Scarcity, Luxury, and Proving One’s Manhood

by Brett & Kate McKay on May 9, 2010 · 76 comments

in A Man's Life, On Manhood

When professor of anthropology David D. Gilmore examined tribes and cultures across the world, he found striking similarities in the ideal qualities ascribed to each gender. While exceptions existed, otherwise disparate cultures proved to have much in common as it concerns gender roles.

Of particular interest was the almost universal way that cultures expected men to prove their manhood. Gilmore explains in Manhood in the Making:

“There is a constantly reoccurring notion that real manhood is different from simple anatomical maleness, that it is not a natural condition that comes about spontaneously through biological maturation but rather is a precarious or artificial state that boys must win against powerful odds. This recurrent notion that manhood is problematic, a critical threshold that boys must pass through testing, is found at all levels of sociocultural development regardless of what other alternative roles are recognized. It is found among the simplest hunters and fishermen, among peasants and sophisticated urban peoples; it is found in all continents and environments. It is found among both warrior people and those who have never killed in anger.”

From ancient times until modern, men have been insecure about their manhood in a way women by and large do not experience in regards to their womanhood. Manhood must be gained and earned, and therefore can also be lost; thus, preventing potential emasculation has forever been a male concern.

Men are told to “be a real man” to “be a man about it,” and to “man up.” To be seen as effeminate, and worst of all a “sissy” is incredibly insulting to a great number of men. To avoid these labels, a man feels he must prove his manhood to other men, showing courage and passing trials involving danger, combat, and rites-of-passage. And even after the successful completion of such challenges, one’s manhood must be continually maintained throughout life.

There are no true correlations to this male fixation for women. Women are not chided to “be a woman about it” or to “woman up.” These days, they may be rarely admonished to be more “ladylike,” but a woman acting “mannish” typically carries little stigma and may even be celebrated. And women are not required to prove their womanhood; it is seen as an inevitability of their biology.

Scarcity, Danger, and the Culture of Manhood

Why this difference between the genders? One is a difference in biology, of course. A girl’s passage into womanhood can be marked by her first menstruation and “proven” through pregnancy and childbirth. The latter particularly compels a woman to grow up.

This may partially explain the disparity, but wherein lies the origin of the pressure on men to “man up?” Dr. Gilmore argues that “the harsher the environment and the scarcer the resources, the more manhood is stressed as inspiration and goal.”

Why would this be so?

In a tribe or a society that faced issues of scarcity, where the danger of being attacked by wild animals or human enemies constantly threatened, men were needed to step up and take on the role of hunters, warriors, and protectors. Because of men’s greater physical strength and assertiveness, the lot for these jobs fell naturally to them. But while men may have some natural proclivities to embrace these roles, putting one’s self in harm’s way does not come naturally to either sex. Thus cultures needed a way to prod men into embracing roles which were undesirable but essential to the survival of the tribe.

This is where a strong “culture of manhood” came into play. In a society where manhood must be proven with tests and challenges, manhood is no longer a given; not every male can have it. Thus those who do have it have earned it, which turns manhood into a desirable, valuable, and essential part of a man’s identity and position in the tribe. Failure to live up to the standard results in a devastating loss of one’s manhood and standing with the others. Men are thus compelled to step into the gap in service of society.

We can see the flip side of this when looking at the few cultures that historically defied typical gender roles. These cultures typically had little need for hardihood and thus little need for the culture of manhood. For example, early visitors to the people of Tahiti were struck by their utter lack of differentiation between the sexes. The women held positions of leadership and power, played sports with men, and generally lived on equal footing with their male counterparts. Men and women shared in housework and jobs.  The Tahitian men spoke and acted in ways Western visitors considered effeminate and they had no desire to protect their women or to fend off foreign invaders. Gender was not even expressed grammatically in the Tahitian language.

The Tahitian lifestyle explains the development of this culture:

“Few demands are made on Tahitian men. They do not hunt. There are no dangerous or strenuous occupations that are considered masculine. There is no warfare or feuding. The colonial French administration was relatively benign, providing welfare assistance to the indigent. The local lagoon supplies plentiful fishing…Arable land is also plentiful…Domesticated animals are plentiful as well, and there is no grinding poverty or economic struggle…A laconic attitude toward work is considered ‘traditional, truly Tahitian.’”

The Tahitian men saw little difference between the genders and had no preoccupation with being manly or proving their manhood. There was no culture of manhood there, as the ease and abundance precluded the need for one.

There are two ways of thinking about this theory on the development of manhood. Some men resent the fact that men have forever been forced to place their lives in danger for the good of others and conform to a culture’s standard of manliness. But it could be also said that this standard has been beneficial to men in bringing out and refining those qualities and capacities that naturally abide in men, but would otherwise remain latent without anything to draw them out.

Manhood in a World of Ease and Luxury

Philosophers, from the ancient Greeks to the Founding Fathers, warned that luxury is a poison that weakens and emasculates men. In a world where hardihood is unnecessary, there is no need to prod men into the hunter/warrior/protector role, men do not feel compelled to “step up,” and thus the culture of manhood withers away.

We live in such a time. By and large our lives are marked by great ease and convenience. Our meat comes wrapped in plastic at the store, military service is not compulsory, and the greatest danger we face is stubbing our toe. Society isn’t sure anymore what men’s role should be now, and thus the culture of manhood is enfeebled.

It is a transitional time for the culture of manhood. The idea of proving one’s manhood has certainly not disappeared and is very much still with us. But at the same time, there are few outlets for men to be tested. There is no tribe of men to judge one worthy, no rites-of-passage, no proving grounds to make one’s stand. And thus we see a source of modern male anxiety: the ancient desire to prove one’s manhood meets with a world where opportunities to do so are practically non-existent.

Despite this anxiety, some would say that the state of ease we enjoy is a good thing as it has allowed for much greater parity between the sexes. The feminism movement happened in the 60s because it could happen then; because manufacturing jobs and heavy labor jobs had been replaced with office jobs and white collar work, jobs men and women could do equally well. And proving one’s manhood has not always been a healthy endeavor; the man of the last century sometimes sought to shore up his manhood by proving his superiority to “the other.” He was a man because he was not a black man, or a gay man, or an immigrant. Gaining one’s manhood often came at the expense of stripping another man of his.

And so some say that in this age, where we do not seem to need the hunter/warrior/protector that there isn’t much need for traditional manhood anymore, that we should redefine manliness, accept that technology has made our lives easier, that the internet is our new tool, the computer of our new fire. That men don’t need to take part in this outdated striving for manhood any longer. Yes…but…

I cannot help but think of those who called WWI the “war to end all wars.” We live a life of ease and convenience now, but who can tell what is around the corner? We can say that technology is our new tool, but what happens if that technology goes kaput? Or if all men are again compelled to fight? I think of 9/11 and the men who fearlessly charged up the stairs of those burning buildings. Perhaps there are those who see the idea of proving one’s manhood as silly…but who will be running up those stairs if a generation stops being asked to do so?

What do you think? Share your thoughts with us in the comments.

{ 76 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Will May 9, 2010 at 5:29 pm

But if we decide to kick back and not be responsible, not dare, not be proactive… it’s still only a matter of time before someone has to charge up those stairs again.

Thanks for the great article.

2 Clint May 9, 2010 at 5:59 pm

Great article! I believe the Boy Scouts of America provides the rite of passage, and test of courage a character that a boy needs in todays society to work toward achieving manliness.

Be Prepared.

3 Brian May 9, 2010 at 6:05 pm

It’s very difficult to have a danger situation in today’s society. (Well in Canada)

I guess by my observation of today’s society we still try to prove our manhood in some stupid ways though.

-The one who gets to screw with the most girls
-The one that makes a lot of money and can have fancy things
-Breaking the law to impress everyone. (speeding, drug dealing, etc…)
-The one that has privileges to a certain service. (Like celebrities get VIPs and no one else is allowed)
-And of course POLITICS (Who the fuck runs this world?)

4 Heather May 9, 2010 at 6:39 pm

While I agree that the strongest man will always be stronger than the strongest woman (at least without any chemical alterations), I think it’s been a fairly long time since there have been jobs that require a level of heavy lifting that can only be done by man. There were a great many women (and girls) in factory jobs in the 19th and early 20th centuries, so they did not have to disappear for women’s rights movement to take place.

But I think my main point is with this – “In a tribe or a society that faced issues of scarcity, where the danger of being attacked by wild animals or human enemies constantly threatened, men were needed to step up and take on the role of hunters, warriors, and protectors. Because of men’s greater physical strength and assertiveness, the lot for these jobs fell naturally to them.”

I agree that men have a greater physical strength and assertiveness, they stepped up, but this may be a chicken/egg situation. In many cultures (and in ours as well), the dangerous jobs of defending the others fell to young men. That may be because, reproductively, they are the most expendable. (Sorry, guys, you are.) What would happen if 50% of women, age 18-35, were killed? Would there be a following generation? There would, but it would be much smaller. What happens if 50% of men, age 18-35, were killed? The next generation will probably be the same size, since older men are fertile much longer (Go, Tony Curtis!), and the remaining young men can take care of many women. (Again, reproductively, a man’s role lasts for minutes, while a woman’s role last months. And while a male role model is important, that can always be taken care of by an older (and possibly infertile) male relative.)

So the populations which survived had stronger young men (because they lived through the danger.) But if all the cultures were like Tahiti, which has very little danger, warfare, strife, etc, would men now be so much stronger than women?

5 Kris Freeberg May 9, 2010 at 6:48 pm

Brett, Kate, & all –

Excellent post, thanks for taking the time to compose it.

My rites of passage were earning the Eagle rank in the Boy Scouts, and Marine Corps boot camp. I am grateful for both and feel concerned for young men who are not as privileged as I was to have such experiences.

And yet, as your article suggests, it would appear that the bottom line is Economics, for all of these manly abilities – to hunt, gather, protect, and so on – were/are valuable in a context of scarcity.

In his ancient treatise on marriage, Saint John Chrysostom wrote that a husband must be an able Economist. Personally I feel that we’ve confused our means and our ends and come to regard the old strenuous skills as ends instead of means. Likewise with sports.

It seems to me that the end remains the same: surmounting economic challenges, but the means are different. Sometimes they still involve physically strenuous work like putting up several cords of firewood for the winter or fighting off enemies (skills I have had to practice within the past decade); but often as not, I find the means required to surmount economic challenges now are more abstract and symbolic, involving calculating accurately, and communicating and relating effectively.

But it turns out that the great men of old, the philosophers and theologians from hundreds and even thousands of years ago, were no strangers to abstract and symbolic reasoning and communication; indeed they had attention spans that dwarf ours, and they recognized that the masculine mind is much more principle-based. I have heard the analogy that men’s minds are like waffles (rigid, structured grids) while women’s are like spaghetti, much more relational, contingent, and inter-dependent. Both are valuable and important, but different.

Another trait of manliness is initiative, and I see immense room for improvement in the way we deal with Economics that requires such initiative. I have worked in this field for going on twenty years and I still continue to be amazed by how little real planning is happening, both inside and outside of the financial planning community. Often, I find that people consider a “financial plan” or a “retirement plan” to be an account with money in it, not a vision or strategy for the future.

And an aspect of manliness I would offer is the courage to recognize when old means have become obsolete and that it is time to innovate different ones; for this innovation involves the risk of venturing into the unknown and risking ridicule or failure. I have also experienced this personally, as have a lot of start-up entrepreneurs.

So my working theory is that manliness involves BOTH keeping primitive skills sharp for worst-case scenarios like economic collapse (physical fitness, marksmanship, hand-to-hand combat, camping and primitive cooking skills), AND developing sophisticated skills for better-case scenarios (understanding money, markets, and abstract mental work, including proper grammar, punctuation, and spelling, [which are presently in serious decline] how to make and honor deals, economics, accounting, investments, insurance, etc.).

And above all, I find that a real test of manliness is resilience when it all falls apart anyway, which hearkens back to Kipling’s poem “If.”

The challenge that has occupied much of my attention is managing to be money-proof when surrounded by money, to keep the common touch, to avoid being owned by money, to maintain a proper master-servant relationship with it and prevent it from becoming “Mammon.”

I find that men and women approach spirituality differently, too. In my experience men have been more interested in abstract philosophical and/or theological principles, questions of truth, righteousness, virtue, and justice; whereas women have been more interested in the social, relational, and emotional benefits of religious activities.

So where I see the masculine waffle-mind – that structured grid with clear boundaries and rules – coming into play in the modern economic environment is, on the one hand, to do what’s necessary to surmount the economic challenges that confront us, while on the other retaining the ability to think, act and live theologically and philosophically, so that in gaining the world and thereby providing for our families (I have been told that “Every Mother’s Dream” is to be totally provided for financially so that she can focus her undivided attention on loving her children), we do not lose our souls.

Happy Mother’s AND Saint Christopher’s Day –

Kris Freeberg

6 alex May 9, 2010 at 6:49 pm

great article

It is my closest held belief that some day, all to soon, men will be required to be men again in this country and it is my deepest fear that they will not be prepared to do so.
i can only hope that articles like this will motivate the young men of this country to “man up”
www
alex

7 K May 9, 2010 at 6:54 pm

Alex –

Yours is precisely the concern that motivated Lord Baden-Powell to found the Boy Scouts in England more than 100 years ago.

8 Rob Scharf May 9, 2010 at 8:46 pm

Here in Canada we still have Army/Air/Navy Cadets and the reserves (militia) that is a right of passage for many families…I myslf served in The Cameron Highlanders Army Cadet Corp and the Governor General’s Foot Guard Militia and feel the training, self-esteem and self confidence I gained blows away any “gang” or “click” some of these kids join today. :)

9 John Wright May 9, 2010 at 9:35 pm

To Clint, I think that Boy Scouting can provide an excellent rite of passage, however, it has been my experience as an Eagle Scout that about 30-50% of all Scouts don’t really gain what is available from the program. The program is good and makes a great rite of passage. A great improvement to the program would be more volunteers who make the program come alive. To be clear, I’m not disagreeing with you, simply pointing out an unfortunate reality.

To K, I agree that Baden-Powell’s motivation was in a time similar to ours. I think that the program needs a return to classic Scouting (Baden-Powell’s vision) rather than trying to be so contemporary.

To Alex, WWW. If I interpret this correctly, we are members of the same Brotherhood.

10 Niki Turner May 9, 2010 at 10:47 pm

As a mother of teen boys who are constantly chest-bumping and competing with one another, this is very intriguing. Perhaps I should start making them hunt and gather for their food… beyond the helpless search they make through the refrigerator.

11 Stephen May 9, 2010 at 10:52 pm

I think the biggest issue with the proving of one’s manhood is that in European cultures (and most others) it is a rite of passage to become a man by doing something heroic. Now that we aren’t hunter-gatherers, nor are we fighting more or less constant wars as the nations of Europe that we take many of our notions of manliness from, there’s no way to prove one’s manliness in the traditional way. This void has led a lot of men to define it in very stupid ways, which have already been listed above.

I think rather than trying to define manliness in some new sense, we should look at trying to redefine adulthood. I think it’s a source of many of the world’s sorrows today that we define manliness and manhood in martial terms, or in terms of imposing one’s will over the other. This zero sum game mentality leads to all manner of conflict over things that could easily be resolved if two sides of ADULTS sat down and talked things through.

I suggest we define a passage into adulthood through two things:

1. this site has already defined adulthood as producing more than you consume. This is one aspect, and a very eloquently discussed one.

2. My second definition requires being able to avoid conflict by understanding the world beyond yourself. How many pointless wars were fought over slights of honor to a few? How many deaths occurred because one group dehumanized another?

I feel like achieving this insight into the broader reality, combined with the first point already discussed, would remedy many of the evils in the world, and should be an expected property of manhood, or womanhood, or humanity. Rather than find some surrogate rite of passage, let’s take this blank era to move on to a more enlightened time.

12 Jason May 9, 2010 at 11:02 pm

“…the ancient desire to prove one’s manhood meets with a world where opportunities to do so are practically non-existent.”

I would have to respectfully disagree. I think even in our modern age of luxury and safety, there are still many ways that men can prove their manhood. I think that this site with hundreds of articles on a multitude of topics is proof that there are many ways modern men have opportunities prove themselves.

There’s much more to manhood than just the basic notion of the hunter/warrior/protective male entity. Even in societies where the hunter/warrior played a necessary role, the idea of manhood is more than just the hunter/warrior. I think back to the article about the Bushido code that the Samurai followed; yes, they were warriors – but they also lived by a code that upheld ideologies that ANY man in ANY time period could (and should) strive to uphold: justice, courage, benevolence, politeness, sincerity, honor, loyalty, and character.

In this day and age where the “protector” part of our manhood is somewhat diminished, I think it puts more emphasis on the other qualities of a man’s person that need to be perfected. Rather than trying to prove who’s the strongest or best warrior to demonstrate manhood, we should instead be trying to be the most honest, courageous, honorable men possible. It was easier for the warrior/hunter to prove his physical prowess; whoever killed the most men or brought home the largest kill was the manliest! The difficulty in focusing on a man’s person is that it is much harder to prove in a single “demonstration” – a man’s personal qualities must be proven over a lifetime.

13 Chris May 9, 2010 at 11:05 pm

Heather: I’m pretty sure physical differences between men and women emerged long before established cultures, and most likely before homo sapiens. If you look at our nearest evolutionary cousins, such as apes, you’ll find that males tend to be larger than females, and also more aggressive. This is primarily due to testosterone levels, which is why there isn’t much difference physically between males and females until puberty, when levels of testosterone and other hormones begin to rise.

14 Brett McKay May 9, 2010 at 11:31 pm

@Jason-

I completely agree with you that the qualities of manhood can be lived in any situation by any man. That is the part of manliness that will never change and is always attainable and the part we concentrate on here on the blog. But proving those qualities in the traditional sense of “manhood culture” is now difficult. Proving you had those qualities used to require an outward manifestation-Samurai proved their justice, courage honor, loyalty, and character in how they fought. These characteristics had to be demonstrated and approved by a tribe of other men. Today we should still live these values and strive for them, but we lack the tribe to initiate us into manhood-our manhood is largely a private and personal affair. And perhaps that’s okay-now we only need to prove manhood to ourselves. But will that be enough-that’s the question I’m interested in.

15 Harry R. Burger May 10, 2010 at 1:17 am

I read this and immediately thought of the Warrior Dash I just heard about. It’s a foot race with various obstacles, including jumping over fire, followed by turkey legs and beer. It’s being offered in a few different places across the country, and I’m seriously considering doing it myself – trying to find a few friends to join me (Northeast region). I guess the last part is that it’s one thing to prove yourself in front of strangers, another to do it before your peers, and I’m looking for motivation and a goal to get my rear in gear to work out a little more regularly. http://www.warriordash.com/index.php

BTW, Baden Powell didn’t set out to create the Scouts – it was kind of an accident. A bunch of boys took his field manual he wrote for the Army and started doing it on their own. People told him about it, and he decided to pick it up and run with it, writing a new manual with boys specifically in mind instead of soldiers. That was over 100 years ago now. WWW

16 Darrin May 10, 2010 at 1:51 am

Awesome. I can’t help but think of James Brown’s song, “It’s a Man’s World,” when I read this. Most people would think the song sounds completely sexist and from a different era, although I think it speaks volumes to a fundamental part of the masculine psyche that is suppressed in this day and age.

I know too many guys who are content to slog along at jobs they despise just because it gives them enough money to pay for video games, fast food, and cheap booze. I hope they realize eventually that to truly be a man means getting outside of this comfort zone.

Great post.

17 Mark May 10, 2010 at 2:43 am

Good article. Good questions. Good points. Good, enriching discussion. While sexual attraction has not been part of this discussion, I read an underlying assumption that competing with one’s peers for the honor of manhood includes taking a woman, if not also the best and most honorable woman, sexually. Raising a new generation to capable leadership of the tribe no doubt is heroic and deserving of special honor, but the act of fathering children alone hardly deserves the distinction of “good man”. Furthermore, what man impregnates a woman out of an altruistic desire to see the culture survive? Very few. And those who claim so are either evading the “embarrassing” question of desire by putting emphasis on the result, or are outright lying.

While I personally desire to live up to the virtues of manliness and to be so recognized by my peers, I also acutely recognize the self-serving hypocrisy of the cult of manhood as developed in the nineteenth century and to which you point in the article as a possible argument against the thesis that losing the classical ideal of manhood leaves a society vulnerable (i.e. degenerate). As much as I would want to father and raise a child for any number of reasons, and while I am perfectly biologically capable of impregnating a woman, I have very little natural impulse to do what it takes to get a woman pregnant. And no woman would ever be satisfied with a husband whose natural attraction to men contrasts so profoundly to his professed love for her.

A former Boy Scout myself, I know the ideal of manly knowledge that its leaders are supposed to bring the youth into. I also know how little life in my troop ever matched that ideal. And yet, claiming to protect this ideal, today’s leadership of Baden Powel’s organization in effect merely protect their own threatened manhood, as you noted, “at the expense of stripping another man of his.” The same hypocrisy is true of those who make noise about “protecting” marriage by writing laws to bar other men from marriage, or, in some states, from even adopting children abandoned by their biological fathers. And as long as the military continues to punish the integrity of soldiers who do not desire women as the majority of men do, they can continue the hypocritical lie with a straight face that the only soldiers capable of protecting the nation, i.e. the “manly” soldiers, are the ones whose sexual attraction is to women.

I agree: manhood is earned from one’s peers, from one’s society. But the right to compete for that honor belongs to every man, not just to those who, through no virtue of their own, meet the self-interested criteria of the oligarchy. Moreover, it takes the integrity of a real man to stand up against the societal forces that would bestow upon him the essentially empty title of “manhood” by stripping him of his true masculinity.

By the way, I love your podcasts. This is good stuff even for the guys who aren’t attracted to the gals. Thanks!

18 Sir Lancelot May 10, 2010 at 2:56 am

Hetaher wrote. “I think it’s been a fairly long time since there have been jobs that require a level of heavy lifting that can only be done by man.”

I could tell you otherwise.

19 interesting May 10, 2010 at 3:10 am

The part about the Tahitian society is very interesting to think about. Looking around, at the way our current capitalistic society is going, I want to agree and say that we are on the same track as the tahitians- obtaining a stable society without insane violence between familes/people, bringing food to those in need- it is possible for us/the world to be plentiful across the globe, and being “genderless”, but I don’t see the U.S. or Western/Capitalistic societies going that path. Especailly with Christian/patriarchial values and leaders “leading” the country. Look at the evangelicials, there’s no way they’d accept genderless societies, or even peace for that matter. yay religion..
It’s tragic, because a more peaceful relaxed society would be so amazing. and yes, i know the world is techincally more peaceful then it’s ever been, but we can still improve! we can get rid of abuse, rape, unnecessary violence and bloodshed. I think that removing the obstacle of “manliness” is one way to do it. But, letting the scales tip and placing women on top is not the way to go either. Women, in our society, in order to “compete” with men, or do the same jobs as men, have to work with a double standard- perfect soccer mom and CEO? That would be well neigh impossible to achieve.. There needs to be a relaxation of roles- dad can stay home with the kid, or they could take turns, or some solution that would work for them.
Ultimately, Genderless is the way to go. Genderless as in- everyone can do what they want (as long as it conforms to the flexible society “rules”/norms) and basically like the Tahitians.

20 JamesBrett May 10, 2010 at 5:56 am

i live in rural tanzania, and the men here are not really called to anything greater than men anywhere else. they show their manhood by making money, having women, or siring children — and in some tribes by beating those women and children into submission. i’m just wondering if we haven’t glorified these “rites of passage” just a bit. i know there are cultures that still require men to kill game and the like, but i’m guessing there are lots of men who get away without doing so — or only by doing so. and in every culture, there are still guys who do the hunter-warrior thing. they just do it on a football field or in the business world, showing their power and ability to dominate others. or they do it in a bed, finding their worth from sleeping around, and winning their trophies that way.

it seems a while back there was a post about man’s ability and desire to create. i like that idea a lot better. because in my mind, the best measure of a man has to be realized in and through God. i’ll take a Jesus Christ model of a man over a gladiator seeking revenge or a warrior proving his might any day. the idea of man creating is right in line with God’s purposes. as man was created by God and in his very image, God expects man in turn to create.

i’m not saying Jesus calls men to be sissies. but i do think he calls them to know when to fight and what to fight for.

21 Kyle Triplett May 10, 2010 at 8:05 am

I want to thank you all once again for another great article and great discussion. I do believe that manliness has been thrown under the bus in our day and age. And to “combat,” for lack of a better term, some of the women’s comments about equality and men not needing to be superior, I will have to say they are wrong. The Bible clearly states that a man should be the head of his household, that women should not instruct men (or run business meetings), and women should respect their husbands. Christ is the head of the church. Man is the head of his family (including his wife.) God created it this way, stating that women are a weaker vessel. Plain and simple. This is not to sound sexist, just stating what the Creator already stated in His infallible inherent word.

22 Nick May 10, 2010 at 8:59 am

This is a very thoughtful article, but I feel that it does not credit those men that live a life filled with manliness. I would argue that we still have many rights of passage, but that they have simply changed. Finding a challenging well-paying job or starting a successful business, committing to marriage, successfully navigating an exceedingly complex financial world, and providing safety and security for your family are the new rights of passage. Many men aspire to these things, but achieving them can be very difficult. I would agree that it is easier today to ignore these rights of passage, and take a completely different route, but for those still trying to live the real American dream, I feel like the stressful life is absolutely necessary. While the consequences of not “manning up” are not as immediate as they once were, the consequences are still there…they just take a on different form.

23 Jeff Sutherland May 10, 2010 at 9:33 am

Rad article, thanks.

As a dad to 3 boys, and 1 daughter, I believe it is important for our sons AND our daughters to be taught – and given opportunity – to “man up”. I am also husband to a woman who can do 27 pull ups, and the value that learning how to “man up” has provided her is hard to overstate.

Outdoor adventures are a prime tool/opportunity to develop this.

24 Brust Roethler May 10, 2010 at 9:45 am

I think that a reexamination of the term “retrosexual” is in order. We need to evolve beyond this idea that men in the past had reached some sort of perfect pinnacle of masculinity. Our society today has evolved into one wherein masculinity is villified, and men react by acting-out. Hanging out in the basement playing video games, watching football as if it were religion. Children.
The “greatest generation” defined for too many the pinnacle of manliness in the modern world. Let’s not forget the rampant sexism, racism, absentee fathers, and roughshod environmental catastrophes that our fathers and grandfathers helped perpetuate.
We need to, as insinuated above, redefine masculinity. A man:
-plans ahead (especially financially)
-has an even keel
-evaluates the facts prior to making a judgment
-provides for his family (even if he is a stay-at-home dad)
-knows how to use a hammer
-knows what it feels like to be hit. Hard. And then doesn’t do it except in sport or if all other avenues have been exhausted.
-knows when to knock-off work and race home to play catch with his son
-knows when to practice moderation
-knows when to compromise
-does not abdicate decision making responsibility, but shares in decisions that have more than one interested party (especially those with his wife)
-eats dinner with his family every night he can
-knows how to change the oil in his car
-takes his family camping
-does not ask permission to go have a drink with his friends, but gently informs his wife that unless previous plans exist, he is…
-treats life and living things with respect
-knows the value of hard work and instills the same in his children by compulsing them to contribute to the family from a very young age
-leads not by anecdotes, but by example
-avoids the use of qualifiers and justifiers
-is a part of the solution
-disciplines often and fairly
-provides boundaries for his children

There are thousands more, but most importantly, we need to realize that it isn’t specifically rites of passage that define manhood, but the everyday man. It is no good to have been in the military and served honorably, if you can’t come home and be a good father. It is the every day struggle to do what is right when *no one* is looking that makes a man, because believe me, they are looking. Always.

25 Matthew Cole May 10, 2010 at 10:20 am

Nice article.

I don’t think the military/paramilitary is the exclusive avenue for training men, nor do I think that the modern world offers less opportunities to be men. The contrast between Tahiti and, well, everywhere else is perfectly illustrative. Manhood is developed by facing weakness and overcoming hardship. Whether those hardships are financial, macroeconomic, or the Vikings at the gate – all help forge men. The Good Book (admittedly in context of friendship) describes the process of gaining manhood as “iron sharpening iron.”

In our modern age, there are plenty of opportunities for manhood to be illustrated. Facing terrorism makes the evening news, but facing crime in general with courage is an everyday occurance for many Americans of all classes. Standing for integrity in the face of corruption in public and private life happens all the time. Being able to deal with failures in technology, everything from power outages to problems with the car, without undue fear and with calm illustrates maturity and yes manhood. And even in this day and age, protecting your sig other from unwanted advances – and dealing with her when those advances may have been desired – will test your mettle as a man.

Also, I challenge you to rethink the idea that this age is so much less violent in general. Personally, I think the slaughter hasn’t abated – just the consequences of getting caught are much lighter. After all SS Captain Klaus Barbie (the inspiration for SS Col Hans Landa in “Inglorious Basterds”) died in prison. What do you think would have happened to him in the 16th century?

26 Michael Hill May 10, 2010 at 10:30 am

This goes along with something I’ve been looking at lately which is the Sheepdog Concept. You can see it here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OW8BZ7pRt28

27 mattie May 10, 2010 at 10:32 am

Great article!

I think the importance of a right of passage cannot be understated, and if no one objects, I would like to share mine.

At 71 years old, my dad is a strong, stoic relic of a bygone era when men were men. I’ve been incredibly lucky to have such an incredible exemplar of rugged and honorable manliness in my life. When I was 19 years old I graduated from U.S. Army Infantry School. During the graduation ceremony my dad, dressed in his best, hung the time-honored symbol of the infantryman, the blue cord, on my shoulder. It was the proudest moment of my young life, and the only time I’ve ever seen the old man cry.

That was the right of passage for me. From that point on my dad and I have had a different relationship. A better relationship, one of mutual respect and trust. That moment, which is carved into my memory, constantly reminds me of my responsibilities as a man.

28 Mitch Rhymer May 10, 2010 at 10:33 am

I generally think that most people have hit upon some of the issues that concern manliness and manhood.

Yet the one thing I think each of these posts has missed has been the raison d’etre for rites of passage, sexism, chest-bumping, adventure seeking, etc.

While I am not a huge fan of Jungian psychology I believe that the general gist of the archetypal model he taught was correct in that it takes heroes to make boys into men.

Look at anyone’s hero and that will tell you what type of man they will become. Of course I mean this in a general sense. Certainly, I do not mean that just because Wilt Chamberlain is your hero you will become a man-whore.

Rather are your heroes warriors? Are they thinkers? Are they flawed? The idea is simply that we have heroes to teach us how to be men. Many times we end up making the same mistakes our heroes make simply because we do not see the flaws until they are too late. Yet, they are still heroes and we soar to new heights because we have their courage, or honor, or duty in the face of such flaws.

There is not excuse of bad behavior but are we so focused on the bad that we fail to see the good. Patton is one of my heroes. Not just because he was a great general but because he pushed people to their maximum potential. Yes he smacked a soldier around but that does not mean I have to smack people around. He was called Ol blood and guts because he wanted everything from a man including his blood and guts. This is what it takes to be a man from Patton’s perspective. But dare I say those of the 101st who had been surrounded for 6 months at Bastogne did not care that he slapped a soldier around or was called Ol Blood and Guts. He pushed his men to the brink to save those soldiers of the 101st.

Let our heroes stand for themselves. Let us pick and choose the attributes that we want from our heroes. Let us walk the path they walked only to know that they marked the dangers for us to avoid. The “right” of passage is the “way” to manhood.

29 Jerome May 10, 2010 at 11:19 am

Reminds me of Joseph Campbell’s “The Hero with a Thousand Faces”.

30 Jeremy May 10, 2010 at 11:21 am

As Brett commented above, I think some people are missing the point of the post. No one would argue that a man can no longer cultivate good qualities and manly traits. But the culture where one had to “prove” their manhood has disappeared, where one had to demonstrate it to other men and have them initiate you. And the question is whether or not that’s a good thing. I’d say it’s not. Yes, every private man can privately cultivate his manhood, but as the article argues, striving for excellence does not come naturally to people. So while a few men will continue to push themselves, not as many men will step up as when there is a whole culture prodding you to be a man.

31 Kris Freeberg May 10, 2010 at 11:32 am

re: sexuality,

In retrospect I must recognize and admit that fatherhood has yielded much more joy and satisfaction for me than sex; and that detachment (from women) and dispassion (about them) have been essential to my survival, sanity, and self-respect. So to me, “taking” (is if they could be taken – my experience has been that they have free wills of their own) a woman is not the unspoken point of manliness or manhood; indeed, I would regard a man who considers the getting of a woman as his ultimate goal to be missing the mark; on the contrary I would consider the getting of a good woman to be a possible, but not certain, dividend or byproduct of successful manliness.

But life isn’t so neat and tidy, is it? For I have seen lackluster men with fabulous women and vice-versa. Attraction is a strange, often irrational, reckless, and arbitrary thing. Good-hearted women take on underachieving men with the intention of “fixing” or changing them and live lives of frustration and despair while the men feel hen-pecked and resentful; good-hearted men take on broken women with similar intent and results; the match is often uneven; opposites often attract; motives are often ulterior and poorly understood; true “power couples” who are equally yoked are a rare and splendid thing. Over the years, I have had the pleasure of working with a few . . . just a few . . . .

I agree with James: I’ll take the Jesus model over the gladiator model. He knew how, where, about what, with whom, and why to pick His battles.

So to me, proving manhood is a sacramental matter that involves both what is visible, tangible, and temporal, and what is invisible, intangible, and eternal. It’s definitely metaphysical and mystical, a challenge to be an icon of my heavenly Father as I understand Him; and since I understand Him to be infinite and ineffable, that understanding is constantly growing. Yes stuff, money, and women are pieces of the puzzle, but in the final analysis they’re all temporal.

Reflecting on my three marriages, in each case what I realize I did my best to do was love my wives regardless whether they reciprocated, on the one hand, and champion what’s right on the other. What infuriated them all, in the end, was that I upheld a standard for rightness that was independent of them; they wanted to be the standard; and it seems to me that their unspoken assumption was that by giving themselves to me, what they expected in return was the right to be the standard of everything that was good and right in our lives, to call the shots, to establish a de-facto matriarchy. When I informed them that a higher, better standard than them existed and that my goal was to follow it and not them, they felt like I was not holding up my end of the bargain and left; they felt de-throned.

It was a form of idolatry, really. My wives wanted not just to be loved; they wanted to be worshiped. I said yes I will love you, and no I will not worship you. That was the deal-breaker.

Now I have never divorced anyone, they all divorced me; and I would assert that this challenge, to love a woman without worshiping her, was a challenge of manliness; and although the results have been sorrowful, I feel that I passed the test.

So I suppose, Brett, if your goal with A of M is to establish criteria for manliness, a sort of peer-review thing, what I would suggest is a dimension that addresses how men deal with conflict in their relationships with women. I would offer that a real man recognizes that abuse is “using up” or consuming more than you produce, and that violence is usually not physical, it is simply violation of any boundary, many of which are invisible, intangible, and unspoken; and that he does not tolerate abuse or violence of any kind, either by himself, against himself, or against anyone else.

I have sent you Sean Morey’s “The Man Song” (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t7Y0I91rubg&feature=player_embedded) that lampoons the lament of an abused man; in humor there is truth. It seems to me that a candid discussion of this matter is inevitable.

Thanks for the great forum, it’s much-needed.

Kris Freeberg

32 Elizabeth Swinney May 10, 2010 at 11:46 am

“A girl’s passage into womanhood can be marked by her first menstruation and “proven” through pregnancy and childbirth. The latter particularly compels a woman to grow up.”
YOU HAVE GOT TO BE KIDDING ME !!! I decided at a very young age that it was not my bag to participate in pregnancy and childbirth… are you saying I’m not a woman, not grown up? If anything, I am smarter and more grown up than the vast majority of women I know with failed marriages who have ruined the lives of children they never gave due consideration to having. There are so many other ways for a woman to be “compelled to grow up.” To leave it at just that one is ignorant and unfair.

33 Julian May 10, 2010 at 12:09 pm

My brother, sailed with Dad, from Montauk to the Carribean, went through some scary sea. Dad sailed across the Atlantic when he was younger. I bicycled to Brasil, from LA, with short flight from Panama to Columbia. These things can be done, and the young guy who shielded his friends from a grenade, has many brothers. Across the board life is less harsh, but specialized jobs often require all the skill a man has, and also the path of growing up, becoming mature, growing, and seeking whats good and right is just as real as any day before us. Perhaps its even harder today, because of confusion of choice.
I am not sure I buy the idea that the ideal time for shaping men was so far away from ours.

34 Valerie May 10, 2010 at 12:27 pm

I would have to wonder what’s so manly about proving one’s self to other men through some dangerous or borderline stupid rite of passage. (Oh, and some cultures have dangerous rites of passage for women too. FGM comes to mind, but I digress.) A man who is truly mature should feel secure enough about his manliness to do right simply because it’s right, and not to prove anything to anyone else.

35 Rick S. May 10, 2010 at 12:29 pm

You can see it in the present conflict in Iran and Afghanistan. The war on terror. After 9-11 everyone said we need to fight terrorism no matter where they are. Well? What are we doing? Although all agree that the war needs to be fought no one is stepping up to fight it! Even my wife says she doesn’t want her sons to be in the military. No one is ‘manning up’ to fight this war. I served in the Navy, Army, and the Air Force and have been in ‘harms way’ but kids now have no wish to take on that responsibility. They say ‘turn the other cheek’… And when that one gets slapped as well?! Our ‘heros’ are either on screen, comic books, or on the “PLAYING” field. And even then they aren’t real heros but talking suits taking what they can and giving little in return or worse, being total asses.

Enough, time to “Man Up” boys. Let’s kick the terrorist’s asses and make them wish they were still sucking on their momma’s breast!!!!

36 bobert May 10, 2010 at 1:19 pm

the tahitian reference is irrelevant. the only reason that they live in the lap of relaxation is because their forebears were manly men who chopped logs into canoes, braved the ocean storms to find new lands, and carved a new existence out in tahiti…. they rest on the laurels of others (and the welfare provided by the french now). super prosperity is always transitory.

37 Lenadams Dorris May 10, 2010 at 2:35 pm

The real goal of a rite-of-passage is trust…is the boy going to be worthy of the trust of the rest of the group? All the other stuff, the killing, the hunting, the survival skills, these all issue from that concept and are suited to the physical realities of a particular time and place.

My tribe long ago transcended hunting and gathering and became first farmers and then merchants and urbanites. We instituted a ritual for manhood that has stood the test of time, a process by which a young man teaches himself the rules of his tribe and then stands before the older men and asks for acceptance.

The tribe? The tribe if Judah, of course. The ritual? The bar-mitzvah. Doesn’t seem bloody enough or hard enough or real enough? Then I suggest a) ask a Jewish man about his bar mitzvah and what it took to achieve; and b) try it yourself (brush up on your Hebrew, and your Aramaic and Yiddish while you’re at it!)

38 Archie May 10, 2010 at 3:00 pm

I served in the Marine Corps and fought in Iraq, I’m 26, I have a career, I married the girl of my dreams and we are expecting a son in August. My peers are still trying to “find themselves”… I’m not saying that every man should join the military, but I’m going to raise my kid in that spirit of service, when he gets old enough I’m going to give him an ultimatum; the Marine Corps, or the Peace Corps. That is what being a man is all about, knowing that there is a bigger cause than just the “individual”, and serving that cause.

39 Men's t-shirts May 10, 2010 at 3:50 pm

Great article guys. I agree with Valerie though, a real man would surely be happy in his own personal manliness.

40 Sarah May 10, 2010 at 4:14 pm

Thank you for the excellent post and discussion. I have to say that I wonder why men consistently reach the conclusion that non-productive displays of physical prowess (body sculpting, iron-man competitions, etc) or martial superiority (ultimate fighting, war games, etc) are the best ways to achieve acceptance as a man. I worry our entertainment-seeking culture ignores more productive outlets for men to prove their masculinity. Sure, ours is a relatively luxurious society but we are far from finished with the physical work of improving the world. When millions go hungry or homeless, are we not wasting some serious time in gyms and on camping expeditions? When governments, local and beyond, dispense large sums of money for disaster clean up, privatized emergency response, upkeep of public spaces, etc. I see tremendous opportunity for a collective man-up. All of the scenarios I listed (and I can think of so many more) require a combination of physical dependability and the ideal male ethic Jason mentioned above; “justice, courage, benevolence, politeness, sincerity, honor, loyalty, and character.”

If more young men exchanged their gym memberships for volunteer roles at local fire departments, they would achieve more than just physical and mental fitness and would be fulfilling a necessary and valuable social obligation.

We have become increasingly private as a culture, thanks in large part to technology. That privacy, along with the very American notion of rugged individualism has rendered both men and women rather detached from a necessary and honorable sense of obligation to the community at large.

Indeed military service offers a means to demonstrate this community-mindedness. However, it becomes less of an option when would-be soldiers are also thoughtful enough to worry about the broader implications of their service to a flawed campaigns. So where are the alternatives? We need more civil service opportunities for both young men and women to achieve rights of passage than those that at times (though not always) conflict with a mature and tempered world view.

41 Topher May 10, 2010 at 4:27 pm

You’ve certainly hit an interesting problem here. What are the ways in which a man can prove himself now, ways which do not involve demeaning other men, or the false gods of selfish indulgance (e.g., notches on the bedpost)? We hope that there will always be men to charge up those stairs, but there are fewer and fewer stairs to charge up. In order for men to step up, they have to have opportunity to step up; and in a world of luxery, those oppostunities are few.

I wonder sometimes about the difference between making and proving – does the challenge to stand up to odds – whther it’s the first solo hunt or the charge up the fiery stairs – create the man, as a crucible, or simply prove what was already there? I think it’s both, but I think it is far more the making than just the proving.

Looking at past societies, I think we see that it is not a single moment that makes a man, but that said moment is a culmination of a lifetime of incremental challenges. What are we doing with ourselves and our children to provide them that steady set of challenges of character, of courage, of strength? How does one create a personality – in themselves or their sons – that when put into the crucible will come out pure and strong, not brittle and broken?

I’ve struggled as an individual and a father. I can only say that if you’re really looking for it, you can find it – teaching moments for yourself and your children. Challenges that help you look into yourself. But in this modern age they’re not going to just come up to you. Some people seek to challenge themselves for the challenge itself – like climbing a mountain because it’s there. I’ve never seen the practicality in that. But if it works for you, great. But the point is to not be passive.

The world we have is one in which you can passively accept the luxury. Or you can look for challenges – either manufactured, or by seeking the teaching moments in the environment you have. Only then can you have some idea of which way you’ll run on the stairs should the time ever come.

42 Stephen May 10, 2010 at 6:10 pm

Heather’s absolutely right, it’s totally chicken and egg. Women can operate machines just as well as men do and strong women are naturally better at physical labour than weak men. Less assertive men are less assertive than more assertive women. Anything else is burying your head in the stereotype sand.

Chris: As a side note, I’ve often thought there’s a slightly creepy fascination with testosterone on this site, it’s just a hormone, just leave the endocrine system to the doctors. If you did puberty you’ve got enough testosterone in you. If you’re really sensitive about it you should just glue a bit of carpet to your chest (or man up, just sayin’).

43 Jason May 10, 2010 at 9:05 pm

@ Kyle Triplett
“The Bible clearly states that a man should be the head of his household, that women should not instruct men (or run business meetings), and women should respect their husbands. Christ is the head of the church. Man is the head of his family (including his wife.) God created it this way, stating that women are a weaker vessel. Plain and simple. This is not to sound sexist, just stating what the Creator already stated in His infallible inherent word.”

I’m not accusing you of being sexist, but your statement itself is inherently sexist. I make this comment only to prove a point (not to start any fundamentally religious discussion or controversy). What you have to remember is that God himself (or herself) did not write the Bible – humans did. At the time it was written, humanity lived in a patriarchal society; in traditional Judaism (which is the foundation of Christianity) it was the men’s role to study the holy Torah and to have religious discussion with other men. Any religion that is built upon a patriarchal society will inherently have patriarchal leaders – God the “father”, Jesus the “son”, etc. And guess who wrote the Bible? The men.

@ Brett
I think there are a number of issues underlying your question: the role of parenting (especially the father figure), male sexuality (promiscuity, unfaithfulness, rape, abuse/harassment), etc. What all of these (predominantly male) issues strike me as are ways that men attempt to prove their masculinity – more than likely because they don’t know how! In some ways, I can see how this may have arisen from the society we live in; the diminishing importance of religious rituals (like the bar-mitzvah or confirmation), the ever growing number and variety of said rituals… I think the thing that is tough is that the american society is not jointly agreed on one single ritual that is needed to pass into adulthood. And when we don’t all agree, it leads to confusion; which in turn leads to the aforementioned issues with males in America.

44 Joel May 10, 2010 at 9:14 pm

Selflessness. That is what is missing. Consider how far would you go or how much you would do for another? Are you willing to give to someone who can not give back or repay you? I believe men and women have their complimentary roles. When selfishness grows to epidemic proportions, the heoric will rise quietly and give selflessly expecting nothing in return.

45 Mitch May 10, 2010 at 9:40 pm

Umm.. Jason, really? Humans may have put the ink to the paper but it was by the guidance of God. It is called inspiration. Look it up. It means that God wrote the BIble. Leave the uninformed, liberal, feminist comments to another web page.

Manhood is something inherent in a man that makes him a man. Why do these discussions always end up with people talking about what women can do. I thought this was about how to be manly not about how to separate the sexes. Honestly, can we not leave the differentiation between the sexes out of this. It does not matter who can do what it is about how to be a man.

46 Brian May 10, 2010 at 9:49 pm

I see proving one’s “manhood” these days as providing for an protecting ones family — not much different in essence from what it always was but certainly with different methods. I was also in scouts but didn’t and don’t see it much of a rite of passage. Wrestling through high school and college was much more a test of manhood. What’s the cryptic “WWW” thing mean?

47 Sarah G May 11, 2010 at 1:51 am

Brett and Kate, I’m skeptical – I really doubt it will be enough for men to only have to prove their manhood to themselves. Left to their own devices, any man, woman or child will spiral downward into vile creatures – as evidenced by literature and much of history. I think men, especially, absolutely require even just one other man’s active, genuine and attentive participation in some aspect of their lives, maybe he doesn’t need a whole tribe – but someBODY has to teach him a “life code” through example, not just talk. I’m not sure that bridge to manhood can be traveled with only the internet, books or even with a boy’s mother. Every man must choose to man up at some point in his life, but what I’m thinking is that it’s impossible to fully do so without being given strong and genuine guidance by another man.

48 Sir Lancelot May 11, 2010 at 4:27 am

“Reflecting on my three marriages, in each case what I realize I did my best to do was love my wives regardless whether they reciprocated, on the one hand, and champion what’s right on the other. What infuriated them all, in the end, was that I upheld a standard for rightness that was independent of them; they wanted to be the standard; and it seems to me that their unspoken assumption was that by giving themselves to me, what they expected in return was the right to be the standard of everything that was good and right in our lives, to call the shots, to establish a de-facto matriarchy. When I informed them that a higher, better standard than them existed and that my goal was to follow it and not them, they felt like I was not holding up my end of the bargain and left; they felt de-throned.

It was a form of idolatry, really. My wives wanted not just to be loved; they wanted to be worshiped. I said yes I will love you, and no I will not worship you. That was the deal-breaker.”

Kris, you’ve summed up perfectly my problem with women.

49 englishbob May 11, 2010 at 7:47 am

I disagree that it has been a long time since since there have been jobs that require heavy lifting that can only be done by a man. There are lots of them. In my experience lifting an unconscious person by yourself requires considerable whole body strength that few women have. Construction work, emergency services, security etc., sure women can work in these industries but heavy lifting is involved and that is not a particular attribute that many women can provide. That is not to say women do not make vital contributions to these and many other roles – of course they do – but lets not kid ourselves into thinking heavy lifting is a job of the past.

As for proving your manhood – I think it is still an important part of our lives and it is achieved different than in the past. Even women want “a real man” although some women think that your “realness” is defined by your ability to buy everyone drinks at the bar. For me, aside from being able to physically defend your family from attack (which is a requirement in my neighborhood), being a man means making sure the bills are paid, there is a roof over everyone’s head and there are clothes on everyone’s back.

Hmmm, just like in the old days.

50 Mklad May 11, 2010 at 11:08 am

The evil of militarism is not that it shows certain men to be fierce and haughty and excessively warlike. The evil of militarism is that it shows most men to be tame and timid and excessively peaceable. The professional soldier gains more and more power as the general courage of a community declines. Thus the Pretorian guard became more and more important in Rome as Rome became more and more luxurious and feeble. The military man gains the civil power in proportion as the civilian loses the military virtues. And as it was in ancient Rome so it is in contemporary Europe. There never was a time when nations were more militarist. There never was a time when men were less brave. All ages and all epics have sung of arms and the man; but we have effected simultaneously the deterioration of the man and the fantastic perfection of the arms. Militarism demonstrated the decadence of Rome, and it demonstrates the decadence of Prussia.

–GK Chesteron (Hereitcs)

51 Joshua May 11, 2010 at 11:57 am

Articles like this one and the one responding to the New York Time, A Need for a New Way Forward I think it’s called, are why I love this site. There is a serious crisis in manhood today, articles like this shed light on the problem. Thank you.

52 Justin May 11, 2010 at 2:36 pm

Interesting Article.

As I’ve grown older and become more aware of myself and the role I should play in this world. I do agree there is a lot of anxiety surrounding the idea of what “manhood” is. I think mass media and capitalism feeds extremely degenerative ideas of what manhood should be. ie. Promiscuity (real and digital), Body Image (over sized muscles and height), Money, Fame, Material Possessions, Violence. From day one it starts for little boys to adult hood. We are at a very important point in history where Manhood can go further down the drain or rise up and actually take control of it. To me manhood should encompass Honor, Justice, Humility, Respect, Righteousness, Trust, and Loyalty. Will, Endurance, Perseverance, Patience, and Courage. Of course this is not just men but women too.

Embracing these fundamental ideas I think can really make men more aware of themselves rather then letting society lead you around on a leash. As society today is so interconnected in this day and age. Manhood ideas are such a soup of things that either don’t apply anymore, are constantly changing because of some equality changes between men and women (still has a ways to go), or because what the media and marketers subliminally or forcefully stuff in your face; makes it extremely hard to figure it out without feeling very lost.

A lot of men out there are complete goons because of all of this and not standing up for what is right. Though there are many that are great examples of what a man should be that they are smart, sophisticated and secure with themselves that they are multi-dimensional and not just some oversexed, steroid induced, rich dumb morons.

Separating certain activities that are only for men or only for women has to stop IMO. Because I think those walls really separate, confuse, and put down people.

Why can’t a man have healthy grooming practices, dress fashionably, be a stay at home father, make less money then their wife or gf, be completely loyal and respectful to your spouse, express their emotions.

There are too many people feeling certain practices or changes are an attack on our manhood. Rather I think many of the things we were told to think or that we believe that are universal truths, we just never really questioned. We used them as excuses to justify what is rightfully ours ie. Manhood.

53 Justin May 11, 2010 at 2:48 pm

To Kyle Triplett about the bible passage that Men should be the head of the household. Well Mary had to give birth to the Son of God. Without her your sins wouldn’t be forgiven. Shes just as important as any man. And if you ask most women, you really can’t be a weak vessel to do that. You can read your scriptures and take it blindly but maybe you should be aware of certain aspects of it and ponder it.

54 Rhubarb May 11, 2010 at 10:23 pm

To K (way up the board) et all,

I think this perception of the changes in culture endangering the future ability of children to man/woman up have led to the more modern versions of the “Girls Own Book” and the “Boy’s Own Book”; respectively “Daring book for Girls” and the “Dangerous book for Boys”. As someone who works in Parks I appreciate the need to get kids/teens moving, outside, and enjoying the wonders our planet offers without being required to have electricity.

I also think it’s funny how many things change in society, and how many stay the same. Scouting for both genders was a big deal in our family, as was community service, and having taught I generally liked that some districts required volunteering. Most students would grumble about it but then later talk about how much they enjoyed it. All of these are good things for our culture.

55 englishbob May 12, 2010 at 4:38 am

@Justin “be a stay at home father, make less money then their wife or gf,”

I think most men wouldn’t feel like a man if they did this and most women wouldn’t respect them. Most women want security and to be taken care of. They don’t want their man to be another child that they have to take care of.

56 Jason May 12, 2010 at 6:05 am

That article was great.

I think that we are required to step up, or at least be ready to protect and defend right now. You never know when some drunk guy is going to try to start a fight or hit on your wife. You never know when some psycho is going to pull a gun out and start shooting everyone in the mall or a fast food joint. And you never know when you may have to physically defend your home from intruders. Those are of course not be things to live in fear of, but i believe we should be ready to step in if the time comes.

Also, in my opinion, more than physical feats, what defines a man is his heart: how he treats his wife and kids, does he talk behind peoples’ backs, how does he treat his friends, does he respect his family and love his parents, is he loyal, is he willing to sacrifice himself for his family – even emotionally and mentally, etc. Integrity is crucial to manhood. And theres plenty of opportunities in our culture right now to step up to that. So many men think they are being a man by being the opposite of that in our society right now. They think its awesome to screw the most chicks, or drink the most beers, or get away with the most things, and one of the things that pisses me off the most is men going to “gentleman’s clubs”. Let me say, you are not being a gentleman by attending an event that exploits demeans* women. We are called to stand up and defend our women, and that includes defending they’re integrity, value, and esteem as well. And you are doing the opposite by attending these events.

We need men in our society that are willing to stand up for what’s right and not let “wrong” happen right in front of our faces passively. And there is plenty of “wrong” happening, so i don’t think there is a lack of opportunities calling for manhood in our societyvin America at the moment.

57 StagggerLee May 12, 2010 at 10:20 am

The concept of proving our manhood begs the question, “Proving it to whom?” I believe we begin by imitating it as children, proving it to others in adolescence, proving it to ourselves in young adulthood and ultimately reach full manhood when we are so self-assured we possess it that we no longer feel the need to prove it at all. Acts of courage become part of our nature. It is a beautiful thing!

58 The Flaming Phallus of Infallibility said May 13, 2010 at 3:02 pm

There are no true correlations to this male fixation for women.

Until they become mothers. Then the requirements, both practical and irrational, pile up, leading to paranoia and self-doubt.

59 gabe romero May 13, 2010 at 4:03 pm

Great article,
I think in a lot of ways manliness isn’t valued, just as you said there is an awkwardness about how manhood plays into society. As we raise our children our society seems to value feminine qualities over anything our fathers teach us. We have no rights of passage, not everyone goes to boy scouts, graduates college, or high school. What it takes to be a man is so skewed in modern America for even getting a job and providing for a family is shared. Some good stuff to think about.

60 William Saidland May 13, 2010 at 6:58 pm

Hi Guys,
Although the polemic was very ‘I’ve heard this a million times before’ the ‘article’ was a means of generating a discussion about manhood. Being a man is something you dooooo, or you arrrrre, ya can’t intellectualize about it; OK Emerson could. This discussion makes me want to grab my balls and cry like a girl. Real men: Clint Eastwood, Michael Landon, Christopher Reeve, Bruce Lee, Ayn Rand (had balls), and to cut the boy off at the pass, that says, ehh ehh these are mostly mythologies or actors, I would include any real man’s man, Joseph Campbell. ‘Real men’ are alive and well today. And ‘real men’ arrrrre mythologies; Walking, breathing, messing up the bathroom, and trying not to step on the weaklings they encounter day to day, mythologies. No ‘real men’are not ‘helping you with your finances’ (read: square jaws selling you crap), nor is he chasing down pigs with poison spears on West 39th. ‘Real men’ step up in an emergeny when the little girls, and men that behave like girls, need action, focus, and irrational risk taking. Ohhh I almost did a girl thing and used a spell checker…Got to go..I need to punch something….

61 Dan May 14, 2010 at 11:58 am

I think it is absurd that women come onto a website called THE ART OF MANLINESS and whine about the posts, start arguments over topics being sexist, and even try to tell us men what is manly and what isn’t, and also how to acheive manliness! Come on now, women. We don’t invade your space in the kitchen or at Curves, so perhaps you could show us the courtesy of not bitching on one of the few bastions of manliness that exists today?

62 Dragonn76 May 15, 2010 at 11:50 pm

When all else has failed, even the most obstinate females will look to strong intelligent male counterparts and say: “DO SOMETHING!”. To argue this fact will prove that you are truly naive and inexperienced in life. Steel yourselves men, because it will be you that the women and children will look to when it comes time to fend off the wolves. 8/28/2005

63 Matt May 17, 2010 at 1:58 am

Great article. There were so many untruths in Heather’s ramblings that I had to laugh, God love her. Women have done so much to contribute to this nation but there are thousands of jobs that they just can’t do anatomically. Google some pics of the steel workers that have built, and continue to build, this great country and see if you see any women. The list goes on and on.

64 wes May 17, 2010 at 12:20 pm

The Scouts aren’t even much of a right of passage anymore. I recently saw they’re offering badges for video games, now while this would have thrilled me when I was a kid I don’t see it as being very useful. I saw our local scouts and it was pathetic, there’s barely enough to keep the packs going and most of them look like they aren’t exactly stable or reliable. The Scouts seem to have become someplace to send your kids to get rid of them when they don’t have any clubs or groups to belong to. Someone needs to create a Scout-like group that is back to basics. It’s just a sign of how American society is in the toilet and getting worse with every year, the kids are dumber as are the parents half the time.
The downfall of manliness and general loss of social responsibility over the last few decades, even since the 70s, is rather alarming as it shows how fast the morals of a society can crumble when parents don’t pass things on to their children or protect them from outside influences such as friends or the public school system trying to make our kids into weak and mindless sheep.

65 Sudan May 19, 2010 at 11:33 am

Success is the attribute of real manhood in this society. If you were to utilize that outdated paradigm of hardihood to describe a man, then a lot of men would be manly, yet unable to feed their families, protect there belief systems, and so on…

66 Pocketfemme May 19, 2010 at 2:45 pm

Why would a woman read articles on “The Art of Manliness?” Um, wasn’t this article co-authored by a woman? Should she go to some designated woman’s space like the kitchen and read herself a Curve magazine?

I’m a woman who periodically reads this site. I’m interested in gender, and I agree that that masculinity needs to be discussed, celebrated, and reworked for our current times. I’ve always enjoyed the articles, and my butch partner–for whom masculinity is the most natural expression of gender–likes the style and etiquette advice. Hell, we found this site through a link on a queer site.

I found this article somewhat problematic, mostly because it argued that women more easily prove their womanhood. And that they do so through menstruation and pregnancy. While some women have been lucky enough to find support and community around the time of their first periods, many others have not. Bleeding does not make one feel more like “part of the tribe,” if you will, especially when it (and womanhood) are so often viewed as a curse or burden. It’s not generally experienced as an accomplishment, unless caregivers of girls intentionally celebrate it as a rite of passage. Which is pretty rare. And pregnancy? Sorry, but this completely leaves out the many many women who don’t want to get pregnant.

I do agree, though, with the premise that masculine folk are in need of new rites of passage, occasions to honor and celebrate their gender. So I read the comments, hoping for some inspiring ideas, and was floored by the number of sexist comments. Floored.

I don’t understand why proving oneself a man has to include policing men for “acting like girls,” huntin’ terrorists, delegating women’s roles and spaces, etc. I don’t know why people here seem to think there aren’t any women who are hard laborers, or that “all women want….”

Why can’t you use this article, this site, to create, analyze, and relish in masculinity without making assumptions about women or flat-out insulting them? It’s about time men and other masculine people started shaping and celebrating their gender expression. I’m all for it. But this comment thread is in large part backlash against women. Lame.

67 Cris May 20, 2010 at 5:34 pm

One thing that this article didn’t touch on is that because there are no commonly recognized rites of passage, men today are constantly trying to prove their manhood. There is no single event, witnessed by the tribe, which we can point to and say “Here I was a boy, but here I became a man.” Therefore, rather than being able to say “I am a man” we must constantly remind ourselves that “I must be a man.”

Without the rite-of-passage, we are unable to abide in manliness. It is not inherent in who we are, so we must repeatedly, at every opportunity, prove to those around us that we are worthy of being called men.

68 Dan May 24, 2010 at 9:10 pm

@Pocketfemme

OK, I’ll admit that the kitchen and Curves statement was a bit harsh, but please try to put yourself in my position before attempting to reprimand me.

How would you feel if a beloved womans site was suddenly being visited by a bunch of angry men, commenting on how sexist, offensive, and wrong the posts were? Then, what if the men (who really aren’t competent in knowing much about womens interests or thoughts) try and give advice to the women, and say what actually is or isn’t true? Furthermore, what if the men compared their tribulations to the womens by saying that mens were more difficult? Wouldn’t you feel that the men’s presence is a bit intrusive, misguided, and uncalled for? Yeah, thats what I thought.

I’m not trying to say who can/cannot, or should/ should not visit the site. I’m in no way, shape or form of an authority. I’m merely saying that I believe it is rude to go on a site not catered to you, and start complaining and correcting on topics which, no offense, you aren’t really qualified to talk about since you aren’t a man.

There’s nothing wrong with reading the site, but it is foolish of you to complain about the posts not being sensitive enough towards women. After all, the site is called The Art of Manliness for Chrissakes.

This got me to thinking though…was it difficult to install your computer in the kitchen? It just seems to be a bit hazardous, what with all the appliances, water, and other obstacles to a high-tech electrical setup.

69 Steve Gluck May 30, 2010 at 8:35 pm

M. de Bougainville was as naive as Margaret Meade and (apparently) the McKays. The Tahitians were warriors. All South Sea Islanders were.

70 Seth McCormick June 30, 2010 at 4:08 pm

@Steve Gluck

Be that as it may, try to avoid personal attacks.

71 Sampson July 11, 2010 at 2:04 pm

@ Dan – “…was it difficult to install your computer in the kitchen? It just seems to be a bit hazardous, what with all the appliances, water, and other obstacles to a high-tech electrical setup.”
-I saw what you did there… nicely done sir.. nicely done

@ Elizabeth Swinney – “YOU HAVE GOT TO BE KIDDING ME !!! I decided at a very young age … blah blah blah … ignorant and unfair.”
- to be so outraged and offended by a statement on a website for and about men… shows to me that you are not a woman.. but an immature little girl…

72 Johann July 23, 2010 at 9:09 am

Great article.

73 Johann July 23, 2010 at 9:12 am

Well Done.

74 Nicole. August 2, 2010 at 12:27 am

I find this article problematic because it doesn’t address the underlying gender discrimination when men are chided for being womanly, yet women are often encouraged to be more manly.* Our society has placed upon women certain negative characteristics (weak, easily frightened, indecisive, etc), and thus it is bad when a man displays these qualities- it is bad for a man to act like a woman. Yet it is not bad for a woman to act like a man, and often good? What’s so inherently bad about being a woman? The concept of manliness doesn’t necessarily need to be changed, but the concept of womanliness.

* “To be seen as effeminate, and worst of all a ‘sissy’ is incredibly insulting to a great number of men…. Women are not chided to ‘be a woman about it’ or to ‘woman up.’ These days, they may be rarely admonished to be more ‘ladylike,’ but a woman acting ‘mannish’ typically carries little stigma and may even be celebrated.”

75 TJ December 4, 2013 at 8:19 am

VERY good article. Really shows the core of manliness. I would be willing to make the conjecture that manhood is more difficult to prove now based on our current state of luxury and lack of ability (better yet opportunities) for older men to demonstrate manliness to younger boys. But the idea of scarcity does not need to on a macro scale as suggested in the article. Sure famine, poverty, and constant threat of attack forces a man to “man-up”, but how about the smaller, day-to-day “crises” that arise and how we handle them? Someone on the bus is being a jack-wagon… how do you handle it? Someone gives you a task but not the proper resources to get it accomplished… how do you overcome to achieve? And of course sacrificing your own ego or pride to help another person in dire circumstance. These are the little things day to day that men must prove their manhood through.

76 RFA February 12, 2014 at 12:35 pm

Being a man means moving past the need for external validation.

Being a man means knowing you are in control of yourself and your direction in life.

You are a Man the day you know who you are, what your core values are and what principles you will never compromise. When you no longer need to define yourself by or care about other people’s ideas about who you should be and what you should do.

It took me years to break free of the socially imposed idea that my masculinity was fragile, easily lost and in constant need of testing or proving. This journey to becoming a Man was incredibly painful. No further ritual or public announcement was necessary because I no longer look to anyone else to define myself as a man.

The sheer number of insecure boys posting immature, derogatory and sexist comments on this site are staggering. Anyone who blames his insecurities and failures on another group of people based on race, gender or creed is a weak coward. Anyone who takes out his anger and frustration about his failures on his family, subordinates, strangers, prostitutes and/or animals is a worthless and weak coward. I should know.

Men are, and will always be, a minority.

Thank you to Brett AND Kate McKay for attempting to help boys of all ages start figuring out who they want to be. We are all in this life together. Together we stand, divided we fall.

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