Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Unpacking the Man-Child

The dinner party nears its end when the conversation at the table turns to the latest trends in Magic the Gathering. The men begin asking me what the new sets are like when two of the wives stand up and say "We'll be in the living room. Come ladies, let's leave the man-children to their games."

I have to suppress my shock as well as several unpleasant things about to come out of my mouth. 

The term man-child refers to an adult male who disregards his responsibilities for fun and games, or in other ways acts childish. The common image is the 30 year old man living in his parent's basement, playing video games and not bathing on a regular basis. 

A fine description until it gets thrown around near me.

Geeks Are Not Man-Children

The issue I have with the phrase is when it's applied to geeks in general or any male who expresses passion outside of going to and from work every day. I've heard it pulled out and used to apply to anything from fathers playing with their children to a man who lovingly restores cars. It seems that any time a man allows themselves to indulge in something they enjoy they are immediately called out for being childish, disregarding the fact that they may have a successful career, a loving family, or be a responsible priesthood holder. 

The labeling of men who have passion as man-children begs the question: What is expected of men if not to have passion? I've met men of prior generations who have devoted their entire lives to throwing themselves at work in order to support a family. The expectation to be the sole provider for the family and nothing else killed any drive to do or become anything else. These men would then come home exhausted and watch TV until bed, only acknowledging the family when they became annoying to him or disturbed his respite. 

I don't mean to critique a hard working man who provides for his family. I don't even blame a man for being exhausted by his job and just wanting to come home and have some peace. What I'm saying is that if a man does not fit into that mold and has the time, energy and resources to pursue a passion or hobby he shouldn't be chastised for it and compared to a child. 

The Power of Words

It may not seem like such a big deal. "I call him a man-child out of affection!" one might argue, but the problem is that words are what shapes how we think about a person or group. While the mainstream popularity of Dungeons and Dragons, Marvel and other properties formally kept to the back of the comic book shop have skyrocketed over the years, geeks still struggle to be taken seriously by the media and culture in general. When we call someone a "man-child" just for they express joy in something or because they want to talk about their favorite hobby, we're saying that their interest is not okay in our eyes, which then tells other people that expressing the same passions are not okay either, leaving them to maybe abandon something they once love in exchange for a perceived concept of normalization. 

The next time you refer to someone as a man-child, stop and think why you're using that term. Is it truly childish to love something so much you get excited over it? Is it childish to spend money on a hobby when it doesn't take away from time and expense with the family? Would you want something you love to be considered childish and told you couldn't do it because you had to be more of an adult? 


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