What Passes for Masculinity is Stupid

A Nuanced Look at Manhood

In today’s culture, there seems to be two opposing views of masculinity. Both are kinda dumb. Here’s where they get it wrong.


What is Masculinity Anyway?

Men in this country have been raised on preposterous notions of what masculinity (or manhood) entails, but don’t assume you know where I’m going with this because you probably don’t.

My definition of masculinity will likely offend you and provoke you to mentally travel across the Web, cyber-punk like, reach through my screen, grab me by the neck, and chicken choke me. Or maybe it won’t.

It’s a risk I’m willing to take.

First, let me credentialize myself. For years, I wrote a column based on masculinity. I even studied the topic semi-formally for seven years during one-on-one sessions with a PhD psychologist who ran a center for mental and emotional development. I have also dragged my dick along this earth for a good number of years and paid a lot of attention to human behavior while doing it.

So there.

Back to the topic.

The Broken Branches of Masculinity

The Broken Branches of Masculinity

I’ve observed that there are largely two opposing branches of masculinity in our country, and both are influenced more by cultural factors than biological factors.

Unfortunately, the two branches have Dutch Elm disease. Call in the masculinity tree doctor.

The first faction is populated by people who seem to reside mostly in the country of Twitterlandia. They apparently make no distinction between the sexes. They seem to think that we should all strive for an androgynous, sexless personae, kind of like the Eloi in HG Well’s book, “The Time Machine.” Eventually, they’ll all be herded up and eaten by Morlocks, but that’s okay because Morlocks? They gotta’ eat too.

Their perception of masculinity is that it’s an obsolete concept. Little or no vive la difference. Their beliefs seem to be based largely on the cultural influences of their lofty-minded peers, virtue signaling, and the fear of being me-tooed or canceled if they deviate.

They might think it speaks to their evolved state, but it’s based on artifice and subjugation of “natural” masculinity.

But before you get too smug and think, “Attaboy, TC, way to spank those libtards,” let me point out that the other side of masculinity – as trumpeted by a lot of hugely popular talk show and podcast hosts and manhood pontificators in general – also has a view of masculinity that’s also just another absurd social construct.

The Masculinity Pontificators Are Wrong, Too

The Masculinity Pontificators Are Wrong, Too

Those media celebrities I alluded to all grew up in the second half of the 20th century, a time of upheaval, confusion, women’s lib, and Hollywood. They were, like all men of that time, saddled with iconic images of the strong, silent type, personified by the characters played by Gary Cooper and John Wayne and later by Sly Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger (pre-comedy Arnold), and various other muscled, monosyllabic types.

Simultaneously, these media celebrities, products of their culture, probably saw women assuming traditionally masculine roles, and they might have become increasingly frustrated and befuddled as to their roles in society. And worse, they weren’t supposed to talk about it because it’s not manly to talk about feelings or emotions. They stayed emotionally infantile.

The only emotion that got plenty of exercise because it was acceptable to express was anger. It’s funny, a segment of society still regards women as the emotional sex, but that’s only true if you exclude anger as an emotion. If you don’t exclude it, you see that it’s really these supposedly strong, silent types that are the excitable, little wetting-the-floor Cocker Spaniels.

And as these men “evolved,” the certitude of their views about manliness became stratified. Men must fit their definition of tough. Men must be stoic and hide or suppress emotion and pain. They castigate those that are “weak” or those that don’t conform to their perception of masculinity.

You have to dress a certain way, talk a certain way, and put your schlong only in pre-approved holes. Green M&M’s should be left alone, and don’t mess with pronouns, damn it.

Good grief, since when did whining and kvetching and being plain bitchy about trivial things become a trait of masculinity?

So what if the motivations for changing M&M’s or going to great lengths to change the way society uses pronouns is awkward and forced? So what if it’s likely just a kneejerk reaction to a lot of real or perceived injustices in the world, one which will likely see its pendulum swing back to a more neutral position in the future?

Real masculinity is no one’s “victim” and can’t be “emasculated” by cultural winds.

Sure, Call Your Son a Pussy Enough Times and See What Happens

Sure, Call Your Son a Pussy Enough Times and See What Happens

Back in the early 2000s, a guy that went simply by the name of Maddox wrote a book called “The Alphabet of Manliness” and became the arbiter of masculinity in America. Here’s a representative passage:

When I talk about old masculinity, I’m talking about guys like my dad. My dad is a really tough guy. He fought in Korea, and if you took a look at this guy’s hands, you would see [that they] are big and callused and gnarled, and there’s stuff just oozing from them, and I think he has oil stains that are there permanently. And my hands, in comparison, are not like that. Sometimes he grabs my hands, and he calls me a pussy, and he walks away. To give you an idea what kind of guy he is, we went fishing once and he didn’t have anything to gut and clean the fish, so he bit into its stomach and bit its guts out and spit them on the ground. True story. I was 13 or 14.

Great. His dad had an aversion to soap, didn’t know about Nivea, and lacked the ingenuity to use the fishhook – or a sharp stick – to slice open the fish’s belly. Not only that but dad’s got the emotional development of an orc.

Hey, let’s do a long-running experiment. You dads out there, call your kid a pussy and walk away. Do it a few times. Maybe on his b-day or Christmas. See what kind of emotionally stable guy he grows up to be. Chances are he’ll still be wetting the bed when he’s 40. Maybe he’ll have a nationally broadcast TV show or podcast or even turn out to be one of those sick bastards who walks into an elementary school with a rucksack of loaded guns.

Based on the evidence, I think the masculinity pontificators are in Maddox’s camp, but is any of that stuff Maddox wrote about really masculinity/manliness? Or is it something more, something far deeper, far more admirable, and far rarer?

Okay, You Said What Masculinity Isn't, Now Tell Me What It Is

Okay, You Said What Masculinity Isn’t, Now Tell Me What It Is

Real injustices in society piss me off, as does racism. That being said, I think a lot of racially oversensitive people are supreme party poops, and they should be forced to parade up main street in their underwear, and not their nice weekend underwear, but their ratty Tuesday or Wednesday underwear.

However, I don’t think who you sleep with or how you dress has anything to do with true masculinity… unless you wear Crocs. A man’s got to draw the line somewhere.

“Real” masculinity, before we perverted it, was a sweet brew of psychological, physiological, and biological characteristics that support the demands of being male. It initially manifested itself in a need to compete with other males for resources and sex. If resources and sex weren’t an issue, it sometimes manifested itself in destruction, rebellion, and anger.

However, as civilization evolved, so did our minds and collective psychology. Masculinity was channeled into acceptable pro-social traits and activities. It remained courageous and protective, but it also drew on certain traits that are generally ascribed to femininity, namely empathy, cooperation, and the ability to support and nurture.

But masculinity is a complex recipe requiring more than just a scant few ingredients. No, it’s a whole damn Bundt cake of positive traits, among them the following:

Non-culturally defined masculinity is responsible – It is responsible toward your body, your health, people and animals, and showing a caring attitude towards society, the environment, and life itself.

Non-culturally defined masculinity is protective – It structures the healthy relationship between a man and a woman; it strives for better things. It shows emotional strength in the face of adversity, and it’s responsible toward oneself, toward loved ones and friends, and society and nature. It’s also lusty, for which it doesn’t apologize, but the lustiness is tempered by respect.

Non-culturally defined masculinity has self-worth – Self-worth is competence, clearly defined purposes, and integrity, meaning that your actions are congruent to your beliefs. Self-worth means that if someone insults you, it’s either true or not. A real man assesses the information, absorbs criticism if it’s warranted and learns from it. A “pussy” deflects criticism, explains himself, or lashes out in anger.

Any man with a modicum of self-esteem is largely invulnerable to insults. Can a bug insult you? How about a rodent? No? Then how can some idiot who doesn’t know you, doesn’t know anything you’ve accomplished, know your skills, your background, your integrity, say anything to diminish your worth?

I used to be a big-time retaliator. My image of myself was a tough guy who didn’t take any shit. My fantasy-driven self-image, however, has been replaced by self-worth. I used to value myself without cause and lash out. Now I value myself with cause, and calmness has ensued.

Non-culturally defined masculinity is brave – I don’t mean brave as in the ability to bear pain. Granted, being able to bear pain in completing some heroic task is courageous, but lacerating your femoral artery while trimming your toenails with a Buck knife and refusing to go to the doctor isn’t brave, and it isn’t manly, only stupid.

And while speaking of bravery and heroism, much of what passes for it is based, paradoxically, on insecurity and the desire for approval. Men sometimes act brave because not being brave would invite scorn and disapproval from their peers.

True bravery comes in many forms. It can come in the form of physical self-sacrifice or even emotional self-sacrifice. It might also come in the form of going against popular opinion, standing up for injustice when it might damage your standing in the community.

It’s boldly facing bad news instead of avoiding it. It’s realizing that everything worthwhile comes at a price; everything truly worthwhile has some sort of short-term or long-term pain associated with it

Non-culturally defined masculinity is confident – Confidence shouldn’t be confused with cockiness. One is a false front, enacted to protect your self-image, and one is self-assuredness in your abilities, thoughts, and actions.

Confidence allows you to consider other people’s opinions without damaging your ego. Unfortunately, most men seek out others whose opinions always match their own.

Non-culturally defined masculinity is honest – I’m convinced that about every third thing an average man says is an exaggeration or a downright lie. Again, it’s all an attempt to preserve or project a false self-image.

Non-culturally defined masculinity has purpose – Unfortunately, most men don’t have any purpose in life other than recreation and, in general, distractions of all kinds, whether they be sports, cars, gaming, or collecting Snapple bottle tops.

A man’s got to have some purpose or purposes, whether they’re internal (about emotional growth, personal growth), intrapersonal (family and friends), or external (occupational).

Maybe you want to be a qualified trainer or coach whose hunger for getting better never dies. That’s a fine purpose. Maybe you want to be the best husband or father or friend that you can be, constantly giving energy to people you care about. Also a fine purpose. Or maybe you just want to develop the inner you, discovering your motivations and purposes, while uncovering your contradictions and curing your neuroses, which is a very fine purpose.

“Real” men are content when they’re learning something new or accomplishing some task. Boys, however, are content when they’re playing.

Oddly enough, these masculinity definitions/virtues are also part of what makes a woman a good woman, which might confuse some of these mainstream masculinity pontificators.

Here's a Guy Who Might Fit the Bill

Here’s a Guy Who Might Fit the Bill

A couple of months ago, Brett Stephens, a columnist for The New York Times (who also used to be the deputy editorial page editor for The Wall Street Journal) wrote the following about Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky:

We admire Zelensky because he models what a man should be: impressive without being imposing; confident without being cocksure; intelligent without pretending to be infallible; sincere rather than cynical; courageous not because he is fearless but because he advances with a clear conscience. American boys, in particular, raised on preposterous notions of what manhood entails, should be steered towards his example.

Given that appraisal and his background as a lawyer, comedian, actor, statesman, and politician, Zelensky might be described as a modern-day Renaissance man.

The term comes from the 15th century, mostly inspired by Leon Battista Alberti, who was an Italian author, artist, architect, poet, priest, linguist, and philosopher. It describes a man who is limitless in his capacities for development; a man who wants to develop skills in all areas of experience, including book smarts, physical development, and even social accomplishments.

Amen. Let’s replace one of those talk show/podcast hosts with Zelensky after the war is over.

Unfortunately, I fear the term “Renaissance man” would cause some of those mainstream masculinity pontificators to visualize some “pussy” wearing something like, Heaven forbid, a rainbow flag pin. Stand by with the fainting couch.

You know, maybe I’ve got it wrong. Maybe masculinity/manliness is mostly based on cultural influences instead of biological ones. Maybe men are just choosing to be influenced by the wrong cultures.

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Zelensky?…ok.

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Now, how are we to recognize Nature’s most excellent human products? They are recognized by the fact that an excellent man of this sort gladdens our senses; he is carved from a single block, which is hard, sweet, and fragrant. He enjoys only what is good for him; his pleasure, his desire, ceases when the limits of what is good for him are overstepped. He divines remedies against injuries; he knows how to turn serious accidents to his own advantage; whatever does not kill him makes him stronger. He instinctively gathers his material from all he sees, hears, and experiences. He is a selective principle; he rejects much. He is always in his own company, whether his intercourse be with books, men or natural scenery; he honors the things he chooses, the things he acknowledges, the thing’s he trusts. He reacts slowly to all kinds of stimuli, with that tardiness which long caution and deliberate pride have bred in him-he tests the approaching stimulus - would not think of going toward it. He believes in neither “ill-fortune” nor “guilt”; he can digest himself and others; he knows how to forget-he is strong enough to make everything turn to his own advantage. Lo then! I am the very reverse of a decadent, for he whom I have just described is none other than myself.

Ecce Homo: How One Becomes What One Is by Friedrich Nietzsche (1888, autobiography)

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Zelensky is a con man swimming in billions of american dollars while many here at home do without. The war has been so brutal only half of hollywood has been able to visit.

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I like this take on Masculinity. Great write up.

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I won’t speak for Zelensky’s politics, but when push came to shove - he picked up a rifle. Can’t say I believe many of our current politicians would do the same; I have to respect that.

Good article.

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If you disagree, let me know why. I understand that he might not be a paragon of what passes for masculinity today, but that was my point.

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One only wishes he reflected those values in real life. It might have had even more impact.

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If strong, irrefutable evidence of him being a con man surface, I’ll recant, big time. Regardless, I hope your strong feelings against him don’t nullify the rest of what I wrote.

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Much appreciated. It’s a topic near and dear to my heart.

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There ya’ go. You don’t have to agree with a man’s politics to admire his courage and integrity.

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What’s the deal with green M&Ms? Are they bad now? When I was a kid, we ate green M&Ms at baseball games so we could hit homeruns…don’t take that away from me!

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Nah. Tucker Carlson, an unlikely defender of masculinity, went on a rant when the people who market M&Ms took away the sexy boots that the green M&M used to wear. He interpreted this as a woke conspiracy to lessen the sexual desire many men apparently felt for the green M&M. And no, I’m not kidding.

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IMHO, the traits of " Being a man" are:
Do what is right, period.
Provide for those you love.
Sustain and Protect those you love.
Create something good and long lasting.
Put those you love first and foremost.
I thank my Dad for instilling in me those values, values that He personified.

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Hahaha, you could have stopped at Tucker Carlson, but thanks for clearing that up for me!

Great article!

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Terrific! But it’s the interpretation of “doing what’s right” where a lot of trouble starts.

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My wife would always get upset because I seem so stoic all the time, and having been raised with a classicly “toxic” male influence, she was used to every emotion being expressed as anger or rage. It took years, but she finally understands that I just maintian my calm, Im not a robot who doesnt have emotions. I experienced all the same ones as “normal” people, I just don’t ourwardly share them through expressive action. From a lot of men I talk to, this seems to be a norm: we still experience everything, but it’s more the sharing or expressing of those emotions that is difficult…the truly toxic folks, like you mention, are the ones who try to tell Men that they shouldnt feel a certain tpe of way.

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Now I gotta’ ask, are you reticent to express those emotions (the “negative” ones like anger AND the “positive” ones too) because what I refer to as “culturally-defined” masculinity has taught you that it’s not “manly” to do so? That seems to be the case with a lot of men.

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Enjoyed the rest of the article as I do most all of yours.

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I would say yes. Mom was a blind optimist who discouraged any sort of negative talk or expression. My Dad comes from a long line of country folk and parents who never expressed any “good” emotions outwardly. I probably picked up on not easily sharing either side of the coin from that, but I also grew up in football/sports crazed OH playing sports. Was taught from about the age of 8 to “man up” “be tough” “nut up” “pain is only weakness leaving the body”. etc. etc. I excelled as an athlete because I could do that, but I would say many of my influences and experiences sided on the side of “culturally defined masculinity”.

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