This summer, All Things Considered is looking at the lives of Men in America and how things have changed — or haven't. Part of that is redefining masculinity, so the show asked me to ask guys about the stuff they equate with manliness today. (Submit your own stories in the form below.)
I started my very unscientific investigation on a Friday night at a Washington, D.C., barbershop. Fresh Cut owner Bernard Fernandez chose his Buick. He fixed it up himself and says that first car meant freedom and independence; a way to get to and from work and a paycheck. "That's manly!" Fernandez says.
"It didn't have nothing but one seat in it, that was the driver's seat — anybody else rode in it, they just rode on milk crates. I had a lot of fun in that car."
When I asked on Twitter, one of you picked a BabyBjorn as your object because you tweeted that you didn't feel like a man until you had a kid. Others mentioned motorcycles, chainsaws and even a "man pan" (that's a heavy cast iron pan for those who are curious; I know I was).
When I posed the question to writer and rapper David Lee, he immediately thought of what he should say.
"I should pick something like a watch or a boot, perhaps a battle-ax," he says.
Lee is a New Yorker who writes Gumship, an online men's guide to Asian lifestyle and entertainment. He ultimately voted against the battle-ax and went with a bathrobe as his masculine object. But his is no Hugh Heffner-esque robe. The blue terry cloth Adventure Time cartoon robe hits around midthigh, and Lee says it represents the luxury of being a man today.
"I think we're at a space in time where men are openly loving My Little Ponies, embracing cartoons, still playing video games, and we're really dictating what it means to be a man," he says. "Everyone's confused whether or not they're being ironic or not, and that's so luxurious, you know?"
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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Audie Cornish.
MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:
I'm Melissa Block, and right now the subject is men.
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BLOCK: All this Summer, we're looking at the lives of men in America - how things have changed - how things haven't changed. And today, Friday, we want to have some fun. So we decided to talk to guys about the stuff that makes men feel like men, and we put our very own Shereen Marisol Meraji on the case.
SHEREEN MARISOL MERAJI, BYLINE: I started my very unscientific investigation at a barbershop on Friday after work.
So what are you doing right now to his head?
BERNARD FERNANDEZ: I'm giving him a regular haircut - shape it up.
MERAJI: That's Fresh Cut owner, Bernard Fernandez.
FERNANDEZ: Make him look good for the weekend so he can get him a pretty young lady.
MERAJI: I asked Mr. Fernandez about his masculinized artifacts - that thing he owns, wants to own, or owned, that he equates with manliness.
FERNANDEZ: Oh, man. I got a car. And I had an old car - I had to fix it up - old raggedy car - beauty - probably before you was born. And it had not but one seat in it. That was the driver's seat. Anybody else rode in it, they just rode on milk crates. I had a lot of fun in that car.
MERAJI: Fernandez says for him, his first car meant freedom and independence, a way to get to and from work and a paycheck.
FERNANDEZ: That's manly.
MERAJI: I also asked men on twitter about this. One of you said your Baby Bjorn was your object, because you didn't feel like a man till you had a kid. Others said motorcycles, chainsaws - I even got a man pan. That's a heavy cast-iron pan, for those who are curious. I know I was.
DAN LANGENKAMP: I don't put a lot of thought into manhood itself.
MERAJI: Dan Langenkamp's a foreign service officer with the State Department, and married father with two boys.
LANGENKAMP: You know, I don't go out on the porch smoking cigars often. I'm not into whiskey.
MERAJI: But after some deliberation, Dan's got it.
LANGENKAMP: When I pull out the drill and begin using power tools I feel like a man. I talk with my father-in-law about this, actually. And, you know, going to the hardware store is like entertainment for us. That's a day out and it's great. And we get cool things that we love using. Some of them are better than others because they're just more fun. Like a power drill - that's fun.
MERAJI: Yes, even more cliche than going to a barbershop on a Friday night is visiting a hardware store over the weekend to talk man stuff. But that didn't stop me from checking out Village Hardware in Alexandria Virginia. You have to snake through a space packed to the ceiling with tools and gardening equipment and home improvement products to find its piece de resistance, down a very narrow staircase - a basement full of grills, grilling accessories, spice rubs and barbecue sauce. General manager Allen Kelly says there are, like, 30 nicknames for it.
ALLEN KELLY: Let's see. Let me start with the man cave - grill haven - place away from home.
MERAJI: You told me, the man world, over the phone.
KELLY: Mhm, man world - that was probably 'cause I just heard it - someone call it that. I mean, it's not official. Nothings official, so...
MERAJI: For yourself, like, if you had to choose one thing - one masculine artifact that you own, do have one?
KELLY: I guess it would be my smoker. You know, when I'm not here I like to smoke meat. I think it's kind of fun - unique. I just enjoy the smell of smoke. I wish my house just smelled like that all the time.
DAVID LEE: I was like, I should pick something like a watch or a boot - perhaps a battle ax.
MERAJI: Rapper, millennial and New Yorker, David Lee, writes an online men's guide to Asian lifestyle and entertainment. He says he voted against a battle ax. Instead, he chose a bathrobe as his masculine artifact. No, this robe is not Hugh Hefner-esque. It's a mid-thigh-length blue terrycloth "Adventure Time" cartoon bathrobe. And David Lee says it represents the luxury of being a man today.
LEE: I think we're at a space and time where men are openly - are loving My Little Ponies, embracing cartoons, still playing video games, like - you know, and we're really dictating what it means to be a man. Everyone's confused, like, whether or not they're being ironic or not, and that's so luxurious, you know?
MERAJI: Shereen Marisol Meraji, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.