Are You a Man or a Mouse?

A humorous comparison of the new man's "bravery" and that of mice

Posted Sep 21, 2015

“Are you a man or a mouse?” I must have heard this exhortation at least a few times growing up, probably mostly from my father. It has been a way that men have encouraged other men, especially younger ones, to be brave, not to run away but rather to take things up to the next level. However, considering what has happened to men these days, I think the expression can be considered in a whole new way. In today’s world, it’s barely relevant to men, and actually it has never really been fair to mice.

Think of the poor mouse, long used as an emblem of fear. Sure he’ll run away if he’s on the kitchen floor when you come into the room, but think of it this way: You probably weigh about 2400 times as much as the mouse. You are to the mouse as a whale would be to you. Don’t measure a mouse’s bravery based on his running away from a gigantic animal. Measure it by his simply going for peanut butter, even if happens to be smeared on the catch of the mousetrap. He sees what he wants and he goes for it.

And how about mouse sex? I don’t know much about mouse sex, actually, but I suspect there isn’t a whole lot of hemming and hawing, and having to say just the right thing. To be honest, I wouldn’t even know how a heterosexual male mouse can tell that a prospective partner is a female, but somehow they do seem to figure it out, and go at it.

And you can be sure, male mice—or female mice for that matter—don’t worry about political correctness in their squeaks.

Now what about the “man” part of the equation? Obviously, when this expression was in vogue, men were expected to be brave, to not run away when they felt afraid, and to fight when they needed to. This is what it meant to be a “real man,” a term you don’t hear so much anymore.

Today, the whole concept of traditional manliness has been thrown into question. For example, once upon a time, after they reached the age of five or six boys were expected not to cry, whereas girls have always been allowed to cry any time right into adulthood. Now it’s considered fine for boys of any age to cry and to keep crying as they grow into manhood.

But tell me, have you ever heard a mouse cry?

Implicitly, the recognition of mouse bravery is shown by the fact that we no longer hear so much that comparison of human males with our little rodent friends.  Rather the current expression du jour is “Man up.” In reality, however, given how so many men are acting these days, a better expression might be to “mouse up,” though, admittedly, this is a rather bizarre phrase.

Of course, as usual, all we have to do is look back at recent history to see that the concept of the mouse as symbol for how men should really be is right there in front of us. For example, the icon for perhaps the most wholesome character ever developed by the American mind is Mickey Mouse.  It’s not Mickey Man.

And what about Mighty Mouse? As immortalized by the late Andy Kaufman, who lip-synched it on Saturday Night Live’s very first show, Mighty Mouse’s best known line, sung out loudly, was “Here I come to save the day.” Now honestly, guys, when was the last time you ever said, “Here I come to save the day”? Or actually did save the day without even announcing it? I think if we men were really honest about it, and looked back at our lives, we could see that for many of us our main line could have been “Here I come to ruin the day.”

But, hey, isn’t it time we guys accepted who we are, with all our fears and worries? Once upon a time we, and only we, were expected to be the breadwinner, the cop, the soldier. But now, thank God, women are also sharing these tasks. After thousands of years, men can finally take a deep breath and relax. There’s no shame in admitting our weaknesses and fears. After all, we are not male mice, who are still raised to be brave and bold, whose fathers, in mouse language, are probably saying to their little boy mice who appear reluctant to leave the wall, “Come on, are you a mouse or a man?”            

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