The Need for a New Way Forward: Thoughts on a New York Times Article

by Brett & Kate McKay on April 17, 2009 · 57 comments

in Blog

An AoM reader tipped me off today to an interesting blog post from the New York Times. Entitled, “Dude, You’ve Got Problems,” Judith Warner spends the first part of the article bemoaning the still rampant homophobia amongst today’s young men. This kind of bullying is indefensible, and is an unfortunate aspect of growing up. But it was the second part of her article I found most interesting, particularly this section:

“Boys were showing each other they were tough. They were afraid to do anything that might be called girlie,” she told me this week. “It was just like what I would have found if I had done this research 50 years ago. They were frozen in time.”

Pascoe spent 18 months embedded in a Northern California working-class high school, in a community where factory jobs had gone south after the signing of Nafta, and where men who’d once enjoyed solid union salaries were now cobbling together lesser-paid employment at big-box stores. “These kids experience a loss of masculine privilege on a day-to-day level,” she said. “While they didn’t necessarily ever experience the concrete privilege their fathers and grandfathers experienced, they have the sense that to be a man means something and is incredibly important. These boys don’t know how to be that something. Their pathway to masculinity is unclear. To not be a man is to not be fully human and that’s terrifying.”

That makes sense. But the strange thing is, this isn’t just about insecure boys. There’s a degree to which girls, despite all their advances, appear to be stuck – voluntarily – in a time warp, too, or at least to be walking a very fine line between progress and utter regression. Spending unprecedented amounts of time and money on their hair, their skin and their bodies, at earlier and earlier ages. Essentially accepting the highly sexualized identity imposed on them, long before middle school, by advertisers and pop culture. In high school, they have second-class sexual status, Pascoe found, and by jumping through hoops to be sexually available enough to be cool (and “empowered”) yet not so free as to be labeled a slut, they appear to be complicit in maintaining it.

Why – given the full array of choices our culture ostensibly now allows them – are boys and girls clinging to such lowest-common-denominator ways of being?”

Ms. Warner clearly believes that the persistence of gender roles and characteristics is a lamentable thing, the root of much of the problems that plague our youth. While I disagree with her conclusions, she brings up some really interesting points.

I think for the last few decades we’ve tried the genderless society thing, and it hasn’t worked. And I think today’s generation understands that. They’ve been told their whole life that there aren’t any differences between men and women besides our genitalia, but everything in their own experience, in their day to day interactions with the opposite sex tells them this isn’t true.

Everywhere I go, when I talk to men and women my age (20-something), they want to take me aside and talk about how much they appreciate the Art of Manliness. They feel like it’s touched on something they’ve been thinking about, but haven’t yet been able to articulate. What’s interesting is that many of the people who thank me for the blog are women. Even more interesting is that no matter their background (whether conservative housewife or liberal career woman), they all pretty much express the same thing. They appreciate the advances women have made in the past fifty years, but they lament the loss of men and women embracing their complimentary gender differences.  They want women to be women and men to be men. But they’re afraid that if they admit this, they’re being a traitor to women and the advances they’ve made.

And the men I meet want to embrace masculinity and man up, but like women, they’re afraid to. They’re afraid if they do, they’ll be labeled a patriarchal chauvinist.

I sense a growing movement out there of men and women who want to embrace positive gender differences. It’s under the radar and it hasn’t been discovered by the media yet. But it’s growing.

And now to return to Ms. Warner’s article. What we have going on is that young people today have the same sense of things that I just described, but they don’t have any idea what to do about it. There’s nothing out there that helps them understand their feelings and gives them direction on how to channel those feelings in productive, satisfying ways. They don’t have role models to emulate and people to teach them what manhood and womanhood is really about. The problem is not, as Ms. Warner believes, the persistence of gender roles themselves. The problem is that young people want to embrace gender roles but don’t know how to go about it. So you have boys trying to be cartoonishly tough and macho and girls becoming over-sexualized. All they have to go on is caricatures of manhood and womanhood.

For thousands of years the world was set with rigid gender roles, which had some positive aspects, but was also far too often fraught with sexism. Then with the feminism movement the pendulum swung too far in the other direction, attempting to dispense with gender all together.  I think this generation wants a new way forward.

Can’t we keep much of the progress we have made, while taking back some of the positive aspects of gender enjoyed by our forbearers? Can’t girls have every opportunity in athletics, academics, and career, while also enjoying the feeling of taking care of her man? And can men not be allowed to enjoy baking and theater without being called gay, to be more hands on and nurturing with his kids and feel okay about crying sometimes, while also wanting to feel like a protector and leader?
Well, enough of my ranting, I thought some of the comments following the NYT article were equally good points. Here’s a few:

“The author’s point about the use of homophobic epithets is well taken, although hardly a revelation to any male under the age of 30. After that, though, the article begins to go off the rails. The underlying point appears to be an aggressive (and, at least by most women I know, disfavored) feminist point of view that gender differences and masculine/feminine identity are inherently evil. The quip about being “stuck in time” was particularly revealing. The notion that equality for the sexes neccesarily brings with it a complete abandonment of gender roles that have been in place for the proverbial “thousands of years” is an outmoded, 1980′s style feminist point of view that I would like to think has been mostly abandoned. Being masculine is about a lot more than “masculine privilege”. Masculintity carries with it a great many positive traits, such as strength of character, responsibility, and courage, and it would be a sad day indeed if we as a nation ever reached the point where the notion of striving to be masculine at all was viewed as negative. Homophobic epithets and social ostacization is clearly not the correct approach, but there is nothing wrong with boys striving to become men.”

- Colin

“Why is it so hard for mainstream kids to feel secure in their sexual identities? We say men and women are equal, but we all know they are not identical. We leave it up to kids to figure out how to affirm their sexual identities, and they do so in very crude and extreme ways, which should not be surprising.

How do we honor men and women in their differences, so that kids can feel confident about their sexual identities and have the room, then, to tolerate lots of individual variation? I look at the movie stars of the 30′s and 40′s and they seem so effortlessly confident in this area. The women and men seem so much stronger then, even without cartoonishly extreme bodies. It’s hard to imagine Humphrey Bogart needing chiseled abs to feel manly.

We’ve lost something along the way, and the absence is causing damage.”

- Mike Oliker

“It is precisely the triumph of feminism which has made emasculation such a potent prospect for teenage boys. While I’m not advocating a return to “Father Knows Best” days by any means, we ought to consider just a few consequences that flow from the radical restructuring of gender in the 20th century. To wit:

1) Single mothers are increasingly heads of household. In some, though certainly not all, cases, poverty, crime, drug abuse, etc. are also present. More importantly, the male role model is now the absent father who flees responsibility.

2) On the same note, monogamy and abstinence, once cultural norms (even if never strictly practiced), have been replaced by the chaotic world of “hooking up.” This tends to favor the aggressive alpha male who can humiliate sexual competitors. Ostracized boys are thus excluded not only from male camaraderie, but also female companionship and love.

3) We have come to the opposite extreme-girls are seen as smarter and better behaved. But boys do not want to be girls, no matter how much feminists might wish to equalize the sexes. Masculinity inevitably opposes the feminine, but now it is destructive, anti-intellectual, coarse and brutal.”

- Mitch

I’d love to read everyone’s thoughts on this. It’s a touchy subject, but I think we can and should have a classy and civil discussion on it.

{ 56 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Paul April 17, 2009 at 12:14 pm

Funny how we’re so willing to lampoon Father Knows Best even as all actual evidence indicates that the alternative is the cultural doomsday we deal with right now. Perhaps William Powell was a bit overbearing, but I’ll take him over the NYT every day of the week.

2 Radu April 17, 2009 at 12:37 pm

Pure bollocks. I never understood the theory that the differences = evil and how if you do not go around arguing equality, you’re a racist, chauvinistic, evil sexist who want to drink beer and burp while the poor woman works her ass off.

I’m Romanian and I strongly believe in gender roles as this is how my culture modelled me but now I go to University in Canada. It struck me as odd in one of the courses called “communication” where one of the exercises was to change sentences and make them anything-neutral. Basically, you had to devoid them of gender/age/ethnicity/anything. When I made my argument that “business man” does not mean male dominance and that women are free to use “businesswoamn” instead of the horrific “businessperson” the prof said that I have a ’50s retrograde mentality. And he was a 37-45 year old dude.

Bloody disgusting.

3 Colton April 17, 2009 at 12:44 pm

“Can’t we keep much of the progress we have made, while taking back some of the positive aspects of gender enjoyed by our forbearers?”

Yes and no. While we certainly can (and should) keep the egalitarian laws that have emerged over the last century, there is obviously more at play here than law. Gender roles are social rules—whether they are socially constructed is another matter—and therefore, any return of traditional gender roles will cause society to enforce them, even if government stays out of the game. As the pendulum swings, we may return to a world where most men provide for their families by working and most women care for them by staying home (a structure that is bound to emerge if traditional roles are embraced), but even if the law ensured equal opportunity for the women (or men) who chose to defy that structure, the community would look down on such defiance, causing all but the most headstrong to turn back.

I think this is far preferable to the current situation because it is in keeping with the roles that God or evolution (take your pick, both support such roles) have designed for humans. Still, there will be the anomalies in such a world that slip through the cracks. We would simply face the inverse of the difficulty felt today by a woman who chooses to stay home in our feminized society, who is hindered both by money and a fear of scorn from her more career-minded peers.

4 Chaka April 17, 2009 at 12:51 pm

I encounter the issue of gender roles a lot in a church setting. Some think my seminary-trained wife isn’t supposed to preach because she’s a woman. But church is supposedly too feminized, so I must be a girlie-man for being involved in it. I think McKay is right that we can affirm that there are gender differences without getting too rigid in our definitions of what normal manly/womanly behavior is and without freaking out about the exceptions. Kudos to Art of Manliness for holding up a broad, sophisticated, integrity-based image of manliness.

5 Albert April 17, 2009 at 12:59 pm

As a believer in the beauty and goodness of diversity, it’s sad to see how some people believe it’s necessary to create a world of androgynous homogeneity that dogmatically denies sexual differences. Well-intentioned, to be sure, but utterly banal, boring and ultimately harmful.

Men and women are equal. But they are not equivalent.

This is spot on: “The problem is not, as Ms. Warner believes, the persistence of gender roles themselves. The problem is that young people want to embrace gender roles but don’t know how to go about it. So you have boys trying to be cartoonishly tough and macho and girls becoming over-sexualized. All they have to go on is caricatures of manhood and womanhood.”

6 Victoria April 17, 2009 at 1:42 pm

“Men and women are equal. But they are not equivalent.”

7 Keenan April 17, 2009 at 1:49 pm

I am a 20-year-old college student and I can say that this supposed struggle over my sexual identity never existed. Maybe its the way I grew up, on a farm/playing football/being a hard worker, but I never felt pressure from anyone that I should be a macho man. I consider myself manly, but I’m not over-the-top cartoonish about it.

Albert has is right where he says men and women are equal but not equivalent. Sure we can do the same things, but women are naturally suited for certain activities and men are naturally suited for other activities. These may not be the same activities for everyone, but in general, due to hormonal processes, men are better suited for activities that involve problem solving while women are better suited for activities where they can nurture and they can discuss problems.

Besides obvious physical differences, the hormonal differences in men and women explain why they are and should continue to be different. Testosterone is a stress relieving hormone for men. It is produced when a man feels like he has accomplished something (i.e. solved a problem). This explains men nature of wanting to fix everything and get it done on their own, and also why we never ask for directions! Women, on the other hand, relieve stress by producing oxytocin. This hormone is involved with nurturing and is produced by discussing problems. So men, next time your woman wants to vent, just sit back and listen. (Which is hard to do because we want to fix the problem, which is not what our woman wants us to do.)

So when it comes down to it, these people who want men and women to be the same are fighting a losing battle. And the boys who are struggling with their identity are just in a stage of adolescence, and they need to start reading AoM.

8 Morgan April 17, 2009 at 2:47 pm

I’m going to strike a middle line here, because I agree with the line of the argument of Warner, though not her policy prescription. She’s really destroying a straw man view of masculinity, at any rate. The answer is not to try and destroy gender differences, but rather to support and encourage those desirable aspects of masculinity which exist, and which we’ve got really bad at fostering.

I went to a similar sort of school (albeit in England, not in the US) in a de-industrialised area, where I remember the same name-calling occurred.

The problem is not that there’s some macho culture amongst boys/young men, or even that there’s a problem of gender roles at all. In fact, if you listen to schoolkids on the bus, you’ll hear girls calling each other “lesbians” for acting in a certain way too. Or you do in the UK, anyway.

The problem is that, because the socio-economic basis of the anglophone industrial societies is changing, kids generally are taking longer to grow up (or failing entirely), and not acquiring *any* model, male or female, of how to be a decent grown up human being.

I think there’s a lot in the idea that the lack of old-style man-jobs which is contributing towards this, but generally, even for girls, there’s becoming an unspoken message that if you’re not good enough to go to college there’s no way you’ll ever amount to anything. The fact that men are losing the opportunity for decent career jobs, and the ethos on being the provider in the family, means that they probably come off worse overall.

Young working class men are now no longer in a kind of employment (if in employment at all) which brings you into contact with older people, or offers you incentives to knuckle down and acquire values of tolerance, hard-work and a respect for craft. There’s no contact with models of masculinity which include respect, tolerance and mutual support.

What you’re left with are examples of masculinity which come at young people through the prism of mass media, films and TV. If your model of what it is to be a man comes solely from action films, then it’s going to be lopsided. You can’t behave like Jack Bauer in the classroom, and masculinity is about far more than power and getting what you want by violence. It’s also self-reinforcing in that it doesn’t provide any practical applications to what you do to get on or improve yourself. Childhood bullying and underachievement persists into adulthood, and it’s never really challenged.

9 James April 17, 2009 at 3:29 pm

“Can’t we keep much of the progress we have made, while taking back some of the positive aspects of gender enjoyed by our forbearers?…And can men not be allowed to enjoy baking and theater without being called gay.”

This touches on a severe problem in society which has systemic causes. The problem is that males grow up without knowing when they become “men”, or even what makes a man a “man”. The confusion over self-identity leads us to accept the blanket definitions of peers, who themselves are unsure with the resulting tendency of society as a whole to create rigid, easily perceptible definitions in the absence of clear coming-of-age events/characteristics. Worse still, such character traits, for example being physically strong, agressive, or dominating have become more associated with masculinity than characteristics such as virtuous, honorable, trustworthy, etc.

It would be wrong, but not entirely, to blame this on the social upheaveal of tradition of the late 20th century, but in its broad criticism of conventional modes of masculinity, nothing was put in its place, hence the confusion above, as well as the desperately rigid and substanceless definitions above where men interested in fine art, poetry, etc. are labeled, implicitly or otherwise, as “gay”. We end up with a society that is so insecure in its masculinity that one of its reactions is to develop an awkward obsession with homophobic classification of wholly unrelated traits.

As a student of classics, I think the Western world would do well to revisit the idea of Roman masculinity, literally “virtus”. Romans centered their definition of a “man” not on whether he was athletic or aggressive, but on whether he could be trusted, and held the honor of his name, was generous, etc. Honor, duty, responsibility, and the like were held as the masculine ideal, not a perverted fixation on whether he was a jock or a bully with no interest in art or decorum.

I don’t pretend that I have some comprehensive solution to the deep and complex current gender confusion in society, but I would say that society would do well to 1) develop a basic framework of the positive traits that identify the “masculine” and the “feminine” and 2) to dispense with the crude archetypes that arbitrarily claim that the athlete and soldier are somehow antithetical to the artistic and philanthropic. To do this, though, we have to dispense with absurd and counterproductive machoism as well as the idea that any classic definition of masculinity is inherently problematic and paternalistic. Naturally, we should throw into the bin the idea that any concrete sense of gendering is a flaw in society (e.g. the argument that there are no inherent differences between men and women and their roles), which is as much rubbish as the above.

10 Jason April 17, 2009 at 3:42 pm

Thanks for the post!

There are both good and bad traits that are common in men, and good and bad ones common in women. It is important to teach our young to be good, and to fulfill their gender’s role–not to emulate stereotypes of their gender, and not to exhibit bad qualities typical of their gender.

11 Russ April 17, 2009 at 4:54 pm

That’s the funny thing about social science; no matter how much the empirical evidence points to innate gender distinctions that transcend social conditioning, the ideology held by most social scientists will prevent them from considering this as a valid explanation.

BTW, in this context it’s “complementary,” not complimentary.

12 David April 17, 2009 at 5:56 pm

I think many of the problems with gender roles can also be traced to popular culture (aka the media) replacing genteel culture in America.

Genteel culture was created by middle class Protestants in early American days. This culture taught the values of hard-work and the importance of productive leisure time. Its overall principle was that your life should have a constant goal of self-improvement and reliance. It taught these values by using classical art and literature to be examples what people should strive to achieve, equal, and surpass.

Popular culture encouraged people to release themselves from the high standards that genteel culture demanded. It was created as an industry to appeal to the primitive emotions of people. Instead of going to an art gallery and reflecting upon the excellence and skill of the artist’s work, popular culture would rather have you go to a theme park and receive instant gratification on a roller coaster ride. As genteel culture raised the bar, popular culture lowered it.

Popular culture eventually evolved into mainstream media. Movies, television, and music aren’t created for progress or to raise the audience to a heightened sense of duty, rather they are made to appeal to the demands of consumers. The people who are involved in the media industry know that people want to have their emotions manipulated by watching the stimulating acts of sex, drugs, and violence, and so they provide these for them while making profits off of it.

Popular culture is on the surface much more appealing than genteel culture (or any other “deeper” culture). This is how it gets to children. It attracts them by offering short term stimulation, rather than long term benefit. For example we can look at smoking. If one child smoke

13 David April 17, 2009 at 6:20 pm

I think many of the problems with gender roles can also be traced to popular culture (aka the media) replacing genteel culture in America.

Genteel culture was created by middle class Protestants in early American days. This culture taught the values of hard-work and the importance of productive leisure time. Its overall principle was that your life should have a constant goal of self-improvement and reliance. It taught these values by using classical art and literature to be examples what people should strive to achieve, equal, and surpass.

Popular culture encouraged people to release themselves from the high standards that genteel culture demanded. It was created as an industry to appeal to the primitive emotions of people. Instead of going to an art gallery and reflecting upon the excellence and skill of the artist’s work, popular culture would rather have you go to a theme park and receive instant gratification on a roller coaster ride. As genteel culture raised the bar, popular culture lowered it.

Popular culture eventually evolved into mainstream media. Movies, television, and music aren’t created for progress or to raise the audience to a heightened sense of duty, rather they are made to appeal to the demands of consumers. The people who are involved in the media industry know that people want to have their emotions manipulated by watching the stimulating acts of sex, drugs, and violence, and so they provide these for them while making profits off of it.

Popular culture is on the surface much more appealing than genteel culture (or any other “deeper” culture). This is how it gets to children. It attracts them by offering short term stimulation, rather than long term benefit. For example we can look at the media’s portrayal of college life. The media portrays college as a place where you hook up with girls and party all the time. This image of college life is extremely appealing to kids because hooking up with girls and getting inebriated is instantly satisfying. On the other hand, bettering one’s self with education and putting in long and hard hours at the library studying to make good grades is something that won’t be rewarded until after they receive their degree and get their first job which is usually four years.

I’m kind of rambling but what I’m trying to get at is that good parents teach their children values that will give them success in the long run and popular culture contradicts that by selling children stimulation that will satisfy them in the short run. This contradiction makes children believe that what their parents say won’t make them popular, because the rewards to their parents long run advice cannot be instantly experienced.

Now when it comes to gender roles, the media glorifies exterior, instantly satisfying qualities in men and women. For men, the media says that to not be a “loser” you must have an active sex-life and the more women you have sex with, the better. One night stands are usually taken in a positive light and partying or partaking in illegal activity is also encouraged. For women, being popular is highly encouraged. Also attracting men through exterior traits is encouraged because most female actors are highly attractive. The funny thing about these portrayals is that the female is highly encouraged to attract the male, who is highly encouraged to view the female as a sex object.

I could delve much deeper into this subject but I need to go out tonight so I’ll just say I think that lawsuits and the disparity between female and male teachers also contribute to the confusion of gender role to a male in society.

14 Ray Randell April 17, 2009 at 6:57 pm

Growing up in the late seventies-early eighties I had it in my head that my kids should be able to play with any toy they want; not gender specific toys.
No matter what toys were available my daughter was always drawn to; Pink, dolls, princess’ and Barbie movies.
As soon as my son could crawl he was dragging trucks around and smashing them into things.
So, I bought them copies of “The Dangerous Book For Boys” and “The Daring Book for Girls”.
Highly recommended; these books revel in the joys of their particular Gender. As the post says, “Positive Gender Differences”.
As I sail into my 8th year of marriage, my realization of these gender differences has allowed my wife and I to grow and compliment each other in ways society had neglected to teach us.
Kudos to Art of Manliness, hurray for the Daring Girls and Dangerous Boys, long live the separation of Testosterone and Estrogen.

15 RLF April 17, 2009 at 7:16 pm

While I and many of my acquaintances, both male and female, enjoy reading this blog, I don’t always agree – and this time I feel compelled to comment.

First, the biggest problem I see is the quote that Warners includes from her research, that “to not be a man is to not be fully human and that’s terrifying.” Boys see people who don’t fit their definition of “man” as *not fully human.* That’s big, folks – that’s a big, big problem.

And I don’t think that the solution to that problem is “reembracing” more strictly defined gender roles. Wanting “women to be women and men to be men” depends on the existence of narrow gender roles for women and men – narrow definitions that don’t encompass people who are not heterosexual or people who for whatever reason can’t fit the mold. And then, when they don’t fit, we blame them for causing confusion or worse, being “not fully human.”

If gender roles had biological basis, women and men would play the same roles in every culture in the world, because they could not be otherwise. As most of us know, that’s just not true – different cultures have very different conceptions of “true” masculinity and femininity. I imagine that the ideas most people who read this blog have about “true” masculinity and femininity are actually middle class, Judeo-Christian, white, North American ideals, not biological. This is not to say that these ideals are bad – in fact, I think there’s a LOT of good to be said for the standards of masculinity this blog in particular puts forth. It’s just not the only way to be a “real” man.

16 Stuart April 17, 2009 at 7:27 pm

I love being a man. My wife loves being a woman. My boys love being boys. We all love each other. We are happy. Strong families will reverse the trends of today’s culture. I’m going to stop my blog reading and spend some time with my family now!

17 Jean-Paul Gagnon April 18, 2009 at 3:14 am

To start, I would genuinely like to thank the founder of this blog/website. The Art of Manliness, in my humble opinion, is something much needed these days although I genuinely support and encourage the liberalization of the female sex as sexual discrimination is a violation of human rights. It’s just that I appreciate the return of the perhaps “Western” culture of man and its opposition to hyped male media stereotypes.

It should be noted that from what I have thus far read in the Art of Manliness posts, nothing has advocated anything other than caring for and supporting the opposite gender, being a strong role model and care center for our sons and daughters, and trying to be the best men we can be. Let’s do this old-school and offer up a “huzzah!” for AoM, haha.

I am currently on mission at the International Labor Organization (ILO) and the United Nations (UN) on behalf of my organization, and picked up an international standard that may be of interest to my fellow men and women herein: the ILO advocates, as had been promoted during international women’s day, a “sharing is caring” policy.

Gender roles are important but should probably be up to the individual and the culture/environment they were brought up in. The important aspect of “sharing is caring” is that a man and woman share – as close to equal as possible – the chores of their lives even though some of these may or may not adhere to traditional gender roles. It is about supporting each other, communicating well, and being comfortable with who you are. A sharing in all aspects (emotional, spiritual connection, physical, etc.) in as equal as possible levels. The panel at the meeting indicated that this policy has the potential to keep relationships healthy and strong. It is something I practice and would recommend it.

To diversify on the topic, I would like to stipulate that I have noticed these days that many younger boys are dressing somewhat femininely (skinny jeans, tight t-shirts, poor posture, not strong or perhaps “mannish” in appearance) and that many younger girls are dressing perhaps more provokingly in a “sexual” manner. I do not exactly know what this means. I wonder if any others have noticed this phenomenon?

Thanks for the chance to speak my mind.

– Jean-Paul

18 Cowboy Bob April 18, 2009 at 4:11 am

As I’ve matured, I’ve lost time and interest in “pre-apologizing for what I believe” crap, and like to cut through it and get to the points.

I think homosexuality is unnatural. But I should not have to be called a “homophobe” because of it; I’m not afraid of them (or that I may become one of them). Most are confused perverts in an area of astonishing promiscuity. I know a few of the remainder that are sincerely attached to one other person. Wish I could quote the Anglican clergyman that said something like, “Only about (small percentage like ten) are sincere, the rest are perverts.” My observations, learning and discussions support that belief.

There is no reason in hell to do “gay bashing”, even though many of us resent the way they have hijacked the word “gay” and rainbow images. If I’m going to smack someone senseless, it’s not because of their real or alleged sexual preferences. For that matter, I won’t smack someone senseless because of race, either. In fact, if you’re beating up a (derogatory word for homosexual or minority) for that lame excuse, I may very well jump in and defend them.

We do need distinct genders, and people have had enough of androgyny. Real women want real men. Defining what a “real man” is can be tricky. Some real men aren’t into hunting, NASCAR, American football, Hemingway or what not. Being a real man is primarily a character issue. Looking and acting like a man, and learning from much of what appears on this site, can help complete the picture. Defining what exactly is a real man is the subject of debate, but I know my own manliness and don’t care if I have to impress someone else.

Men do not need to be afraid of being considered homosexual just because they bake cookies or help with the housework. It’s an inner thing, remember? John Wayne had enough self confidence that he wore a pink bunny suit on the Laugh-In show.

I’ll shut up now so I don’t write an entire article in the comment field. I think some classic Westerns, which show “real” men, are about to start on the AMC channel, anyway.

19 ephraim April 18, 2009 at 4:46 am

It sounds funny, but the lesbian community may have actually beaten you to it, in terms of creating a movement that celebrates positive gender difference. The “butch-femme” dynamic (exactly what it sounds like) was the norm in mid 20th century lesbian culture, especially among working class lesbians and lesbians of color. Then, just like gender difference between hetero men and women, it was vilified with the coming of second wave feminisim in the late 60s and early 70s. But, for the last ten or fifteen years there have been pockets of butch-femme activism going on, trying to make room for intentional (but optional) gender difference in queer communities.

I think the key lesson that can be learned from them (and from the 2nd wave feminists, actually) is that any positive gender difference we chose to employ and celebrate doesn’t have to be and ought not be: a) universally right for everyone (some people are just naturally inclined to androgeny); b) compulsory; and c) invariably correlated to one’s sex. This last point is key, i think, because any movement that’s going to celebrate positive gender difference, if it’s not to be potentially oppressive/repressive needs to include the positive gender difference of masculine women and feminine men, and make room for their identities and experiences.

20 W.O. Henley April 18, 2009 at 5:41 am

Looking at the problems of gender roles in isolation is will not lead to a solution because sexual identity in itself is meaningless. The problem of muddled sexual identity stems from the shifting views on values. Sex does not define our values (as popular media seems to suggest) but rather, our values define how we see ourselves (including our sex) and the world.

Up until the sexual revolution of the 1960′s, gender roles and views on sexuality were fairly entrenched and narrow. Monogamy and abstinence were “once cultural norms (even if never strictly practiced)”. However, with the influx of diverse ideas and views this entrenched certainty has been replaced with a kind of post-modern relativism. This left a confused value system in its wake, open to interpretation by anyone. Simultaneously with the change in the currents of philosophy, views on sex changed. David’s “genteel culture” and James’ “Roman virtus” comments point to the same tendency; societies or communities with stable values tend not to have too many problems with their sexual identities.

As a society, America is too large and diverse to be able to reach such a certain social agreement about values that prevailed before the 60′s. This is neither good or bad, but we have to acomodate to the fact. The diversity of thought gave birth to fresh ideas (“can’t we keep much of the progress we have made”) and also destroyed older ones (“taking back some of the positive aspects of gender enjoyed by our forbearers”). To develop healthy views on sexual identity (however you may define healthy) requires first to clarify our value system and constantly apply and reexamine it in our lives. This will be different from others’, yet we have to remain moderate and rational enough not to claim the infallibility of our views. Some will agree with use, some will not. It is easier and less threatening to get along if we only interact with those who share our views. Communicating it to others with different views, we might find that our values have errors and correct them, or we may correct others if they are open and reflective.

Going back to the original point, sexual identity in itself has no meaning. It acquires meaning in relation to our values, because our values define how we see the world. If our values are muddled, our views will be muddled – on all things, including sexual identity. Clarity and certainty of values is necessary, but we should not fall into the trap of rigidity and narrow-mindedness (what J.S. Mill called “dead dogma”) but re-examine the fundamentals.

21 Ashley April 18, 2009 at 6:18 am

I 100% agree!!! I am a 23 year old female and I have always liked gender roles. I have always felt the feminist view is flawed. I LOVE cooking for my fiance and watching him get out his drill and fix something. I like caring for him and I like feeling protected and taken care of by him.

I have been in relationships in the past where I didn’t feel taken care of and I felt like it was my job to be the strong supporter and I grew to resent those men for not being men and not letting me be a woman.

Yay, for The Art of Manliness having the courage to voice this point of view!

22 Kari April 18, 2009 at 6:24 am

One of the problems that we face in society is that our models of power and influence are almost exclusively all masculine. Women who went out into the work force were being told to act like men — and we’re still being told this. We’re obsessed with the idea that real “power” comes from being aggressive, hypersexual (once only a trait of ill-bred men), and dominating… and somehow we’ve told men that if they are not these things, they are “gay”, and if women are these things they’re to be lauded for keeping up in a “man’s world”.

I am an assertive, confident, no-nonsense, logical woman who deals with conflict head-on and likes to fix things … and people tell me I’m very masculine! I don’t conduct myself in a masculine, “butch” or “macho” way. I consider there to be traits universally appealing in men and women — directness, honesty, bravery, resolve under pressure, good sense, the ability to step outside of a situation and look at it unemotionally if necessary, self-confidence (not the lousy “self esteem” of pop culture, but confidence in your proven abilities), and the ability to speak up for one’s beliefs and principles. These are not “masculine” traits. They are essential for being a happy and virtuous person.

And what do we call “feminine” qualities? What are the “gay” qualities we so poo-poo? Sensitivity (to one’s self and others), compassion, attention to detail, intellectual curiosity (since when did reading and doing well in school become a “girl” thing to do?), an appreciation for fine things (I have a wonderful friend who loves gourmet cooking and people call him “gay” all the time for no other reason), expressive affection for one’s family and friends, and a creative spirit bent towards performance, music, or the arts. I ask you… how are these qualities feminine?

To be a well-balanced person we must have a combination of traits that universally must be encouraged and taught. Men and women express these traits differently — but we shouldn’t be telling people “cooking is feminine, hunting is masculine” or “doing math puzzles is masculine, liking literature is feminine”. We didn’t create gender, but we define what it looks like in our culture. Art of Manliness is redefining gender to create an image of masculinity which is to be admired: a man who is thoughtful, courageous, brave, attentive to details, honest, personable, loyal, caring (particularly towards family), and compassionate. These traits become masculine when real men seek to live them out in an authentic and genuine way. These traits become feminine when real women seek to live them out in an authentic and genuine way. There is nothing androgynous about this; in a truly “gender equal” society people will start acknowledging that “manliness” and “womanliness” is simply different expressions of the same values.

23 A. Kurtz April 18, 2009 at 6:30 am

Brett, two problems I see with your analysis:

First, gender roles have not been static or rigid for thousands of years. They’re constantly being changed and redefined, albeit not drastically, but to the extent that these changes are relevant. And it also depends on where you look, because matriarchal societies do exist and have existed in this world; and there are still places in which the very idea of being a Man or Woman is constantly being subjected to redefinition (I think about the Travesti communities in poor areas of Brazil… pretty fascinating stuff if you want to look up a bit about them).

Second, I don’t think the US has ever really been attempting a genderless society thing. The feminist movement (not the post-feminist one, which has its own problems) was a reaction to the habitual repression of women’s rights in the family and the workplace. Nobody at any point was saying that we should have no gender whatsoever except for those who were critical of the movement. Because, really, practically a genderless society isn’t possible.

The sad truth is that there is still plenty of blatant sexism to be had, and this is the main reason why it pays to still question and try to understand gender roles. My girlfriend, for instance, is a biologist at one of the top schools in her field and she deals with overt criticisms of her role as a female in science every day. Things have changed, but not as much as we would like to think they have.

24 A. Kurtz April 18, 2009 at 6:36 am

By the way, people who are happy with the “gender roles” in their relationship may be confusing “gender” with “role.” Just because you and your partner happen to get along incredibly well and fulfill different responsibilities in your relationship doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re adhering to your gender roles. It means you’re playing an equitable part in your relationship.

Not everything has to fall under the umbrella of “gender.” This is pretty much was the feminist movement was all about. Nobody wanted to eliminate gender, they just want the option to not have to adhere to traditional roles if they didn’t want to.

25 Brett McKay April 18, 2009 at 6:36 am

Excellent comments everyone! They’ve all been very thoughtful and have given me some new things to think about it. AoM has some really smart readers.

26 Neil K April 18, 2009 at 7:06 am

I don’t think there can ever again be a single ideal of “manliness” or “womanliness”.

I realize that about 75% of the people out there, by both genetics and inclination, fit well into those roles. And there is something in us that wants to feel like we are fulfilling a social role. I can only speak as a guy here, but when we do dangerous things, especially the kind that secure advantage to whoever we call our tribe, there is an upwelling of happiness in our souls. Like a hot spring finding its way to the surface, from some place where it is has been warmed and steeped for a million years.

I can only speculate that many women feel the same way when taking care of children, or keeping the tribe together through their superior empathetic skills.

But.

We now know that 25% of us don’t fit into these roles at all. I know a woman who builds complicated mechanical equipment and keep a Leatherman multitool in their pocket at all times. And this is no butch affectation; it’s plain that this is her true identity, and she’s having a blast being herself.

From this perspective, even an idealized social role can be crushing. Even if it fits many people well, so many of us will never live up to that role, and it speaks to nothing deep within us. From the minority perspective, the idealized social role looks like a crutch for the average, an undeserved self-congratulation for people that just happen to fit the norm.

Some native American tribes had a notion of being “two-spirited” whereby a woman who fit better into the male role could live as a male, and vice versa. While slightly more flexible I don’t think this captures the true range of human behaviour either.

Perhaps society could just cleave into “straights” and “queers”, queers being defined broadly as anyone who doesn’t fit gender norms (regardless of sexuality). But there’s too much crossover. “Queers” have “straight” children and vice versa.

Individualism is a harder path; maybe one that as a species, we’re not well suited for. But I don’t see any going back, unless you want to bring back the casual suppression and oppression of everyone who didn’t fit.

27 Ruthie April 18, 2009 at 7:25 am

Moving forward is the key. Not back to something we’ve all reject or sticking with this climate of resentment and anger between the sexes. Why people continue to act like these are the only two choices, boggles my mind. I thought we humans were more creative than that.

Embracing my femininity has been the best thing I have ever done for myself. My next best move was embracing the masculinity of the men I meet. It took me almost 40 years, but I have never enjoyed my life, my powerful sexuality and the pleasures of men as much as I do today. I even started a blog to help other women celebrate men and get off the man-bashing wagon. Like I always say: It’s way more fun when we all play together! http://www.4theloveofmen.com.

Thanks for posting your thoughts on that NYT article, Brett. This is a discussion that needs a forum. The more we talk about the validity and need for expressions of our sex-identities, the more we can feel free to live authentically as men and women.

28 leptomyrmex April 18, 2009 at 7:32 am

I appreciate the thoughtfulness of the comments here; people seem to really be interesting in solving this problem for the good of all people rather than just spewing.
I have to do a lot more thinking about this, and I agree with a lot of what has been said. I have one different thing to add about the complimentary roles of men and women. I am a middle aged woman who has a degree in chemistry from Ga Tech. However, what I always really wanted was to be a wife and mother. I received a good amount of pressure to pursue a career (not from my parents and husband, thankfully!), but I really didn’t want that. Instead, I am a stay-at-home Mom. It’s meant that our family does without a lot of luxuries.
Popular culture DOES NOT value the excellent care and discipline of children. Sure, everyone would SAY that they do, but few people put their money where their mouth is. How casually do people make the decision to abdicate their parenting to a minimum-wage day-care worker?! We need well-educated, forceful, responsible, dedicated Moms home with the kids and riding herd all day long while Dad supports the family. Sure, other arrangements can be done well, but frankly, women like young children better, are better suited for the care of young children and have breasts to feed them! Get real! Dad needs to help when he gets home of course, and any decent man will want to–he’ll love helping out and loving and serving his family this way. The husband and wife ought to be a team to do the best they can to love their children and produce some fine adults to lead in the future.
But it will probably mean a simpler lifestyle! However, I have a 15 year old and a 20 year old who are wonderful joys to my husband and me. Dedicated, wise parenting can pay off BIG–I know many people who’d give up all their possessions for a happy, healthy teenager. There are a lot of people out there who will try to sell you something else, though, and make a lot of money doing it.
I consider it a privilege that I got to stay home with my kids, and I’m grateful to my husband for “manning up” and working hard for a PhD and many long hours, bearing a big load of responsibility. But I will point out that it takes self-discipline and planning for this arrangement to work out. You have to be willing to control your sex drive and WAIT until you have the partner and the financial basis needed before you conceive a child. I’m grateful for the Christian principles I was raised with that guided me when I was young and dumb and which promote the equal dignity of male and female while acknowledging fundamental differences between them.
Thanks, Mom and Dad.

29 C_G_Hearn April 18, 2009 at 7:34 am

Thank you for this article. I constantly find the content on this site to express the very depths of my mind and soul, that I find unable to communicate. Thank you.

30 Andrew April 18, 2009 at 8:28 am

I’m in high school, my junior year, and I see this far too often. It’s all around me, and because of it, I’m very ashamed of my generation. I choose to be friends with the few that have found the way, or are on their ways to being real men. We all feel the same way that most people do, most teenage guys are overly macho while most teenage girls are overly sexualized. I say most because I know a lot of them that aren’t that way.
Since I was a little kid, I would always hang out with my older brother and dad, so I’ve learned a lot more about how a man should be then about how teenagers think a man should be.

31 A. Kurtz April 18, 2009 at 9:06 am

Andrew:

You’ve basically summed up everything that’s wrong with Axe body spray.

32 Jay April 18, 2009 at 9:40 am

Having been raised almost entirely by a caring mother alone, with my father mostly being absent or (towards the end) violent and devoid of any sense of guidance, I can fully agree that gender roles are as important as ever. The lack of a guiding, leading male figure has had a massive impact, and whilst in a way I can thank my father for being unequivocal in showing me what NOT to do, that alone was not enough. It’s only now in my late 20s that I’m realising how much of “being a man” has somehow been absent from my life learning and nurturing and I am doing my best to fill in the blanks in my thought patterns and actions. Having had no strong male and female relationships to witness and be part of has left me behind in social interactions, self confidence and respect, courage, relationships, and many other elements that I’m only just starting to appreciate. I’m starting to see many situations now where not only is it “OK” to act like a man, it’s perhaps even necessary.

Whilst I wouldn’t think for a moment that the 1950s cliches are the way we need to go – and it’s fear of accusation of this which has partly kept me away from proper consideration of the matter for a long time, I certainly concur that there is a need for men to be men and women to be women. And it’s sites like AoM that are helping me open my eyes to these things and hopefully, in the long run, will help me be a better person.

33 Punditus Maximus April 18, 2009 at 11:25 am

I’m all for this sense of competent masculinity put forward, so long as we acknowledge that there will always be a sizable group of men who don’t fit into it. Five to ten percent of us are homosexual. Men do suffer from social disorders and the occasional wasting physical illness.

The reaction against masculinity was, to a great extent, a reaction against a one-size-fits-all conformist masculinity. For most men (and most women), our “default” approach to masculinity is healthy and extremely positive. But for a lot of folks, it isn’t, and we need to get over the either/or dichotomy. There’s nothing wrong with a system that works for most people and has outs for the people it doesn’t work for.

34 Susan Walsh April 18, 2009 at 11:35 am

“They appreciate the advances women have made in the past fifty years, but they lament the loss of men and women embracing their complimentary gender differences. They want women to be women and men to be men. But they’re afraid that if they admit this, they’re being a traitor to women and the advances they’ve made.”

This is a HUGE dilemma for my women readers. They enjoy the differences between women and men, and don’t want to feel obligated to have No Strings Attached sex in the name of “empowerment” or “emancipation.” Neither do they want to be called “sluts” when they do have casual sex. It’s a real dilemma.

WRT men, I strongly recommend Michael Kimmel’s book Guyland. He describes the current generation of men aged 18-26 as delaying manhood in a myriad of ways, and he does attribute some of that to the confusion resulting from the Women’s Movement.

http://www.HookingUpSmart.com

35 Kate April 18, 2009 at 12:03 pm

@Punditus-

I think you get at an important point. I think it used to be that people made generalizations about the sexes and anyone who didn’t fit in was demonized. Then it switched and the minority was celebrated and anyone who made generalizations was demonized. I’d like to see people get to the point where we can acknowledge that some generalizations are true for a lot of people and can be healthy and celebrated, while people who deviate from the norm are completely respected and celebrated too. Maybe that’s an impossible thing, but hopefully not.

36 Phillip April 18, 2009 at 12:16 pm

Brett-
First, thanks for writing this post and highlighting the NYT article. I think one of the things I, and many others, appreciate about AoM is that it creates a constructive dialog for these kinds of issues that simmer beneath the surface and aren’t discussed nearly enough.

I would push back on your assertion that the article was supporting the erosion of gender roles, however. Ms. Warner never really says that gender roles are bad or that the lack of those roles is good. I think she’s giving a combination of statements here:
1. Trying to completely break down gender roles is not only impossible, but dangerous, as what takes their place (ignorance of maturity and adulthood through ignorance and, as you said, a palpable lack of role models in parents or outside sources) breeds the homophobic tensions for many boys and the sexualized second class-citizenry of girls.
2. The gender roles need to evolve to better co-exist.

Evolution does not mean discarding all that was old in the traditional masculine roles and I don’t think this is what Ms. Warner is advocating. I completely agree with you that there are core practices and traditions to being a man that help to bring out the best in our gender and should never be sacrificed under the guise of improvement. But other parts of the male gender roles, such as the narrow definition of what is considered “manly” behavior for young boys and teenagers, has to change. Otherwise, the definition of a man will remain antiquated and severely lacking.

Ms. Warner ends by saying much of the onus for this transformation will have to come from a new generation of parents who define gender roles for their sons and daughters differently than has been done in the past. Parents will always remain the prime role models (for better or worse), in a child’s life, although certainly pop culture’s influence in this arena has grown exponentially over the years. The combination of parents and other role models setting a new example will, according to Ms. Warner’s article, reap many benefits for men and women.

37 Dan L April 18, 2009 at 4:18 pm

Great post!

Albert –right on with the “men and women are equal but not equivalent.”

38 Richard April 18, 2009 at 7:33 pm

I think what we’re seeing (as described in the NYT article, and seen in many present-day high schools) are the results of feminism and the so-called “sexual revolution” (aka “sexual revulsion”). Traditional gender roles, abstenance before marriage and fidelity after–combined with kindness, responsibility and good old-fashioned manners–have proven over many years to be most beneficial to society. I don’t buy the feminist idea that women have been suppressed and persecuted over the centuries, although in certain times and cultures that was true, but, certainly not all the time and everywhere, as they seem to preach. As the saying goes, “To generalize is to be an idiot.” I agree that the pendulum is beginning to swing back, and hopefully, we can, as a society, find a happy medium, although I’m not counting on it.

39 Mark Hazard April 19, 2009 at 4:16 am

There seems to be quite a bit of wisdom here, and no fighting. Perhaps the losers are not around, or perhaps people are respecting Brett and this corner of the Internet.

Anyone who has read the reports and analysis that comes from Men’s News Daily will see that what passes for feminism now is primarily male bashing. Feminists are confused on roles, frankly. They have been conditioned by femi-nazis to hate men, and to encourage further hatred.

Facts are inadmissable to these types.

I can point out a few lesbians of my acquaintance that are, frankly, confused. They hate men, had bad relationships, and appear to want to “punish” the male gender by switching their sexual allegiance (no loss, some of them are as attractive as UPS trucks). I know some that are honest with themselves, come to their senses and realize that they were not truly, honestly lesbians. But the man haters did nothing to help their minds and emotions, they had to find out how they felt on their own.

Equal pay for equal work? Well, how about equal commitment to the job? Men take higher risk jobs, women take nurturing jobs (sorry, can’t find the comment that already pointed that out). Higher risk is higher pay. And commitment to the job leads to higher pay, we can’t hire you and then have you run off for breeding purposes, months at a time, and have the same SKILLS, EDUCATION AND QUALIFICATIONS as the men you’re competing with for the same job. Oops, got a bit rowdy there.

Equal pay for equal work? Sure, when the whole picture is explored.

When men are sneered at and called “gay” because they like doing things that are not “masculine”, it’s very annoying. I know a guy that helped hang my pictures and do things that could almost be considered interior design — and then he opened his tool box and skillfully used his power tools. Nope, not gay. Just different interests. BTW, he likes football, and I don’t. Which of us has to turn in our Man Cards?

40 Nicky April 19, 2009 at 6:15 am

You guys have to see this one. Talk about sharply defined cultural and gender boxes to put someone into! This slop job at AskMen.com implies that if you do the things on the list, you’re not a real man. BTW, I’ve learned more here than I have there. Well, they do have some ok sex tips and that’s not the scope of AoM. Here ya go: http://www.askmen.com/top_10/entertainment/top-10-signs-of-social-leprosy.html

41 Ivan April 19, 2009 at 9:19 am

as a gay man, i would add that no one who’s sensible would deny another person the opportunity to play the sexual role they wish to play in their private life as well as in the community. the question is: at what price to OTHERS do you play your role?

i have nothing against the macho straight man engaging in whatever behaviors he enjoys. but if the price of his manhood is suppression of mine — and i have a male sexual identity to live out just as he does — then i’m not willing to pay that price in order to keep him feeling comfortably “male”.

if he’s panicked by my male identity then his belittling of me isn’t an expression of his manhood, it’s a nagging unease about who HE really might, or might not, be AS A MALE.

as long as one is comfortable in a role, one can allow others, gay or straight, to play their roles and live out their lives unhindered.

but your freedom to do this must never hinge on a curtailment of my freedom to do the same. when it does, that’s not a sign of your manliness, it’s a sign of your male insecurity, and no one should honor that, ever. understand it, yes. accede to it, no.

this male presumptuousness about the superiority of the male role also helps to explain why some men mistreat or try to narrowly define women. thankfully, most women these days are determined not to accept such restrictions, nor should they ever again. we as a species have been there and done that.

42 CoastalKyle April 19, 2009 at 9:26 am

While I agree with many of the above posts (especially James’ idea of bringing back the Roman concept of ‘vitrus’), it seems like many of the comments that disagree with Warner are predicated on the view that her article advocates that we “destroy gender differences” (Morgan), or that gender/sexual “difference = evil” (Radu). Reading the article, I didn’t see Warner argue for anything of the sort, or state that masculinity as a whole ought to be abolished. Warner’s point is that it is a sad state of affairs when youths cannot see (or act) beyond the “lowest-common-denominator” gender roles. As far as that goes, I entirely agree with her.

Working in the construction industry, I spend most of my week in a very masculine environment. We do a lot of heavy work, use pig power tools, and work our asses of to get the job done. That’s a good feeling, and big part of masculinity. Too many of my co-workers take it too far, though, and there is way to much bickering and calling each other fags. Most of the time this happens, the insults come from men who are very insecure about their own manliness, and need to belittle others in order to feel more masculine in comparison. These are the same men who make sexual comments about every single attractive women they see, insult every unattractive women they see, and call every woman a ‘slut’ who actually enjoys sexual behaviour.

To me, this ultra-macho behaviour (as opposed to ultra-masculine) does seem rooted in time. Not in any historical period, like the 50′s, but in their their own childhood, when boys first learn about social rules and codes of conduct, and begin to act accordingly and enforce the rules towards others. These men have never learned to think for themselves about what traits are of value, and never see past the type of behaviour exemplified by, say, SpikeTV. Even something so rewarding as a comitted, loving relationship is seen as compromising their sexual identity.

Back to the point; I think that Warner makes a good point in saying that there is a “full array of [gender] choices” available in society. There is room for the full spectrum of sexual preference for both sexes, and people should feel free to express themselves in any way that does not harm others.

I don’t think that mass androgyny is good for our culture, any more than extreme macho/feminine roles are. Though there are going to be general tendencies, there will be a decent chunk of society who will feel constrained by either extreme. Our behaviour will undoubtedly be influenced by our respective amounts of testosterone or oxytocin, but those amounts will vary in many individuals, leading to a diverse spectrum of behaviours.

Society now is mroe tolerant than ever, especially in terms of race (well, it is where I’m from, and I guess I can’t speak for everywhere), and we are beginning to expand that tolerance to other areas, including sexual/gender issues. The resurgence in machoism that I’ve noticed is (hopefully) just a last spasm before it dies out, and we can fully embrace the type of strong yet nuanced masculinity that the good people here at Art of Manliness are advocating.

43 Julia April 19, 2009 at 3:54 pm

I was born and grew up in a southamerican country, in a somewhat lessened macho culture (but macho nontheless). My degree is in a very girlish thing – I’m a librarian (during childhood I did other girlie things like taking ballet and French lessons)… and then, before I graduated I landed a job in a very boyish place – the school of engineering library.

Now that I’m married – to an incredibly manly engineer who does tons of manly things – and we’ve faced a couple of life facts (like moving to the US for his job), I’m wondering more and more about the gender traits and identities. How much, really, how much is inherent and how much is social? How much is helping us and how much is hurting us instead? How much of those roles (and activites and attitudes associated) help us shape our own selves and how much shove us into unhappiness?

Isn’t what women’s liberation was about? Don’t you think it all boils down to the pursuit of happiness? And self acceptance?

Gender identities appear everywhere in our daily life, and I’m getting to really wonder… Would I be happier if I could be in a sports team instead of running in the mill every time I go to the gym? Would I die of desperation if the water tap broke and flood my home? Would my husband die of sandwich overdose if he had to plan his meals for a long time? What if I landed a superjob and he had to make the choice to leave it all behind and follow me?

When I lived alone I could fix things quickly or being able to tell when I had to ask for help — the fusebox had no misteries to me. When his girlfriend ditched him and he had to nurse a broken heart alone, he would cook hearty meals and fresh fruit never was in shortage. However, when we begin our life together, we left some abilites to the other’s care and I still don’t know if that’s totally good. Maybe that’s personality traits, and not gender traits.

I could go on and on forever, but I think I should stop here. To this reader, gender identities are one of those solid rock facts with fuzzy limits.

Thank you for bringing this up.

44 Greg Throne April 19, 2009 at 6:24 pm

The columnist has, unfortunately, viewed the play of boys through the filter of politically correct view. The author, decrying “masculine privilege”, needs to see some more children in other than a scholastic setting. (I’d like to know where the author was “embedded” in a school in Northern, CA.)My daughter is a combination of tomboy athelete and “girlie-girlie” who plays with baby dolls. My son is into “typical boy play” and cooking. The real “boys’ lack” is organized rites of passage. Much of this lack can be fulfilled by particpation in some of the traditional boys’ organizations. While Boy Scouting currently has a bunch of politcal baggage, it does provide initiation rites and a hierachy of advancement, ( rites of passage), linked to the mastery of certain arts and skills. One thing is that many young men seem to not realize is that there are numerous non-sexual passage rites, such as getting the provisional and then the full driver’s license, returning the house key to one’s parents when you move out of their house, getting the first “real” paycheck, etc. One just has to define the moment appropriately.

45 J in FL April 19, 2009 at 9:34 pm

This is just semantics, but… to those who were saying “Men and women are equal. But they are not equivalent.” I think what you meant to say was, “men and women are equivalent, but not equal.”

Equal means that two things are strictly and exactly the same.

Equivalent means that the value (worth) is the same of two things. Approximately equal or similar is another way to put it (eg. Wal-Mart replaced my Panasonic T.V. with an equivalent Sony T.V.).

Obviously we *value* women and men equally (because we are all human!). However, as we should all remember from high school biology, XX =! XY. There are genotypic differences, which in turn translate to phenotypic differences, which then determine what men and women can and cannot do, relative to each other.

IMO, however, we should find two different words to describe this because they’re a little ambiguous.

46 CN in TX April 20, 2009 at 11:16 am

Great article! The comments on this post have been outstanding; however, I find myself intellectually intimidated. This, of course, is not an unusual occurrence for me, but I think I may need to attend graduate school to feel comfortable commenting on this blog.

47 Abby April 20, 2009 at 12:54 pm

Thank you! I’m a liberal feminist and I’ve been reading TAoM blog for quite a while now. I can’t say I always agree with what’s posted but I’ve consistently appreciated your efforts to explore 21st century masculinity in a thoughtful and measured manner. This post and its comments, however, elevate the discussion to an entirely different level. I applaud your readership for civilly presenting ideas on a variety of different aspect s of the issue. While I tend to agree with commenters who point out that gender fluidity isn’t about erasing difference but accepting and fostering individuality (including gender expression that doesn’t necessarily follow biological sex), I have to admit that there are some very good arguments from the other side that at the very least leave me compelled to think long and hard about how we will raise our sons and daughters in a rapidly changing world. Thank you for hosting such a well-considered discussion. This is so much nicer than the “lol your a fat slut who can’t get a man” comments feminist bloggers often court when posting about these issues.

48 Brucifer April 23, 2009 at 10:41 am

Although gender roles are indeed contributory to our current malaise, I’d submit that the larger problem is that we are being socialized by “sports” and the media into modeling the “lowest-common-denominator ways of being.” Both men and women have NO contemporary role models worthy of the name. Men especially, have nothing but media -hyped boorish louts to look upon.

49 Dominick April 25, 2009 at 7:22 pm

Dear Person,
No, no, no….We’re not talking about your tired imaginings that somehow it will be okay to be ‘manly’ but, at the same time, that won’t interfere with women being treated as people. We’re talking about daily harassment which relates to gay sexuality. I’m gay. I’m 40. I know what’s going on. At this point, even reading is considered feminine.
Putting aside the obvious fact that the past, well, didn’t work out…Which is why there had to be a feminist movement begun in the first place, it’s sickening that you would use the more narrow issue of name calling and physical attacking in school and out to try to spin your ‘man power’ agenda. Everyone knows that gay guys aren’t liked. What few know is why, which isn’t our sex lives, but that we upend the idea of what being a man is. In this, we, well those of us who think like me, see ‘gay rights’ as much more a subset of Feminism than anything else.

50 J in FL April 26, 2009 at 8:04 am

Dominick,

Have you read Ivan’s comment above? He makes some very good points without coming across as… well, ignorant. I’m not sure where “Everyone knows that gay guys aren’t liked” is coming from… and, of course, I don’t know you or know where you live, ect. However, you do realize that “Everyone” is a very inclusive word, right? And by extension, a very long stretch when used as an argument.

As a completely heterosexual, socially conservative male, I found that Ivan’s comment has a lot to offer and I completely agree with what he has said.

51 Lila June 3, 2009 at 12:21 pm

What’s important here is showing kids how to become grown-ups. Many children, boys and girls, suffer because of the way we currently structure gender roles. I’m what most people would call a pretty hard-core feminist, and I in no way think we’ve ever had a genderless society, but I’m also not sure any of us would want one. I think one crucial thing about constructing a contemporary model of masculinity and femininity is offering children a variety of possible roles within each, some of which overlap. Imagine, for a moment, classic archetypes of a masculine healer and a feminine one. Both heal. There are certain personality characteristics we tend to ascribe more to one or the other, but they can perform the same function in society equally well. I also think that it’s a problem that our society lacks coming-of-age rituals, gendered or not, that allow the child to connect with older family or community members as part of the necessary process of creating their adult selves. When do you really become a man/woman? Perhaps one of the reasons teens place such importance on sex isn’t just that it feels good, but that it affirms their gender identity when the culture isn’t performing that function. And that is hurting women as well as men.

52 walkingstick June 22, 2009 at 7:43 am

This article connets to something I found on the intartubes the other day. i was googling, looking for evaluation systems for the best country to live in, and I found, of all things, an article in a women’s magazine about how Sweden is #1 for ladies. (Wait, I promise it doesn’t end there.) Below is the most interesting exerpt about how Swedish feminists feel about gender roles.

‘In fact, most women in Sweden find it easy to meld femininity with feminist ideals. Carin Gablad, 49, is Stockholm’s chief of police, in charge of fighting crime in the capital with a force of 4600 officers. “My approach is the opposite of macho,” says the tall, blonde police boss. “I use psychology and negotiation in most cases, but I’m not afraid to use brute force.”

Chief Gablad owes her high position to one simple fact: She gets results. Crime has dropped by 9 percent under her leadership, and shortly after taking office in 2003, she won acclaim by capturing a top politician’s murderer. “Women make excellent police officers because we’re less ego-driven and confrontational than men,” she says. Nearly one in three police officers in Stockholm is a woman, and female recruits now outnumber men at some police training academies. “I think women are increasingly keen to join professions like the police because they are no longer told to act like men,” she says. “They are rewarded for being themselves.”‘

Sweden is the top country for women partially because they have equal rights without having to act like men! ( I gotta say, though, that the way the country thinks about pregnancy and early parenthood has something to do with this. If women who are women take time off to have children, and return to the workforce to find that their experience of caregiving is devalued, equality will forever remain a distant dream.)

53 Seth August 1, 2009 at 1:30 pm

@ Neil K:

I agree with you completely. I don’t think there’s such a thing one type of “masculinity” or “femininity”. I don’t think a person’s gender role is one of two checkboxes, it’s a whole spectrum, and while some people may be perfectly fine at one end or the other, many people are not. *I* am not – when you get right down to it, I’m not actually all that stereotypically masculine. I’m not interested in sports and never have been, I don’t like going camping or doing “outdoors” type stuff, I don’t drink beer and prefer liquers, and on and on. But see, I’m perfectly okay with that. If I tried to acquire a taste for all the things I don’t like just to appear more “masculine” to other people, I would just be putting on a front, and I don’t really want to do that – I’d rather just be myself. And if somebody feels like they have to belittle me or my hobbies, and point out how “unmanly” I am – well, I think that says more about them than it does about me.

So my point is that if traditional gender roles and behaviors work for you and make you happy – wonderful. My problem with traditional gender roles, though, is that all too often they come with the expectation that *everyone* should adhere to them, and if you don’t then you’re not a real man/woman, which is ridiculous. And if returning to traditional gender roles means pressuring people to act in ways that are unnatural to them, then what good have we really done?

Your gender isn’t something you earn, or even something that’s determined by your outward appearance or hormones or chromosomes (here I am referring to not only transgendered/transsexual people, but also the nearly one thousand intersex people that are born every year.) It’s determined by your sense of identity, which means that if you say “I’m a woman” or “I’m a man” and mean it, then you are. Far more important than whether someone is a man or a woman is whether they are a good person who is happy with who they are – I would guess that anyone who relies on hurting others in order to feel good about themselves is probably neither.

54 Seth August 1, 2009 at 1:35 pm

Also:

“Ms. Warner clearly believes that the persistence of gender roles and characteristics is a lamentable thing, the root of much of the problems that plague our youth.”

I think what she finds lamentable is not the persistence of gender roles, but the extreme ways in which they are expressed – girls feeling like they have to prove their femininity by being perfectly made-up, and boys feeling like they have to prove their masculinity by calling each other “fag” and never showing weakness.

55 sarge712 March 30, 2010 at 7:47 am

It sickens me that men wring their hands over such crap and allow feminism to shoe horn them in to such sissified roles. I have no problem with young boys calling each other “fag” and pounding on each other; when we did it back in the late 70′s / early 80′s, we didn’t really know what it meant but it made you “act the man” so to speak and, contrary to the NYT mindset, there’s nothing wrong about that. It’s a time tested way of avoiding the evils of metrosexuality; there indeed OUGHT to be a stigma to acting sissified. If a man is gay, who cares? … but you are still a man; ACT it! don’t be a sissified example. Be a strong gay man instead of the limp-wristed, swishy stereotype. Please.

I am “in your face” about feminists demanding that I and other men act like neutered pets. I live defiantly manly. There’s not a darn thing wrong with stoicism either. In today’s sickeningly weak society, we could do with a hell of a lot less whining and gushing about our feelings and percieved injuries. “SUCK. IT. UP.” “Gameface, boy, gameface.” Two timeless, Zen simple bits of advice from my old man.

I try not to be too neanderthal in my day to day life as a cop, but I sure don’t dampen my manliness in any way to satsfy PC dogma. If they don’t like it, then it’s so very, very sad. One of my gifts God helped me develop over the years is that I absolutely don’t care what others think. Feminist guilt trips have no power here. If a chick (yeah, I said it) can keep up, then she’s in and a welcome part of the squad; if not, then go home and watch cartoons with the other girls and boys who couldn’t make it either.

56 Luke March 31, 2010 at 9:20 am

Brett- I received your book The Art of Manliness for Christmas. I had asked for it and been laughed at by my wife as well as my sister, who is an avid feminist. Both thought it was hilarious that “I need a book to teach me how to be a man”. It was initially humiliating, but I managed to hold my tongue. However, after I finished reading it on vacation, I saw my sister begin reading it when she thought I wasn’t around. The next day she came up to me with the book and told me she loved it and wished more men would read it. She has always tried to control me, so in her words “do what that book says” is high praise. She insisted my wife read it as well, and both seemed very pleased with your work. Thanks again for writing such a great book that can create bridges and so charismatically cause people to open their minds to the idea of a ‘menaissance’.

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