I don't really think of myself as manly. I'm not sure if anyone else thinks of me as manly either. The facial hair helps a little, as does the deepish voice and bulging muscles. Ok, I was lying about the muscles.
But manliness, as it exists in our minds, can be seen as a character flaw (much like religion). Manly men are the reason Marc Ellis is still on TV, manly men are the reason we have Tui ads, manly men are the reason for annoying celebrity strippers.
So what could I expect from a list in Popular Mechanics called: The 25 Things Every Man Should Be Able To Do? Must be able to kill an animal without remorse and eat its heart? Must be able to name the entire 1985 All Black Squad including their home provinces? Must find racist jokes funny?
But after perusing the list I discovered that Popular Mechanics has a very interesting view of being a "man". In fact looking at the list (which I will show you soon) it would be quite easy for a woman to be a man (even easier than surgery).
"Man", as I read it in the list, is now a concept not a sex. Men were hunter/gatherer/semen-factories and then evolved into farmers/truck-owners and for some reason you needed a penis to be that (I blame religion again). The list though seems to define man (or manly) as protector/provider but removing any gender bias (like strength or speed or hair growth).
PopMech said they created the list because they felt that people couldn't fix things anymore. They saw a problem with our disposable society. We upgrade rather than fixing, we throw out rather than repair, we contract in rather than DIYing.
Sometimes this isn't our fault though. I recently had a new shower put in; the installer was explaining some part of what he was going to do when he paused: "Do you understand anything about this?"
"No", I replied honestly and somewhat apologetically. He must have caught my tone because he said, "That's not a problem, we've all got our specialist areas these days. I don't know much about computers" (I had told him that I was a blogger at some point).
With the idea that specialisation leads to eventual extinction then having a wide variety of skills can only be a good thing, right?
The PopMech list can be broken down into groups:
- Patch a radiator hose
- Back up a trailer
- Use a torque wrench
- Manoeuvre a car out of a skid
- Get a car unstuck
- Change oil and filter
- Bleed brakes
- Protect your computer
- Retouch digital photos
- Back up data
- Hook up an HDTV
- Extend your wireless network
- Rescue a boater who has capsized
- Build a campfire
- Navigate with a map and compass
- Sharpen a knife
- Perform CPR
- Fillet a fish
- Clean a bolt-action rifle
- Paddle a canoe
- Fix a bike flat
- Fix a dead outlet
- Frame a wall
- Paint a room
- Mix concrete
I should point out that I can already do lots of these, but some I haven't done in a long time (paddle a canoe).
As I said before, the authors of the list said that it was about self-reliance. But it's still confusing to me why an inner-city builder who can fix his own car and run his own website would be less manly because he can't clean a gun.
And can I customise the list? What if I take out "hook up an HDTV" and replace it with "can cook Huevos Rancheros"? Or replace "bleed brakes" with "make a good wine selection for a meal" or "able to tie a bowtie"? In fact, can the Popular Mechanics' version of a man (even the new provider/protector version) exist in urban settings where owning a car isn't an asset but knowing the best place for cheap Thai food is?
And so I propose an extra set of tasks that for want of a better phrase I will call: Urban Survival
This list was actually pretty hard to create. I polled Twitter on what they thought were essential urban survival skills and the Hive Mind came back resoundingly with: "need to know people". I'm not sure how that works as a skill but I tried to add it.
I also felt there needed to be a skill involving geo-spatial knowledge.
- Make a good wine selection for a meal
- Cook a meal
- Be no more than two-degrees of separation from anyone at a gathering
- Know the fastest distance between two points (in their home town)
- Ability to locate a good café/restaurant/bar within walking distance of any location.
These extra points may seem over the top but I feel they fit within the idea of man as a leader, able to give directions and take charge if needed. This creates the idea of man as a cultural guide which I find interesting but I also think that it doesn't necessarily fit within the protector/provider role.
In fact the more I look at these last points the more I don't like them. For example cooking is a great skill to have but it seems too creative. I don't know, maybe I'm being too picky. If you can help by suggesting some refinements to these final skills I would be most appreciative.
In any case, starting today I am going to go through the list of 25 things set down in Popular Mechanics, and I am going to master all of them. And over the next few weeks I'm going to tell you about them and maybe along the way we can figure out what exactly a man is in the 21st Century.