Manliness: The Baby and the Bathwater

by Brett & Kate McKay on November 8, 2009 · 81 comments

in A Man's Life, On Manhood

3 generations

Last week Daniel started an interesting discussion in the AoM Community on what progress men have made in the last 50 years. He was inspired to pose this question by my podcast interview with Walker Lamond, and more specifically, Walker’s comments about how we threw the baby out with the bathwater as it concerns having rules that govern a man’s life.
The Art of Manliness clearly looks to the past for inspiration. But we’re not naive enough to believe that the past was an unmitigated good. So both the podcast and the discussion got me thinking about this question: When it comes to manliness today, what parts of the tradition of manliness should we seek to keep and preserve and what parts should we be happy to assign to the dustbin of history? In other words, what’s the baby and what’s the bathwater? Here’s my humble opinion.

The Bathwater

The oppression of women. For most of human history being a man meant being the superior half of the population. Men did honor women, but they also put them on a pedestal, considering them too good or pure to be sullied by the pursuits of men. This barred women from sports, academia, careers, the military, politics and so on.

Some men feel nostalgic for a simpler time where men and women had clearer roles, and think that putting women back in “their place” will return society to the way it was in the “good old days.” Personally, I think the liberation of women has been largely a good thing for both men and women. I’m glad that I could marry a woman who’s my intellectual equal and who has a mind of her own- a woman who’s not dependent on me for her whole identity. I’m glad women can follow their passions and be themselves. Has the feminist movement had some negative effects on women? Sure. But a  man should prize freedom, not just for himself, but for everyone. Women folk included.

A man should suppress his emotions. Decades ago the standard for manliness was the motion picture cowboy. Taciturn and reserved, this man was stoic in both good times and bad. Crying was for sissies. Such reticence may have worked well in the Old West, but as husbands and fathers, such an approach left wives and children emotionally wanting. Many a Baby Boomer man grew up in a home where hearing their dad say “I love you” was a bi-annual occurrence. And where a wife would seek comfort or understanding from her husband, only to be met with stony silence. Men today are free to cry when it’s appropriate, openly show love to their family and friends, and acknowledge their feelings and passions. Some men have taken this emotional openness too far, and let their emotions completely control them instead of the other way around. But when a man can acknowledge and express his emotions in a mature fashion, while keeping them under control, this is an incredibly healthy thing.

There’s only one way to be a man. While it’s easy to be nostalgic for the days of gray flannel suits, 3 martini lunches, and cars with fins, it was also a time of rigid conformity. Being a successful man was narrowly defined-you had “made it” if you had a secure corporate job, a pretty wife who stayed home with your 3 kids, and a split-level house in the suburbs. Men who had a different vision of how to lead a satisfying life either suppressed these dreams or embraced a different path and suffered the snub of society.

While we often think of the feminist movement in terms of giving women a greater number of options, it helped liberate men from the idea that there was only one way to be a man, too. These days a man should still be a provider, but now he can provide by working and bringing in money or by being a stay-at-home dad and raising his kids. A man in an apron cooking in the kitchen is no longer the set-up of a sitcom joke but a legitimate interest. If a man wants to be a nurse, or an elementary school teacher, or an artist, then he’s now more likely to be greeted with a pat on the back than a snicker.

Dads don’t need to be too hands on in the child rearing department. Even the men in my father’s generation weren’t expected to change diapers. Men used to be able to get away with coming home, patting the kids on the head, and then settling in front of the television with a beer. Today men are expected to be just as hands on with the kids as moms. Attending their kids’ sports games, going on father/son outings and daddy/daughter dates, burping and feeding the baby, etc.

While this has certainly added more to a man’s plate, and made it harder to enjoy things that grandpa did, like membership in a fraternal lodge, most dads find it rewarding to play a bigger role in their kids’ lives, and children have benefited from seeing more of dad.


Homophobia. As we wrote about in our article on the history of male friendship, men used to enjoy much closer bonds with each other than they do today. In the 19th century, men felt completely free show their buddies physical affection and tell their friends just how much they meant to them without any fear of being called a “fag.” It was only in the first half of the 20th century, when homosexuality started being analyzed, written about, and denounced, that men started to feel self-conscious about whether or not their actions might be construed as being “gay.” Some modern men still can’t get emotionally or physically close to other men because they don’t want others to think they’re a “homo.”

No matter your stance on the morality of homosexuality, men today should feel secure enough in their sexuality not to care if they come off as “gay” to others.

The Baby

Leadership. In reading Tom Brokaw’s book, The Greatest Generation, I was struck by the way the men of the past embraced, nay, relished leadership roles. They prized the chance to take on responsibility and guide something towards a lofty goal. Today young men hide from leadership positions, hoping no one will notice them so they can just hang out in the background without any work to do.

From politics, to business, to family, the world needs men of leadership, men who are willing to take on the responsibility of making things right.

Initiative and ambition. Today, women outnumber men at colleges, universities, graduate schools, and some law and medical schools as well. Women also get better grades and are more likely to graduate than men. The feminist movement lit a fire under women’s bums, and it seems a lot of men became content to let them surge ahead while they pulled up a chair and had a beer. But men have always thrived on competition, on the desire to be the alpha male, on the will to be their very best. Not enough has been expected of men in our modern age, and it’s become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Men and women are different. So above we said that men and women are equal. But that doesn’t mean men and women are exactly the same. I’m not a “men are from Mars, women are from Venus” guy; I’d say we’re more alike than we are different. But we’re definitely different, and I think we should celebrate that fact instead of pretending like it isn’t so.

It seems to me that young people today are awakening from the Eunuch Era and embracing the fact that they like to feel like men and women. And that they want there to be some differences in how we treat and interact with each other.

Chivalry and courtship. Our grandfathers held women in such high esteem that they deemed it worthwhile to put in some effort to woo them and treat them with class. They didn’t just hang out with them, they asked them on real dates. Physical intimacy was a sign of commitment in a relationship, not a recreational activity born out of boredom.

Some people think chivalry is sexist; but they’re missing the point. It’s a code of behavior to remind us that men and women are different, which is why it gives both sexes a good feeling.  It’s simply a sign of mutual respect-men and women both do symbolic things for each other to show their affection. Some of the things that men do happen to have been codified into a set of more specific rules.

Manners and rules. Somewhere along the way, being virtuous and well-mannered became associated with being sissy, so that the cultured, polite man began to be seen as effeminate, while the uncouth, disheveled slob became the symbol of the “man’s man.” But the men of yesteryear understood that respect for others was one of the fundamental principles of manliness. And that manners were not baseless outward forms, but important ways to communicate that respect. Instead of stifling us, rules can be liberating. In Walker Lamond’s book, Rules for My Unborn Son, he said:

“Somewhere along the way, rules got a bad name. People wanted freedom. Authority was questioned, rules were broken, dress codes banished! Rules were seen as antiquated obstacles to individualism and progress. Barbers were ignored, ties packed away. And the game of life suddenly got a bit sloppier, more uncertain, and even a bit less fun. My father….understood that a man of strong character, who took pride his appearance and behavior, was given the most liberty to have fun. And so he had rules.”

And one of the rules that men lived by was:


Dressing and grooming well. It seems like every time we post an article on dressing or grooming on the site, we get an angry complaint from a reader who wants to know what haircuts or suits have to do with manliness. These men have forgotten something that their grandfathers knew very well.

The core of manliness will always be your character, your internal values. But those internal values on the inside should correlate with how you present yourself on the outside. If you are a man who is powerful, organized, disciplined, and confident, then that should be projected in your appearance. Your inside and outside are not two separate and unrelated things; there should be a clear correlation between the two.

It’s all fine and dandy to say that in theory a man should wear whatever he likes and if he wants to walk around in sweatpants and a t-shirt  then that f-you attitude really epitomizes manliness. But that’s a completely modern idea of manliness, a clear marker of the disappearance of our civility. For centuries men understood that a person’s clothes show respect for others and respect for an occasion. Yes, you can “be your own man” and show up to a wedding in jeans, but in choosing to detract from instead add to the ambiance, you show a true disrespect for the solemnity of the occasion.

The 9 manly virtues. How well a man lived the manly virtues was the ultimate test of manliness for our grandfathers. These were the values a true man strove to build his life around. Some of them we have written about already; the others we will cover in the months and years to come. They are the timeless benchmarks of manliness and no matter how much the world changes, they should be fervently embraced by each generation of men and taught to the next generation of men.

Alright, that’s what I think, but it’s just one man’s opinion. What progress do you think men have made in the past 100 years? What trappings of manliness should we leave in the dustbin of history? What values of the past should we preserve? Share your thoughts in the comments. And please, remember to show the class, civility, and intelligent discussion that we’re accustomed to here on AoM.

{ 81 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Dave Petty November 8, 2009 at 6:03 pm

Very nice post. The dressing and grooming section really makes a good point. I think your average guy doesn’t want to over dress, or to use an old fashioned phrase “put on airs”. There seems to be a problem now of dressing appropriately; sometimes jeans and a t-shirt are just fine, sometimes not so much. Part of being a man, particularly a well rounded man is knowing the difference. As far as showing affection to a male friend is concerned; are we really still in the worried about being called gay or whatever? I mean come on. If the people you hang out are so inclined then maybe it’s time to start upgrading your friends.

2 Brett McKay November 8, 2009 at 6:15 pm


Most men aren’t afraid of being called gay anymore. We’ve made progress in that area and that’s why “homophobia” is in the “bathwater” section. Although I do think it’s undeniable that some men still are. A lot of men think that being affectionate with their friends is a womanly thing to do.

Men of the 19th century walked arm in arm, held hands when taking pictures, shared beds to save money, and wrote each letters about how much love they had for each other. But do you know straight men who would walk down the street arm in arm or take a portrait sitting on each other’s laps?

3 Miss Gabriel November 8, 2009 at 6:36 pm

GREAT post! I particularly liked your insights into the changes the feminist revolution brought about in both sexes. I definitely agree with the fact that men and women are different, but should be equal. Having a scholarly and inquiring nature, I love being able to pursue higher education and the research opportunities open to me in graduate school. But that doesn’t mean I reject absolutely the idea of woman as homemaker.

Men and women should be able to pursue a variety of roles, since everyone has unique gifts that benefit certain situations more than others. In my ideal world, I’d like to get my masters in speech therapy and work until children enter the picture. I’d spend the next few years taking care of my children FIRST, and maybe working part time if it didn’t interfere with home life too much. At the point my children are independent from me, I’ll either go back to work or consider myself retired.

But the only way this dream would work is if I had a husband I could rely on to do what is needed.

The problem with the sexual revolution and free love movement is that it made men and women “equal” by dragging women down into the muck on par with the most careless of men. Women “liberated” themselves by catering to the whim of men who had no interest in treating women like individuals worthy of respect. How is that liberating? It sounds like a great big headache to me.

4 Mikael November 8, 2009 at 6:55 pm

Good post. But, really, were you not able to avoid using the word “fag”? I mean it doesn’t offend me personally, but it IS a really offensive slur to some people. You wouldn’t put “spic” or another slur in an article, would you? I’m sorry, but I think that was real tactless.

5 Michael November 8, 2009 at 7:00 pm

That brings up another piece of bathwater — racism. There used to be a lot of masculinity tied up in racial identity and hierarchy that has been effectively and happily dismantled.

6 J G November 8, 2009 at 7:57 pm

Great post – One sign of a man is being respectful of other but not trying to please everyone at all costs. It is fine if people don’t like a post or unsubscribe from one – that is their right. Let that be a sign of manliness…if nobody is ever offended then you don’t have the guts to write what you believe.

Good stuff…this blog is really inspiring.

7 Kevin of Strength and Fitness Blog November 8, 2009 at 8:00 pm

This is a pretty fascinating post. I do think the increased references to homosexuality in the media, etc has done a lot to destroy male friendships.

I live in the Philippines, and guys aren’t quite as hung up about putting a hand on their buddies’ shoulders or something like that. It took a little getting used to for me.

8 phil November 8, 2009 at 8:24 pm

I think this post should be a permanent link from the homepage.
It identifies why this site is such a good resource for all men young and old and the underlying philosophy.
As a new father, I am very pleased to get rid of the bathwater and embrace the baby…
My wife is probably smarter than me but that is why I love and admire her. Time with the child turns the worst day around, I have proved to everyone that the boys below produce swimmers and if some bigot wants to insult me I can smile at them and say “whatever”.
If people are so rigid and uptight that they can’t stand reading a word they don’t agree with I wouldn’t change to retain their readership.
Carry on the great work.

9 Rob November 8, 2009 at 10:10 pm

I must say you can never underestimate the power of manners. It is so underlooked and forgotten these days. Manners shows that you are truely in control of yourself, and being in control of yourself is the highest form of manliness. We all forget to use our manners on a daily basis because it is a skill not a talent. We should all strive to use them more often. On point, I believe that proper dress and grooming are part of good manners. Your appearence shows people you care. One note on dress: Just because your a blue collar worker means you have a pass to dress like a slob. There are plenty of well fitting propper work attire out there. It’s calledblue collar not blue t-shirt. It will make an inpression if you show up to work dressed for success. It is a mark of a profesional, and it is something our fathers and grandfathers did.

10 A. P. Othieno November 8, 2009 at 11:46 pm

First off, let me commend you both on another great article.

Re “Manners and rules”, I recently opened a fortune cookie that read, “There’s no substitute for good manners. Except maybe fast reflexes.”

It also got me thinking about how to improve my reflexes ;-)

11 Roelof November 9, 2009 at 12:44 am

I have been reading this site for a while now, and I enjoy the terrific quality of your posts.
This post however is extraordinary, as it summarizes everything this website (and this ‘movement’) stands for.
Therefore I totally agree to what Phil said: This post is definitely suitable to be linked to from the front page, for it is the perfect start for new readers.

Thank you for writing this, and please keep up the good work.

Thank you so much for writing the book as well, I gave it to my father as a present and he was delighted!

12 Steve Scarfia November 9, 2009 at 2:13 am

Awesome article!! Thanks for posting!

13 mjaybee November 9, 2009 at 2:51 am

I think this is misleading and simplistic. Men die earlier than women, commit suicide at much higher levels and suffer harsher legal sentences for the same crimes that women commit.

How is this the “liberation” of women? How has this benefited men, if at all?

14 cristi November 9, 2009 at 3:15 am

Great post. It realy brings out both sides of the fence. It explains very well what AoM is about.

15 Frank Boyle November 9, 2009 at 4:00 am

“Oh, Sparta, where art thou?” There have been many reversals in the role men play in organized societies for millenia. I suspect that most men forget that the male human animal evolved to be the flashier creature, so as to attract a mate and show his genetic fitness. This is the general rule of thumb for mammals. Learning how to dress and groom one’s self takes practice, but it’s almost instinctual, and suprisingly easy.

As for most of the other “bathwater” items, these are all imposed by society – we are only as enlightened as we collectively aloow ourselves to be.

Great article. It gives me hope that someday, somehow we will all learn from our past mistakes.

16 Justin November 9, 2009 at 6:50 am

Great Article. However, on of your points in the Initiative and ambition portion is a bit oversimplified and somewhat of an equivocation.

“Today, women outnumber men at colleges, universities, graduate schools, and some law and medical schools as well. Women also get better grades and are more likely to graduate than men. The feminist movement lit a fire under women’s bums, and it seems a lot of men became content to let them surge ahead while they pulled up a chair and had a beer”.

Certainly those are factual statements, but the whole picture is not painted here. Yes, women as statistically outperforming men in the realm of academia, but if you contrast that with common measures of success outside of academia (i.e. % that are CEO’s, executives, pay comparison) you can see that men are not just pulling up a chair and having beer.

Additionally, I think many women still face significant barriers to upper level success within corporate America and the fact that, on average, women make 77 cents for every dollar a man makes shows a disparate impact on women in the work force.

17 Daniel H. November 9, 2009 at 9:01 am

Thanks for this post. I’m glad to see you tackling the question of which features of past ideals of manliness to keep and which to reject. One point you raise that I think is worth further discussion is the “there’s only one way to be a man” norm. Unfortunately, I feel that while there have been many improvements on this front, in many parts of the U.S. (and the world, I suspect), there is still considerable pressure to conform to a certain “way to be a man.” In fact, I think this one of the reasons why I find this site so interesting: it challenges me to think about whether there really is a core to the concept of manliness that is expansive enough to tolerate a range of “ways to be a man” yet determinate enough offer some guidance in my life. Keep up the good and thought-provoking work.

18 Lucas November 9, 2009 at 9:52 am

Good stuff. I’m afraid I suffer from a bit of the bathwater syndrom. Ideas my father passed down that I’ve had trouble shaking off in my adult life. He was from the “motion picture cowboy” school of manliness. Although a few of my less sufferable character flaws stem from his influence in my childhood (e.g. ideas about “the place” of women, or the fact that I feel like I owe black people an apology for his behaviour) I do strive to be a better man than he was. Through my own diligence and the wisdom in your articles, I feel like I can take the best that his generation had to offer and combine it with the ideas of modern masculinity to make myself the better man. Thank you for that.

Really need to work on my dress style though. I have one, dual purpose “Funeral and Wedding Suit” and generaly wear jeans and a t-shirt for all other occasions (including work).

19 Isi November 9, 2009 at 11:04 am

Great Post.

I had things to add to the Baby section but you covered them under the virtues listed. I would like to see the virtues listed on the front of the site.

Something else that is missing that I didn’t see mentioned is Pride. Pride in who you are, what you do, what you represent, for your family, etc….. Today it is often looked at as gloating or egotistical to take pride in what you do. There is a mentality that you should do something expediently to get the job done vs. take your time, do it right, and be prideful that you were able to do your best each time. (quality vs. quantity).

Anyway – fantastic post.

20 Mark Cannon November 9, 2009 at 11:17 am

Excellent article! I have often been accused of being somewhat of a “throw-back.” It used to bother me because I did not really fit in. However, at 49 years old, fitting in has lost it’s luster for the most part. I truly long for the day when men, (and women) had class – in their dress and in their character. It’s called “deportment.” I have noticed that when these phrases leave our vocabulary, they also take the concept with them.

As to what belongs “in the dustbin,” the journey is often defined by what we take with and what we leave behind. We need to leave the “Dirty Harry/ Rambo” image behind. I do not think we need to strive to “get in touch with our feminine side.” We must be men. I guess the key is “balance.” That’s why I like these types of articles. They help us strike that balance between ever – swinging pendulum of culture.

21 Jesse November 9, 2009 at 11:27 am

nice one. the ‘bathwater list’ particularly. I am 37 and just coming around to the ‘baby list’ myself due in no small part to several of the ‘bathwater’ items. nicely put.

22 Iain November 9, 2009 at 11:44 am

Great post, measured and reasonable. I would have to disagree on the section on homophobia (at the risk of taking some flak). I really think that the more prevalent and accepted homosexuality becomes in a society, the less comfortable men become with having male friendships. We certainly have come a long way since the 1950′s, but we are a far cry from the kind of friendships men had in previous centuries. My eyes have really been opened up to this as I’ve travelled to other countries where homosexuality is not as prevalent as it is in the West. If you travel to Africa, East Asia, the Middle East, or any society where homosexuality isn’t yet normal, men do walk down the street hand in hand because it isn’t even on their radar that they might be considered gay. It is a given (and rightly so, given our cultural climate) that when men walk down the street hand in hand, you can assume the two are a couple. I truly think that the normalization of homosexuality (right or wrong) has done more damage to heterosexual male friendships than we will know for quite some time.

23 srgonzo November 9, 2009 at 12:13 pm

There’s a reason why manners, a good haircut, and the fairly limited gamut of men’s style, existed for so long. It works. These things don’t limit a man’s ability to be himself. Rather, they allow a man to fully express himself and his masculinity without resorting to animalistic or boorish behavior.

Kudos to the author, and the creator of AoM. Manliness is an art.

24 Mike November 9, 2009 at 12:25 pm

Thing is, in those other countries they do not even have the social construction that we have in the West of “gayness” or “homosexuality” as a specific personal identity to begin with.. “gayness” is not innate it is culturally imposed. That is how they are able to say with a “straight” face that there are no gays in their countries. The concept exists only in as much as there has been influence through western and American media. Lots of male-male sexuality goes on in those countries, women are kept totally apart except for marriage and males have to release pent up tension somehow, as long as men fulfill their societal roles to marry and father children and leave what are seen as “childish things” behind there is not usually any conflict. Men who reject those cultural responsibilities to only devote attention to males are singled out for abuse, torture and execution. Before the 60s and 70s and the “sexual revolution” there was a lot more accepted male-male sexuality among youths in the West and as long as it was kept quiet then “boys would be boys” but then you were expected to “grow up” and have a family. There has always been a sense that men who still wanted to attach to their buddies and not get married to a woman were in a state of arrested development until very recently. I recall very clearly a news report in the first term of GW Bush where embarrassed British soldiers stationed in Afghanistan were put off by how “friendly” the local welcoming committee of Afghan men were towards their persons. But the cultural expectations and context are totally different, and they don’t translate well especially with how integrated the sexes are now in the West, opposite sex experimentation takes place a lot earlier and supplanted to a large degree the same sex experimentation that used to take place when the sexes were kept more separate in American society. Anyhow a bit rambling, but I hope I hit the high points well enough to get the points across.. basically it is the social and cultural creation of this separate creature “the homosexual” that is the problem, not the behavior phenomena of same sex attraction or other emotional expression in itself, in my opinion. And then, boil in some men’s insecurities about rape fears/fantasies – an irrational fear that any man with a history of same sex attraction wants to rape them despite any evidence or even necessarily any personal attractiveness – and an entire other kettle of worms is opened that poisons the well.

25 Jack Emmerich November 9, 2009 at 1:20 pm

“I truly think that the normalization of homosexuality (right or wrong) has done more damage to heterosexual male friendships than we will know for quite some time.”

I disagree. Normalization of homosexuality isn’t the cause of the demise of heterosexual friendships. Its the rise of cowards among men in general. If straight “men” are AFRAID of being called or considered gay just because they have a strong male friendship then they’re acting unmanly. They’re letting fear (not danger-fear but you know, social-fear) take over.

What I’m saying is you can’t blame the media. Blame the “men” in not taking a stand. Blame these individuals who only do more harm to the title of “man”.

26 Paul November 9, 2009 at 2:01 pm

Excellent post. I agree with everything written here but I have to ask if you could expand on how in your view “sacrifice” is one of the virtues. Not disagreeing, just looking for more of your thoughts.

I also have to agree with Jack about the normalization of homosexuality, although I would perhaps have phrased it differently. Anybody who lets their actions be dictated by social pressure is less a man than a boy.

Something else that seems we have lost is respect for the value of knowledge and education. I’m not sure what the bathwater is for this baby, but as our society has become more juvenile, we’ve turned into a group of older adolescents that care about looking cool, not looking gay, not being nerdy (although we are starting to embrace this again), etc. I guess maybe the bathwater was the need to buckle down and settle into a career/family/mortgage at age 25, and with it we threw out the respect for “growing up”.

27 Alex Chebykin November 9, 2009 at 2:46 pm

Great Post, Brett. I was intrigued by the part about manly friendships and dressing and grooming, which are perhaps the areas that I see myself lacking in. I try to avoid physical contact with my friends and don’t know why. Even with my own brother, we almost never shake hands. Thanks to the enlightened understanding provided by this article I’ll try to be more open with those close to me.

28 Porter Anderson November 9, 2009 at 2:56 pm

Brett, Kate, I like this post because it goes a long way toward capturing where your thinking on the Art of Manliness is right now — a round up of a lot of big issues. I’d hand this to anybody asking if they could figure out what your site is about in a single post.
I’m an American living in Europe. I did a year in Rome, now I’m in Copenhagen. In southern Europe, you still find an unselfconscious openness among men in terms of showing affection. Physical contact is still common, including walking arm-in-arm on the streets, and this is among young guys, not just the older set. The Italian ragazzi aren’t worrying about the gay label, even though Italy is considered less accepting of gays than other EU countries. Surrounded by iconic male-figurative artwork, the Italians may be less comfortable with homosexuality — but they’re less hampered by homophobia. You get the feeling that they’re not giving up their forms of friendly expression to it. Which is cool.
And thanks for including the grooming issue. In Atlanta today, if you walk into a store wearing your tie from work, you’re likely to have someone come up and ask if you’re the manager. And in fact, you might get a really wicked look if you suggest to an actual staffer that dressing for work might be a way for him to attract the kind of respectful, polite inquiry you just received from his customer. When did weekend mall-wear became acceptable for the workplace? — the effect your attire has on your own head about who you are at work in the world is palpable. I can’t think of any part of men’s progress that might be compromised today if we just clothe ourselves in a little integrity. -p.

29 Brett McKay November 9, 2009 at 3:00 pm

Great and insightful comments everyone!


I think sacrifice is a manly virtue in things both big and small. Men should sacrifice their comfort to give up their seat on the bus to a woman or elderly person. They should sacrifice to work hard to provide for their family. They should sacrifice some of their time in service to their community, churches, and country. And I think the ultimate in manly sacrifice is sacrificing your life for another, like in these stories:

But not many men are called upon to make that ultimate sacrifice. And a man should not sacrifice to the point where he becomes a punching bag or a doormat. And it is not a virtue if it is not a willing sacrifice born of a man’s principles and belief in serving a greater good.

30 Paul November 9, 2009 at 5:31 pm


Thanks for the followup. That’s what I thought you were heading towards, and I agree completely.

I think the key point there is “a willing sacrifice born of a man’s principles and belief in serving a greater good”, which makes it less of a sacrifice and more of an application of one’s principles to a situation. Or at least that’s how I look at it.

One of the cardinal man-virtues in my mind is protection: real men protect people. Family, friends, neighbors, the weak or disadvantaged, society, country, whatever – this is one of the fundamental roles that men have always played. It’s the masculine version of the care-giving role that women have always played, just outward-facing instead of inward.

31 Bones Bennet November 9, 2009 at 7:42 pm

Profound post at the right time!
I have just been updating my blog on the experiences of being immersed in the Goddess Worship culture of my wife, who is Pagan.

I love and respect my wife very much. I also believe that her cultural beliefs downplay the role of men and that so many of her Pagan male friends are hiding in the corners with their tails between their legs. Men need to be proud of what we are and capable of at the same time honoring women.

32 Ozone November 9, 2009 at 8:25 pm

What a great post! As an educator in a university, I see lot of young people – and I would think a number of these qualities apply to women as well! – who are driven, articulate, and caring. I also see a number of young people who are adrift, self-centered, and immature. Accountability – or personal responsibility – is sorely lacking in some people. They are too concerned with “negotiating” their way out of a fix, rather than recognizing they must first contribute before they can be helped.

Unfortunately, the “system” – be it the education system, government, or even society at large – has become too permissive. Everybody is a winner, and our young men and women often arrive with a sense of entitlement. I’m sorry, but no, not everybody can be a winner. Some will be smarter, stronger, faster; others will not. This does not mean that one is better than another, but rather, we should be recognized for our differences and how we can contribute positively to the betterment of ourselves and others.

33 Louis November 10, 2009 at 12:06 am

I watch mad men and these same issues come to mind. There are some great aspects of manliness left in the past, namely social formality, dress, manner of speech,and work ethic. And at the same time there are aspects which are old fashioned-treatment of blacks, the role of women, spending little time with your childre, the multitude of affairs. One day we as a society will get it right

34 Rob November 10, 2009 at 4:25 am

Excellent post. Like some other people who’ve commented have said, I think this post does an excellent job of capturing the essence of the Art of Manliness. If I were to explain what this site is about to someone who’s never been here, I’d point them to this post. Keep up the good work!

35 Megan November 10, 2009 at 6:03 am

I totally agree with those who say the acceptance of and mainstreaming of homosexuality harms male friendships. In cultures that don’t accept homosexuality, men are free to be affectionate with each other w/o fear of suspicion from others. My friend studied in Africa and observed many male friends actually holding hands. She was the only one who thought they were all gay because she was the only Westerner. A man would never do that if the other guy thought it might be a sexual come-on.
Though it is very Catholic and may thus be hard to relate to, I highly recommend the book “The Privilege of Being a Woman” by philosophy superstar Alice von Hildebrandt. Fantastic perspective on the confusion of the past 40 yrs. Very short, easy read. Very insightful on the interaction between the sexes.

36 Sir Lancelot November 10, 2009 at 7:38 am

“In southern Europe, you still find an unselfconscious openness among men in terms of showing affection. Physical contact is still common, including walking arm-in-arm on the streets, and this is among young guys, not just the older set.”

What? As a Southern European I find this truly bizarre.

37 Sir Lancelot November 10, 2009 at 7:42 am

“I also believe that her cultural beliefs downplay the role of men and that so many of her Pagan male friends are hiding in the corners with their tails between their legs.”

You mean “pagan” as in not Christian or as in hugging trees/worshipping the devil?

I’m beginning to realize I live a really sheltered life.

38 Tim November 10, 2009 at 10:09 am

Great article Brett. Please continue to speak your mind using whatever words you think send the message. Here plain spoken words should remain the rule.

39 Delshon November 10, 2009 at 11:59 am

This is good. I really enjoy dating mature successful women. It keeps me on my toes. I once had a conversation with a guy that said he wants his wife to make less money than him, have less of an education than him…….
I can’t see any benefit in that I always go after women that have achieved just as much as I have or more.
As men the way we look is essential; I worked with two guys a few years back I continued to advance in the company while the two of them stayed in the same position. Down the road both men were fired while I continued to advance in the company. All three of us worked hard & had the same level of education. The difference was I wore well tailor suits, shinned shoes and pressed shirts too work everyday while they would come to work with wrinkled clothes.
This is just one example of why its important to take your physical appearance serious.

40 Chemical Erik November 10, 2009 at 2:54 pm

First, this is a quality article and I agree with all points made.
However, I think you could add another item under the baby:
“Being a man of your word”
It used to be that only the worst of men would lie about day to day business activity and men cared about how honest of a reputation they had. But now it seems most young men will say whatever make things easier or leads to more money in the short term. I’ve found it actually irritates some of the young men I know that I won’t commit to doing things if I’m uncertain of my ability to actually get them done. When schedule or ability are in question I frequently say “If I am able” or “time permitting” or “I’ll try my best”. After saying such, I then actually make an attempt to do what was asked. People are most often surprised that the majority of the time I’m able to accomplish those tasks.

41 Brett McKay November 10, 2009 at 3:30 pm

@Chemical Erik-

Great point. I think being a man of your word would fit under the manly virtue section, under integrity. That’s one of the big things we hit in that article.

42 Da_Cheeze November 10, 2009 at 7:08 pm

“were you not able to avoid using the word “fag”? I mean it doesn’t offend me personally, but it IS a really offensive slur to some people. You wouldn’t put “spic” or another slur in an article, would you? I’m sorry, but I think that was real tactless.”


I think you miss the point… IMO, there are homosexual men, there are heterosexual men, and there are “fags” … men who have let fear and self-esteem issues control what they are and what they do. “Fags” also includes heterosexual males who beat their wives and girlfriends because they insecure about their own masculinity. “Fags” also includes heterosexual males who bash gay men because their upset about their own sexuality (or lack thereof)… calling someone a “fag” isn’t necessarily calling someone gay. It can work both ways.

Can we throw “political correctness” in as bathwater?

43 Carlos Infante November 10, 2009 at 8:55 pm

Great post, as always.
I would like to add a few words about chivalry; as you said a lot of people consider it sexist and while it’s fine what people think personally, but a few years ago I saw a program here in Mexico where some doctor said that any chivalrous act was actually a way to make women inferior. Every chivalrous action, he said, was comunicating to the woman that she was helpless and that only a man could open the door of the car or here house, etc. I was absolutly shocked, because now it seems that so called experts consider politness and good manners toward women as demeaning.
Yes, perhaps a few ladies might feel unconfortable by such actions, but not all of them and I feel terrible if I don’t show good manners in public, specially to women. I was taught to act that way and it’s the decent thing to do.

44 Tom Harbold November 10, 2009 at 9:05 pm

An excellent article even among the many excellent articles appearing on this site! “Creme de la creme” comes to mind… Regarding dress and grooming, it’s true that one should not “put on airs.” But neither should one be so fearful of this that one fails to, as my late and dearly beloved mother used to put it, “put your best foot forward.” It can be a balancing act at times, but unless one is at a deer camp or a football game (and perhaps even there), it’s hard to go wrong by erring on the side of a little more class.

I do agree with those who have stated that the normalization (or at least mainstreaming) of homosexuality has made open expression of affection between straight men more challenging. That is not to make a moral judgement on same-sex relationships, just a statement of fact: for better or worse, physical affection between persons of the same sex is generally assumed, these days, to be reflective of one’s sexual orientation. Such generalizations may be grossly unfair, but like many others of life’s unfairnesses, that does not make them any less the case.

And to Sir Lancelot: when capitalized, Pagan generally refers to those persons who follow one of a rather broad and diverse complex of Earth/Nature-centered spiritual paths… or, if you prefer, “dirt-worshipping tree-huggers.” ;-) Worship of the Christian Devil does not enter into the equation in any way; most Pagans of my acquaintance would express doubt that such an entity even exists.

Best regards,


45 Sir Lancelot November 11, 2009 at 3:41 am

Carlos, I still have to meet a woman who doesn’t feel flattered by an act of chivalry, and that includes feminist types. It’s men actually who seem to be baffled by them, unfortunately, chivalry being so rare these days. Somehow they can’t fathom how you can be chivalrous with a lady just as a matter of principle, not because you want to go sleep with her.

Other signs of manliness/gentlemanliness seem to be as baffling for most people. I work in an office environment where some people look as if they just got out of bed unless they have to meet a customer (IT related, so you get the idea). I normally wear a suit, or at least jacket and dressy trousers, dockers and polo shirt in the middle of summer, and said people seem to find it eccentric. It’s as though they felt that by dressing appropiately you are trying to climb the ladder or something like that, when I actually see it simply as a uniform.

Similarly, business partners see nothing wrong with turning up for a meeting over an hour late. Maybe I’m the strange one after all.

46 The Sheila November 11, 2009 at 2:01 pm

Thanks for a great post. And while this site is the Art of Manliness, I wonder if a few of these things would not also apply to women. As equal as we have become in the last several decades (free love not withstanding) certainly a few of these standards and virtues would be admirable for women to aspire to.

This site holds a lot of useful information for me, being a woman, and I would hope I’m not alone in thinking so.

47 CoffeeZombie November 11, 2009 at 4:45 pm

I was actually just thinking about the importance of being polite and following a code of etiquette this morning! And this includes everything from how we adorn ourselves (our dress) to how we adorn our homes and cars (has anyone else seen those “truck balls” hanging off of some idiots’ trucks?) to how we speak to one another. It all expresses one’s respect for others, and also serves the purpose of teaching us to respect others. I wonder if, perhaps, the destruction of this code of etiquette (how many people, for example, know which side the knife, forks, and spoons go on at the table–nay, how many people even know what I’m talking about there anymore?) doesn’t have some to do with the incredible lack of respect people have today for each other and even themselves!

Regarding the list, I would have liked to have seen one virtue mentioned explicitly: self-restraint/self-control. As a certain wise man once said, “He that is slow to anger is better than the mighty; and he that ruleth his spirit than he that taketh a city” and also, “He that hath no rule over his own spirit is like a city that is broken down, and without walls” (both from the book of Proverbs).

Honestly, I think self-control is one of the least-practiced virtues today. Not only is it neglected, many of us consider it to be impossible! For so many of us, being brought up in times of prosperity and seemingly limitless economic growth, we were never even taught this virtue. We never went without, but rather got everything we wanted.

A friend of mine once pointed out to me years ago, when I was a Baptist, that he noticed that, on the one hand, you never hear a sermon on fasting, and, on the other hand, you never hear a sermon on gluttony. I suspect that, for many of us, we have simply forgotten that gluttony is a vice, and we have forgotten how to fast (BTW, fasting doesn’t necessarily mean abstaining from *all* food; in traditional Christianity, fasting usually involves abstaining from meat and dairy, or something similar). As a result, we’re in the midst of a so-called “obesity epidemic”.

Anyway, just some of my thoughts. Sorry if I got too preachy there.

48 Sir Lancelot November 12, 2009 at 6:28 am

Godd thoughts on obesity and self-control.

49 NoisyHeathen November 12, 2009 at 1:14 pm

This is an excellent article, as so many others have said.

I totally agree with the commenter who said the “manly virtues” should be permanently on the front page and, furthermore, I’d really like to see articles on each of the virtues that don’t yet have them.

Keep up the great work!

50 Jeem November 14, 2009 at 9:59 am

If I may, and perhaps this will start a fire that won’t easily be put out, I would like to consider the greatest disservice to men and women in the last 100 years to be the ability to contracept the sexual act. Let me explain:

References to the “sexual revolution” typically forget that it was only able to happen because of the advent of the condom and birth control pill. These did, among other things, great damage to the relationship between men and women, especially among families. By removing the immanent result of a pregnancy from a given sexual act, many early feminists saw this as their “liberation.” Responsibility and the investment of parenthood were no longer a part of sex and the woman could walk away just as easily as the man. This “consequence-less” sex allowed the worst traits of men to run rampant (using women as an object for pleasure rather than wanting their good as a spouse and a co-worker in the family) and gave women the false assurance that they were gaining ground in mutual respect. Not the case. If a man can have sex without risking a pregnancy, why sleep with only his wife? Women were no longer mysteries to be discovered, but conquests to dispose of when the man achieved his goal. (This is not, I hope, the attitude of all men, but an unfortunately common one that has resulted.) Sex has all but become a recreational sport and no longer a privilege or mystery that is shared between just two people. When it all becomes about seeking my own pleasure at the expense of the other, it is little wonder why these “manly virtues” listed above have fallen by the way-side. Let’s be intellectually honest here: the desire for the opposite sex not only draws one out of oneself, teaching them to prefer the good of the other above their own, it also means you have someone to start a family with, to make good on that masculine character of fatherhood, the feminine virtue of motherhood. When we tell women that the most unique characteristic of being a woman (giving birth to children) is no longer desirable, we commit social suicide. When a man is told he can have sex with a women he has no intention of staying with, well, we have seen the increase in single-motherhood, the rise in youth crime, drug use, and depression, and a decrease in men being men; protectors, establishers, and providers.

By looking strictly at the empirical data, the increase in home-wrecking adultery, divorce, and teen pregnancy all match up to the increased use of artificial contraception. For our environment-friendly readers, freshwater fish are hatching as all female due to an introduction/increase of levels of estrogen into the water from the hormone imbalance in human (female) urine, a result of so many people on “the Pill.” While the negative effects on human persons and their families far outweighs those on these fish, we can see the multi-dimensioned fall out of the use of contraception. Some will claim it is responsible to teach kids how to use condoms when they reach that age. Just as responsible as it would be telling them to put on a helmet before going to play in traffic. We can no longer ignore the key issues that have harmed society if we actually want a better world for our kids. Lets be honest with ourselves and think of the other.

51 Sal November 14, 2009 at 10:36 am

Great post and very true. As far as appearance and dressing goes, you are judged by your outward appearance before you ever even open your mouth. It’s probably some atavistic gene that helped us survive, but that’s the way it is, and that’s the way it will likely always be. First impressions are so powerful, and difficult to change once they are set. I believe I read somewhere you have 3 minutes and someone has made their mind up on you. If that is indeed true (and it probably is), then your appearance and dress is critical.

52 Nik November 14, 2009 at 4:34 pm

Jeem, I will start with your post. I utterly disagree with you, which I’m sure comes as no surprise. I disagree for so many reasons that I think I will have a hard time making a coherent case, but here is what I have so far:

1) Freedom is good. There is no virtue in acting “correctly” only because there are unavoidable consequences for acting otherwise. This can lead to people being mistaken for being “good people” when they are merely fearful.

2) Pregnancy has historically disadvantaged women. First, people have always and will always have sex even when they face enormous consequences for it. In the past, this consequence has been borne almost entirely by women. A women in a conservative society becomes pregnant out of wedlock and becomes an outcast who must somehow try to raise a child from an already disadvantaged social situation. These women have no chance. However, the men who impregnate these women often face essentially no consequences, going on to have a family, a wife, and social acceptance on their own terms sometime in the future.

3) Birth control serves an intensely useful purpose within a committed, monogamous relationship. My wife and I may have children eventually, but certainly not for the next 7-10 years. Having children young often leads to substantially less income over time and more stress. There is no reason to think it is preferable for us to have a child when we are not prepared for it. That brings a child into a less stable, protective, nurturing environment. Instead, my wife and I have the historically unprecedented opportunity to reliably delay our procreation until we are financially and emotionally ready, while still maintaining our physical intimacy. I see no downside to that.

Like many things, birth control may allow for abuses, but that is a simple matter of values. Used correctly, birth control gives women unprecedented control over their financial and social situations and allows committed people to enjoy sex without being forced into young procreation and lives of debt and disadvantage.

I would be interested in your response to this. I mean, of course, condoms allow people to have sex with whoever they want . . . but people have always done this. The difference is that now men and women can live promiscuous lives without disproportionately harming only the female parties.

53 Nik November 14, 2009 at 4:57 pm

In closing, homosexuals and heterosexuals all need to spend more time together, until we all just feel comfortable. If one of my close friends were openly gay, I imagine the rest of that group of friends would feel much more certain in the knowledge that we were all just friends and weren’t worrying about being judged or judging each other.

It’s just silly that the subject is so divisive and such taboo. We are all too afraid of each other, and we need to let it go. Let’s man up.

54 Nik November 15, 2009 at 12:25 pm

Here’s a manly virtue that I don’t think was fully captured: Respect/empathy. Manners and rules and chivalry and courtship both gesture in that direction, but I don’t think they go quite far enough, which may be part of the problem. I feel that many men who actually display manners or chivalry today stop with that outward display. They think opening doors, giving women flowers, saying please and thank you, are sufficient respect for others, but they do not realize that these are just social conventions that are supposed to indicate a deeper care and respect for others. I have met plenty who believe in “spoiling” women with their “gentlemanly” acts but actually have no true respect for or understanding of women and are likely to use pejoratives like “bitch” when women are not around. It is part of the old problem of putting women on a pedestal.

55 Jeem November 15, 2009 at 5:58 pm


I appreciate your thoughts and consideration of the issue. With such a controversial topic many folks just balk and resort to name-calling. I’ll try to respond according to the objections as I understand them.
1) It seems Abraham Lincoln had it right when he said that “freedom is not being able to do whatever you want, but having the ability to do what you ought.” The understanding of “freedom” as the absence of barriers to my acting according to whatever I feel like is problematic. Look where this is getting us today. Now some do rightly act out of fear: we call that obedience to civil law. You don’t speed because you fear getting a ticket. However, with the sexual act, it is not simply a matter of “acting correctly” because you fear getting pregnant. It calls one to respect the intrinsic dignity of the sexual act. I’m not so naive to think that people have not been engaging in extra-marital behavior since the institution of marriage first existed. However, this is the first time in history that promiscuity has been endorsed. We’re just not ready to realize the implications of that (ref. my earlier post) It becomes a sort of addiction. It is an unfortunate small number of people that can actually practice abstinence. It is difficult, mainly because the popular understanding of sex is that it is all about pleasure. From here, sex, rather the pleasure that comes with sex, becomes controlling like alcohol or tobacco, in the sense that one looses self-control and is not completely free to make the correct decisions or to act rightly.

2) Pregnancy is not the real issue. By saying a pregnancy disadvantages the woman, it puts bearing children on par with a physical handicap. I don’t think you are saying that. There really are two issues here, one being sex outside of a stable, permanent commitment (ie. marriage), the other being the use of contraception as a general practice. To address the first, if one lives their whole life with the attitude that its ok to have sex with people they are not married to, does that attitude magically change (especially subconsciously) when they finally do get married? I submit no, it does not. The other issue of contraception needs a good hard look. A lot of ink has been spilled on this, but I will summarize by saying that the two distinct goals of sex are 1) union of the spouses and 2) procreation (at least openness to the possibility). If a sexual act misses one of these, it is trivialized. At the risk of being vulgar, if one uses contraception, the couple is merely exchanging orgasms. It is just about pleasure. If you take away the openness to procreation and the natural union formed between man and woman in the act (like pieces of a puzzle, they were made for each other) by usage of a condom, what is the essential difference from this act and a homosexual relationship, or worse, bestiality? (I’m gonna get lots of letters on this…)

2) Having a child is often deemed a punishment when someone “isn’t planning on it.” Any mentally stable individual who was born from a woman would suggest otherwise (because mentally stable people don’t like being seen as “punishments.”) I am not denying that historically, pregnant, unmarried women have born the hardship. The issue here is more that when these minority cases happen, it should rather behoove the family and friends of the young woman to support her as best they can in this difficult situation, and not just say “oh, you should have been on the pill.” It is not just the so-called conservative society, but the individualistic society, that endorses the 1st definition of freedom listed above, one that sees having a child as putting a damper on my “freedom.” It takes a lot of maturity to see that marriage is not “game over” and that kids are not chains that tie you down. Our culture has Peter Pan-Syndrome; it just doesn’t want to grow up. That is why there are men who leave a women they have gotten pregnant, because they are not men, they are scared boys who can’t take responsibility for the lives they have changed. Because they did not respect the sexual act and the gift of life that comes from it. For these guys, it is all about pleasure.

3) Nik, brother, you are never going to be “ready” to have kids. It takes being a man more than having all the money you think you should have to raise a family. Kids don’t want money, they want you, your attention and your love. My parents were broke when I was a kid. (I’m 24,it wasn’t that long ago.) They worked hard so we could have what we needed and so they could spend time with us kids. (They worked to live, and didn’t live to work.) No one who ever knew them would dare call them irresponsible. Readiness is more a matter of having the character to be willing to sacrifice personal preferences for your family. That isn’t all you need, but it is a good start.

I hope that my approach does not come off as “condemning,” which is ironically the greatest condemnation thrown at people who take argue for these principles. When you hold the person to a higher standard, it is not condemning, but compassionate. You know the good everyone is capable of, and that is where you set the standard. If there are principles and morals surrounding the sexual act and how it effects the human person, and I believe there are, we are doing a disservice to our society if we try to fit the rules to what is actually a flaw an call “normal” something that ought to be the “exception.” If morals and values come from the family (they certainly don’t come from the government or the culture), and we have little by little undermined what it means to be a family, why are we stupefied at the outcome?

56 Justin Powers November 18, 2009 at 10:16 pm


I agree with your well thought out and articulated points. I would posit that society would be better off, and that men in general would show more respect to women if contraception was not an option. I also agree that contraception has contributed in a large way to the decline of marriage in our society.

In terms of full disclosure, I have been married for one and a half years, and my wife is currently on the pill. Although she has her fears about the ability to support a child (I don’t, I share the same outlook as you re: the fact that it is the character of the man, not the savings account that is required), the main reason is that she is finishing college, and it becomes tremendously difficult to finish school in the last months of pregnancy. We have not used contraceptives as an excuse to be promiscuous, as a matter of fact my wife is the only woman that I have been sexually intimate with, and then only after we were married (talk about the last of a dying breed). However, I would say that it is more of a convenience for us, and that if contraceptives were not an option, I wouldn’t miss it.

I sometimes wish for a society where people treated sex with more respect, however I fear that our society is sliding into a general acceptance of sex as recreation, and has passed the point of no return.

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58 Rifleman November 26, 2009 at 9:42 pm

Much to chew on here as I await turkey carving duties.
It is too easy to romanticize the past, to look back with nostalgia for a “golden age” when things were oh so much better than they are now. Casual racism, the demeaning of women (both the soft kind and the hard kind) and stifling conformity are best consigned to the ash heap along with suppression of emotion and other negative traits that were rampant and socially expected until very recently.
Progree in such areas is genuine and contributes markedly to a better quality of life for both men and women.
Unfortunately, “progress” does not follow a uniform arc. We’re better in some ways and worse in others. The work ethic has taken a severe beating in a culture of entitlement and plain old laziness. While a percentage of the population is body-obsessed to the point of narcissism, a larger proportion (you’ll pardon the pun) are slothful to a degree that has brought on an epidemic of obesity and related medical problems.
A sense of style may not be deemed a critical attribute, but it does make for a more aesthetically pleasing environment. I can’t understand how it became acceptable (or even possible) to wear a tank top and flip flops into any kind of nice restaurant. Or your very best concert t-shirt to the company party.
You don’t necessarily need to suit up and wear a tie to have style. Almost any personal style can be ramped up to be appropriate for all occasions, but like someone else said, the ability to discern what is appropriate when seems to have gotten lost.
As far as the effects of the “normalization” of homosexuality, I think it’s too early to tell what the impact will be. We’re in the figuring things out stage with a new understanding of a millenia -old phenomenon. Personally, I think things will settle out to a large degree and it will become immaterial to men. There will always be those who are afraid of being thought a “fag,” but as someone pointed out, they’re boys, not men.
I fail to see how the ready availability of reliable contraceptiuon can be considered anything but a blessing. Birth control allows many married couples ongoing, satisfying sexual lives together without anxiety over accidental pregnancy. This is a good thing. Does it allow for promiscuity? Yes, in the sense that it mitigates one (not all) of the potential consequences. But any technology that allows more freedom carries the potential for abuse. You can use your computer to increase your productivity, educate yourself or play endless games of solitaire or watch porn. Should you give up your computer because some people use them for things that you (very reasonably) consider socially destructive?
Great site; great post. I’ll be back.

59 Kenji December 21, 2009 at 2:20 am

I don’t agree with everything in this article, but thanks to both the authors and commenters for the thoughtful, respectful discussion. Good points made by all.

60 Adam December 21, 2009 at 6:54 am

The argument that contraception is a negative influence on the behavior of men and women seems to flow from the belief that anything that is biologically and genetically motivated is good and anything that pulls us away from these purposes is bad. While this is oversimplification, I believe that sexual relationships for the purpose of pleasure are an overall good. In the past, sexual desire was acted upon regardless of consequence as it is today. However, in the past such behavior was done out of sight of society. The man had sex with his secretary, a prostitute, or a gay lover from the bar. The unfortunate result was a blanket of lies and denials, leading to terribly dysfunctional family lives that did a number of the psyches of the children involved. Today, men and women are encouraged to explore their sexuality. They act out their fantasies and try their ideas out before they get into a marriage. While no one can argue that marriages today are more stable than those of the past, there is no evidence to blame this on the changing of sexual mores. And while those mores of the past were certainly in step with the biological imperative that has kept our species alive, they also locked us into relationships that often did more harm than good. I consider contraception a release from the chains of biological imperatives. And I’m sure that my children are glad they do not have fifty or so brothers and sisters playing with “their” toys.

61 Kenji December 21, 2009 at 9:45 am

Contraceptives are the greatest disservice to men and women in the last 100 years? Now that’s definitely throwing out the baby with the bathwater!

62 Gryphon MacThoy December 23, 2009 at 3:39 am

I agree with everything but the Dressing Well thing. Not because I don’t dress well, but because my idea of dressing well is so very different from other folks.
If I see a guy in a Men’s Wearhouse suit and tie and the latest fashion shiny shoes, I think “Corporate Douchebag” not “well dressed”. He has lost his opportunity to make a first impression of any other kind to me. And impressing me is kinda important to some of the guys, if you get my drift.
To me, dressing well is defined in one word: “Deliberate”
If you happen to look like a cowboy, kinda, but not really, then you aren’t dressing well.
If you ARE a cowboy, wearing cowboy clothes and boots, then you are dressing well.
If you ARE a cowboy at a wedding, and you wear distinctly western style formal clothing, then you have retained your own sense of style while dressing up for the occasion. Everyone else in matching black tuxes and bow ties will look at you funny, and that is the problem with this attitude about “How To Dress Yourself”. That cowboy at the wedding gets to quietly have his “Eff you guys” attitude, in my book.

In Seattle, WA, if you wear a tie to work every day, you are a Corporate Drone and we don’t like you. We see signs of Dronemanship as the shackles of slavery, a very Unmanly state to find oneself in. People who have work to do dress to get work done, period. You put on a suit and tie to go to court, and even then, that tie is questionable.

I still see this attitude about “You have to dress a certain way” leading young men to becoming dandies. Little brat Prince’s, afraid to get dirty for fear their mother will scold them or a colleague will think they’ve gone to the dogs because they dare do physical work or exercise in (GASP!) shorts, a tank top, and running shoes. No, no! Must always be shiny and clean and pretty! BS.

63 Ariah December 23, 2009 at 1:43 pm

Dear Gryphon MacThoy,

Man up. Stop judging people for dressing appropriately for their corporate jobs. Obviously, a cowboy/rancher should wear jeans and boots out in the fields. Why should a man with an office job not wear a jacket and tie to work? Because hippies will judge him? Please. If a man enjoys his corporate job and, as a result of having that job, is able to provide for his family, good for him! And if he dresses appropriately, it doesn’t mean he’s a drone – it means he has sense and style. If a man doesn’t want to live the corporate job lifestyle, he’s free to find another way to support himself and his family. Either way, he should not make excuses for not dressing appropriately for any occasion.


PS: No guest at a wedding is entitled to dress so as to convey an “F you guys” attitude. Guests should not stand out; this is why women do not wear white to weddings (unless the invitation specifies that it is a black/white ball, or some such thing; if the invitation implies that it might be expected that female guests wear white but is not clear, they should ask the maid/matron of honor to clarify).

64 EJ December 28, 2009 at 12:31 pm

Leadership? Ambition? The 9 manly virtues? Why are all of those things written as male-specific? Here’s a clue: back in the day, when only men were considered to be people, attributes that were just plain admirable were judged to be ideal “manly” qualities. Nowadays, we know that there’s nothing inherent about women that bars them from following these ideals, which is why it’s so weird that you continue to insist on differences between men and women and tight codes of behavior that define cross-sex interactions. Why not redefine chivalry as politeness and civility to friends and dates? Why can’t opening doors and paying for dinner work both ways? Why can’t what you call manliness (which is really a collection of admirable HUMAN traits) be for everyone?

You guys are about halfway there. I’m glad that you’ve realized that there are a lot of problems with traditional masculinity (and you name them and call them out, which few men do) and that there are a lot of good qualities in there as well. However, it seems like by defining masculinity in this way, you’re trying to hold on to some of your privilege over women by relegating them to a different sphere of behaviors and expectations, just like your predecessors did, but hiding behind this “different-but-equal” rhetoric. It’s especially clear in comments like this:

“The feminist movement lit a fire under women’s bums, and it seems a lot of men became content to let them surge ahead while they pulled up a chair and had a beer. But men have always thrived on competition, on the desire to be the alpha male, on the will to be their very best. Not enough has been expected of men in our modern age, and it’s become a self-fulfilling prophecy.”

What does that mean? Does it mean that women are only succeeding because men are slacking off, or because they’re “letting” them, or does it mean that we’re finally learning that competition and dominance are not male-specific traits? Plenty of things are expected from men–most men, however, are not used to seeing women as legitimate competition in academics and industry, so this seems abnormal or shocking to them. Ironically, they cover their asses and claim that if women are getting ahead, men must not be trying hard enough, instead of truly ‘manning up’ and adapting to increased competition. (Note: I support gender parity in academics–if men are under-enrolled in college as a group, this is a problem. I just don’t think they should expect to be completely dominant anymore.)

Competition, ambition, honor, industry, and responsibility are admirable traits for ALL people to follow, and they should be taught as such–not just to boys and men.

65 Paul A'Barge January 25, 2010 at 9:54 am

It was a huge mistake to let women into the military, certainly into any portion of the military that actually engages in warfare. In support roles, fine but not in warfare.

66 David A Fauman January 25, 2010 at 9:57 am

Trustwothy, Loyal, Helpful, Friendly, Courteous, Kind, Obedient, Cheerful, Thrifty, Brave, Clean and Reverant.

67 Skyler January 25, 2010 at 10:13 am

The rule has always been that men are “free to cry when it’s appropriate.” The trick is to know when it’s appropriate.

The rule was, and should still be, that the appropriate time for a man to cry is when a very close loved one has died, and then only for a short time after learning of it, and even then only if there is no further danger to himself or others that he must protect. Other than that and a few other special exceptions, that’s pretty much it.

68 Pink Pig January 25, 2010 at 10:35 am

This is a well thought out post. One rarely encounters actual thought on the internet. I have a few reservations, e.g. I’m not convinced that conformity is inherently bad, and I have several objections to rules, but the author is definitely onto something here.

69 Wintoon January 25, 2010 at 10:41 am

I see no mention of the disproportionate impact on women and minorities. Why the glaring omission?

70 Scott M January 25, 2010 at 11:18 am


Homophobia aside, one of the reasons men do not share relationships as strongly as we once did is directly related to your point about men doing their half of the work around the house and with the kids.

An apples to apples comparison would be the closeness you refer to between friends of men who aren’t married and don’t have kids. After marriage and kids, I don’t believe a fair comparison can be made. I don’t know any married-with-kids friends of mine that can just come and go as they please, meet their friends down at the bar, etc, and expect their homes to remain harmonious. My point being that the very fact of having to do more with the house and kids means less “me-time” for friends and other pursuits.

That having been said, I’ve read a good number of studies recently that point to the fact that American men are way out in front of European men in the amount of direct child-rearing and housework they do in partnership with their wives. So there’s your progress. As long as a husband and a wife can agree on the division of labor, there’s no problem. I’ve not done one load of laundry in more than five years, but, likewise, my wife hasn’t cut a single blade of grass (and we live on a steep incline).

71 Vader January 25, 2010 at 11:53 am

“The 9 manly virtues.”

I thought there were twelve?


72 Walter Daniels January 25, 2010 at 11:55 am

I’m going to start with an apology. I take 24mg a day of continuous release morphine to control pain from a 10 year old back injury (the lower 1/3 of my back is collapsing), so my mind is not always as clear as I’d like. Now, in my life, Manliness has gone through a number of changes. Some good, some bad, including the idea of changing.
One change that was bad was being a man of your word. Like another reply, I won’t agree to do something I don’t expect do. If i say that I will do something, especially to a child, I *will* do it, if at all possible.
Another was not being comfortable with who you are as a man. Usually shown as a fear of being identified as other than a man. Even 30 years ago, I had no problem with holding a woman’s purse. I am secure enough, as a man, to not fear being considered “unmanly.”
The biggest change that I regret is the demonization of men, as likely molesters. I am not, and I love children. I always have. Yet, today if i see a child crying, or i distress, I *dare not* try to help. I even get a strange look if I offer the use of my First Aid Kit. If I offer a hug to a child, I can be accused of being bad. It doesn’t matter if the child is a friend of mine, or of my son, or daughter. Yes, there are “bad people,” but when and why did men become “bad” as a group?
I do applaud the idea that “being the support of the Family,” is no longer just being the Major breadwinner. I can and cook (I like to), I have no problem feeding, burping and changing babies. I don’t even mind being “spit up on.” It’s something that happens, live with it. :-) All of those are part of loving a child, the right way. Having a child is not starting it, then getting involved 15-18 years later. I have a 12 YO adopted Granddaughter that I love, and who loves me. I’ve been part of her life since she was born, and she knows she is loved because I tell her, and show her by my actions. How else will she know when the man she likes, really mean what he says.
Saying “I love you” is both the easiest and the hardest thing to say. Saying and not meaning it, is easy. Saying it and meaning it, is the hardest thing a man can do. It has so much meaning when you mean it, because it is also a commitment. A promise: that you will always be there; you will always try to respect them mentally and physically; you will never stop trying to do your best to be all that you can be, so that they can do the same.
Those are the three hardest words in the world, because they can carry so much promise. To a child, they carry security. To a Lover, they mean security and support. Yet, to many “men,” they are just a way to get sex, or make a woman feel good.
Another bad change IMO, is the idea of putting on act with our clothing. We have to “dress up,” and look important, so as to be “important.” Instead of being part of who we are, they become an act. Being a “Gentleman,” is not the clothing, it is the person. I can be as much a gentleman in T-shirt and jeans, as in a Black Tie and Tails. Just as in holding a wife/girl friends purse, it is in who we are comfortable being. Yes, for marriages, funerals, and rare other occasions, we should “dress up,” but what we wear should not define us. Neither should we continue to define women by what they wear. As men, we should, and do, have a big effect on what women wear.
When either sex wears a bathing suit, we need to remember something. What is _not_ seen, is as important as what is. Just because you are one of the 1% that can wear a Speedo to the beach, doesn’t mean you should. I’m a man, but I suspect women prefer to be enticed by what doesn’t show. To me, the sexiest clothes show just enough, without showing too much. I want to imagine perfection, even if i know it isn’t there.:-)
Finally, we need to go back to the idea that Chivalry is about respect, by both sexes. Being a Man means respecting ourselves, and respecting Women. Not just while dating, but in all areas. If I open a door for a woman, because I got there first, I’m showing respect for her. Just as if she does it for me. It’s all about showing respect for each other. Except for Husband and wife, where my holding the door, says I consider you slightly more equal than I am. I’m deferring to my wife, in importance of precedence. Going back to the “lesser people,” went through after the more important ones. It’s Medieval, but I remain behind, to protect my wife and children, if necessary.It’s not the reality, but the idea that counts.
Just as teaching children to call men and women, Sir and Ma’am. It shows courtesy and respect for those older than us, or in authority over us. Plus that first time someone calls them Sir or Ma’am, will mean more to them. Being “equal” doesn’t mean that we stop showing respect, just that no one is better. I’m not superior because of my sex, my race, or education. I show my respect for you, by not acting as if I’m better. Sadly, the idea of equality was talked about in the Sixties, but it was never real. It was more about pulling people down to the lowest level, not building them up. Part of Manliness, is to build up the “lesser,” and keeping the self important from controlling others.

73 willis January 25, 2010 at 12:37 pm

You are absolutely right on the money. Feminists have liberated men of the need to go to college or to support a family. College enrollment is now about 60% women and 40% men and the disparity is growing. Families consisting only of a female parent have been on the steady increase for some time. Women complain of a lack of eligible men for marriage, but men are learning to show their affection for other men without shame. The plan is working to perfection!

74 Les Nessman January 25, 2010 at 12:48 pm

“Leadership. In reading Tom Brokaw’s book, The Greatest Generation, I was struck by the way the men of the past embraced, nay, relished leadership roles. They prized the chance to take on responsibility and guide something towards a lofty goal. Today young men hide from leadership positions, hoping no one will notice them so they can just hang out in the background without any work to do.”

I agree, but frankly, I don’t completely blame those who don’t volunteer for leadership positions.
Have you ever tried to get something done within a large corporation? You can’t get a definitive answer quickly, if at all. Nobody wants to take responsibility.
If you decide to take action, you get an email saying ‘You don’t have the authority to do that. We should have 6 three-hour multi-person conference calls first’ or ‘While your decision was the most logical, you did not submit it to the Diversity Sensitivity Division and open a ticket on it. Did your action take into account the ethnic carbon footprint celebration process? We’ll get back to you.’

Bah. Sometimes it’s not worth taking charge.

75 SwissArmyD January 25, 2010 at 12:51 pm

You might find an instalanche of readers, if not writers is coming. Since so much time has passed, I’m sure all of your commenters and you have had a chance to think a little about your lists. I find them interesting, and thoughtful. Personally, I think much of this boils down to being intentional in action. Make a decision to do something, and then do it. Many, many things flow from this. Another interesting thing in all of this, is that how men and women act towards each other is interaction. Meaning that it isn’t one sided, it is both. It is difficult to lead when two people are arguing about who is to lead. Sometimes you must lead, sometimes you follow, and each is a decision that you, yourself make. This is where communication is a skill that must be learned. Leadership is often much about communication.

Excellent points all around. Thanks for the insights.

76 John Blake January 25, 2010 at 2:23 pm

Through the rise and fall of empires, the coming and going of Great Plagues, voyages of adventure and discovery when some leave home while most stay put, an irreducible one-in-five (20%) maintains core values common to every place and time.

A man’s first duty is not only to reproduce, but act as steward for posterity: Bring up descendants worthy of his legacy, fitting them for principled action and self-sacrifice as circumstances warrant. One’s own survival is a personal priority, but language-speaking humans are by definition social animals, whose individual well-being depends entirely upon the health of their communities.

“Civilization and Its Discontents” pose not dilemmas but trade-offs. Only to the extent that men as husbands, fathers, providers, are recognized and rewarded –by no means materially– for essentially altruistic roles (defending and supporting home-and-family, commonly dying young) can communities prosper proudly and in peace. Now as “diversity” swamps ambition, warps group identities, promotes demographic and socio-cultural catastrophe by draining all incentive, perversely confiscating hard-earned productive gains, we reap a whirlwind sweeping naive post-Enlightenment populations to collectivist abyss.

As ethical and moral –individual vs. collective– standards dissipate, we one-in-five make classic efforts to allay the rot at home. Nothing substitutes for character: Earned appreciation, independence and responsibility, incentive risk-reward are key. Education rather than mere training acquaints us with the past, puts forebears’ efforts in personal context and perspective. May we bestow on our posterity the fruits of what ancestors labored to bequeath for us.

Transmitting love requires good examples: Kids see through phony preaching, PCBS, in milli-microseconds. So far, so good… married twenty-eight years this April, we have two Eagle Scouts and a beloved elder daughter glorying in her Biochemistry Degree. The family name dates back 1,150 years, and odds are it will be preserved– a comfortable thought, knowing we are but links in a millennial chain.

Why others differ with these theses, I neither know nor care. Meantime, each heir in our long line will stand his ground– “And what is more, you’ll be a Man, my son.”

77 megscole64 January 25, 2010 at 5:11 pm

THANK YOU!!!! I LOVE this post and I forwarded it to my husband. Absolutely fantastic. :)

78 mac January 25, 2010 at 5:42 pm

Well said, Mr. Blake. I appreciate your reference to Kipling. If we needed any more of an insight as to how the world has changed, I, an American, last month introduced “If” to a Scotsman who had never read it. I was appalled at that omission. He said their school system never taught them anything that would induce them to take pride in their country.

Somewhere Robert Baden-Powell is spinning in his grave.

79 dissertation samples March 18, 2010 at 6:55 am

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80 Charlie April 26, 2010 at 7:18 am

I disagree with the bathwater part.

Are men supposed to suppress their emotions? Yes many a time. Men do need to love and comfort their wives and family members but It is foolish to think that men should express their emotions in the way women do. That is truly for sissies. On the other hand men shouldn’t be cold to their wives and children. Suppression of emotions at times is not the elimination of emotions at all times.

Were women oppressed? No. They were protected, provided and cared for generally. The liberation of women has not been good at all. Women were liberated from being women. Women have always had a mind of their own(how could they have had someone else’s?) and did not need any liberation to acquire knowledge and become intellectual. Women did not need feminism to follow their passions in a womanly manner and truly be themselves. Women joining the military and being career minded are not freedoms which manly men should prize. Manly men need womanly women and joining the military or being career minded makes that woman less womanly. A wife having a job to support a family in financial difficulty is different from a wife aspiring for a career. Wives should be their husbands faithful helpmeet.

Are dads expected to be hands-on in child-rearing? Yes and No. Yes for being involved in their child’s life. No for being hands on ‘just like the moms’. Men should be involved as fathers but not in the same way as mothers.

Is there only one way of being a man? I’d say that men have always been men in different ways: some doctors, some carpenters, some merchants etc etc. Well this question had a hidden meaning. I think the question is “Is it ok for men to be stay at home dads”? I think not, unless he is physically or mentally unable to work outside the home. It is not manly under normal conditions.

81 John March 7, 2014 at 4:01 pm

This is one of the most brilliant posts on the site.
I as a high school student look about and see the honors classes populated by girls, all the best grades gotten by girls, the best projects done by them, the valedictorian is always one. And yet, what is the mantra of everyone, even the men? “Eliminate sexism, eliminate gender discrimination, the war on women, male oppression”. New-age feminists seem to be living with a veil over their eyes that blinds them to all the changes and advances made since the 60s. They decry the culture that demeans women, men who get paid oh so much more than women, total sexual dominance, the bigots who think women shouldn’t perform in school and get white collar jobs. None of those exist in a meaningful way in our society anymore. But, the grand illusion of “gender discrimination” leads women to feel that they have to overperform, to outshow those demeaning and dominating men. We do not dominate them anymore, and in fact are beaten by their displays of superiority into submission. I see around me a world of men who feel inferior, who feel like they deserve to be outperformed as punishment for crimes their grandfathers perpetrated, who are told that they’re bad people and that women are better than them. When a boy grows up being constantly told that women who perform are so great, what does that say about men? When he is told that the old-style men who performed better than women were bad, what does that say about him and wether or not he should perform?
We are a society of men who feel useless and inadequate, angry and confused, repressed and disrespected.The film “Fight Club” perfectly illustrates this. We must reform society to give respect to men, or the gender that is muscularly superior and is psychologically primed for combat will forcefully obtain it.

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