As a graduation present to myself for my hard work on my undergraduate degree, I decided to accept the offer to be a student chaperone on a 12-day trip to Scotland, England, Wales, Ireland and North Ireland. I flew over, along with twenty others, with expectations of what I would find. I’m certain that my expectations of the men of the United Kingdom came from watching movies. The warm voice and accent of Sean Connery, determination of Liam Neeson, and boyish charm of Tom Hiddleston filled me with hopeful anticipation that men like them might surround me. Hollywood has a way of skewing our expectations.
I decided it would be fun and enlightening to interview men in London, Edinburgh, and Dublin by asking two simple (or so I thought) questions. “What does being a man mean to you?” and “Define masculinity.” After all, I reasoned, men in America seemed to be pre-occupied with being “manly” and I was curious if this was happening elsewhere. It seemed like the perfect opportunity to conduct some research. Now if I could figure out how to make the trip tax deductible—I’d be set.
The best place to interview was in the local pubs, as I wanted to talk to the common man—the everyday, run of the mill type of man. I wasn’t prepared for the quizzical looks I received. In trying to clarify and explain, more often than not, the answers I received were based on loyalty to country, “Being proud of living in this great country” or “Not being an internationalist.” I was surprised as I had anticipated different answers that what I got. It was interesting that one of the men mentioned, he hadn’t really thought about how proud he was to be a Scott, until he had left the country. In the first few days of a trip that had a timeline, I felt I was getting nowhere.
The next afternoon, while sitting outdoors at a lovely pub in Edinburgh with my travel companions, I was encouraged to ask my questions to the four Scottish men sitting a few tables away. With the liquid courage of a pint (or two) of local brew on board, I decided to narrow my question down to something simple, tangible, and very relatable. “What do real Scottish men drink?” The answers were hilarious – “Not whiskey—that’s for pussies,” and “Real men drink lager or Scotch.” The chuckles that ensued opened the door to general conversation. Once we turned to the topic of being a man and masculinity, the answers became, “Who can drink the fastest,” and “How do your legs look in a kilt,” to how much they loved haggis. Seriously, I did try that stuff and concluded that it was probably best after a few pints of something alcoholic—but I digress. It was this general conversation (spoken in an accent like Sean Connery—Hollywood was accurate on this one) with the four lovely Scotsmen that led me to abandon my typical line of questioning and simply observe the men during the remainder of the trip.
While in Scotland and Ireland, I could clearly see in facial structures, which men were of Scottish and Irish descent. Hair color aside, it was the heavy brow and foreheads with rugged, though simple features, that was a clear indicator, to me at least that I wasn’t in Kansas any longer. The words Neanderthal and Crow Magnum Man came to my mind, yet not in the insulting way we think of, for I could clearly see intelligence reflecting in their clear eyes and upon their brow. The men of Wales were not significantly different from men I had encountered in the states—just not as many with weight issues. In London, a vastly globalized market with people from all over Europe, it was difficult to pinpoint just who were from England. Comically one of the traits I noticed, due in part to the reactions of my female traveling companions, was that the men in London smelled really quite nice. We’re not talking Axe here. The men sporting what appeared to be top-notch suits caused my female companions to do a double take. Admittedly, perhaps, that was due in part to the area in which we live. One does not often encounter men dressed so splendidly aside from a wedding or funeral.
What I discovered in my observations is, that while there was a fierce aggressive loyalty of country (no matter which country), there was also gentleness as apparent by the way women, children, the elderly, and even animals were treated. I noted a chivalry that I have not encountered since my last visit to the south. Yet, amidst this chivalry, there was still an apparent a love of the female form. This was evident in the way men would watch a lovely lass walk down the street. Even a woman of my age, received a few glances—or perhaps that was due to the crazy print leggings I was wearing. Mmm, I think I’ll take the looks as compliments. However, what was absent were the wolf whistles and comments frequently found back in America. Men apparently didn’t feel the need to draw attention to themselves in this way. They wanted to be free to admire beauty, yet do so in a respectful way. I remember watching a farmer and his wife walking down the street. His hand was placed in the small of her back—not pushing her along nor really guiding her. It appeared to be more of a protecting manner. One of the classes I had just completed was Philosophies of Feminism and in that class, I learned about the great division between women who felt the opening of doors was a sign of chivalry while others found it a sign of benevolent sexism. After witnessing this, and being a receiver of this gesture, in both the United States and abroad, I would honestly have to say it’s in the attitude. I feel that men in the United Kingdom seemed to want to open doors out of a genuine respect, rather than a duty that was expected. Perhaps more research is needed, which would entail a trip to another country.
Since returning, I’ve thought about the differences in American men and men from the United Kingdom in correlation with masculinity and the need to question just what it is. I keep coming back to the responses surrounding loyalty to country. I wonder if the difference lies in the connection to the land. Men in the United Kingdom have a deeper connection due to thousands of years and generations—the United States, by comparison, is a relatively young country without the longevity of generations so the land connection isn’t as deep. What I found interesting was the connection that I felt with the land. I surmise it is due to my ancestral heritage as many of my ancestors came from Scotland and Ireland—traced as far as 1006.
Perhaps one of the keys to reclaiming masculinity, for American men, is to get out of the offices and onto the land. Walk the earth—barefoot if you can. Build things with materials from the earth. Look at the stars. Take a dip naked in a cold lake. Hunt, with a bow, a gun or a camera. Fish. Share these activities with the next generation by taking your sons or if you don’t have one, join Big Brothers and take one of those boys.
And PLEASE, from women everywhere, ditch the AXE cologne.