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By Peter N. Stearns

Be a Man!: men in smooth Society [Paperback]
Peter N. Stearns (Author)
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Sample text

Primitive society has twice been fundamentally altered, each time greatly increasing the range and diversity of appropriate male behavior. There is no effort here to follow the simplistic path of some zoolOgists who mix percep­ tions of the present with a knowledge of man the primate with no intervening history. This distorts the nature of both primitive and mod­ em man. The contemporary manager is not an ambulatory ape in pinstripes. Yet traces do remain, for the characteristics of maleness so painfully established for successful hunting have rarely been cast aside by society as a whole.

Not a particularly glorious role, but one that could be stubbornly maintained. And it could be built up, so that in some peasant societies accession to manhood became equated with the as­ sumption of the full duties of a farming peasant. As with all good tests, some people would fail. For the striking fact about all agricultural societies was that men insisted on taking over certain tasks, such as priesthood or grain farm­ ing (where they gained responsibility for the staple crop) that were not inevitably theirs, not biologically ordained.

Village tugs-of-war, some­ times pitting unmarried against married men, could tum into outright brawls,48 but they could also reward athletic prowess. Beyond this, stories of military valor could fire the imagination, though only a small minority of unfortunates and misfits actually served in premodern ar­ mies. For most young men, particularly in the countryside, youth (extend­ ing well into the twenties) was a time of waiting and learning, more than of testing. Swaddled and confined in infancy, lectured, hectored, and physically punished as children, boys did have a good bit of their will drummed out of them,49 though they could still be impatient with the absence of any chance to demonstrate full masculinity.

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