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Gisela McKay

President and Co-Founder, pixcode

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Being 'Your Highest, Best Self' should supplant striving to be 'Real Men', 'Real Women', or even 'Ladies'.

In this thread http://www.ted.com/talks/zimchallenge.html?c=300482 a debate has opened up regarding the concept of being a 'Real Man' vs 'a Man' vs being 'the Best Human Being You Can'. (And someone just threw in being a 'lady'.)

I posit that the idea of "Real Man" or "Lady" is outmoded and simply needs to be replaced with the idea of striving to be the best human being you can be. Positive personality traits are not sex-specific.

This is distinct from determining traits that are simply "masculine" and "feminine": e.g. one can be very masculine and still be a criminal, or one can exhibit leadership and still be feminine.

(Also: why are so many of the role models people hold up as ideals either fictional characters, or the actors who portray them, rather than real, flesh and blood, three-dimensional people?)

Topics: Gender equality
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  • Aug 17 2011: Could not agree with you more, this "struggle to be real men" and its analogous version for women is just as sexist as the notion that women are inferior that we so try to get over.

    I think John Lennon best illustrated this, there is a quote on him going around that I think speaks to the real aim we should all be going for:
    When I was a kid in school I was asked to declare what I wanted to be when I grew up, I said I wanted to "be happy".
    My teachers told me I did not understand the assignment, I replied they didn't understand life.

    As for your "Also" question, this is a matter of iconography, it is easier to transmit an ideal, a meaning, a goal by imbuing an Icon with those properties rather than trying to explain it through real life, even when someone from real life is the embodiment of the idea we want to get across, we turn that person into a celebrity, we iconize them and dehumanize them to get our point across, they become a symbol and in doing so cease to be perceived by what makes them human.
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    Aug 12 2011: The current image of 'Real Men' and 'Real Women' is something dreamt up in the marketing departments of trashy, populist, modern media in the 'Hello' magazine genre. It is a distorted construct of manhood and womanhood, designed to make us buy named products, behave in certain ways and to strive for unealistic (and in my opinion, unattractive) body image.

    Rant over...
  • Aug 9 2011: (Also: why are so many of the role models people hold up as ideals either fictional characters, or the actors who portray them, rather than real, flesh and blood, three-dimensional people?)

    Because people want things to be simple. They want their white knights and black knights, neither of which exist in the real world.

    As to your main question: As long as we keep believing that designations like "real man/real woman" matter, we'll never have gender equality.
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    Aug 9 2011: It seems the only distinction of real importance in this scenario is one's sex organs. What a different world we are evolving!
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    Aug 9 2011: This is music to my ears.
  • Aug 23 2011: I agree with you, Christian. It is crucial to remember that 'otherness' is fundamental to relationship - not just romantic, but between friends, relatives, etc. A relationship in which two people are able to be more than the sum of their parts is possible because each party brings different gifts and strengths to the table. This concept is embraced in modern society in the context of teams and teamwork but it is often ignored when it comes to gender relations. I agree with you also, Gisela, that the concepts of 'Real Men' and 'Real Women' are distorted in society and the media. However, this is no grounds to ignore the very real differences between men and women. Many relationships today are very broken and people often find themselves having to choose between either conforming to artificially constructed conceptions of masculinity/femininity, or rejecting gender roles to the extent that they are afraid to explore those unique, positive qualities in men and women that make each so alluring and that bring out the best in the other. I think that there is another way. I want to be in a relationship with someone who has strengths, qualities and abilities that I do not have and that I admire and want to learn from and who feels the same way about me. I, too, think of myself as pretty awesome - but dating myself would just be boring. While every individual is unique, there are certain things that women and men bring to the table in a way that improves society as a whole - two levels of 'otherness', both of which should be cultivated. If we (women and men) shy away from valuing these things in ourselves and others, it is no wonder that men are developing a collective inferiority complex.

    ~Rebecca

    of Tiossano
  • Aug 21 2011: I am not saying that it precludes interaction/companionship, just that "the best human being you can be" is a little vague, and I think that if it is not put into the context of living as a member of a community it can lead to self-centeredness and narcissism. The original post was about replacing the ideals "real man" and "real woman", and these are certainly vague as well. I suggested encouraging people to learn how to interact with others in the context of a family because the family is the unit in which humans naturally occur, and is one of the few areas of modern life where gender roles are still somewhat important. The interpersonal skills that children should learn in their families will help them if they do decide to have their own families, but also in every other personal relationship.
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      Aug 21 2011: But that's the whole point - it's different for each individual! My personal best does not look like your personal best and it stops the need to compare with others. My strengths are not your strengths, your preferences are not my preferences - and mine are different from my sister and my brother as well.

      For instance, I actually enjoy time alone. I do not define myself in relation to my family members or my friends or other members of my community (and don't even get me started on the phrase "the black community" because you will get a whole rant about how that presupposes that there is a limited number of valid 'black experiences' - I meant physical community). If anything, I have self-selected a community of interest on a personal level, and a community of practice on a business level, and they have nothing to do with physical boundaries or distance.

      It's great that you prefer to see yourself in the context of your community, but presumptuous to say that others who do not are narcissistic or self-centered. For example, I run networking events, do fundraisers, donate a portion of my business income to charity, all without this self-definition you seem to think is important.

      We still grow up in families and observe interactions and participate in them as well. Did you think that suddenly people were going to be raised in a hatchery? I am missing why it is even relevant to the topic at hand.
  • Aug 10 2011: I think that 'highest and best' is better, but I think that little is understood about that. Being the 'best' at something means someones gain is another's loss due to competition etc. I think that trying to make others lives as comfortable as possible is what people should aim for.
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      Aug 20 2011: I'm not sure that people need to spend their time making others comfortable if it means they must sacrifice (even a modicum of) their own happiness to achieve it. I think that not trampling on others in their personal quests is a must, but that makes planet earth sound like a giant palliative care ward!

      Perhaps it is because I have come up against the edge of other people's comfort zones so often, I am cognizant of the fact that I am not here to conform to their narrow vision of what women, or black people, or any combination of my attributes that lead to people making up their minds about what I can and cannot do, or should and should not do.

      Nope, I am clearly not here to make other people comfortable.
  • Aug 10 2011: I think that the goal of being a "real man" or a "lady" is in need of replacement, but I also think that being "the best human being" is pretty vague and not really useful. We need to put people into the context they naturally exist; families and communities. If we want our children to grow up and be in healthy relationships and have happy families, then we have to teach them to be good brothers, sisters, husbands, wives, mothers, and fathers. "The best human being you can be" isn't bad, but it allow for a society of really awesome lonely people.
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      Aug 20 2011: Ahh, but I suggested being your personal best - and for some of us that isn't a matter of choosing relationships over calling or vice versa. Just because my personal highest best self may not revolve around creating a family does not mean that that isn't the path for someone else.

      But I am not understanding why you think that it precludes interaction/companionship, so please elaborate.