriously, watch it. Its important to all of us.


The stuff he talks about and what it means for us all as a society is really powerful. He talks about men not being “allowed” to be sensitive, to be emotional, to promote equality, to not always be “on the prowl”, to be anything but dominate, to have relationships with women that aren’t sexual.

“My liberation as a man is tied to your liberation as a woman. I asked a nine year old boy, what would life be like for you if you didn’t have to adhere to this man box? He said, I would be free.”

Tony Porter (2010) TED Talk, A Call to Men


It really struck a chord with me. I can think of two specific example of my own as to why…



Now first is a very dear friend of mine.

We lived together for a number of years when we were younger, we have known each other half our lives. We have so many bloody stories and experiences shared together that often when we catch up over a glass of wine it turns into a bit of a “do you remember that time…?” session…

We know each others families and we have a great deal of friends in common. He is a part of my whanau.

My kids call him “Uncle JP”.

Now, EVERYONE in my life (I was trying to rack my brain thinking to check if I was exaggerating this, but I really don’t think I am), everyone at some point or another has said to me, “have you not slept with JP?”

And I mean everyone. My parents, my family, my friends, even my husband was under the mistaken assumption for a number of years when we first got together that I had slept with JP. Now I would say James was shocked that I hadn’t, and I mean I guess he was, but not as shocked as I was to think he thought I had.

“Why does EVERYONE assume we have slept together?” I quickly went off bitching to JP… “I dunno, they just do..” he replied, “Always have.. what are you on about?”



Sometime in 2009, JP, myself and a bottle of wine all having a cuddle.. haha 😉


And we talked about it, it wasn’t the first time we talked about it either. We have talked about all kinds of shit. Neither of us had any family in the country in a really formative time of our lives and shared companionship and support as well as a roof over our heads for a decent chunk of that. But the idea of there being a sexual relationship there. It’s just weird.

I guess with JP its like a family member. But I have had and continue to have lots of non sexual relationship with the opposite sex. And not all of them am I close enough to that I would consider them family. But nor does that mean I want to have sex with them.

Why just because I share an emotional connection with someone does that mean they either have to be the same sex as me or that we must have actually had sex or want to?

Like whats the obsession with the sex thing about in the first place? And what does that say for people who aren’t attracted to the opposite sex or who has a gender orientation or persuasion that is anything other than traditionally cis-gender?

I guess in a way for me personally, being married has finally given me like a “red card” I can wave at unwanted attention, “haha oh that’s nice, thanks, but I am married”.. but of course only in a pleasant, nonthreatening tone and manner because obviously I should feel flattered and not be a bitch… :/

Which again one could draw all kinds of subtleties and values associated to our current social structures and culture out of if you were so inclined to…



One’s whole self

The other thing that struck me as Tony talked about the meanings and values we attribute to masculinity and femininity and the way that limits ones ability to experience every aspect of their personality of self, was how that is not just limiting to my husband and sons. It is also limiting to me.

I have very much experienced that and reflected upon it many times before in my own life.

I was brought up in the world of business. My dad was an entrepreneur and his business ventures where like another sibling in our family. Like literally that was a running joke in our family, “ABM*, the other sister”…

*(Adelaide Business Machines could have well been one of the many other names or businesses in this example)


My sisters birth announcement in the local paper, pretty sure I didn’t write it though, I was 3… Oh and for the record, Dr. Ugly is a family friend who got his name from calling literally every single person ugly, he would say “hello ugly” to you so everyone called him Dr Ugly. He was also a doctor just for the record but I never looked to say if it actually said Dr Ugly on his name badge…


Now on the other side of my family line, I come from a collective of very strong, powerful women with a very different background and setting. But my great grandmother was a big time player in the running of the small town where my Mum was born (where a lot of them still live). In this side of the family there is a running joke that we “kill off the men” because no of them have survived or stuck around for as long as the ladies…

I still to this day (like last Christmas when I was there) walk around that town, which is no longer a small town but a satellite city of Adelaide, and at least one person will come up to me and say, “You have to be Jenny Bagg’s daughter?!” (yep that’s my mums maiden name hahahahaha) or “You’re a Couche aren’t you?”

My great grandfather did lots for that town. There is a street named after him. But this was at a time when there was not the same male presence in a small town. The war was on, peoples husband’s and son’s were away in battle. And in the meantime in my great grandmothers hair salon after hours, she would run an underground bar and poker den at a time when there was restrictions on alcohol.

The amazing strength and impact of this woman and her friends and “sisters” (we had so many Great Aunts growing up I remember being seriously confused for a while there before I realised a lot of them where the ladies who worked in the salon for Gran over the years, not actual relatives of ours) had earned themselves the name of the “Couche Clan”.

Now I knew Gran was a force to be reckoned with when I was a kid. You didn’t meet her or know her without knowing that. And I knew there were some serious stories in her past, I knew in too much detail some of them actually..

She really started going down hill in her dementia at a time when my high school boyfriend and I were living for a short stint in the town. We lived there for a few months on our travels around Australia. We actually lived in the ‘flat’ which was originally my Gran’s salon and then it was her home before she got moved into ‘the big house’.

Its a country town set up, my family owned parts of the land that where later made into roads and subdivided to make more houses.. The houses that were once all together now span across different roads, paths and gates. Sometimes, Gran would wonder down to the flat and think I was ‘Dot’ (or Aunty Dot as I knew her, she was one of my favs, I was quite honored to be Dot to be honest) and that my boyfriend at the time was one of her secret lovers that none of the family knew about.

So yes. That resulted in many stories we never saw coming.

Sometimes it was easier to just play along, “Hey Freda, yeah I sorted that customer and swept the floor like you said, yep”… It was definitely easier for my generation to do that than it was for my Mum’s or grandmothers. For them watching this amazingly strong and powerful woman who they knew so well become something else was a different kind of heart breaking and horrible than it was for us. As the great grandchildren, we found out lots of information she would have never told us normally which made it equal measures a pretty special albeit often awkward experience as much as a tragic and horrible one at the same time.

Sometimes our roles changed or we were different people. In most settings outside of the flat, I was often an air hostess in my great grandmothers mind as it turns out… The brain is funny, I actually got that association, the only time in her life my Great Grandmother got on a plane was to come to New Zealand for my 21st birthday. She wasn’t very fond of the flying experience and she let me know all about it at the time.

It was like a twisted joke that as her memory faded, that bit stuck…

But my point was, what a role model of power and strength.

But also what a dichotomy of learning. Business inherently says all things powerful, all positive traits and attributes are inherently masculine.

To be feminine in the world of business is generally not at all a good thing…

Now I was very aware of this and how being “sexual” in any way shape or form in that setting often made me lose any power or status I did work hard to achieve. But I wasn’t about to go all Helen Clarke about it (as much as I love her), I wasn’t about to do voice training to lower my tone or become massively less womanly I guess…

For my teenage years though particularly, there was a quite big part of me that maybe was largely responsible for me subconsciously having a tendency to down play my femininity.

Every time someone gave me a really great compliment they would usually finish it with, “you’re like your Dad”. Which is awesome, but my Dad is a man. I remember my sister used to get really pissed off when people would say I was like my Dad but looked like my Mum and she was like Mum but looked more like Dad.. “what I have a goatee and a big nose?!” she would always huff back haha

Now don’t get me wrong, my Dad was totally down with the play and ahead of his time in terms of equality generally in the workplace, but the world was still telling me ALL THE TIME that feminine aspects of my personality were somehow not as powerful or valuable as the masculine ones.

Despite me having really strong females in my family history and knowing the examples of other ways, Dad had this thing about helping me find female role models to look up to in business. As a parent, I guess he could see more of what I might have been behind some of the internalization I was going through… but I don’t know.

And he did amazingly at that and my life was and is richer for having different examples of what strength and power can look like. But for me it wasn’t until I had kids myself that I opened up and really understood a different part of my own personal identity.

I feel in my case, if the social and economic ideas of gender were different, that would have made a big difference to me.

It would have let me be free. It would have let me feel like it was ok to be whole.

I so want that for my kids. I so want that for all the kids I know regardless of gender. And at the end of the day, I don’t think there is much more that could be important for our children, than to be happy, with themselves and in themselves when and while they are growing up.

The rest is just details…


This is a really powerful way to look at gender equality and these issues in our society. But not only that, it also its really important for the mental health of our boys and young men. We know we have issues with mental health in New Zealand that are hidden under the rug. We also know we have horrible rates for things like suicide.

Why are we perpetuating the idea that men can’t talk about these issues?

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aSAeOhCrv_s]



More on this topic…

My past blog: Gender Stereotypes: the real differences between boys and girls –


Alan Law (2016, Nov 2) Post-natal Depression in Dads: If you’re not happy and you know it, The Spinoff – http://thespinoff.co.nz/parenting/02-11-2016/post-natal-depression-in-dads-if-youre-not-happy-and-you-know-it/#t-58702

There are heaps of great TED Talks on these kinds of topics.

Check out some of these:

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