Which of Us are Men?

Arielle Isaac Norman
7 min readJun 8, 2021

The word “man” originally referred to all humans. There were malemen (“wermenn”) and femalemen (“wyfmenn”), but we were all men. About a thousand years ago a shift began that pushed “man” toward referring to penis people, and it was only as of the late 20th century that it came to be exclusively used for them. Thus, over the course of the last thousand years, people sometimes used “man” to refer to humans, sometimes only to male humans.

About a hundred years ago, a convention arose that we should use the lower-case “man” to refer to dudes and upper-case “Man” to refer to all of us who share humanity, but this has not caught on in contemporary mainstream culture.

Some people will balk at the idea that women should be expected to read “Man” with our “hearts” (i.e. our mind-body systems, conscious and un-) as referring to us. The problem, though, has never fully been with the letters used but rather with our collective understanding of whether the word really did potentially include us or not. Now that we are always juggling multiple definitions of “man” and “woman,” much less “male” and “female,” can we not collectively reorient ourselves toward the word “Man”?

There are a million examples of this sort of thing throughout the great works, but the one that has this all percolating in my mind is Rudyard Kipling’s gorgeous poem If.