It is said that if a man didn't have to shave, he would, anyway. I find that somewhat offensive. It suggests that a man's sense of his unique maleness is tied in some strange way to the follicles of his facial hair, and that in shaving his face he is reassuring himself of his manhood.
I don't know what this says about women who shave legs. Are they reaffirming their femininity. What about their underarms? What about their … their. … What are they reaffirming when they shave any of it?
I agree totally. You'd have to ask one of them - the shaver, that is, as opposed to the shavee.
There are many ways to exhibit your manhood. Perhaps I should put that another way.
Down through the centuries, men have found diverse ways of proving to the world and the other sexes that they are indeed men, by damn, and let the world beware and respond accordingly.
Together with other young boys in our adolescence, I observed the rituals and methods by which young men chose to announce to the world that they were "coming out" and staying out. Again, for the modern era, perhaps different wording should be used here, but you know what I mean.
These are not presented in any order of priority, but simply from the earliest impact they had on my consciousness, and were thus the first I determined to use myself.
The first ritual was unavoidable. While African fathers were sending their adolescent sons out to hunt wild boars to prove their manhood, we were doing something equally daring - opening a pack of Export A's or Lucky Strikes and our fathers knew nothing about it.
Our inspiration came from boys slightly older who walked the roads with cigarettes dangling from their mouths and girls looking up to them with new respect. Proud was the day when you could walk the road puffing mightily on a "tailor-made" without getting disgustingly sick in the ditch in the dark by yourself on the way home.
Even better if the cigarette was a Camel and had no filter. That was the equivalent of killing a full-size elephant on the African plains.
I remember the first time I saw a young man stone hammer drunk stumbling down the road one evening after supper, and how envious I and the other young fellows were. Now there was a man! On top of that, he had a cigarette dangling from the corner of his mouth.
We couldn't tell if it was a filter tip or not, but most of us would have bet it was a Camel.
We were sure, too, it wasn't the cheap, weak Haig ale that Paddy was drinking. More likely Jockey Club or even Old Sam.
A couple of girls were walking with him, laughing and helping him stay upright. We looked at each other and solemnly agreed: "Knows he haven't got it made tonight!"
I couldn't wait to be man enough to get drunk and have girls look up to me like that.
One couldn't call himself a man back then until he had made it with a girl. "Made it" had various definitions, depending on the girl, the fellow and one's ability to bluff. Being an outright liar was also a useful trait in recounting the incident.
A woman friend told me, and not without a trace of bitterness in her voice, that boys in small communities were encouraged to "make it" with as many girls as possible. Fathers were quietly proud of womanizing sons: "Hard 'and for the girls, my son, he is!" - said with a grin and a wink.
But, my friend went on, no one thought to wonder where the girls were coming from for their sons' pleasure. A girl known to be putting out was thought to be a slut and looked down on by everyone. The boys were simply becoming men.
Having made it with one girl was generally thought to be enough to cross the threshold into manhood, but more than one gave you status as a man with some expertise. I knew older boys who claimed such expertise, and I knew they also drank and smoked cigarettes.
How good was it to be a man!
One night we were gathered around the local hangout when a little drama began unfolding in our midst. One of us was a young fellow who was quieter than the rest and totally nonaggressive, perhaps because of his smaller than normal size.
Jason had a girlfriend, quite pretty and with a similar personality to his.
Among us, too, was the epitome of what a real man was to us at that time. Drunk, belligerent, bullying because he was the biggest of us, and known to be quite the lad with any girl who let him within her "personal space."
Martin was worse than usual that night and finally began hitting on Melody, Jason's girl. She kept pushing him away, but he was much stronger and began pulling her toward the darker rear of the building. Everyone knew what Martin was capable of that night, but no one intervened.
No one except Jason. He grabbed the much larger Martin in a headlock and began pulling him away from the girl. At the same time, he said quietly over his shoulder to a couple of Melody's friends, "Get Melody home as fast as you can."
It didn't take long for Martin to wrestle Jason to the ground and begin pounding him with his fists. When it was over, the smaller boy's face was covered in blood, and was bruised and swollen for several days after.
But he had given Melody enough time to disappear into the night with her friends and go home.
I lay awake that night rethinking a great many things about becoming an adult, but one thought kept pounding through my mind and remains there to this day.
"What a man!"
Ed Smith is an author who lives in Springdale. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.