The Unspoken Rules of Being a ‘Real Man’


Whether we’re talking about our culture or that of another country, it seems that the word ‘man’ carries a lot of hidden messages in it; as if it’s a badge that males can only earn after they’ve met certain qualifications.

So what are these qualities that define a man? Well, the answer is never clear cut, as each person’s beliefs and norms are heavily shaped by their upbringing and environment, which surely differ from one person to the other. At the same time, there are still some general points that most people seem to agree on.

For example, when asked to list some of the traits a man should have, the five men we talked to all listed “being responsible” as the first and most important trait. “Men should be responsible for themselves as well as for those who depend on them,” 21-year-old Ali Tolba said. He also added that they have to be very independent and capable of handling anything that comes their way while always staying in control.

As for 49-year-old Mohamed Akram, being responsible also includes protecting the females in a man’s life; whether it’s a mother, daughter, partner, or neighbor, a real man should always be there for her in times of need. He also thinks that having the courage to admit failure and the heart to help those weaker than you are also important characteristics of being a man.

So what about the things that men should not do in order to hold on to their manly status? “A man should never do something with the intent of proving his manhood because a real man doesn’t question his manhood in the first place; he rather embraces it,” Akram explained.

Responsibility, independence, and courage all sound like values any decent human being should have regardless of their gender, but are they being exclusively attributed to ‘men’? Are women in Egypt allowed to have this same sense of responsibility and independence?

30-year-old Marwan Aboud, who recognizes honesty, kindness, and the ability to lead in any situation amongst the features of a man, recalls being raised a bit differently than his sisters. “I was raised with the mindset that I should be more capable and independent in my actions and thinking than my sisters, as if they lacked proper judgement,” he elaborated.

As mentioned before, any environment plays a huge role in shaping people’s personalities. 23-year-old Ahmed Maher shared what he believes is our society’s take on being a man: “A man should be strong and always the ‘man of the house.’ A man should never cry or show any signs of weakness. He should never ask for help or be involved in housework like cooking. In addition to that, a man should make tons of money, pick fights, and yell all the time.”

The question that still remains is when exactly boys make this transition to manhood, or in other words: when exactly are boys exposed to the requirements of becoming a man? Judging by what 10-year-old Mohamed Osman told us, the exposure happens very early on.

“I have to be strong. I have to be a gentleman by being polite to people and by helping them out. I have to always look out for myself and never let anyone hit me or hurt me or any of my family members,” Osman said about what it means for him to be a ‘real man.’

When asked if it was okay for men to cry, Osman explained that while toddlers can cry, a man like him cannot, as his father taught him that men don’t cry. He also added that while it might be okay for a man to cry over losing a loved one, it is never okay for him to cry over physical pain unless it is very extreme.

So what do you think? Should there be a rulebook to follow in order to become a man? And if so, what should be the rules?

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