A new advertisement for Madison Square Garden that is plastered all over Manhattan reads as follows: “It’s Friday night. You can either see a Broadway harness malfunction or you can watch real men fly.”
Excuse me while I roll my eyes.
This advertisement is not only offensive; it is insulting. It is insulting to the people it speaks of – male actors on Broadway, who apparently are all homosexuals (which is not true) – but to its target audience. This advertisement assumes that the people who read it are narrow-minded, judgmental people who are not able to see beyond stereotypes and labels.
It is 2012. Why are we debating what makes “real men”? We are not living in a Judd Apatow movie where the male characters live in a state of perpetual adolescence. “Manliness” is not measured by the physical strength or athletic ability of a person. It is not measured by the number of women a man dates or sleeps with, or if he punches another man in a bar fight. The term “manliness” only exists because of the narrow-minded people who strive to keep it a part of our national discourse despite the best efforts of progressive communities to move beyond gender stereotypes.
Appreciating the arts does not make someone less of a man. Caring about equality does not make someone less of a man. Respecting a woman does not make someone less of a man, nor does loving another man. Physical strength does not define manliness; in fact, it often comes with a cost. Feminist writer Jessica Valenti states in her book The Purity Myth, “When women’s sexuality is imagined to be passive or ‘dirty,’ it also means that men’s sexuality is automatically positioned as aggressive and right-no matter what form it takes. And when one of the conditions of masculinity, a concept that is already so fragile in men’s minds, is that men dissociate from women and prove their manliness through aggression, we’re encouraging a culture of violence and sexuality that’s detrimental to both men and women.”
This culture is both detrimental to men and women, and it has been demonstrated by the repeated, offensive statements made about rape by various members of the Republican Party. Asserting one’s manhood or masculinity should not be necessary at all, and it should never come at the cost of respecting another human being.
I know homosexual men who have faced more challenges and shown more tenacity, forgiveness, courage and strength than any heterosexual, athletic, stereotypically defined “real man.” Perhaps these “real men” of Madison Square Garden, who are idolized by their fans and paid grossly exorbitant amounts of money to play sports and endorse products, should face some of the challenges homosexual men face. Perhaps they should go one day being denied basic civil rights such as legal benefits of marriage, which include health insurance and hospital visitation rights for their partners.
Perhaps if pointless colloquial jargon such as what makes a “real man” continues to exist in our national dialogue, these sort of challenges should be what is measured to define a real man. Then these men at Madison Square Garden can tackle some of these obstacles and truly prove their “manhood”.