With perfect clarity we remember the most meaningful moments in our lives. Oftentimes these are the events that most define us. Having the ability to make or break us, these moments have the ability to fling us into the upper atmosphere of maturity and success, or bury us beneath the burdening weight of mediocrity and squalor.
With inevitable pain or success hanging in the balance, one might consider avoiding such precarious moments of potential transcendence. But manliness must be tested. It is a principle as old as time itself. A boy becomes a man not by purchasing a “man card” at Walmart (though they do have pretty much everything else), but by proving yourself to the other men of the tribe. These rites of passage are inherent in human culture.
We see rites of passage all the time in film. The Karate Kid must suck up the pain, dance like a flamingo on one leg for a bit, and give the bully a bloody nose to receive the respect of his peers. Zac Efron had to learn how to sing and dance while dribbling a basketball before he could make the cool squad in High School Musical. And Mulan had to teach a bunch of guys to sing in order to make them manly and bring honor to her family.
In America there are certain rites or rituals we view as demonstrating maturity – and possibly manliness. These life events include, but are not limited to:
Getting a Driver’s license – Although the bravery lies more on the side of the driving instructor.
Graduating high school – Not sure if taking Home Ec. is “manly,” but it gets you a diploma.
Getting tattoos/piercings – No pain = no gaining the trust of the local biker gang.
Growing facial/chest hair – Chest hair is the best, put your manliness to the test. (And it ensures warmth through the winter. Also, see MOVEMBER)
Receiving your first gun – In Idaho this could be as early as age 4.
Getting your first job – Flipping dead meat is definitely masculine.
Joining the Army – Apparently they just need “a few” good men, but are thankfully willing to take more.
These are just a few ways, and I’m sure there are many others you can think of. What this list seems to reveal is that we don’t have one distinct way to declare someone “a man.” It seems rather that we wait for a confluence of factors to come together before we distribute the ever-so-coveted “man card.” But in other cultures that is not the case. Here are a few examples I’ve found:
In Ancient Sparta a game was played between boys where they were to stand against a pillar and whipped while their adoring family watched. The first one to cry out in pain was the loser and had to wear the dunce cap. But to officially become a man you had to kill a local slave, called a helot. The trick was that you were beaten severely if caught doing so. But if you could handle your whipping and kill a slave quietly, then you were allowed to go kill people from different city-states.
To be a man in Vanuatu, a small island in the South Pacific, the men built 100 ft towers out of posts and take turns jumping with only a vine attached to their feet. The goal is to just slightly touch your shoulders to the ground. And I can’t imagine a group of guys who have ever miscalculated anything before. They’ve been doing it for over a millennium and surprisingly have not fully lost their male population.
In the Brazilian rainforest a tribe called the Satere-Mawa tribe has their young men wear a glove made of bullet ants. Apparently the bullet ant has the most excruciating sting of all insects. But don’t you worry. They only have to wear the glove for ten minutes, and I hear the paralysis only lasts for about 24 hours.
The Mandan tribe performed a ritual where a boy was suspended by a rope attached to rods which were attached to their chest and back. They did this until the boy passed out from pain and loss of blood. All this seems good and fine, but then they were required to sacrifice their pinky to the gods, adding insult to injury. How can you pinky swear with no pinky?
Some Aborigine tribes in Australia send their boys on a 6 month journey alone through the desert and bush. They must spend the entire 6 months in total isolation, living off the land. Armed only with a boomerang the boys return triumphantly and with a few more imaginary friends than when they left.
After looking at these other worlds I could have been brought up into, I have become quite happy with the caliber of manliness required in the U.S. Is it possible that I couldn’t hack it in any of these scenarios? Possibly. But do I value my chest muscles (limited as they may be), hands, and cranium in one piece? Definitely.
So instead of killing slaves and bungee jumping minus the bungee, I am content with my man-hair, jailhouse tats, and glamorous Drivers License head-shot. And I am ever so much more grateful to have both my pinky’s fully intact.