What Does It Mean to Be a Man?

“You’re a man, and men don’t cry.”

These are the words I heard most often growing up about what it meant to be a man. It’s a perception we often see in our media, of how a man is meant to be proud, shouldn’t ask for help from others and should strive to be stoic, to never show weakness.

And it’s all complete garbage.

Unfortunately, these perceptions are something many guys struggle with growing up. Yet surprisingly, it was anime that made me realize just how wrong these ideals truly are.

It was in the summer of 2005, the summer I wrote about in my FLCL story that changed the way I perceived what being a man was truly about. Episode 25 of Fullmetal Alchemist was the episode that truly opened my eyes for the first time, that made me question these beliefs that were ingrained in me from a young age.

This episode made me realize it was okay to show emotion, it was okay to be a man who could show weakness and cry.

Fullmetal Alchemist is the story of Edward and Alphonse Elric who was written by Hiromu Arakawa. The Elric brothers, who by breaking the number one alchemist taboo, human transmutation, lost part of (Edward) and all of (Alphonse) their bodies. Now they’re on a mission to find the rumored philosopher’s stone which has the power they need to get their bodies back.

Although those are the two main characters that the story follows, I want to focus on three supporting characters instead: Major Alex Louis Armstrong, Colonel Roy Mustang and Lieutenant Colonel Maes Hughes, who I believe will illustrate what I believe being a man is all about.

At a glance, Alex Louis Armstrong looks like he would be the most intimidating character ever, thanks to his physique which allows him to easily tower over everyone. However, as you get to know the character, you quickly realize that even though he is more than capable to throw down with the baddest of the bads, he always tries to resolve conflict in a peaceful manner first. Add to this the fact that he isn’t afraid to shed his tears, often doing so for comedy sake, he sheds them for his fallen comrades and enemies alike.

Armstrong is a prideful man, often taking his shirt off to showcase his muscles at any occasion he can as he believes his body is a work of art. Still, he is shown to be an extremely compassionate and sympathetic person to all those around him, including his enemies. This usually ends in either him making new friends, or it ends up getting him in trouble.

Colonel Roy Mustang is, for all intents and purposes, a badass. As he is one of the strongest alchemists in the series, he is often in the middle of conflict when it arises and is almost always supported by Lt. Riza Hawkeye. Even though he boasts a tremendous power, his personality leaves a lot to be desired as he is shown to be hot-headed and is often saved by Hawkeye when his arrogance or cockiness causes him to make a mistake in battle.

So why am I talking about Mustang? Because although he often shows arrogance to those around him, this is a ploy to make people think he is aloof and not someone to be taken seriously. Mustang’s true personality is still a little arrogant, but is also one that inspires loyalty from those who are close to him. He inspires his friends not because of his strength, but because he is willing to go to the ends of the earth for those he loves even if it means putting himself at mortal risk. He is also willing to rely on those he trusts because he knows he can’t do everything with just his strength alone.

Doting father and loving husband above all else, Lieutenant Colonel Maes Hughes often shows anyone and everyone in his vicinity pictures of his daughter Elicia, while boasting about her latest accomplishments. Elicia’s pictures aren’t the only readily available ones Hughes has at his disposal, as once he runs out of pictures of his daughter, he’ll start showing the ones he has of his wife Gracia instead. Hughes has even been shown to use government phone lines to talk about how much he loves his family to his friends.

Even though this obsessive personality can come off as annoying, especially to those close to him, Hughes is trusted in battle because of his intelligence, perception, and ability as a strategist. He’s even able to go toe to toe with enemies as he’s skilled in using push knives, often seen throwing them with deadly accuracy. Yet his combat prowess nor his intellect is what draws people to him, it’s his loyalty to his friends and his ability to have such great compassion that inevitably causes those around him to fall in love. Hughes is shown to give that compassion not only to his family and friends, but even to those that are under him in the military and complete strangers.

Which, spoilers ahead:

Is what makes his death in episode 25 of the original series hit viewers in the gut extremely hard.

I believe these three characters do a fantastic job at demonstrating positive masculine traits, at least when they’re being serious. Armstrong teaches us to be completely open with our emotions, and to care for both friends and enemies alike. Mustang teaches us to use our strength for others, and to rely on the strength of others in turn. Hughes teaches us to love those around us, and to be compassionate even to strangers.

More than that, these three characters show us that we can still be great even if we are flawed. They show us that we don’t need to be perfect all the time, just like they aren’t. We can be someone amazing, someone who others trust, love and depend on, as well as someone who might be a little too prideful, hot-tempered, or a straight up dork.

But ultimately, they teach us that learning to be a man, is exactly the same as learning to be a good person. And like most things in my life, this is something I learned from a woman, as Hiromu Arakawa is the male pen name of Hiromi Arakawa.