Crossing Borders with Manhood

I have just returned from a three-week visit to Japan and South Korea feeling renewed.  This is not only because I was able to get my hands on some outstanding ramen and bulgogi but because the entire trip felt like validation for my fledgling blogging career.  Let me explain.  In crossing a few time zones, it quickly became clear that I had left behind the particular brand of manhood on which I was raised.     I could not always put my finger on the differences between them, but it was very clear that young boys in East Asia aren’t growing up with the same messaging that dominated my trek into manhood.  Sure, there are many commonalities but the differences are glaring to a newcomer.

There’s nothing like immersing oneself in an unfamiliar culture for a few weeks to remind you that culture is changeable and subject to input.  This thing that we call manhood is not the immutable force that we think it to be when we stare in awe of it as children.  It’s more so a list of traits and behaviors that are loosely agreed upon by the masses as the way to go.  If more men recognized the mutability of manhood for what it is, then we might spend more time discussing those aspects of it with which we disagree as well as spend more time pushing against them.  I returned to America and was greeted by the circulation of images of Black male youths suspected of killing a college student in Oklahoma out of boredom and images of another three Black youths at the U.S. Naval Academy accused of gang raping a fellow student.  I watched all of this while carrying a freshly-renewed promise that manhood is a social construct that should serve rather than destroy, and needs to be ripped apart if it isn’t doing that.  Conceptualizations of manhood that place sexual gratification over empathy or that place violence over citizenship are not the only game in town even if they do get so much airplay.

The Japanese have a saying that “A frog in a well does not know the great sea.”  I was raised in a well unaware of the great sea of possibilities that existed for men to pursue.  I’m thankful that I eventually learned of possibilities beyond the well and even more thankful for a recent trip’s reminder that I can always pursue a manhood of my own creation if I don’t like what I find.

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