Recently Bushmaster, the gun manufacturer, released an advertisement aimed directly at its male patrons; challenging them to reclaim their “man card.” The online ad linked to a “test” where questions would help determine if a man is a real man. Some are silly: ‘Do you eat tofu?’ Others are practical: ‘Can you change a tire?’ For the record, my answers are ‘no’ and ‘yes,’ respectively. The test apparently has been removed, but this debate is coming up again in light of the Connecticut school shootings last Friday.
The connection between Bushmaster and the massacre of 28 people in that grade school is more than just a little unsettling. Adam Lanza, the 20-year-old shooter, used a .223 assault rifle – the same kind displayed in Bushmaster’s advertisement. In this gun-loving society, some men – and women – still equate firearms with masculinity. A gun or rifle, after all, has a strangely-phallic shape (which may or may not be by design) and bullets could easily be mistaken for testicles or even sperm cells.
This whole thing is similar to the ongoing myth that a boy becomes a man when he has sex with a woman. Apparently, the hyper-macho crowd didn’t that out too well, since it assumes that adult females are the harbingers of masculinity; that the secret ingredient to true male adulthood is somehow ensconced within a woman’s vaginal walls. But, as the proud owner of a penis, I never felt a woman held the ‘Holy Grail’ to my manhood. And, neither does Bushmaster. Despite its phallic resemblance, a firearm just can’t substitute for a penis, or more importantly, a man’s true sense of self worth.
I’ve known plenty of real men in my life, including my father and uncles. They, along with several male friends, know how to shoot a firearm; a few own actually a gun or two. That’s fine. People have that constitutional right, just like they have the right to free speech, which I feel is more important. But, none of those men I know has the overwhelming need to shoot a gun and kill people to prove their masculinity. Boys become men when they learn to accept personal responsibility for their actions; when they learn to take care of themselves; when they show respect for others, while maintaining their dignity; when they care for their families and their communities; when they stand up for those who truly can’t stand up for themselves. These are real men I know: fathers and husbands; hard workers; tax-payers – men who have built good lives for their families. A real man knows how to set the table and do laundry, as well as change a flat tire. A real man spends time playing tea party with his young daughter, or coaching his son’s little league soccer team, not out shooting deer and moose.
These men don’t need a gun manufacturer to issue them a “man card.” They earned their “man cards” themselves – not from some stupid test asking about tofu and staring down fifth-graders. They’re the silent majority. They’re the real men of this world.