Manning Up and Other Man-Based Expressions

Quick note: I am aware that certain ideas in this post can be offensive to some people (particularly men), and I apologize in advance. Most of this purely intellectual speculation on my part.

When I was writing my post for the other day, I briefly touched upon the idea that writing female superheroes is a little more difficult than writing male superheroes because superheroics seem to stem from the principle of “manning up” (not “womaning up”). That got me and my sister talking about WHY we use that term to denote taking responsibility despite inconvenience – as if women don’t have similar responsibilities to take on.

TOTALLY MANLY (Photo credit: Halcyon)

Let’s talk testicles

Of course, it brings to light the inclination towards patriarchy that many English-speaking nations seem to have. We simply can’t deny it – even when we’re talking to women, we tend to ask them to “grow some balls” when we feel that they’re being subservient. As if balls make you stronger or something.

In a manner of speaking, it actually MIGHT. Don’t men get testosterone–the bravest of hormones–from their testicles? Then again, that doesn’t necessarily fly because, as I understand it, ovaries secrete that too. Not as much as the men’s do, of course, but the point is that it still does…right? MY SCIENCEY FRIENDS, I NEED YOU TO TELL ME IF I UNDERSTAND THIS RIGHT.

Of course, I find this problematic too. Sure, testosterone really does make you more open to risk. But…doesn’t massive amounts of this also make you kind of an asshole? I mean, as I understand it, many male politicians are actually marinaded in this hormone (that’s why they got as far as they did in a career that requires mad power-play skills) and a good number of those same men tend to want to bang anything that remotely attracts them. I could be wrong, but the fact that Anthony Weiner’s indiscretions are once again on the news kind of tells me I’m on the right track.

…does this explain why Superman is a dick sometimes?

Still talking about balls

Maybe it’s more about the power thing again. Testosterone drives people to want to acquire positions of dominance, one way or another. Men have more of this hormone than women, which probably means that it’s more natural for guys to think in terms of being in charge, of being in control.

The way I see it, this whole thing lends a sort of perspective to the “with great power comes great responsibility” concept. To me, it seems like the subtext of the “manning up” sentiment is that having a set of balls literally gives you more power because you’re inclined to seek it. But it also recognizes that working towards and actually being in command can turn lots of people into jerks, so there is an element of control here: you’re trying to hold back some of the effects of testosterone (the way Bruce Banner tries to hold back The Hulk) in order to actually be productive in your place of dominance.

Lemme try to collect my thoughts here

There is a possibility that, at least at some point in the cultural history of English-speaking groups, they believed that being in possession of testicles gives you authority. Women don’t have testicles, so we are not as blessed as they are–so they therefore conclude that it’s on them to make sure that humanity is okay or something (that later got translated into some really weird notions about how girls should be treated). Clearly, this patriarchal notion is not necessarily successful 100% of the time. But we’re still alive, so yay?

What I really find fascinating, though, is that “manning up” actually involves active suppression of the more negative effects of that one specific hormone…so doesn’t that mean that “manning up”, to a certain extent, requires men to act more like women? Is that why they constantly need to be reminded–because it doesn’t necessarily come naturally?

CORRECT ME ON THIS, SCIENCEY FRIENDS!  Because I really don’t believe that–I’ve met some females who can be bigger pricks than most of the guys I actually know (oh look, a negative masculine expression).

…maybe I should stop talking about dangly bits now. I’m just confusing myself.

Super Storycraft: Manning Up

As some of you might know, I have this pet project of trying to figure out what puts the “super” in the superhero story by creating my own hero. I actually have the plot outline and a few scenes of his adventures lined up in a notebook somewhere (progress!), and I’m trying to decide whether I should post it on this blog or on Wattpad – because I really should post it somewhere.

If only because the world needs Liberty (art care of my sister)
If only because the world needs Liberty (art care of my sister)

Of course, the original point of this is to learn more about writing a story about a super-powered person trying to help other people. Over the course of trying to hammer out certain details, something became clear to me.

In many plots, fathers really are important.

I believe that I’ve complained about excessive use of “daddy issues” in various hero tales, and I do believe that, in most cases, it’s cheating (I’m glaring at you right now, 2011 Green Lantern movie). But I think writing Liberty – Lady Liberty in previous incarnations – has given me another perspective. I now feel that the use of father figures in many stories such as this reflect one important aspect of turning into a hero. I think the dads are there to teach the superheroes how to use their powers responsibly.

They’re there to show the heroes how to man up when needed.

Let’s face it: many superheroes – the popular ones – are male. As such, superhero stories can be seen as metaphors for being an adult in the context of manhood, for becoming and being a man. Peter Parker became a man when he became Spiderman – and he is the hero he is because of the man Uncle Ben was. Superman was also the hero he is because of who Jonathan Kent is.

In my own story, Liberty is a hero – but he won’t be the hero he is meant to be, the man he is meant to be, until he reconnects with his father.

The entire point here is to know how to step up – as men are expected to.

I think this is why many find it difficult to write stories about female superheroes – it’s because most of the sensibilities of superhero stories tend to deal with what we are told are essentially male aspirations. Being rescuers, protectors, defenders, and (to a certain extent, at least), avengers are things that boys are supposed to aspire to be.

A man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do. Nobody really talks about what a woman’s gotta do (I’ll rant about this in a future post).

Nevertheless, a good superhero story seems to require the main character to man up. Call it morals or ethics or whatnot. But in the end, it’s recognizing a sense of right and wrong within one’s self and knowing how to apply one’s powers to it.

I could be wrong – but this is as good a start as any.