• RSS
  • Twitter
  • Twitter

Manliness in the Modern Age

by Alex Knapp on 3 September 2009

mad-men-1

Will Wilkinson makes an excellent point about manliness in the modern age that’s worth reading in full. Here’s a snippet:

I think Hymowitz’s story gives too small a part to resentment at the loss of male privilege. Many men aren’t angry and confused because they don’t know what women want. They’re angry because they want what their fathers or grandfathers had, and they can’t get it. They’re confused because they can’t quite grasp why not. I think part of the fascination for many white guys with the show Mad Men is that it is a window into an attractive (to them) world of white male dominance and privilege that has largely disappeared. It is still possible to create a traditional patriarchal household, but it’s harder than ever for men to find women who will happily play along. And, in any case, there is little assurance of the stability of this sort of arrangement, since the social esteem that was once accorded to it — which helped reinforce men’s and women’s confidence in their traditional roles within it — has largely dissipated.

To my mind, too little attention has been paid to reconsidering ideals of manhood in the age of equality. Since I was a teenager, I’ve found old-school machismo pathetic and somehow irrelevant to the problem of becoming a man. Without even knowing what or why it was, I was heavily influenced by gay culture, which provided me, and many other straight young men, a wide variety of templates for manhood that are at once unmistakably masculine, playfully ironic, aesthetic, emotionally open, and happily sexual. You can be manly and care about shoes!!! I’ll confess that I used to periodically regret my heterosexuality because there seemed to be greater scope for constructing a distinctive and satisfying male identity within gay culture. I think that’s telling. And the virulent homophobia that remains in most American dude subcultures has cut most young men off from the possibility of modeling their manhood after any of the delightful variety of types available to the homophile. And that really doesn’t leave them with much to work with. Most Americans these days seem happy enough to see women succeed as high-achieving go-getters. And who doesn’t love Tim Gunn? But most of us have not yet given up on oppressively restrictive, strongly normative conceptions of hetero masculinity. That, I submit, is what stands in the way of a real, um … renaissance for men.

I think that this is exactly right. I’ve also had little patience for the pathetic machismo that passes for “manliness.” And I’ve never understood why so many of my male peers have so much trouble with what it means to be a man. Growing up, I had no problem with the idea that a man is someone who is strong and brave and intelligent, as well as fully capable of accepting a woman as a partner and equal. Hell, when I was 6 years old, my hero was He-Man, who had no problem fighting alongside Teela as an equal partner. (Without, I might add, any hint of romance.) As I got older, my model for manliness was sculpted by a number of sources, but in the end it’s always been the intelligent, ethical, wily, jacks-of-all trades that continue to serve as my inspirations: Sherlock Holmes, Odysseus, Emmett “Doc” Brown, Benjamin Franklin, Mathurin Kerbouchard, and others.

I’ve been fortunate in life that all of my male friends have been cut from the same cloth. Respecters of intelligence, respecters of women, able to admire success without being envious–is it really that hard to be a man? Actually, yes, it is. It’s a lot easier to whine about how women don’t like you and act like an entitled jackass than it is to actually live up to a personal code of conduct and abide by it.

But that’s what you’re supposed to do.

About Alex Knapp

Alex has been published in the Kansas City Star, TCS Daily, and Comic Book Resources. He’s been blogging at Heretical Ideas since October, 2001 and at Outside the Beltway since June 2006. He also reviews cigars at Cigar Jack's Cigar News and Reviews.

{ 1 trackback }

Manly Thoughts
12 September 2009 at 09:09

{ 2 comments }

1 sam 14 September 2009 at 12:19

“my male friends have been cut from the same cloth. Respecters of intelligence, respecters of women, able to admire success without being envious–is it really that hard to be a man?”

I just wanted to ask Alex a question about this. Replace male with female at the start and end, and you could say the same for what it is to be a woman.

This is not a rebuttal, of course, but the natural followup for me that follows from this is whether there is anything DISTINCT about being a proud male vs a proud female? Anything at all?

You seem to be advocating a sort of psychological androgyny. Are the traits that make one a solid male any different than a solid, confident female?

If not, then shouldn’t we jettison the gender-specific terminology and just say we want to be confident, capable humans, or people, etc? You see my point…

Next question: if you do believe in this psychic androgyny, it seems to be a different position than those of the vast majority of men from the past, doesn’t it? Valuing machismo mutated into gender-nonspecific valuation of intelligence, courage, compassion, etc. That part of the new and improved ethical mindset is the refusal to even ask the question what is it to be a man, except as a stage to pass through en route to universalism? LIke Paul said, neither Greek nor Jew… to abandon ascriptive categories for those based upon individual volition?

2 Alex Knapp 14 September 2009 at 12:29

Sam,

This is not a rebuttal, of course, but the natural followup for me that follows from this is whether there is anything DISTINCT about being a proud male vs a proud female? Anything at all?

I don’t think so, not really. I think that by nature and culture both, we’re inclined to try and make distinctions between men and women, and there definitely are physical differences (vive la difference!), but in terms of ethical evaluation, no, there’s no difference between men and women.

You seem to be advocating a sort of psychological androgyny. Are the traits that make one a solid male any different than a solid, confident female?

I can’t think of any off the top of my head.

If not, then shouldn’t we jettison the gender-specific terminology and just say we want to be confident, capable humans, or people, etc?

We probably should, but I don’t think we’re culturally there yet.

if you do believe in this psychic androgyny, it seems to be a different position than those of the vast majority of men from the past, doesn’t it?

I should say so.

That part of the new and improved ethical mindset is the refusal to even ask the question what is it to be a man, except as a stage to pass through en route to universalism?

I’d say there’s a lot of truth to that.

Comments on this entry are closed.

Previous post:

Next post:

PRIVACY POLICY