The Cure for the Modern Male Malaise: The 5 Switches of Manliness

by Brett on May 9, 2011 · 163 comments

in A Man's Life, On Manhood

A few weeks ago, I caught the premiere of the Discovery’s Channel’s “Human Planet,” a television show about the ways people have adapted to survive in Earth’s most extreme environments. Perhaps a better name for the program would have been “Man Planet,” as the show primarily chronicled the incredible feats of men around the world–men the tentacles of civilization have barely grazed. There were men mining sulfur from an active volcano; men diving dozens of feet and holding their breath for five minutes at a time to spear fish on the ocean floor; men initiating their sons into manhood by teaching them how to train eagles to hunt.  Even seemingly pedestrian tasks like taking your kids to school were fraught with danger; a father escorted his children on a 60 mile journey through the Himalayas, watching for potential avalanches and walking over a frozen river that could have cracked open at any moment.

I was immediately taken in by the show’s spectacular cinematography. But it was the image of these men straining and sweating, risking life and limb to provide for and feed their families that really caught my attention.

And by the end of the show, a bunch of things I’ve been thinking about for awhile had coalesced together.

What’s Plaguing Modern Men?

There has been a copious amounts of hand wringing lately about the state of modern men, about the fact that men appear to be falling behind in life and seem unmotivated and listless.

Why all this concern? The statistics are familiar to anyone who has read this genre of articles:

  • Women are more likely than men to graduate from high school.
  • Only 44% of undergraduates at community and four year colleges are men.
  • Female college students have higher grade point averages than men and are more likely to graduate within four years.
  • According to the US Census, “Among young adults 25 to 29, 35 percent of women and 27 percent of men possessed a bachelor’s degree or more in 2009. This gap has grown considerably in the last decade: it was only 3 percentage points in 1999 (30 percent for women, 27 percent for men).”
  • Women are 60% more likely than men to earn a bachelor’s degree by the time they are 23.
  • According to the US Census, for the first time in history, more women than men are earning advanced degrees. “In the 25-29 age group, 9 percent of women and 6 percent of men held either a master’s, professional (such as law or medical) or doctoral degree.” Nearly six out of ten adults holding advanced degrees between the ages of 25 and 29 are women.
  • Men lost 3/4 of the 8 million jobs that disappeared during the recession.
  • For the first time in history, there are now more women in the workforce than men.
  • 1/3 of men ages 22-34 still live at home with their parents. An increase of 100% in the last 20 years. According to the census, among young adults ages 18-24, 56 percent of men and 48 percent of women still live at home with their parents.

Plenty of theories have been offered as to what is behind these statistics. Some say the economy is to blame, as traditionally male industries have been moved off shore or gone extinct. Another reason given is that corporate culture and bureaucracy have sucked the soul out of men and taken away their manly autonomy. Others say it’s our consumer culture and the rise of particularly time-sucking hobbies like video games. And some say the root of the problem is feminism, the changing dynamic of male/female relationships, and the “cheapness of sex.”

But I would argue that there isn’t just one thing that you can point at and decisively say, “That one. That one was the man killer.” Instead, the source of the modern male’s lack of motivation is a conglomeration of all these factors. In short, the “problem”  is modern life in general.

To me the modern world is the best possible world to live in, without a doubt. The advancements we’ve made in technology and culture have made life safer, freer, and longer than ever before.

At the same time, no matter how unmitigated a good is, there are always unintended consequences that we have to grapple with. And the unintended consequence of modern life is that men feel lost and adrift.

The Wild Man Navigates Life in the 21rst Century

“Our forefathers had civilization inside themselves, the wild outside. We live in the civilization they created, but within us the wilderness still lingers. What they dreamed, we live, and what they lived, we dream.” -T.K. Whipple

Over tens of thousands of years, our manly ancestors evolved unique psychological traits that helped them survive and thrive in a dangerous, hardscrabble world. While we like to think that we’re cultured and sophisticated and quite a distance beyond all that, all men still have these primitive psychological traits embedded deep inside them.  As we can see from a show like “Human Planet,” there are still men who live this way right now. The modern society we enjoy today represents a mere blink in the long history of humanity.

And so we have a mismatch, where for men in the developed world the inner elements of masculinity remain unchanged, while the outer landscape in which those elements exist has been dramatically altered. Instead of spending most of our time outside each day, we spend the majority of it inside. Instead of braving the elements, we spend our time in climate-controlled environments. Instead of making things with our hands, we select items from the hundreds that line the aisles of gigantic stores. Instead of hunting down our dinner, we buy our meat pre-cut, in Styrofoam containers. Instead of being looked to as leaders of the tribe, we see ourselves lampooned in the media as bumbling and inept.

The primal elements of masculinity sit within us like a well-trained regiment of soldiers that is ready and itching to fight, but sits waiting restlessly, and endlessly, in reserve. Core aspects of the male psyche lie dormant, and men find themselves as square pegs trying to fit into a round hole. Having butted up against this mismatch over and over again, men are feeling angry and restless, losing their motivation, and giving up.

Modern Man: Stuck Between a Rock and a Hard Place

There are many more pundits who like to describe the problem with men today than actually propose a solution. And when a solution is proffered, it typically takes the form of “Get over it men. Your sun has set. Move on. It’s a woman’s world now.” And what this typically translates to is this: become more like women. Get in touch with your feelings, become more nurturing, and train to join the thriving, and traditionally female-dominated careers like nursing. The square peg is told to smooth off his sharp corners.

The other solution that some men take is to put themselves back in an environment similar to our caveman ancestors, so those unique male attributes are actually useful again. Men like Chris McCandless and Eustace Conway returned to the wild to live a more primitive lifestyle in order to reclaim their manliness and find themselves.

And so here we arrive at the crux of the problem. The solution offered to men by some–become more like women and leave behind traditional manliness–is not attractive to most guys. And the idea of going to live in a cave or an abandoned bus to live off the land isn’t a viable or desirable option either for most.  And thus men find themselves at what seems like a rock and a hard place. Feeling like there is no way forward, they sit down and surrender, and simply content themselves with drifting along.

Now some say that the drifting male isn’t really a problem at all. That men are obsolete and there isn’t a role for them to play in the modern world anyway. To which I say, bullocks!

It’s great that women finally have the freedom and opportunities to be their best, but society needs to have both sexes striving to reach their fullest potential.

Men at their best will be needed in every time and in every place. Our unique attributes are no longer always called upon for hunting dinner and doing battle (although as the recent killing of Osama bin Laden testifies, we certainly still need men for that). But we still need men to become leaders of families, honorable statesmen, innovators and entrepreneurs, teachers and mentors, and worthy brothers, husbands, and citizens. Men at their best have something unique to offer the world no matter what the changing landscape. Men are absolutely vital to the continued health of society. To throw up our hands and say we’re obsolete is beyond silly. We just need to learn to re-purpose our unique manly traits for our new environment.

There’s still a role for men to play in the world. We simply need to find a way to get motivated and going again. To get back on the horse.

Flipping the Switches of Manliness

The solution for the modern male malaise lies at the heart of the idea behind the Art of Manliness itself: to move forward by looking back.

The solution means moving beyond the all-or-nothing proposition we sometimes feel we are stuck with. Men feel like they cannot fully embrace the old ways nor move into the new ways, and so they decide to do nothing at all. But it doesn’t have to be an all or nothing proposition. You don’t have to become a sensitive ponytail guy OR a Neanderthal.

Something that has helped me lately is picturing those unique primordial male characteristics as power switches that are either on or off. When these switches are turned on, they activate our Wild Man. Talked about in books like Iron John and Wild at Heart, and here on AoM, the Wild Man is the spirited, primal part of a man’s soul.

And the thing I’ve discovered is that you can activate your Wild Man by doing things far short of running down a herd of antelope for your dinner. You can take the parts of masculinity that have been an integral part of manliness for thousands of years and make sure some semblance of them are operating in your life. Not to the extent that they were manifested in the lives of primitive man, but active nonetheless.  Sometimes we don’t move forward in our life because we think the solution to our problem must be complicated and arduous to be effective. But the switches of manliness can be turned on in surprisingly small and simple ways.

What are the switches of manliness?

I know it’s debatable, and everyone is going to have their opinion as to what they are, but I personally believe that there are five switches that every man must turn on in order to power his spiritedness and flip on the motivation that allows him to reach his full potential:

  • Legacy
  • Providing
  • Physicality
  • Nature
  • Challenge

Over the next several weeks, we’ll be exploring each of the these switches, both the sociology and biology behind them, but also the practical ways to flip the switches in your life so you can rein in your restlessness, activate your manliness, and cure the modern male malaise you might be feeling.

Switches of Manliness Series:
The Cure for the Modern Male Malaise
Switch #1: Physicality
Switch #2: Challenge
Switch #3: Legacy
Switch #4: Provide
Switch #5: Nature

{ 163 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Josh May 9, 2011 at 3:23 pm

I love this website, I really do. But I am getting sick of reading about a bachelors degree. I understand its not a bad thing, but nowadays many many college graduates are complaining that they paid waaaay to much money to get their degree and learned next to nothing, this coming from Business degrees, the most popular degree out there.

I have a 2 year degree, and it did nothing for me whatsoever, I then went to welding school, which is 7 months long, and last year I made 105,000. Ive only been out of welding school for almost 3 years now. The school cost 16,000, which I took loans out for, and now Im only 1,000 away from paying it off.

A bachelors degree is overrated nowadays, not saying its not important, but college is not nearly as challenging as it used to be.

2 C.G May 9, 2011 at 3:28 pm

That’s a great analogy about “well trained soldiers in reserve.” I agree that all men have this in them, but most of the time its too difficult to push yourself and release this regiment of Manliness. However, once put in such a position, usually by chance, we can all respond. Like getting a car stuck in snow during a blizzard, those “forces of will” can charge into action, and remind us who we are.

3 Charles Russell May 9, 2011 at 3:33 pm

I’m going to have to strongly disagree with you about Chris McCandless. He was foolish kid that killed that got himself killed for the simple reason: he was too immature to take the time to acquire the skills and knowledge to keep himself alive. There are many, many, many other better examples of individuals in that region who do live full time in the Alaskan bush, but since they live and thrive there they do not get the press. McCandless should not be an example, but a cautionary tale of what NOT to do.

4 Sean C May 9, 2011 at 3:34 pm

I think it boils down to men’s role in society. Men, traditionally, have been characterized by rugged individualism, which works great for us, until we achieve a society based on a globalized knowledge economy. Today, virtues which are traditionally more feminine, collaboration, sharing, communication, and empathy, become strong suits, qualities to aspire towards. The traditional strong male role, being the ego driven, workaholic, alpha male figurehead, isn’t as effective in our modern economy as a woman who can work well with teams of people. This leaves men without a role, unless we want to compete with women to do a job that they can inherently do better. Plus, all the ills of society can easily be blamed on greedy, rich, white men, so what do we have to aspire to, really? We have dreams, but no heros.

5 Randy May 9, 2011 at 3:40 pm

@ Sean C, that pretty well sums it up. Well put!

6 Roy May 9, 2011 at 3:42 pm

Sean and Randy- Examples of two guys who’ve given up. You’re exactly what this post is talking about.

7 Kevin K. May 9, 2011 at 3:44 pm

I agree 100% with Charles.

Chris McCandless is not an example to be followed. He is the exact antithesis of what you constantly write about: preparing yourself to take on the challenges presented. McCandless made poor choices, did not prepare for what lay ahead of him and suffered the consequences of his inaction. This is not to make light of his death, but that was a tragedy that could have been avoided.

There are countless examples you could have selected that would illustrate your point better.

8 Brett McKay May 9, 2011 at 3:47 pm

Let’s not get off on some strange Chris McCandless tangent. He’s not being held up as an example for men to follow. He’s simply an example of a man who’s solution to the restlessness he felt was to go live in the wild. My point is is that that is an option some men follow (sometimes with tragic results as in his case). That is the only argument being made here.

9 Joe @ Not Your Average Joe May 9, 2011 at 3:59 pm

“But we still need men to become leaders of families, honorable statesmen, innovators and entrepreneurs, teachers and mentors, and worthy brothers, husbands, and citizens.”

Amen! Without a father to lead the family unit, that family is put at a distinct disadvantage. Kids with an active father are much more likely to be well adjusted and successful.

Men, for those of you who need to feel that Manliness course through you, just one thing: the heavy bag is your friend!

10 AZ May 9, 2011 at 4:12 pm

I’m of the mentality that you should get all the education (and knowledge) that you can. I got my bachelors degree from a school that doesn’t promote itself as the #1 party school, but prides itself on knowledge and service to others. 2 majors and a minor helped me to become diverse in my knowledge. Along with learning how to reason and use your intellect I think it’s important to learn how to work with your hands (a manly trait indeed) like welding, as Josh mentioned. In fact welding and motorcycle maintenance are two such skill and knowledge base that I have been looking to acquire more of for years. It doesn’t have to be one or the other. The more you learn the better you can adapt to all situations, whether it’s survival skills or photoshop skills. It’s getting harder for men to feel as needed as they used to (part of the prob) but if you have a wide skill-set more people will need your brains and/or your brawn.

11 David C. May 9, 2011 at 4:18 pm

Excellent food for thought here. I like how Aom always says, yes, feminism is a good thing, but we still have to be smart enough to understand that it has changed the landscape and men can’t just ignore the changes. Otherwise they just drift along as you say. Men have to figure out how to exist in the new world, making room for the changes, but not losing their manliness. It’s something you have to actively think about it won’t just happen.

Yes, a lot of new jobs need cooperation and group think, more than the lone wolf mentality, but the lone wolves are still what move the world ahead. Inventors. Entrepreneurs. Think of all the modern advancements like the ipad and the cell phone—who’s behind them? Men. Men have created like 99% of all the inventions ever made. If men stop being motivated and feel like there’s no place for them, we’ll stop progressing as a society. No ipads!

12 Anthony May 9, 2011 at 4:22 pm

I agree with Josh, I myself did not finish my BA (even though I am enrolled in college now) and am making $90,000 a year plus a good benefits package. I am 32 years old and most of my friends my age who have finished their BA or higher are now unemployed and still paying off massive loans that they accrued over their many years in school. It is not to say that a college education is not important, but it is not as relevant as it once was.

Furthermore has anyone else noticed what clowns the media portrays the white american male to be? We are punch lines in almost every movie, TV show, or commercial. A strong white male is seen as threatening. How many of you out there have been in an argument with a woman, never having raised your voice, only to have the woman scream, “Stop yelling at me!”

I am unapologetic if this next comment comes off as sexist, it is my observation. Women want to be in control because they have been told by their fathers that they are indeed special princesses. Their mothers told them to never put themselves in a situation where they NEED a man. They love to call the shots until things fall apart and get tough. Then they call for the men to clean up the mess and being proper men we do. I say no more! I say next time you tell your other half (not better half), “no, you got yourself into this mess because you wanted to be independent. Now reap what you have sown and clean up your own mess.” That’s part of being independent, isn’t it?

13 Tom May 9, 2011 at 4:27 pm

I am very much looking forward to the posts on each one of the switches of manliness!

14 Josh in Chicago May 9, 2011 at 4:38 pm

Brett – fantastic article. I am looking forward to this series. While I would concur with others on the over-emphasis of college*, I think you hit the nail on the head. Our answer is not to become more like women, but to adapt to this new world where we can cultivate and express our Wild Man in today’s environment. Great writing as well, sir – very lucid.

@Anthony – I wouldn’t say that white males are portrayed as clowns in the media, I think that’s a bit generalizing. I would reverse your sentiment and say that clowns in the media are often white males (you can include black men as well in your equation – every black sitcom also has the husband/father as a bumbling idiot). I understand where you’re coming from, though. I think it’s why so many AoM readers have a bit of a nostalgia in them, there aren’t many current examples of manliness today.

* In the past 50 years, the cost of living has increased slightly more than 2 times. In the same time span, the cost of an average college education has increased 7 times.

15 Darren May 9, 2011 at 4:43 pm

Ah yes, the law of unintended consequences is always in effect. Take the civil rights movement. I’m an African-American man. And no one would argue that de-segregation wasn’t needed and wasn’t a good thing. But I’ve talked to my grandfather and when he was growing up before de-segregation, blacks had their own thriving communities-their own hotels, doctors, dentists, stores, etc. After segregation that all went to pot. So you have to deal with the bad that comes from the good.

16 Brett McKay May 9, 2011 at 4:44 pm

I actually agree that a bachelor’s degree can be very overrated and that college shouldn’t be the path every man takes. I’ve been meaning to do an article on that topic for a while now and want to talk about the viable option of learning a trade or taking an alternative path.

The stats about college were presented simply because that’s one of the metrics we can use to see if men are motivated and trying to get ahead. It could be the case that more men are simply getting smart to the college racket and learning a trade instead, but I think it’s more often the case that they’re not taking either path and just drifting.

17 Margeaux May 9, 2011 at 4:51 pm

You have some very interesting articles here and I agree that the modern man seems to be a bit lost these days. While I can’t tell you how to be manly, I can tell you that a lot of the men I meet are severely lacking in what I would consider ‘manly’ qualities. The biggest one you hit upon is that they should go and DO something other than getting to the next level in a video game or achieving a new high score. They need to get back to their ‘wild man’ roots when men had to make things they wanted or needed. Creation + Physicality + Providing + Challenge = learn a useful skill that requires physical labor. Go on a barefoot cruise, learn to tan hides, learn to do woodworking, etc. There are ways to reclaim the lost ‘manly’ qualities if you are only willing to work for it. Thanks for enlightenment!

18 Kristopher Tryon May 9, 2011 at 4:52 pm

I just did my final project for my master’s degree on this very subject. This is a subject that will become more popular as the decade rolls on. Most men are tired of a world that sees them as inept and less-than, while still having high expectations of leadership in their families and communities. All I can say is that this starts in the home, we need to tell our wives that we want and need their respect/love for being a man. Have a serious conversation about what your wife thinks it means to “be a man” and then tell her the your opinion. Don’t be afraid to explain the pressures society puts on you too, God knows there are many. Challenge her to defend her husband and other men when she is with a group of other women that may be “man-bashing.” If your wife knows your masculine soul and how important it is to you, then she can become your biggest supporter in being the type of man this world needs. Of course, this is assuming you and your wife already try and support each other. If not, then you need marriage counseling.

19 Channing May 9, 2011 at 5:00 pm

@Sean C said: “Today, virtues which are traditionally more feminine, collaboration, sharing, communication, and empathy, become strong suits, qualities to aspire towards.”

I strongly disagree with the notion that those are traditionally more feminine virtues. My experience over the last 4 decades has been just the opposite. Men are the ones that collaborate, share, communicate and empathise much more than women. My experience is that women are much quicker to anger, push others away, and certainly fail to empathise or accept a different point of view. There are exceptions of course on both sides.

20 C May 9, 2011 at 5:04 pm

Modern western society is openly hostile toward true masculinity. The mainstream concept of “manliness” is the Neaderthal or as I call him the “guy”. A concept that has been wholeheartedly adopted by the majority of young men

21 Channing May 9, 2011 at 5:14 pm

As a matter of interest, regarding male empathy, you might find this article interesting: http://hugoschwyzer.net/2010/02/18/when-a-can-ought-to-mean-a-should-on-men-and-empathy/

22 Joel May 9, 2011 at 5:14 pm

For me, being a man in today’s society means forging your own path through life, chasing your passions and appreciating things for what they are. Too many of us are caught into the traditional ideals of society and are in pursuit of superficial and self-fulfilling endeavors. I think one of the core factors behind this is the transformation of the idea of self over the last 200 years.

23 Peter May 9, 2011 at 5:27 pm

I think the other problem is we as men don’t really have any sort of lobby/interest group going in to bat for us. There are always ultra feminists out there that will jump up and down the second they perceive anything that goes against women’s interests, but there are very few men’s groups that are taking a stand and questioning our role in politics, business and society in general. Things are only going to get worse for us if we don’t start to push back..

24 Brandon T May 9, 2011 at 6:04 pm

I don’t think that the solution is to adopt a “fight back” mentality when it comes to feminism but rather a rediscovery of what it means to be a man. The problem isn’t the feminist movement or the way that things have changed over the years. The reason I say this is because, if we adopt a “fight back” mentality, we will be distracted from our ultimate purpose — which is to constantly become more aware of what we are capable of doing. If we take the time to ponder, discover, and then implement our findings the rest will inevitably take care of itself. Things have become dangerously out of balance and every time a man steps up to the plate, refuses to settle, that balance starts to shift back towards the right direction. The rest will take care of itself.

25 Matt May 9, 2011 at 6:44 pm

Josh, I agree with you regarding University degrees (I myself have a Bachelors and Masters – Accounting). I only recommend higher education if you know your path in life without a doubt, and that path requires a degree to continue. However, I seriously doubt 105,000 a year is representative of the common welder. Not downplaying by any means, congratulations on your success in life. I think the reason this article struck a nerve with you is because you have bucked the trend and chosen that narrow path to be a real man. I would venture to think that most real men like him would not like this article to begin with. I agree with others regarding Chris. There’s a difference between being a real man and being foolish, much to the dismay of feminists… All in all, great article!

26 Strong Man May 9, 2011 at 7:10 pm

Okay–that animal planet series is awesome. I watched stealing meat from lions and can’t wait to watch more.

There is still plenty of need for manly men in today’s world–Navy SEALS, for example. Or investment bankers and hedge fund managers, oil rig operators, miners, and the list goes on and on. Our current economy depends heavily on entrepreneurship, which is a high-risk, very manly effort.

Thank you and I look forward to reading more!

27 David May 9, 2011 at 7:15 pm

Sounds like the start of an interesting series.

I think too many of us are leading lives of quiet desperation. I spent too many years in cubicle hell. It sucked the life out of me. I have escaped and am enjoying life and discovering maniless again.

It is not always easy to know what your path in life should be when you are young and deciding on a college major. Of course, that path will be different for each of us.

If I could offer advice to someone in my old position, it would be don’t be afraid to start over. If you know what it is you want to do, pursue it rather than being miserable.
It may be going to college, learning a trade, or becoming an artisan. Whatever it is, do not let your fears hold you back.

28 Michael May 9, 2011 at 7:38 pm

This is great, Brett. Thank you.

It makes me wonder at what point in history did men begin asking these questions. Was it at the turn of the century? During the boom of electronic trade and modern greatness, that took the manual labor from our hands? Or did it happen long ago, seemingly unbeknownst to any of us? I don’t know. But it’s something our sons will ask themselves one day if we continue on to the thrum of dullness. Something I’ve done for years. And I continue to do it — because it’s comfortable, requires very little effort, and consistently provides a decent paycheck with expected results, outcomes, and consequences.

One of the things I love about Wild at Heart and John Eldredge’s call (not to get overly faith-based on you, but, I believe, God’s call to our hearts), is that it’s accessible. And not impossible. It may not be simple, but it’s attainable. Amidst the pull of our hearts toward what it means to be a “real” man amidst modern culture, office workdays, and family get-togethers with in-laws that we detest. That there’s something there in our souls that longs to bash our way out of that and into some real existence, in the wilderness of some great unknown beyond the realm of what we’ve come to know — as early as we’ve seen it in our fathers, as young kids. That longing and “realness” I think we feel amidst all that shows me, at least, that we’re made for richer and deeper things. And, that if we were made for them, and if the cry of our hearts is for them, then they must be reachable.

Looking forward to the next few posts in this series.

29 Ben Cope May 9, 2011 at 7:54 pm

I think this article is spot on. As funny as I find this site to be at many times, with it’s many articles on how to light a fire with no matches, hero training series, how to properly cook bacon, etc. (Epitome of manliness)

I know all of those articles are important things, but when paired with the site name, they just make me laugh. This article, and the one about that took a lesson from Fight Club about how many men of our generation are raised, I find to be of incredible importance.

While the “Cheapness of sex” thing is also rather humorous at face value, it is dead-on true. Our society has become liberalized too far, and not caught it’s values up to par with it’s freedoms. So the pill is legal, and women have been integrated gully into the workplace, and education, etc. etc. Great. But obviously, society isn’t ready for it all. Despite my being an extreme conservative in every manner of the term, I don’t think rules need to be re-instated. Society needs to be educated about its condition, through articles such as this, and that “sex is cheap” article.

Such a life of malaise is anathema to me, and I’ve strived to do well in everything. This summer I report to Annapolis to be inducted into USNA, a manly institution if there ever was one. (Unlike that government run playground at West Point ;) j/k ) I’ll have to try to pen some articles about personal responsibility and accountability when I’m there. Or maybe early this summer…

I think this very website is the center of the solution to societies problems. The “Menaissance”. This is hands down the most important social issue facing us today. (at least in the USA)

30 Dave May 9, 2011 at 8:09 pm

Great post Brett. Looking forward to the series. For those citing your examples of people who have made it in life without a higher education, I agree that it is not absolutely necessary to have a college degree to succeed. But I think the more important point being missed here is that “being a man” is not being determined here based on your annual income, how big of a business you run, or how many years you went to college. Every man has to take his own path. The point here is that you seek knowledge and understanding about the world around you, and then find out which path to take. Getting an education is just one way and Brett was using that data to make a point..our generation of men are lazy and look to point fingers and blame elsewhere when life gets hard. If school is not for you that is perfectly fine, go learn a trade or become an entrepreneur. Don’t just sit around and complain…go be a man!

31 Mr Writing III May 9, 2011 at 8:25 pm

Good article. I’m new to the website and went through all the podcasts and loved them. Keep up the good work.

32 Brett McKay May 9, 2011 at 8:44 pm

@Michael-

That’s an interesting question. Manliness has always been something that men sought after, something that wasn’t automatic and had to be earned. But it used to be a lot more clear cut. A boy became a man at x age when he went through x initiation ritual.

The last time we had a sort of crisis of manliness was the turn of the century around the time of the Industrial Revolution. As men moved from settling the frontier, and farming, and being craftsmen, to factory and office jobs, people wondered if manliness was on the wane and what it was going to mean to be a man in this new cushier environment. Men felt disconnected from the things that used to make them feel manly. It was a lot like this time. And then we had two World Wars, where it was easy to see, okay, yes, we definitely need men and men are manly, no question about it. And so the questions about the future of men were shelved. And then technology took another leap forward, life got even more comfortable, and we got even further removed from craftsmanship and nature, and so we once again find ourselves wondering about the future of men, and men are feeling like they’re not in touch with their manliness. It’s really fascinating I think…

33 Melissa May 9, 2011 at 8:52 pm

Well, you said it; the men on the Human Planet show were working hard to provide for their families. This notion is now scoffed at and vilified especially by Hollywood which pumps out show after show telling men how useless and unnecessary they are so I’m sure many American men have given up. It feels like they just do not give a damn anymore about themselves, starting or staying in a family. Survival is a good motivator as is reproduction. Take these things away and you get our present society.

34 Dan May 9, 2011 at 10:30 pm

“Our forefathers had civilization inside themselves, the wild outside. We live in the civilization they created, but within us the wilderness still lingers. What they dreamed, we live, and what they lived, we dream.”

This quote put into words what I’ve seeing with entertainment and how we escape.

People used to live simple lives and work hands-on jobs, then would escape through entertainment to see what easy, fancy, charmed lives the celebrities live.

Today, though, it has reversed. Much more of us LIVE those charmed lives. Everything we have is PLENTY and BIG – cars, food, houses. Then to escape, we turn on TV and watch Dirty Jobs/Deadliest Catch/Ax Men/Ice Road Truckers and other simple people with hands-on jobs. This used to be our kind of work by default – now it is so alien to us that we send camera crews as if they are a long lost tribe.

35 Matthew May 9, 2011 at 10:37 pm

Children moving out of their family home only AFTER getting married was the norm for several thousand years of civilization from the bronze age to the Victorian. What did Greek citizens (Except Spartans), Medieval artisans, peasants, and lordlings, and stout English farmers of the 19th century have in common? They mostly lived with their parents, under the tutelage of their fathers, until they got up the money, moxy, and charm to marry.

36 Lee May 9, 2011 at 11:04 pm

Very interesting switches, Brett. Not sure if I agree with creation, but I can see how the others are very manly indeed.

But going back to the providing switch. It seems as though this aspect is becoming more and more remote. Perhaps men are feeling more and more disconnected and displaced in the home. With the rise of female incomes and an increasing desire to have a professional career of their own, men are becoming almost…pointless. Back in my grandfather’s time, men were the sole breadwinners. Their place in the household was absolutely assured. They were needed. A good man was the desire of every woman in the town. With the loss of this position in society, inevitably, a loss of “manliness” is due.

The solution? I don’t know. Was it better back then? I would say no. But it is an interesting, if not slightly controversial topic.

My own manly switch each day is shaving with a straight razor. Nothing gets me up in the morning quite like lathering hot soap everywhere and scraping off the fuzz with a knife.

37 Timothy May 10, 2011 at 12:15 am

I often times feel depressed with my lot in life, being a man, especially a young man in college, I feel like the world is slowly swinging away from me, but whenever I read one of these articles I always feel encouraged. Reading the comments makes it feel like what Ben said a “Menaissance,” like its part of a movement. I definitely feel like this will be an important move for men but it needs to be done carefully, we need to figure out what men we want to become before we tell the world what men we are.

38 RichyP May 10, 2011 at 12:42 am

If it makes the men of the industrial world feel any better, I sincerely believe that peak oil will completely change our economy and way of life over the next few decades. As low entropy fossil fuels are depleted, civilization will find itself with less net energy with which to both maintain current infrastructure and continue to grow the absurd consumer economy that now defines much of the world. (Without economic growth, our debt-based financial system collapses.) In terms of careers, I see a resurgence in small-scale farming, mule logging, local manufacturing, etc. The economy will be unable to support large numbers of lawyers, paper pushers, HR specialists, marketers, cube dwellers, etc. Expect drudgery to return as the number of “energy slaves” (i.e. net energy available per capita) irreversibly declines.

So those of you who yearn for ye olde days: you’ll probably get it, only the U.S. (and other fossil-fuel dependent countries) will probably resemble the third world more than anything without access to cheap, abundant oil.

Men who can work with their hands, quickly learn new skills, grow and store their own food, hustle, and maintain strong family and community ties should do alright. The men who spent their time studying frivolous subjects in school, playing Madden, and going into debt for boy toys like sports cars and boats will be screwed, to put it nicely.

While I’m absolutely convinced the Abundant Industrial Age is ending, I’m still unclear as to how quickly it will all unwind. Stay tuned.

39 mike May 10, 2011 at 1:07 am

The ultimate man card equals joining the Marine Corps infantry during war time. Be sure to read Kiplings “IF”, It’s what being a man is all about.

40 Mike Olsen May 10, 2011 at 1:57 am

@Lee said: “Very interesting switches, Brett. Not sure if I agree with creation, but I can see how the others are very manly indeed.”

Lee I find your partial dismissal of creation very interesting. Everything that we currently enjoy is in one form or another a result of creation. Because of this I have a hard time diminishing creation from the list as presented.

My Current Experience with Creation:
In my day to day work I help create solutions to problems that my customers have. I work for a company that manufactures world class automated welding controls and equipment. I won’t bore anyone with the details, but suffice it to say that there is a lot of, to use a cliché, out of the box thinking and creativity that goes on.

In my personal life I create the things I want or need to the best of my abilities. Currently this is taking the form of a garden shed and the accompanying garden to go with it. For the garden shed I didn’t want to have a small disproportionate rendition of a classic barn that I see all too often. So, I created a shed that has multiple purposes and uses and has a style that is nothing at all like the mass produced sheds that reside in almost every other back yard. Oh, and the garden, well it’s not just a tilled plot of earth either. Feel free to look at the pictures if you’re interested:

http://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.452818644484.251380.707574484&l=060a716d4f

Enjoy!

Mike

41 K May 10, 2011 at 2:27 am

Statistics are meaningful, but I maintain that any man who feels malaise, unmotivated or alienated in his young life can succeed and feel manly.

I’ll start by disagreeing with a common thread that college is a waste of time, a waste of money, or a waste of effort. It certainly CAN be: an associate’s degree is really not worth anything, but the biggest issue seems to be bachelor’s degrees. You cannot afford to major in something that either 1. doesn’t interest you (really interest you, in terms of studies and career) or 2. guarantee a consistent, well-paying job (i.e. technical degrees). There’s a trend of both male and female college students beginning in or changing their majors to Humanities and less work-intensive disciplines, showing a general lack of work ethic in students. If you’re wondering why you’ve been unemployed with your Interdisciplinary Studies degree, hate to break it to you, but employers know it’s easy compared to technical studies and we all know of the meager Humanities-related job market. If you’re not going to school for a degree heavily staked in Math and Science, you need to seriously consider whether or not you should be spending your money and time there. Similarly, degrees from community colleges are valued less than those from other institutions.
It’s been mentioned that Business majors are the majority, and their plight is similar. Business straddles the line between technical and not: you study accounting and economics, but you don’t need advanced calculus requirements or science courses. Such a broad major seems to lend itself to a wide job market, but many business majors don’t seem to realize their future jobs will all consist of office work, or those that do don’t like the prospect and end up feeling hopeless about working in a job they find fulfilling. This can all lead to decreased motivation or even anxiety and depression.
My advice to men that are unsure about their progress in higher education is this: you must be excellent. 3-point students are not going to cut it if you want the best jobs in your field, which you do. Put the time and effort you need to get around a 3.5 average or think about how much you really value college.

Manliness is not all about formal education; you can respect yourself and be respected as a man no matter your college degree or job, even if it’s a decent job that you are dispassionate about. Take the time to analyze your life and what you value; spend some time looking at articles on the topic on this very website, even. But don’t just be an observer, be an active participant in your own life and change it. Realize what values you want to embody, what activities you are passionate about and need to continue doing to be happy (whether as a profession or in your spare time), what sorts of relationships you want to take part in (and take steps to foster them: friendship, romance, mentorship).
For me, I’m my own example of this philosophy. I am 19 and just finished my first year for a Chemical Engineering degree at a state university with a nearly 3.5 average, double majoring in Pre-Dental and planning to go attend Dental School; I’m in a relationship with a wonderful girl at a college an hour from mine, which is fulfilling both emotionally and physically; I shave with a straight razor; I give myself time for my hobbies, which include a lifelong passion for miniature models and small-scale hobbies, painting, listening to and finding music, reading classic literature, exercising intensively 4 days a week, and of course partying at college and a million other things. I’ve taken control of what I can in my life to make it into what I wanted it to be.
None of this came without self-reflection and work, however. The year previous I had despaired about my future; I didn’t know if I would mentally survive going to college for and spending the rest of my life doing something I’m not hugely passionate about, among other things. But I got involved with my future, finding information about Engineering and other majors, and realized I could fulfill all the Dental requirements with a Chemistry-related degree, the field of science I most enjoy.
For each of my successes, I worked for them. My improved GPA is due to getting my act together in my second semester with the epiphany that I had to excel in my studies to excel in life and my field, and finally putting the time and effort I knew I had the intellect and discipline for. A healthy relationship takes a huge amount of effort on both sides, and being apart during most of the school year doesn’t make it any easier. But with each of us visiting when we can and communicating often, as well as being so sexually compatible, this relationship’s bolstered my life and given me a close friend to rely on. Managing my time better around my studies and social life has made me less anxious about time management and given me more opportunity to pursue my hobbies, which range from bettering myself to merely doing things I enjoy.

The biggest influence in my recent life improvements was when I began carrying a reporter-style notebook with me at all times. It sounds silly, but with some research about how others used notebooks to organize their time and their lives and a few post-it tabs, I have a place to plan out today and tomorrow. I’ve NEVER been a list or planner person; planning ahead goes against my more independent brain, but I think the notebook works so well because it doesn’t have a predefined format I have to mold my thoughts to. I can organize it any way I want, and write down ‘to-do’ anything, whether academic or not. I also have a place to take notes on or jot down random things or about my hobbies, and now I’m able to record and remember the important thoughts or interesting ideas I have during the day that most people forget, as well as plan my exercise routine, or just put movies and music I want to acquire later. It also makes me feel more like a man; many of the greatest male minds in history knew the value of recording your thoughts and having a personal space for you to reflect or just mess around in.
It’s become such a personal part of me that I recommend everyone get something similar and try it. You may find it reaffirms your manliness and your self-respect, or even make you more productive and efficient with your time and goals.

This has been a long slog but I’m deeply invested in bettering myself and the topic of helping young men find their own way to succeed in society. The most important thing to remember is that you CAN find things that make you happy in life, no matter your situation, but the most gratifying future is one where you are constantly doing something you love. Pursue your passion; if you’ve tried your best (I mean your VERY BEST) in college and found it wasn’t for you, put that effort into what really interests you instead! The world still supports artists, actors, and all manner of off-the-beaten-path careers and lifestyles. But you cannot afford to be lazy. Quitting your education because you don’t feel like doing the work will get you nowhere, just like saying you want to become an artist and then never making artwork. Reflect on your life and what you want, and find ways to make yourself feel like a man without using the excuse of a “feminized society”. You can do it. Men have done it for all time.

I also want to urge against any sexist or chauvinist mindsets concerning this topic. AoM is a good resource but it’s easy to make the wrong conclusions or “blame women” for changing trends in society or manliness. You make your life what it is; women are not beating you or holding you down. Finding your inner manliness is essential to living a fulfilling life, but don’t take that road to the extreme.

42 Audrey May 10, 2011 at 2:27 am

From a woman’s perspective…

I am young, single, and college educated. I have a large base of female friends who are intelligent, funny, shy, loud, quiet, outgoing, kind, compassionate, driven, brilliant, old, young, foreign, local, single, married, loyal, imperfect, simple, complex, introspective, analytical, and feminine. We have had many and varying conversations over the years surrounding this topic– lamenting the seeming malaise of masculinity. That being said, I feel that I can speak on behalf of at least a certain demographic of women.

I have a father, brothers, grandfathers, a wide variety of male coworkers, acquaintances, and friends. I have watched you men all my life and have seen the worst and best of masculinity. At its best, masculinity is among the brightest glories this world has seen. At its worst, it is the most awful kind of devastating.

Men,
We need you.

Not to impregnate us and “bring home the bacon”.
Not to take out the trash and fix our cars.
Not to pay for our dinners and open our doors.
Not primarily anyways.
It’s true we need you for all those things.
But.
What we really need from you goes much deeper down into who you are. The rest is a secondary overflow.
We need your strength, a strength only you can offer.
We need your pursuit, one that is selfless.
We need your gentle initiative, one that invites our beauty to reveal.
We need your loyalty, a loyalty that makes a safe place for our vulnerability to remain so.
We need your protection, a protection that we can rest in when our souls become quiet for the night.
We need your heart, compassionate and bold.
We need your life, surging and powerful.
We need your courage, one that stands in the face of our fear and yours.
We need your integrity, an integrity that is counter-cultural reaching beyond the status quo.
We need your perspective, especially when it’s so different than ours.
We need your arms, sturdy and strong–representing a haven that your actions have already facilitated.
We need your mind– intelligent, creative, and innovative.
We need you to lead, not because we can’t but because we want you to.
We need your masculinity, for we have none.
We need you.
Desperately.
Longingly.
Ferociously.
Could we make it on our own? Maybe. At least for awhile. But. You have something to offer the world that we will never have. If you don’t offer your manliness, your masculine soul, your strength and resolve the world will go without…because we cannot offer what we do not have to give. We can give femininity, but are lost when it comes to the art of manliness.

We are your biggest fans and staunchest supporters.
We exist.
And we believe in you.

43 Gabriel May 10, 2011 at 2:31 am

Great article. I have often felt that a major problem is the abundance of men who just act like jerks. Society needs more gentlemen. A true gentleman in a man in every sense of the word.

I know far to many men who judge their position on life based on a few numbers they get every month. One should judge their life position on the skills that they have aquired over their lives. So you might make a six digit income, but do you know anything of true value?

44 Gigi D. May 10, 2011 at 3:22 am

@Anthony: “Women want to be in control because they have been told by their fathers that they are indeed special princesses. Their mothers told them to never put themselves in a situation where they NEED a man. They love to call the shots until things fall apart and get tough. Then they call for the men to clean up the mess and being proper men we do. I say no more! I say next time you tell your other half (not better half), “no, you got yourself into this mess because you wanted to be independent. Now reap what you have sown and clean up your own mess.”

So being a man is to be petty and vindictive? I think it is quite the opposite. If you don’t like women who act controlling but still want to be taken care of, perhaps you shouldn’t date them. To claim that all women act like this says more about you then it does about women.

45 Kelly S. May 10, 2011 at 4:15 am

It is utterly absurd and honestly pathetic to blame feminism in any way for the male “malaise”. Prior to the “feminist movement” in this country, women did not have the right to vote, to own property, or even to get an education. Less than 100 years ago, schools were burned to the ground for offering women the opportunity to go beyond an elementary school level education. Women were not admitted to law schools, medical schools, or graduate programs. Without the ability to earn a living or to own property passed down from their families, many women were prisoners of exploitive and abusive marriages. Some men even got away with beating their wives to death without punishment or consequences of any kind (I emphasize SOME). So, the feminist movement was very similar to the civil rights movement – the aim was to establish women as human beings and not property of men; to provide them with the same rights and privileges under the law, and the same educational and professional opportunities as men; to acknowledge that while men and women are different, one sex is not superior to the other; and to allow women to lead lives of dignity.

Despite all of this, and the observations made in the article about attendance and performance disparities between men and women in higher education, we still live in a society where women make .80 to every dollar that a man makes in EVERY profession that has been measured. Despite the observation that more women are in the workforce than men, the percentage of women in top positions (e.g., CEOs, Tenured Professors) is still less than 20% overall. One can hardly claim that this represents a “woman’s world”.

After reading many of the comments that followed this article, I appreciate my husband in a whole new way. He is a strong, highly intelligent, hard-working, successful man who does not feel threatened by strong, intelligent women (or other men for that matter). He takes great pride in his work and providing for his family (even though I also work), and great joy pursuing hobbies like mountain biking and competing in triathlons. He is a wonderful father and a loving and supportive spouse, and despite how hard he works he is also an equal partner when it comes to cooking, housework, and child care. He doesn’t need a woman to be “less than” in order to feel like a man. Not a single day goes by that I am not acutely aware of how lucky I am to be married to this man.

It is all about your locus of control. If you see the major problems in your life as coming from somewhere outside of you (feminism, society, etc), you naturally give up because you can’t control anything other than yourself. Those who find the courage to look inside, acknowledge their reality, and work on themselves have a greater sense of control and more success in life. They also lead lives of greater integrity, which I believe is what we all ultimately want. I think “K” has the right idea here.

46 Andrew May 10, 2011 at 6:06 am

21rst?

47 Brian the Bushrat May 10, 2011 at 6:46 am

Brett, great article. I have not suffered from the problems you are describing but have observed it happening in our society. I think my job and lifestyle are the things that keep me feeling manly and not threatened or scarred by the modern world. I work in the mineral exploration industry. I have searched the world for gold, diamonds, copper, cobalt, uranium, silver, granite, and platinum. I have worked in West Africa, the Caribbean, South America, USA, and all over the Canadian North and West. When you mentioned the 5 switched I noticed I have all those in my job and more. I ended up marrying a woman from South America partly because she shared my values towards gender roles in the world, a thing my ex from North America did not. I am not a misogamist, but i do believe different but equal should be our motto. There is a feminist backlash out there for all the crap some oppressive men have done over the years to keep women down. We need to recognize the mistakes of the past but not let the pendulum swing too far the other way. But make no mistake that becoming to bumbling idiot, or forgetting that a man can never be replaced by a woman (or a woman be replaced by a man) completely will cause one to diminish in self respect. It is my experience that the world likes a strong self confident man. That is what I have become, my father was one and my grandfathers were both excellent examples. One was a prospector and the other a real cowboy. I also think you should consider the schism between urban and rural cultures, in an urban world, men are not able to experience manhood as we have evolved, but in a rural setting manliness thrives. The rural setting allows and encourages men to meet their full potential. This is what I find is also contributing to the problem you speak about. looking forward to reading more.

48 Jordan May 10, 2011 at 7:33 am

Fantastic article. Extremely looking forward to the series. Thank you for tackling this major issue.

49 Jim from Jupiter May 10, 2011 at 7:43 am

Good article Jim, but I think it’s too little to late. The hard truth is, feminism has only laid bare what always existed below the surface – that men and women only ever related to one another in terms of conflict. Perhaps it’s time we finally jettisoned the idea that the sexes have anything in common outside of reproduction and separate ourselves and our respective destinies. We should see the feminine for what it truly is – the enemy. In this the feminists are simply more honest than others, and for that we should be grateful. Valerie Solanas, Catherine McKinnon, the entire National Organization for Womyn…whatever else they may be to their own, they are no friends to men, they merely say out loud what others of their kind are thinking.

50 Brian May 10, 2011 at 8:30 am

ah this reminds me of the older AoM style stuff. Not that the site has been going downhill or anything but this is prime time good stuff here

51 Ike May 10, 2011 at 9:01 am

This is a fantastic article! As a 24 year old, I spent the year after I graduated from school drifting and living with my parents before deciding to come back to school to get my Master’s degree. The year I spent at home wasn’t bad, I love my family, but it wasn’t what I wanted to do. I’m certainly looking forward to the coming posts about this subject!

52 Jason H. May 10, 2011 at 9:33 am

I think there should be some study into the value of failure when it comes to modern society. Men no longer tend to place themselves in situations where they have to face the possibility of failure and society seems to go to great lengths to ensure that none of us fal down or fail (just look at the state of our educational system). Video games are a safe haven because you can get your action, solve problems, take risks and live vicariously through another character and if you screw up, you simply go back to your last save point and do it over. We need to face real challenges and, at times, fail. We learn more from making mistakes and overcoming obstacles than by doing everything to ensure success. Consequently, many of today’s men are growing up never knowing how to struggle to acheive and have a form of learned helplessness. I would love to know if there is anything out there that may have looked into this.

53 Samuel May 10, 2011 at 9:42 am

Brett,

I don’t see manliness as an initiation that someday you go through. When I think of the manliest man I know, I think of my father. As a carpenter he hit all five of those switches on a daily basis. He provided for his family no matter what. I can remember him taking off work sick four times in the last 30 years. Being a man isn’t something you just get because of your XY chromosones, it’s something you earn every single day.

54 Jacob Freeman May 10, 2011 at 9:43 am

A classic case of the tail wagging the dog. There are just a handful of people running the media and entertainment world and they have decided to portray men a weaklings and what happened? Men started acting like weaklings. I am 52 and started watching this website to observe the inner struggles that you younger guys are dealing with. Listen up, it ain’t that complicated. Like the old Boy Scout Oath says….I will keep myself Physically Strong, Mentally Awake and Morally Straight. Just do those simple things, quit whining, kick some butt when you need to and reject this poliitcally correct BS. None of this agenda is a mistake, it is being done for a reason and you need to figure out for yourself why this country and its men have gone to Hades.

55 Ivan May 10, 2011 at 10:02 am

Terrific article and I, too, look forward to the series. Two quick thoughts:

1) To Josh and others re: a BA. The degree may indeed be losing its force, and kudos to you for making a handsome living without one (in fact most men don’t get a BA, and surely most of them are bright, responsible, committed contributors to society). But despite what you may have heard, acquiring a BA at any decent college doesn’t only mean getting certified: learning also takes place, quite a lot of it, actually, and some of it stays with you and makes you a better person and citizen. Josh, I urge you to find out some of the books those men with BAs read and read some of them for yourself. You’ll make as much, and maybe better, use of them as those other men do — but please don’t consign yourself to doing completely without them just because those men read them while earning a BA. There’s no degree — and no substitute — for thinking clearly and well.

2) I hope the coming series will grapple with this hornet’s nest of a proposition: men think differently than women do. I don’t mean better. But what are the differences in approaching problems, or even talking about them? And no cliches need apply. I find at work, for instance, that since Obama’s election in political discussions men tend to be unbridled in their emotionalism (pro or con Obama; it makes no difference), while women tend to hold our for hard, persuasive evidence. One trend I’ve seen grow over the last ten years: women have totally figured out that bellicosity is not a sign of either strength or smarts. But sometimes we guys still like to raise our voices, or lay on the sarcasm, to drive home a point.

Thanks again for the thought-provoking article.

56 Yates May 10, 2011 at 10:12 am

I would be interested to know how a rise of secularism correlates to a “decline” in masculinity. Most “manly men” from my understanding had a strong background in spirituality of one variety or another.

Am i off the mark or do you think that a correlation can be made between the abandonment of religious/philosophical discussions and jettison of traditional masculine values?

also, this article rocks.

57 Chad May 10, 2011 at 10:28 am

THANK YOU! Your article was timely and inspiring. After just returning from a company retreat, I was despondent and a little lost at the lack of direction, vision, and inspiration from the leader of the company where I work. I was ready to just start drifting rather than being a catalyst for change that I work hard to be. Your article reminded me of who I really am.

Thanks Again.

58 Chris Paradis May 10, 2011 at 10:35 am

Excellent post. Too long have I felt that I am adrift as a man. I am the primary bread winner of my house, but I am also the housewife it seems (doing 90-100% of the cooking, laundry, and cleaning because of my work schedule). There is something that I have not been able to explain deep within me. A severe restlessness. A longing to release some wild man, some primal creature that hates the boundrys of our modern civilization, but feels that to return to our ancestral roots would not be possible. Your post really brought it to light. I have become sedentary and simply floating along in my life. I am angry and unmotivated… I look forward to your continuing topic. Thank you for saying what so many of us are feeling.

59 Wesley B May 10, 2011 at 10:45 am

I’m looking forward to the new series of articles. This is going to be great! Thanks again for putting such great content out there….very thought-provoking.

60 Michael R May 10, 2011 at 11:02 am

Brett-

I would be interested to know if you think there would be any correlation between the modern societal expectations of men and the influx of what would be termed as “post-traumatic stress disorder” for our returning soldiers. Could the stark differences between expectations on the battlefield versus American home life exacerbate the condition? Might it even create it?

61 Jonathan May 10, 2011 at 11:06 am

Thank you, Brett, for taking on this concept. Too often we get caught up in what we’re being told by the politically correct set and by television, about what the world wants in a man. The truth is actually found in Audrey’s post (thank you, Audrey!), and we would do well to remember that.

62 Corey May 10, 2011 at 11:24 am

Brett: Wow, very well-written article. You summed up what I have been thinking about A LOT for the past couple of years and also doing a fair amount of researh on. In fact, how I found your website was having nagging questions like…”What does it mean to be a man today?” and “What is my role here?” I just felt like this overall sense of malaise as you describe it. I recently read Guy Garcia’s book, The Decline of Men, and he does a really good job of describing how we got here. I have a had a few “AHA” moments in the last few months trying to figure this out and I basically concluded what you did “The solution for the modern male malaise lies at the heart of the idea behind the Art of Manliness itself: to move forward by looking back.” We cannot deny we are men and that means something, just as women cannot deny who they are. We dont need to become each other, just be our best selves in a new world.

63 Daniel Comp May 10, 2011 at 11:32 am

I’m leading a 5000 mile cycling expedition (in 3 weeks) with your 5 switches core to the challenge and mentoring on-route. Thanks for raising the topic, as it’s baffling to me why so few men are willing to shut off the ‘watching’ (what-ever device) of life and actually participate in the experience. All you guys are welcome to ride with us a day or two or a month or two or four! http://www.RideForAChange.com

64 Shawn G May 10, 2011 at 11:34 am

I’ve been reading Iron John, and it definitely has made me think a lot about being a man. I look around at many of the boys/men my age and they have no desire to grow up. They do not want to work, they do not want to have responsibility, and they are not ready to take risks. They sit back and let their parents take care of everything. I’ve been trying to figure out what it means to be a man, especially in our changing culture. I cannot say that I have found the answer, but through my search I feel that I have become more of a man. Maybe this series will help me flip a few more of those switches, and I will continue to grow.

65 Baradoch May 10, 2011 at 11:57 am

Jason H., you make a good point about failure. Every man should play a team sport, where you make about twenty attempts before making a goal. After each attempt, you need to keep playing the game or your oponent takes advantage of you.

66 Chris May 10, 2011 at 12:04 pm

That show was indeed amazing. Whenever I watched it I could not help but feel ashamed and embarrassed. Those men and boys endure more in a month than I do in a year. Now, this does not mean that I would like to switch places with them, I definately enjoy the luxuries that we have in America and elsewhere, but I am awed by them and what they do. I was particularly touched by the story of the boy who for months on end would defend his families field from invading primates. He didn’t want the newest game or the best tv. What he wanted was to sleep in a bed with a roof over his head. The stories that were told really make us look like spoiled children that have most everything and still want more.

67 Daniel May 10, 2011 at 12:04 pm

I just finished writing a paper about tradition wherein I address the fact that our society has painted the heroes of the past as standing in opposition to conservative values. My main example was Beowulf. Recent movies and depictions of this great man have portrayed him as a Nietzschean Ubermensch. The 2007 animated film, “Beowulf,” shows him saying ““The time of heroes is dead, Wiglaf. The Christ-god has killed it, leaving human kind with nothing but weeping martyrs, fear, and shame.” The modern rendition of Christianized society is that it renders men weak, and that the existence of God detracts from manly action. However, the original text of “Beowulf” doesn’t support that at all. From the text: ““mindful God and one man’s daring” describes Beowulf acting within a prescribed moral order to defeat the demons of darkness. I think it is essential, for a reinstitution of manly action, that we establish a prescribed moral order and defined roles within that order for man to fill.

That’s the end of my soapbox. I really appreciate this website and all the good material you write. Thank you sir and keep up the good work.

68 Steve M May 10, 2011 at 12:44 pm

Dear Brett,

Excellent article. This type of article is the meat and bone that tree cutting, knife sharpening, and firearm shooting articles add skin to. The wild man sure lives inside me and despite my well-paid, temperature-controlled, cushy job; I often long to do something visually constructive — dig a ditch, load a garbage truck, or change some pipe. Physicality seems associated with manly deeds. Modern society, with its technology and machinery, takes the physicality out many manly deeds — and will take it out of even more in the future. In doing so, providing well necessitates that we don’t do these marketable tasks in a physical manner anymore. That would be foolish, not manly. Seems we then take up these physical deeds as hobbies instead (I, for example, bow hunt for elk). The problem with this is that the hobby then takes from providing and is looked at as an immature diversion from responsibility.

I say “Bullocks” also, Brett. The adrift male is a problem. An unmentioned stressor in the adriftness could be the prior generations of males that “did” do more manly things on a daily basis that is now buoying up the adrift young males in their malaise. I know I am always harping (“don’t exasperate your sons) on my son to get out and after it. He’s only 10.

I look forward to your continuation on this series and the many comments.

69 Nate May 10, 2011 at 12:56 pm

I just finished Ayn Rand’s book, The Fountainhead. It shares some common themes with this article; the state of individual virtue, degenerate collectivism, eroding of humanity’s (not just man’s) competence and self-respect. The five switches listed above are integral components of mature manhood.

70 Michael Jael May 10, 2011 at 1:13 pm

Maybe its just me but I think there are alternative solution to the whole “world is changing and no longer meets the base needs of men.”

You can always rise above your base instincts and opt to adopt a new identity. In my case, I’m in the process of trying to get physically and mentally fit & learn as much as possible about FoodTechnology. The only physical activity I ever get is exercise. The only creativity I get is in devising more and more practical and efficient grouping of knowledge. Put simply, I’ve opted to uphold ethics over morality. I’ve put my identity into achieving as many things I can be proud of. In lifting as heavy as I can. In working as long as I can. In learning and mastering as much as I can. Etc.

Your identity is arbitrary; influenced only by your baser instincts, needs, wants and will.
Invent an identity you want to adopt(hopefully, and ethical and moral one) and stick to it. There is no way around it. Everyone is going to die and you might not achieve your objective but what matters is you did your best and that you went with the course of action thats most likely to succeed and hopefully you found happiness along the way.

71 Mike D May 10, 2011 at 2:12 pm

I was a kid when we landed on the Moon. In a lot of ways this was the pinnacle of manliness in our American society, at least for my generation. Unfortunately it began a slow decent that we have yet to find a way to pull out of. The Space Program in those days was dominated by men, real men. Rugged, testosterone driven fighter pilots and test pilots, war heroes, guys who wore sunglasses that defined what cool sunglasses were to look like. Even the nerds were manly. Engineers who did math with a slide ruler and wore short sleeve shirts with a tie. They had flat top haircuts and thick framed glasses and didn’t give an ‘F’ if they were en vogue or not. Absurd to even think a man would care about that sort of thing.

The race was on to plant our flag on the high ground and assert our dominance. The task was difficult and risky, but the challenge had been accepted. “Failure [was] not an option.” This was the attitude.

Look at NASA now. Full of women and milk toast men looking for ET… ET?! It used to be a military operation, spy stuff and all that junk. It was great! Every boy wanted to be an astronaut or fighter jockey. They were the new cowboys, the new American hero. We did plant our flag on the surface of the Moon and didn’t care if anyone thought it was offensive or brazen. It never crossed our mind. We fully expected the rest of the world to stand in awe of what we had done and made no apologies for it.

But as soon as we landed, a new race began… get a woman up there. That was the headline! “Now if they would only put a woman in space”.

The steady drumbeat was even more persistent and louder than ever over the decades that followed. Men were vilified (especially white men) along with stay-at-home moms. Those poor, oppressed women living under the thumb of abusive, bigoted and chauvinistic men hell bent on keeping them in their God given subservient role (side note: apparently God was also a white male deserving of vilification during this time). Eventually and I suppose ultimately man was marginalized, even more than that really, rendered insignificant. Heck, with the onset of “Test Tube Babies” (now called in vitro fertilization) we were downright obsolete.

I guess I am a greedy, rich, white man. I have been defamed and made to feel guilty of all I have created and accomplished to such an extent that now the tables have turned and it is an uphill battle I am faced with. I am supposed to apologize for my success now and give away as much as possible because it was of course undeserved and ill-gotten gain. My useless college degree was handed to me and I only got my job and subsequent promotions because I am a white male. In personal matters I am a buffoon, an ogre, insensitive to my fellow man, especially if she is a woman, and incapable of having an intimate relationship with anyone. I am the reason for a poor economy, global warming, a.k.a. climate change, hunger, famine and strife in the world. I am egocentric, biased and an especially intolerant homophobe, Islamaphobe and any other kind of “phobe” anyone cares to label me.

It is clear that in most people’s mind, especially those in mass media, women have taken over and man has stepped aside like some scolded dog and allowed it all to happen for fear of offending someone or not being sensitive enough.

I have two young boys and they are constantly assaulted by the media by making boys (and men) out to be the butt of every joke, stupid, inferior, weaker and subject to girls and women. They are not allowed to defend their selves without being labeled outsiders, bullies or even worse intolerant.

Girls nowadays have been given every advantage in school to succeed, especially in math and science. This has been done at the expense of boys. They did not lift girls to the level of boys but rather pushed boys down so girls could surpass them. Look at the accounting and legal industries as two examples of the effect of this emphasis in education for girls, traditionally male roles and safe bets for career choices to provide a good living for a man’s family now completely dominated by women. I guarantee you if you know a man working as an accountant now ask him about who controls that industry.

Of course by pointing any of this out you are immediately labeled a misogynist.

I believe it is true that the collective efforts of all those listed in Brett’s article are the cause of our condition. There is not a single “man killer”. How could there be, we are men. It would take more than one shot to take us down, right? Yes, of course. That is why it has been a constant and relentless erosion of male identity. Show me a commercial when the man is not the goof, especially if he is a dad. Show me a movie or TV show where a man doesn’t have a female boss or partner or mom is not the smarter, calmer, cooler character. Where else but Hollywood could a 110 pound woman not only kick the ass of a 190 pound man, but do it with her hands tied behind her back? She is faster, stronger, smarter, can out shoot, out think a man on her worst day and now she does it all in high heels. I love how all these women are depicted in movies as being extremely proficient in all this specialized, military training and weaponry. In the ten years I spent in Special Operations I never once saw a woman on the range, in the water, at the Kill House or on the bird. And certainly never ran across one down range.

It becomes increasingly difficult to compete as a father with all the boys are inundated with from all sides. Dad is not a hero any longer to the young kids; he is just a play thing. To the teenaged boy it is not just growing pains or angst he feels towards dad anymore, it is the realization that he is fast approaching the ranks of the unimportant, necessary evil of manhood. It is at this point many “check out” and disappear in to a video game or some other distraction often never to recover. And because they are taught that Man is the reason for their own demise they hate what they are. This result brings us to the twenty-something that has a 1000 yard stare never having been in a combat zone. By his thirties he starts to come out of the funk a little but not really in to manhood. He has somehow managed to marry and have kids along with all the responsibilities and obligations but no idea how to handle them. He is easy to spot; he looks just like his younger son in many ways. Short pants, flip flops, UFC T-shirt, baseball cap on backwards. Listens to the same music, drives the same car, and talks the same language. He finds himself chasing that youth that was squashed when he was a tween all those years ago and he still plays video games (Mom is not really in any better shape as she tries to look just like her teenage daughter). By the time he hits forty, he is just plain mad at the world but swallows hard, keeps his head down and mouth shut because at this state he has GOT TO keep that job. No more taking risks.

So, what do you do? How do you right the wrong? How do I raise my boys to feel good about what they are? How do you tell boys that the world is wrong without tuning them in to the outsiders? These are not rhetorical questions; these are legitimate questions I need help in answering.

Is it really possible to reclaim your standing? How do you get so many people to un-learn what they have been taught and then explain why you allowed it to happen at all?

72 JR Jones May 10, 2011 at 3:16 pm

I also find myself longing for outdoors and manly things. Being stuck indoors for my job does not make me feel manly alot of days. The weekends help by allowing me to get out in the woods and do things like camp, fish, and spend lots of time preparing for hunting season. It helps that I love to shoot my bow and find myself may days just tweeking it to have it absolutely perfect come hunting season. I only have a daughter but find myself teaching her the things I was taught from uncles while growing up and we do things like look for mushrooms, wild asparagus, fishing (she caught a 2lb rainbow trout 4 weekends ago), and other outdoors thing.

73 Manuel May 10, 2011 at 4:32 pm

This is by far one of the most interesting posts I’ve seen here, which believe me is saying A LOT! My only complaint is that I have to wait for more posts to come out. Thanks for talking about such an important issue!

74 Keith VanDyke May 10, 2011 at 4:34 pm

Having been a “Manly Man” for all my adult life (Biker,Union Ironworker, Union Millwright) I’ve always been around other “Manly Men”, But after a “Life Changing” injury, I find myself around other types of men, less brawn, more brains. Not that anything is wrong with that, it’s given a new look at the world I live in. I always knew that I could get out of most binds I found myself in, in most cases! But now that I’m meeting other men, I realize that alot of men wouldn’t be able to. Listen guys, First have FAITH in yourself (and a Higher Power helps too) self worth go’s along way! Then do SOMETHING MANLY learn how to shoot, fight, fish, hunt, ect.I don’t call myself a hunter, but I can damn well hit a bullseye with a firearm. I think you get the idea, You know like GROW A SET!

75 Scott H. May 10, 2011 at 4:44 pm

“Girls nowadays have been given every advantage in school to succeed, especially in math and science. This has been done at the expense of boys. They did not lift girls to the level of boys but rather pushed boys down so girls could surpass them.”

Scientific research into the disparities between girls and boys academic performance has actually shown quite the opposite. When a boy achieves a high grade on a math test, both parents and teaches tend to attribute this success to innate ability (i.e., “He is good at math.”) When girls achieve a high grade on a math test, both parents and teachers tend to attribute this to hard work (i.e., “She studied hard.”). These attributions actually reflect sexist attitudes (i.e., “Boys are better at math than girls”), but have had an unintended positive influence on girls’ academic success. Girls learn that to succeed they need to work hard. Boys learn that they are either good at something or not, and the amount of work they put into it isn’t as important. This, in turn, leads to differences in motivation and effort – which is why girls are outperforming boys in school. Incidentally, the reason Asian-American students consistently outperform Caucasian-American students is that they get the same message from their parents as girls do – they need to work hard. If they don’t get an A on a test, they are made to study harder.

Another trend in higher education not mentioned in the article is that Universities are now routinely admitting boys whose high school grades and SAT scores are not as good as some of the girls that they are rejecting. Why? Because most Universities believe that they need to have a somewhat equal distribution of males and females, and so are forced to admit boys who are less qualified than some of the girls they reject. How do I know this? I am a University administrator.

The answer, I believe, is that we need to stop with the message that what makes a man a man is something in his DNA. Men are their actions. We no longer get a special place in society simply by virtue of being male, and we need to come to terms with that. Perhaps the male malaise has its roots in the notion that because we are male we are supposed to “be” certain things. Instead, I would offer that being male is about what we “do”.

Also, the reason so many TV shows show women as the bosses of men, etc. is that the networks are catering to their advertising base. Women make 80% of the purchasing decisions in this country and Hollywood is simply catering to this demographic. So, if we want this to change, we are going to have to do more of the shopping (or stop watching TV).

76 Rob May 10, 2011 at 5:12 pm

Brett, great article, I really enjoyed it and think that this series is going to be a good one.

You state that the 5 switches are debatable, well, I am going to debate them.

Creation: Makin’ stuff. I agree that creating things is masculine, but it is also feminine. Sewing circles are just as creative as a wood-shop. Using your hands is an essential part of masculine creativity.

Providing: Caring is also feminine. Maybe more so. Men are tasked with sustenance and shelter preparation, not as much with raising of babies though. This switch can be argued to be human, not specifically masculine.

Physicality: Now this is a masculine trait. The equivalent for femininity would be sexuality. But for men, physical strength is masculine. We may debate the masculinity of The Situation, but no-one debates his physicality.

Nature: Is this not just the the creation switch? Appreciation of nature is the appreciation of creation. Nature is absence of man’s creation, but encompasses the creations of man as well. Maybe a switch for the appreciation of other’s creation?

Challenge: Yes, but this is also a feminine trait, or a human one. Overcoming the opposition of others or nature is shared by both sexes.

Perhaps I am misunderstanding. Are we talking about strictly masculine switches here, things that men specifically need in their day to day lives? Or are we talking about things that men need even if they are shared by women as well? I suggest you go after the needs in total, not the separately manly needs. If so, I suggest that Nature and Creation be combined and that you add Discipline to the list of switches. A man needs discipline in his life, women need it too, but I believe that their tend-befriend reaction helps them by having others hold them accountable. Men don’t need as many friends and tend to ‘lone-wolf’ more. Hence we need internal discipline to follow through with our goals and keep ourselves away from the doughnuts and video-games. Modern man has every whim at his fingertips and needs the discipline to not drink the extra beer. Ancient man need the discipline to go through rituals and just keep crouching in the hot sun waiting for the deer to pass by.

Again, great article Brett, I really appreciate all the work you guys do here and the discussion that this site brings. Thank you.

77 Паша May 10, 2011 at 6:03 pm

Would you mind posting where yournstatistics come from? I would like to be able to quote some of this stuff in papers.

78 Mike D May 10, 2011 at 6:59 pm

@Scott H.
Point in fact, I don’t have any hard data to back up my info, just observations of my own surroundings and experience as well as what my boys go through at school.

I understand that coming from academia it makes sense to you to rely on statistical data gathered by I assume surveys. But I would suggest, and I am sincerely not trying to rub you the wrong way here, the academic world is not exactly a real life application. It would be helpful if you were to site your facts though, just because I am interested to know the source, not that I doubt them to be accurate, I am positive they are supported by significant research data. And I do not discount the value of conducting this kind of research. However I am sure if I looked for it I could find research done to back up the opposing viewpoint as well. There is no survey or scientific research which is a “one size fits all 300 million of us” answer to any problem.

Do you think every parent of a male child fails to compliment their sons on hard work for good grades in math? I don’t ever recall one time where a boy or girl achieved at a high level in any subject and it was attributed to innate ability. The work put in to it was always emphasized and complimented by parents and teachers alike.

My boys are both honor roll students and neither of them feel that the amount of work they put in to their grades is not important. They are also both varsity athletes in 5A football in a very competitive state. This is also a result of hard work on their part. And I can guarantee you that just being good at something will simply not cut it when attempting to achieve at that level.

For the record, I have two daughters as well. My oldest graduated college last weekend. College she attended on an academic scholarship and my youngest daughter is just entering high school next year and also a student athlete.

I have seen it happen in some of the school districts I attended as well as some my kids are in where the girls will be separated out from boys and given unparalleled attention in math classes. Justification offered by saying, “research has shown that girls learn better in the single-sex environment without the distraction of boys”. The “unintended positive influence [being] girls’ academic success”? How is that unintended? Isn’t that the direct intent; that the students achieve success?

“Universities are now routinely [forced to admit] boys whose high school grades and SAT scores are not as good as some of the girls that they are rejecting” because they need boys on campus? The boy’s scores are low because they are not preparing them for college. Or are we supposed to believe that this is just the boys’ innate ability to underperform on gender biased, racist standardized testing?

What makes a man a man is his DNA. Isn’t that a scientific fact too? Actions define the character and intent of men as well as women, including teachers, parents, coaches and university administrators. We in fact are supposed to “be” certain things. One of the things we are is that we are different from women. We should not be asked to be more like women or anything else we are not supposed to “be” just so we can be successful or feel valued in society. I for one certainly don’t want women to “be” anything like a man. I like women they way they are.

Brett’s statement in the post seems to define your solution for this problem, “The solution offered to men by some–become more like women and leave behind traditional manliness.” Not attractive at all.

As for Hollywood (and Madison Avenue), they are not catering to the demographic, they are defining it. There is a concentrated effort to influence the demographic in a way that ensures the success of a product whether it’s a TV show, movie or a pair of jeans. “80% of the purchasing decisions in this country made by women”, according to who, a bunch of women? Who else would fill out a survey like that?

Not watching TV is a good idea, I would agree with you on that, but hardly a solution to the very real problem men are facing today.

79 Ben Cope May 10, 2011 at 8:44 pm

“I would be interested to know how a rise of secularism correlates to a “decline” in masculinity. Most “manly men” from my understanding had a strong background in spirituality of one variety or another. ”

Definitely.

“This is what I found out about religion: It gives you courage to make decisions you must make in a crisis, and then the confidence to leave the result to a Higher Power. Only by trust in God can a man carrying responsibility find repose.” ~IKE

I would also say that someone who finds religion to be unimportant also fails to find anything outside of themselves to be of extreme importance.

“War is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things. The decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feeling which thinks that nothing is worth war is much worse. The person who has nothing for which he is willing to fight, nothing which is more important than his own personal safety, is a miserable creature and has no chance of being free unless made and kept so by the exertions of better men than himself.”-John Stuart Mill

I find religion to be at the very core of what Manliness is. I could not imagine Manliness without religion. One thing I think our modern society has gotten right is that there need be no fighting over religion… Man can believe what he wants, so long as he believes in SOMETHING.

80 Brucifer May 10, 2011 at 10:26 pm

@ Brett – Not to sound trite, but “You’re The Man!” Keep it coming in this vein!

@ Mike D – Great Rant!

@ Rob – *sigh* You’ve been drinkin the cool-aid, dude! Get yourself into recovery.

@ ALL – Spirituality? Perhaps so. However, I think Christianity has had a large part in feminizing our society with all its incessant bleating and hand-wringing rituals. I’d also submit that although there still might be a male Pastor, most churches are essentially run by women. For me church has always been a women’s thing. If you feel you need “spirituality” to be manly, try the manly old Viking gods like Odin and Thor! (no, not the dumb-ass comic book ones, sheesh)

Speaking of that, if I had Thor’s hammer, I’d run around breaking all these insipid video games you younger guys are addicted to. They are sucking-up too much of the time you could be doing *real* things with. Want to play bad-ass swordsman? Get out of yer mom’s basement and train with a *real* one! And hey, your girlfriends, assuming you can put the X-box down long enough to even *find* a girlfriend, have your gaming addiction down as their biggest pet-peeve. That’s why they are now going out with ME instead! Even though I’m an older guy, I pay them proper attention because I actually have determinable social skills and I don’t have a freakin game console glued to my hands.

81 Terry Simmons May 10, 2011 at 10:54 pm

“And what this typically translates to is this: become more like women. Get in touch with your feelings, become more nurturing, and train to join the thriving, and traditionally female-dominated careers like nursing. The square peg is told to smooth off his sharp corners.”

BS.

Nursing is my trade. I learned it at the local vo-tech school back in the mid-nineties. I left factory work to become a “craftsman” in nursing. Am I nurturing? Yes. Is that somehow a compromise of my manliness? I don’t think so.

Every time I go to work, I take responsibility for the lives of 20 or so people. Twelve hours later if they’re still alive when I punch out, I’ve contributed something “real” to the world.

This “peg” is able to fit a lot of places.

This site has helped me change my life, and recapture my manliness. I recently wrote a little about it on my blog: http://thelovestory.org/2011/05/05/work-and-play-clothes/.

Keep up the good work.

82 Scott H. May 10, 2011 at 11:03 pm

@Mike H.
“I understand that coming from academia it makes sense to you to rely on statistical data gathered by I assume surveys. But I would suggest, and I am sincerely not trying to rub you the wrong way here, the academic world is not exactly a real life application.”

Not surveys; these are findings based on a series of studies that include naturalistic observations of children and teachers in the classroom, interviews with parents, etc. I’m not citing a single study, but conclusions based on the weight of available scientific evidence across many many studies. Before becoming an administrator, I was a Developmental scientist who conducted research on cognitive development, so I am very familiar with this research. I understand that you are not (and should not) be inclined to believe what one person has written on a blog; you are right to want references. Please understand, however, that it would take me hours to look up the references for this work and I’m simply not inclined to spend my time that way. Pick up any introductory textbook on Child Development, open to the chapter on Gender Development, and you will find plenty of citations for what I have written here.

Regarding your comment about the academic world, where do you think most of the scientific research in the world is conducted? It is conducted by faculty at universities. I honestly don’t understand your criticism on this point.

“Do you think every parent of a male child fails to compliment their sons on hard work for good grades in math?”

No, absolutely not, but we are talking about “trends” and not individuals. Your own personal experiences, while they may inform your opinions, do not provide an accurate representation of what is going on across the country in most classrooms and homes. This is where research is useful. By the same token, the research finding that “parents attributes boys success to innate ability” does not mean that all parents do this, but that more parents do this than not.

“My boys are both honor roll students and neither of them feel that the amount of work they put in to their grades is not important. They are also both varsity athletes in 5A football in a very competitive state. This is also a result of hard work on their part. And I can guarantee you that just being good at something will simply not cut it when attempting to achieve at that level.”

I absolutely agree. You obviously have great kids and have taught them well.

“I have seen it happen in some of the school districts I attended as well as some my kids are in where the girls will be separated out from boys and given unparalleled attention in math classes. Justification offered by saying, “research has shown that girls learn better in the single-sex environment without the distraction of boys”.”

But if the girls are being separated, doesn’t that mean that both sexes are receiving the benefit of a single-sex environment? I don’t understand how this puts boys at a disadvantage?

“The “unintended positive influence [being] girls’ academic success”? How is that unintended? Isn’t that the direct intent; that the students achieve success?”

No, my point was that sexist attitudes about girls math ability have had the unintended consequence of making girls work harder. Sexist attitudes are not typically intended to produce any outcome, positive or negative; they simply reflect stereotypes.

““Universities are now routinely [forced to admit] boys whose high school grades and SAT scores are not as good as some of the girls that they are rejecting” because they need boys on campus? The boy’s scores are low because they are not preparing them for college. Or are we supposed to believe that this is just the boys’ innate ability to underperform on gender biased, racist standardized testing?”

The attitude of many university officials is that we cannot allow entire generations of boys to miss the opportunities afforded by higher education. In other words, we DO NOT think it reflects actual differences in ability between boys and girls, but differences in motivation and effort. Who, exactly, is under preparing boys for college?

Also, the SAT is slightly biased, but in favor of white males. So, the bias in the SAT only gives boys an advantage, not a disadvantage compared to girls.

“What makes a man a man is his DNA. Isn’t that a scientific fact too? Actions define the character and intent of men as well as women, including teachers, parents, coaches and university administrators. We in fact are supposed to “be” certain things. One of the things we are is that we are different from women. We should not be asked to be more like women or anything else we are not supposed to “be” just so we can be successful or feel valued in society. I for one certainly don’t want women to “be” anything like a man. I like women they way they are.”

I never said anything about men being more like women and believe, like you, that this is absurd. I simply believe that we are defined more by our actions than our DNA.

“Brett’s statement in the post seems to define your solution for this problem, “The solution offered to men by some–become more like women and leave behind traditional manliness.” Not attractive at all.”

Again, never said this and never thought this. This is your misinterpretation of what I said.

“As for Hollywood (and Madison Avenue), they are not catering to the demographic, they are defining it. There is a concentrated effort to influence the demographic in a way that ensures the success of a product whether it’s a TV show, movie or a pair of jeans. “80% of the purchasing decisions in this country made by women”, according to who, a bunch of women? Who else would fill out a survey like that?”

The 80% number I learned from the Dean of the Business School at our university (who, incidentally, happens to be a man), and it apparently comes from a number of studies conducted by firms such as Boston Consulting Group, Booz, McKinsey and Goldman Sachs. But again, never believe what someone else says unless you can verify the facts for yourself.

One other point here, your dismissal of the information in the form of “..according to who, a bunch of women? Who else would fill out a survey like that?” just makes you sound like a misogynist.

“Not watching TV is a good idea, I would agree with you on that, but hardly a solution to the very real problem men are facing today.”

I guess I don’t really understand the problem. Perhaps because I don’t feel any particular dissatisfaction myself about my identity as a male. I am concerned about the academic disparities among young men and women, given the work that I do, but do not believe that schools are systematically under preparing boys or pushing them down in some way. I think the problem is much more complex than that.

83 Jason May 11, 2011 at 12:12 am

It is predictable that in a society in an advanced state of decline, like the USA, feminine values will begin to dominate and women will enjoy a more prominent role. In a declining society, success will tend to be determined by a person’s ability to ingratiate himself with those higher up in existing hierarchies and conform to authority. Such a state of affairs favors women, in contrast to an advancing, dynamic society, where creativity and independent initiative will be more significant determinants of success and men will be favored.

84 K May 11, 2011 at 1:05 am

Again, I must decry the misogyny represented by many of the comments on this article (and others).

Art of Manliness is a great resource and a place for males to at least start to learn the importance of reflection and hard work in shaping their manly identity, and uses a lot of charming throwbacks to “the good old days.” But we can’t afford to forget that some of the supposedly “manliest” times in American history were rife with sexism, racism and great disparities between social classes.

To become a better man you do not need to demonize or fight women; a man has enough demons inside himself.

85 Brett McKay May 11, 2011 at 1:08 am

Scott H./Kelly/Gigi….Don’t pretend to be a man when it suits you. Commenting under fake names and pretending to be multiple people is against our comment policy.

86 Scott H. May 11, 2011 at 3:34 am

@Brett:
I’m not pretending to be a man. My wife (Kelly) pointed me toward your blog and we both responded (she responded once under Gigi and once under her own name, but never pretended to be a man in either posts). We have a shared (fake) email address that we use for responding to blogs and such since we aren’t comfortable giving our work emails out. Sorry if that is against your policy, but I highly doubt that everyone here has given their actual names.

87 D. Todd May 11, 2011 at 11:20 am

@Scott H/Kelly/Gigi
I greatly appreciate your informed and articulated responses to some of the comments to this blog post. Please continue to monitor this fascinating blog and the comments and, like you’ve done for this particular blog post, please weigh in when you can.

88 Brett McKay May 11, 2011 at 11:44 am

@Scott H/Kelly/Gigi-

So you and your wife share the same fake email address but have different last names?

And you or your wife commented as GiGi and then commented as Scott H or Kelly S. I’m sure people do have fake names, but you cannot pretend to be two or three different people in the same thread.

Certainly smells like a troll to me.

89 Tom May 11, 2011 at 11:59 am

I would like to add something else to the list of whys. I’m sure that some of the statistics you cite in at the beginning of the article are because men just naturally do not mature as fast as women. I know many 30 year old men who act like children but I don’t often see that quality in women. Men have dominated women since the beginning of time. Maybe it’s about time they come into their own. The planet would be much better off if it were run by women. Look what men have done to it. And no, I’m not a woman.

90 Otis Blanchard May 11, 2011 at 12:56 pm

“Nate May 10, 2011 at 12:56 pm
I just finished Ayn Rand’s book, The Fountainhead. It shares some common themes with this article; the state of individual virtue, degenerate collectivism, eroding of humanity’s (not just man’s) competence and self-respect. The five switches listed above are integral components of mature manhood.”

I’d say themes like Ayn Rand causes more male malaise then it will ever help solve. It preaches that all productivity comes from the elite, and unless you real name is Bill Gates, Nate, you will never be productive. If you ever take Social Security, go to a State University (Hook em’ Horns), or end up in a university hospital then you’re part of a “degenerate collective”.

It goes against the idea that a man works and takes care of his family. I tend to recall the characters complaining about his family draining him. It attacks those that work, saying that they do only at the will of the elite. Therefore, there is no entrepreneurial spirit. Finally, in atlas shrugged, the world is shut down because someone takes away the “perpetual motion machine”. In a world where this machine exists, it would be dreadful. People wouldn’t need to work. However, it’s impossible.

Work comes from people’s activities, which is why their isn’t a set amount of jobs in the world. It’s not like your father not retiring is preventing a job from opening up. The economy needs to be modeled to allow more people to be productive (easier said than done). Additionally, innovation comes from all levels and strata of society, which is impossible according to Rand.

Pick up some Hemingway, put down the Rand.

“There are two novels that can change a bookish fourteen-year-old’s life: The Lord of the Rings and Atlas Shrugged. One is a childish fantasy that often engenders a lifelong obsession with its unbelievable heroes, leading to an emotionally stunted, socially crippled adulthood, unable to deal with the real world. The other, of course, involves orcs.”

– John Rogers

91 Mike D May 11, 2011 at 3:42 pm

@ Scott H.

Fair enough. Good information, but again my opinions are based on my own experiences and observations.

I never said scientific research was not conducted at universities. But by your own admission there are other institutions that do studies, you cited three, Boston Consulting Group, Booz, McKinsey and Goldman Sachs. So what does that mean?

My criticism of academia is that those that live in the academic world don’t really live in the same environment as the working world nor does it resemble much of what takes place in the lower grade levels, certainly not in terms of administration.

A college campus is an insulated institution, and correctly so. It is a place where bright minds can dedicate time and resources to research in all areas of discipline so that, hopefully the findings will benefit the greater good. But it is not perfect, far from it. Any research data, no matter how well intended can be wrong, even if they include “naturalistic observations of children and teachers in the classroom, interviews with parents, etc” or “conclusions based on the weight of available scientific evidence across many many studies.”

It’s OK for you to hold fast to that data and consider the matter resolved. Fine, let’s say it is correct. Great! We have identified the problem and know how to correct it. Why have things not gotten any better? Were the findings just recently released?

I may be incorrect and honestly, I am not as bull headed as I appear to be here, but I believe most people form an opinion based on their experiences. Sometimes, as the saying goes, perception is reality. I don’t believe people just make up things out of thin air and say, “I feel this way or that because…”.

Something happened. They experienced something that caused them to form an opinion. There was an action that caused a reaction.

I stand by my comments that if I had time to go out and find it I am sure I could find studies to support any number of opinions, including my own. But, I am simply not inclined to spend my time that way either. So, I base it on my own, first hand experience.

“But if the girls are being separated, doesn’t that mean that both sexes are receiving the benefit of a single-sex environment? I don’t understand how this puts boys at a disadvantage?”

Sorry, I did not give enough information on how this happened. They were not merely separated during math class; they were given additional math instruction in the single sex environment. The boys’ class was only changed by the removal of the girls. The girls were taught separate and apart from the boys for math using methods specifically designed to increase their success rate. The boys did not receive tailor made instruction. They either “got it” or they didn’t. No extra care was taken to get to the reason why one boy did better than the other. But in contrast, every girl was given careful attention until she understood the process better and reached an acceptable measure of success. The boys remained in the “sink or swim” class.

“Also, the SAT is slightly biased, but in favor of white males. So, the bias in the SAT only gives boys an advantage, not a disadvantage compared to girls.”

I know, that was my point. If the SAT is biased toward white males, why are they not doing as well as the girls and forcing universities to accept them with sub-standard scores.

I commend those at college universities that “DO NOT think it reflects actual differences in ability between boys and girls, but differences in motivation and effort.” But, what are the success rates of these young men once they are expected to perform at the college level? What is the expectation of a student who is granted admission that by the measure of academic ability is less than those denied with higher scores and better grades? If he then fails are we simply going to blame it on a lack of “motivation and effort”?

“One other point here, your dismissal of the information in the form of “..according to who, a bunch of women? Who else would fill out a survey like that?” just makes you sound like a misogynist.”

You have just landed at the lowest form of rebuttal, name calling. Just as I predicted in my earlier post, “Of course by pointing any of this out you are immediately labeled a misogynist.” As if that is supposed to mean anything anyway. You do not know me from Adam. I have two daughters, a wife, mother and two sisters, and I hate them because they are female? Or at least “sound like” someone who does. Absolutely absurd.

“I guess I don’t really understand the problem. Perhaps because I don’t feel any particular dissatisfaction myself about my identity as a male. I am concerned about the academic disparities among young men and women, given the work that I do, but do not believe that schools are systematically under preparing boys or pushing them down in some way. I think the problem is much more complex than that.”

Again, I agree with you. You don’t really understand the problem. And it has nothing to do with how you “feel” about your male identity, dissatisfied or not. It has to do with how everyone else feels about it, and how generations of boys are being made to “feel” about their male identity.

No one is purposing we turn back the hands of time here to the “good ole days” as someone else posted who also dropped the “misogyny” bomb. But there are lessons to be learned from the past. Isn’t that one reason why we study history as a requirement in universities?

Some things did in fact work better. Not better for every individual of course not, but as a whole, yes they did. Some things did not need to be adjusted; many did, but not all. And it is possible; it has to be at least possible, that some of these things were how we defined the roles of men and women. You admit there is a disparity between young men and women, at least academically. You say you are concerned about it, “given the work you do”. So then, what now?

Again, I agree with you that the problems are much more complex and there is no “Silver Bullet” solution. Just like there is not one single cause either.

92 Leon May 11, 2011 at 4:05 pm

Have you ever thought about doing a men’s retreat, where we can just bug out and do whatever the hell we want no boundaries or rules? I just turned 27 and sometimes I do feel lost and I wonder what contribution I can make to the world and my family (when I get married) is. Something I can wake up every morning and work towards on a daily basis for the rest of my life. looking forward to this series

93 Tom May 11, 2011 at 5:15 pm

@Brucifer – Go read “No More Christian Nice Guy” by Paul T. Coughlin – it’s all about how the popular perception of Christ (and as a result, men) have been feminized, and how it’s not an accurate representation of how the Bible truly portrays Jesus. There are more and more churches who are bucking the feminized-Christianity trend, but you have to look for them.

94 Rob May 11, 2011 at 7:13 pm

@Brucifer and @Tom: Kool-aide? What you mean? Also, I love the name and agree with the tack of feminization of pastel Christian churches (aka white folks). “You gotta go into your spiritual basement with Jesus and pry out all the mold! ” It’s like, dude, you may have a lot of guilt or something, but every once in a while, you gotta let up, because this is boring as all get-out. Go to a Black Baptist church, now THAT is a celebration, they also shake you down for tithing so bring cash.

To my posting: I’m just asking, is Brett talking about Male only traits that are biological and need to be revived, or ones that we may share with females included? I hope he bridges out to include traits that women may share. Also, i think discipline is a god one to throw up there too. I sure as hell know I fight with it.

95 Frank May 11, 2011 at 7:22 pm

Looking at examples of wilderness loving men, McCandless is, in my opinion, a truly poor choice. If you’ve ever read Jon Krakauer’s book “into the Wild,” it’s painfully obvious that the kid had no idea what he was doing. Any man worthy of the title should have the intelligence to go out and get some training in survival and other skills before attempting a trip like that. McCandless died of starvation for no reason other than pure, unadulterated stupidity.

96 Jameson May 11, 2011 at 7:43 pm

i can relate to the “all or nothing” thing. I know that it doesn’t have to be that way. And recently I’ve been attempting to coach myself in that respect, that I can do things one step at a time. Also, wild at heart is an amazing book.

97 Jameson May 11, 2011 at 7:46 pm

@Mike D, are you a member of the Beastie Boys? If so, awesome!

98 Mike M. May 11, 2011 at 7:55 pm

I’d like to point out one thing…the college disparities mean nothing.

A B.A. usually requires nothing more than four years of tuition money and enough sense not to burn the schoolhouse down. A degree in the hard sciences – or engineering, if you are a real glutton for punishment – is a far harder slog. And as formidable a test of brains and determination as a man could desire.

99 Barry May 11, 2011 at 8:14 pm

Mike D above asked how he can raise his boys to feel good about what they are?. My suggestion would be to start by teaching them not to accept anybody else’s definition of who and what they are and should become:

“What we see depends mainly on what we look for.”
- Sir John Lubbock

Don’t tell young men that their generation is weak and facile. Don’t tell them they’re ‘marginalised’ and ‘insignificant’. Don’t bring them up to believe the world is against them and women are all out to get them. Don’t tell them that society thinks their journey to manhood is an ‘unimportant’, ‘necessary evil’.

Instead, surround them with positive role models and examples of manliness they can aspire to (and make the first example your own behaviour). Teach them that they can achieve any goal they set their mind to if they are prepared to put in the time and effort. Teach them that yes, personal achievement is important, but that a man also has a social responsibility to contribute value to the society he lives in, not just take from it all he can get.

Teach them that money provides options and can bring certain freedoms, but that the pursuit of money for its own sake, or using it as the sole basis of determining the value of a man is worthless.

Teach them not to apologise for their maleness and embrace their masculinity, but not to use it as a tool to intimidate those who are weaker. Teach them the values of respect, integrity, commitment, honesty, dignity, humility, love and honour. Teach them of the importance of taking personal responsibility for their lives and character, to be proud of their successes and not to look for someone to blame when they fail. A boy who learns to take responsibility for his own destiny cannot fail to become a man.

“Freedom is the will to be responsible to ourselves”
- Nietzsche

“Responsibility is the price of greatness.”
- Winston Churchill

In short, you don’t have to tell them ‘the world is wrong’, you can show them a possibility of who and what they could be in that world. Boys growing up in this environment aren’t going to have their manliness defined by feckless dads in detergent commercials or ephemeral chatter in the mass media.

“Let everyone sweep in front of his own door, and the whole world will be clean.”
- Goethe

Yes, the world is changing; yes the traditional gender roles are evolving, but whilst it may be unsettling, that does not automatically mean it’s a bad thing. To me, the values and attitudes I describe above are timeless and are as valid and relevant in my own definition of manliness as they would have been had I been born in my grandfather’s time. Perhaps that’s what Brett means by ‘moving forward by looking back’.

100 Mike D May 11, 2011 at 10:57 pm

@Barry

Thanks for that post. Good advice. I believe I have had success with my own children, at least so far. I hope more people will take your advice and put it to good use.

I think the larger problem will persist however unless more people take note.

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