Graphing Manliness

by Brett & Kate McKay on October 13, 2011 · 60 comments

in A Man's Life, On Manhood

Everywhere you look, people are talking about men and manliness. Hanna Rosin argues that it’s “The End of Men,” Kay Hymowitz wonders “Where Have the Good Men Gone? and William Bennett knows “Why Men Are in Trouble.” Network television has gotten into the act with three man-centric and predictably dopey shows: “Man Up!” “How to Be a Gentleman,” and “Last Man Standing.” The question of the future of men and manhood seems to be at the forefront of many minds.

As we’ve talked about before, men have always worried about their manliness. But it isn’t true that they have always worried the same amount at every time in history.

Google Books has this awesome Ngram Viewer into which you can search for any word or phrase, and it will spit out a graph showing the prevalence of that word amongst the books in its library over time. Here’s what you get when you put in “manhood” and “manliness.”

See the graph on Google

I found this graph really fascinating, and I hope you all do too. I intend for the post to be a jumping off point for discussion of your theories on the rise and fall of our culture’s discussion of manhood. But first I’ll offer up a possible interpretation.

The number of books mentioning manhood begins to precipitously rise during the 1820s, and then begins to tumble around the turn of the 20th century. These dates also roughly parallel the timeline of the Industrial Revolution.

The Industrial Revolution created great change not only in technology and the economy, but in the way people lived. Especially how men worked. Families moved from farms in the country to live in the city and take jobs in quickly proliferating factories. In 1800, 3 out of 4 American males worked full-time in agriculture. By 1900, 2/3 of them were employed in the manufacturing and service sectors.

Not only were farmers affected, craftsmen were dealt a blow as well. After apprenticing for years to learn a trade that required deep knowledge, unique skills, and a steady hand, craftsmen found themselves replaced by machines which could do their hard-learned job in a fraction of the time.

For men who had felt their manliness defined by the owning of land or the membership in a guild, this was a wrenching change. What would being a man mean in the absence of the nobility of working with one’s hands and the dignity of true independence and self-reliance? Could a man still be a man while pulling the lever at a factory or sitting at a desk in an office?

Fast forward a hundred years and we find ourselves in the midst of another industrial revolution of sorts. Again technology–this time computers–is changing the way we live and work. Ironically, while the shift to men working in factories had society concerned for their manhood in the 19th century, today those manufacturing jobs are often used as the symbol of manly work–their disappearance linked to a crisis in manliness. The information age has made more and more jobs feel less and less tangible. At least the men in factories did something with their hands…can men still be men if they’re only using their fingertips? Today society wrings its hands about that question.

So how did our Industrial Revolution forefathers solve their “crisis” in masculinity?

By moving away from defining manliness by a man’s job, and re-rooting it in virtue and excellence.  We say “re-rooting,” because defining manhood this way was not new; it was the definition also espoused by the ancient Greeks and Romans. In the books written around the turn of the century, books with titles like Stepping Stones to Manhood and The Making of Manhood, authors argued that being a man came down to character. A man was industrious and frugal, responsible and trustworthy, courageous and bold. This definition of manhood could be striven for by any man, no matter what sphere of life he found himself in. Whether he was tilling the land or working the assembly line or sitting in an office, he could live with honor. And so men adapted, and the crisis of manhood dissipated.

But men have slipped back into defining themselves by their work. As the graph shows, as the information age heats up in the 2000′s, so does talk about manhood. The Ngram Viewer only goes until 2008, but if it went further, we’d certainly see an additional rise in the last few years. But most of this talk only discusses the problem and rarely offers a solution. If a remedy is offered, it’s usually some variation on telling men they need to get married, get a job, and stop playing video games. Such steps may help to a degree, but a man can still be a man and be single, out of work, and marvel of marvels, able to play video games in moderation. What is needed is a definition of manhood that is timeless, one that applies to men in any situation in life. How about virtue and excellence, character and competence? If we have come full circle in a century, perhaps what is needed is not to reinvent the wheel but to find what worked for our ancestors, whether a working man in the 1800s or a philosopher like Aristotle. Obviously, that’s what we try to do on our site and especially in our new book, Manvotionals: Timeless Wisdom and Advice on Living the 7 Manly Virtues, which has many selections from the books on manhood written around the turn of the century.

Anyway, so that’s my theory (with a little rhapsodizing thrown in as well). What is your interpretation of the general rise and fall of discourse about manliness (and the little peaks and valleys too)? You may also find it interesting to examine the graphs when the search results are refined by British English and American English:

American English Books

See the graph on Google

British English Books

See the graph on Google

A few thoughts on these:

  • On the American graph, you can see a spike in the 1960s during the counterculture movement, rise of feminism, and the resulting debate about gender roles.
  • The British graph peaks earlier than the American one. Because the Industrial Revolution started earlier there? Something else?
  • The British graph also has an interesting manhood rebound around 1915. Any Brits care to wager the reason? WWI perhaps?
  • “Manliness” has never been as popular a word as “manhood.” But I certainly prefer it!

{ 60 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Dan October 13, 2011 at 3:32 pm

Just thought you should know that manhood has an alternative meaning – particularly in ubiquitous period romance novels. This may explain its prevalence.

2 Per October 13, 2011 at 3:35 pm

Well, looking at your graph, I am tempted to have a look at what kind of vocabulary a writer uses. If you look at maleness (http://books.google.com/ngrams/graph?content=maleness&year_start=1800&year_end=2008&corpus=0&smoothing=1) it would seem that maleness has risen sharply since 1900. A look at masculinity shows the same thing. I am not necessarily disagreeing with your statements, but basing on the occurrence of certain terms in literature seems a bit weak.

3 Daniel October 13, 2011 at 3:38 pm

I would say that Per’s observation actually bolster’s Brett’s. Terms like “maleness” and masculinity” rose in the 20th century because people started studying manliness not as a virtue but as like a scholarly topic. Feminist and gender studies use terms like “masculinity.” But they’re not talking about manhood like this site talks about manhood.

4 atroon October 13, 2011 at 3:48 pm

Interestingly enough, on an NPR program (I believe it was Day to Day) on Tuesday, the host was discussing whether or not we are presently engaging in a new Industrial Revolution, this one of the merging of information and green power. It would be interesting if every time an industrial revolution occurs, men need to undertake a shift in viewpoint in order to survive in the ‘new’ world enabled by the rapid pace of innovation.

5 Will N. October 13, 2011 at 3:51 pm

Very interesting!

As an Englishman, I would venture that the rise around 1915 is due to WWI. What’s interesting is that you don’t see a similar rise for WWII. With WWII, we were in real danger and fighting was a necessity, but in WWI, the war was a crock so I imagine you’d have to have a bunch of invective to push men to fight–man up and join the army!

6 Daren Redekopp October 13, 2011 at 3:53 pm

It would be interesting to also do some cross-comparisons, overlaying the manhood graphs over top of womanhood graphs, Biblical and spirituality graphs, and so forth. It seems to me that the more Western civilization slides toward metaphysical materialism, the more that ideas like manhood and womanhood will be seen to be the side effects of biological gender.

7 Jeremy Provance October 13, 2011 at 4:22 pm

I’m going to take a step back not to depersonalize this for anyone, but to look big picture. I am currently a biology major in college. I have done some work with population genetics (not necessarily as tough as it might sound). I have read a lot of graphs that show parabolic (up and then down, or vice versa) trends, sort of like this one. In nature, everything has a balance. I am no Ph.D., but I can tell you nature has a sinusoidal rhythm. Up, down, up, down, up, down… Might I suggest this as a possible explaination? It’s impossible to be on a never ending upward trend. I guess only time will tell if the trend will return upward. I will say, that initiatives such as this website make that switch to positive growth more of a possibility. It will take men living deliberately to make it all a reality, though. Thanks!

8 Jamie Baker October 13, 2011 at 4:39 pm

While I think your points all hold validity, I’m not so sure that the data support them as it is presented. There can be other possible interpretations. The data is presented as a percentage of the whole, but we do not know what the whole number is. It would be more interesting to see the hard number of books with mentions. If, with the Industrial Revolution, the number of books in total became greater, but the number about manliness stayed even, then the percentage would drop. Its possible that there is just an increase in books on other topics. One could make the argument that the Industrial Revolution widened people’s scope of interest and that was further widened as the 20th century brought technologies that made the world a smaller place.

Take care not to make data fit your argument.

9 Nick October 13, 2011 at 4:56 pm
10 Robert S. October 13, 2011 at 5:00 pm

Just because a term shows up in a book doesn’t mean that the book is based on the subject. I think this shows how much manliness was on our minds, though this may not be in the same context that the article discusses it.
However; I was curious so I searched for Sex, Jesus, and Money and got this http://books.google.com/ngrams/graph?content=Jesus%2Csex%2Cmoney&year_start=1800&year_end=2008&corpus=5&smoothing=8 . * Note that the steep increase in the use of Jesus coincides with the Second Great Awakening * The way I interpret this graph is that starting in the 60′s people started to concentrate on having and living for fun (sex would show up in books written for entertainment more than other types of literature). This would correlate with a declining interest in religion and fiscal responsibility. However; in the past few years people are more concerned with religion, and money than amusement as shown by this graph http://books.google.com/ngrams/graph?content=Jesus%2Csex%2Cmoney&year_start=1975&year_end=2007&corpus=5&smoothing=8 .
I say this is reflective of levels of maturity, and that people are becoming interested in being mature. This website exists mainly because of this interest. This is just my opinion of course but I believe it offers hope of a better future.

11 Whiskeyjack October 13, 2011 at 5:01 pm

The nadir of manliness and the beginning of its return seems to have occurred in 1983– the year of my birth. Coincidence? I think not.

12 Greg October 13, 2011 at 5:13 pm

I agree with Daren Redekopp in that as i am an engineer it would be interesting to see some cross-comparisons overlaid or at least graphed. I would add that many of the virtues, manners, demeanor, attitude, and roles of a “manly” gentleman in the past has, in my opinion, been eroded a little by society with such things as feminism, comfort over quality, a loss of jobs that required working with one’s hands….etc. Also, if you look at mass media today, which is huge with all of the outlets we have access to, it seems that a more kinder, feminine, and especially emotional male figure has and is trying to make his way into the mainstream through examples such as t.v. shows that have gay characters, and some states that now allow gay marriage, and mass media, hollywood, feminists….etc., also try to destroy or downplay the traditional roles of a man and woman, and try to create a society of minimal difference between the two sexes except in anatomy. This is detrimental as a man and a woman balance each other out, as they are not supposed to be the same. A woman to organizations such as N.O.W. is no longer supposed to be a loving housewife subject to submission to her husband, but can and should be able to wear at least half of the pants in the family, if not all, with her being able to be the main bread-winner as well. I personally don’t have a problem with women who want a career, and should if they want one. I do believe however that if a married woman wants to be a housewife, she has the right to do that without being condemned by feminists and feminist organizations. I also believe that if a man wants to act and dress like a man, and not like his sixteen year old son, and NOT gay, soft, or emotional, and still opens a door for a date or his wife, still wears the pants in the family, still is the bread-winner, still disciplines his children, can still fix things around the house, can come home from an office job and still do chores that get his hands dirty, and acts more like Ward Cleaver than the males on that crap of a show “modern family” for example, then he can and should do that without being criticized as an old-fashioned male shovenist. I consider myself “old-fashioned” but not shovenist, as I am a father with a daughter, and i believe and encourage her to be whatever she wants to be, with no limitations, but she can and will be allowed and encouraged to do this, while still being able to be a girl scout, wear dresses, and have the demeanor and manners of a little lady. She will understand that God and/or nature did not intend for her to act like a man, and that there are “natural” differences that go beyond anatomy. The bottom line for me, is this, I believe that the way men used to be as a whole in the past with regard to the manners, etiquette, work ethic, dress, and role is now frowned upon by a certain segment of our society, but that is why i like the Art Of Manliness so much, is that for those of us who cherish being a man, and still believe in those virtues and mannerisms, we now have a place to read and share our thoughts on what it is to still be a true man, and not a soft, emotional, and confused mound of flesh.

13 Robert Weedall October 13, 2011 at 5:20 pm

The 20th Century also solved the crisis of “manliness” by killing off a great deal of people who would have asked the question of “am I a man” in the first place.

Sorry, that sounds ruinously harsh, but after WW1 you can see a diminshment in how “manly” people want to be, because the things it was associated with (empire building, easy victories in wars, grand public projects and even optimism) become instead associated with the single most ruinous destruction of life for Western Europe. OFC it didn’t compare to WW2, but you can perhaps see how both of these conflicts really knocked the wind out of any attempt to be “masculine” because “still being upright and breathing” was more of a concern.

There is always less of an urge to be “manly” when your likely to be hideously murdered.

14 Robert Weedall October 13, 2011 at 5:32 pm

Also “manhood” is also a polite way to reffering to a penis, so it might well be reffering to that.

15 Aaron October 13, 2011 at 5:41 pm

I enjoy your articles on masculinity. As a male registered nurse I often struggle to reconcile my “craftsman” upbringing and my career in a female dominated field. Though there’s nothing particularly feminine about modern nursing, the word “nurse” isn’t particularly masculine. I used to be a graphic designer, which was full of ego rewards, but not terribly secure. Nursing has been a way to secure a financial future for my family. That part does feel pretty manly.

16 Brett McKay October 13, 2011 at 5:42 pm

Appreciate the comments so far.

I just wanted to reiterate something I tried to make clear in the comments–that my interpretation is just one possibility of many. Just spitballing here.

@Per-

I would agree with Daniel that the rise in the word “masculinity” at least is due to a shift in the way manhood was studied and written about. It shoots up in the 1980s when gender studies program and research were taking off.

@Jamie-
Good point about the percentages. Although over time we know the number of books available rises in general, and I would say our worldview and interest in topics is ever expanding as well, so that wouldn’t account for the rise in the 2000′s. Also I’d like to point out that I looked at the data and hatched the theory, not the other way around. Although again, it’s not the only possibility.

As to the comments mentioning that manhood was also a polite way of saying penis. True enough. However, has someone who as searched the archives and manhood mentions in Google books extensively, this does not show up, at least around the turn of the 20th century.

17 Robert Weedall October 13, 2011 at 5:51 pm

Thats strange, I swear I’ve seen advertisements that speak of increasing “vigour” or “energy” and so on with a wink to the audience from this time period.

Sorry to be repeating stuff!

18 John D October 13, 2011 at 6:01 pm
19 Matt October 13, 2011 at 6:40 pm

Needs more data!

20 Jeffrey Armando Vasquez October 13, 2011 at 7:13 pm

Great post, as always. I think that regardless of how dopey mainstream media treats the topic of manliness, I’m grateful that the subject matter is seeing somewhat of a revival. I think with motion pictures like Courageous and El Camino, fatherhood is also a relevant part of the conversation.

21 Rick October 13, 2011 at 7:39 pm

Hopefully in another 10 years Google will allow give us a richer data set. I’d like to be able to get a sense of what light “manliness” is being used in these books. 60′s books were likely saying, “don’t be so macho,” (by the way, macho roughly corresponds with our collective memory of The Village People, with an interesting blip around 1840), while the 2000′s would have had more “get back in touch with your masculine side” books.

Another issue is changing language. Just because manhood declined, doesn’t mean discussion of the topic did. If we add up all the synonyms for manliness, we might find more interesting changes.

22 David October 13, 2011 at 8:02 pm
23 Rob October 13, 2011 at 8:16 pm

Here’s the data for a ton of metrics: http://books.google.com/ngrams/graph?content=manliness%2Cmanhood%2Cmanly%2Cmasculine%2Cfeminine%2Cwomanly%2Cwomanhood&year_start=1700&year_end=2008&corpus=0&smoothing=1

Here it is in more close ordered pair sets:

Masculine v. Feminine: http://books.google.com/ngrams/graph?content=masculine%2Cfeminine&year_start=1700&year_end=2008&corpus=0&smoothing=1
These are almost mirrors of each other, likely a cultural word-choice, as in saying ‘burnt wood’ or ‘charred wood’, simply a change in word choice.

Manly v. Womanly: http://books.google.com/ngrams/graph?content=manly%2C+womanly&year_start=1700&year_end=2008&corpus=0&smoothing=1
We see a slight tick at the end here for both

Manhood v. Womanhood:http://books.google.com/ngrams/graph?content=manhood%2C+womanhood&year_start=1700&year_end=2008&corpus=0&smoothing=1
Surprisingly in the 1990′s, they were almost on par!

Man v. Boy: http://books.google.com/ngrams/graph?content=man%2C+boy&year_start=1700&year_end=2008&corpus=0&smoothing=1
We see a hump during the Baby Boom for boy. I wonder if it matches up with population statistics?

Girl v Woman; http://books.google.com/ngrams/graph?content=woman%2C+girl&year_start=1700&year_end=2008&corpus=0&smoothing=1
It seems between 1870 and 1970, the words were interchangeable.

Man v. Woman:http://books.google.com/ngrams/graph?content=man%2Cwoman&year_start=1700&year_end=2008&corpus=0&smoothing=1
Woman is almost unchanging, while man is displaying a bell curve of sorts.

(note: all searches done in lower case)

All in all, I agree that there is a dependence on cultural queues, that is obvious. But dis-entangling the real data is going to be a bit harder. The earlier years probably suffered from gender bias in publishing. Real comparisons to ideas of manliness and hardihood are difficult to establish.This is really the start of a great MA. thesis, and Google has made this much easier to accomplish. The real story here is in the spike at the end of this data.

Brett, 2 things: This is an amazing tool! Thank you for reminding me of this! Also, you have remarkable timing with the work done by The Atlantic. I know your posts take months to queue up and all. It seems that writing and editing take similar time frames.

24 Brett McKay October 13, 2011 at 8:26 pm

@Rob-

Just got my Atlantic Monthly today. I’m looking forward to reading the cover story. Although I hope it’s not “another what’s the matter with men” pieces like the ones cited above. I’ve reached my saturation point with those!

25 Victor October 13, 2011 at 9:14 pm

One other interesting thing I have read about is social capital as a whole. When people moved into cities, there was an outcry for the loss of the old way of life across the board, and many clubs, organizations and groups formed to fulfill the social needs of these people. Boy Scouts, YMCA, and a great deal of other programs got off the ground at the end of this turbulent period to help people in a variety of ways.

In this day and age, a decline in membership and a crash in “market share” has led a lot of people from the elks and masons to bowling leagues to ask why people are not joining, what is going on in society as a whole. They may find it’s just another industrial revolution, and on the tail end of it they will find their rebirth or replacements.

26 Steve Davis October 13, 2011 at 11:09 pm

I believe an additional (and significant) impact to manhood during the industrial revolution and subsequent decline in apprenticeship was the loss of close interaction between generations, where concepts of manliness and masculinity were both taught and caught from older to younger. I grew up without a strong male influence, surrounded by a family of females. I was fortunate enough to be “adopted” by my future father-in-law, who was truly a manly guy. He showed me what it meant to stand for something, take pride in your work, and care for your family. Sadly, the caricatures of men presented today in most popular TV shows and movies do nothing to call men to a higher standard… they simply perpetuate the damaging stereotypes.

27 Neil M. October 13, 2011 at 11:49 pm

In Victorian England there was a movement known as muscular Christianity. I think it was started at Rugby College. It was the belief that the teachings of the church had become feminised and sought to create physically strong christian men through the playing of sport, along with education and prayer.

28 Georgiaboy61 October 14, 2011 at 2:36 am

Aaron, re: “Though there’s nothing particularly feminine about modern nursing, the word “nurse” isn’t particularly masculine.” More men are electing to become nurses these days, but IMO if the field really wants to attract men, it should ditch “nurse” as a title altogether, and instead identify them as medics. This term carries alot less baggage for everyone, male and female alike. Women may scoff, but these things matter to men. The term “medic” identifies with paramedic, or with military medics/corpsmen, which are not perceived as “female” jobs, even though their work has a lot of overlap with nursing.

29 Danny October 14, 2011 at 3:48 am

I believe a lot of our interest in masculinity now is similar to the early 20th century with one difference. I don’t believe that technology is the main source of this interest today but rather society’s push to make things manly seem wrong. Men are being raised to think that things that were once manly and noble are barbaric and inappropriate. Men don’t know how to be men anymore because society pushes them away from that which is manly but at their core they still crave that which is masculine. I agree with Brett, in regards to the industrial revolution, in that men needed to redefine what it meant to be a man, but today they need to actually discover what a man is in a society that downgrades many things that are manly.

30 Kevin Francis DeBurgh (Burke) October 14, 2011 at 4:58 am

Hanna Rosin, Kay Hymowitz, Gloria Steinem, Betty Friedan etc.. etc.. ad nauseum all reads like a phone book in Tel Aviv (all Jews) :

Anti-Semite :Someone who recognizes that the most destructive social movements of recent times — feminism, communism, liberalism, labor unionism, racial integration, multiculturalism, anti- racism, zionism, the ‘civil rights movement’, deconstructionism, gun control, and the like — have all been funded, led and driven by Jews.

Feminist: A man-eating tigress; a female with all the vices of women and none of the virtues; a woman who couldn’t find a man and couldn’t even get work as a whore.

Our crisis in manliness is significantly caused by the Western nation wreckers known as Jews.

31 Kevin Francis DeBurgh (Burke) October 14, 2011 at 5:12 am

“I believe a lot of our interest in masculinity now is similar to the early 20th century with one difference. I don’t believe that technology is the main source of this interest today but rather society’s push to make things manly seem wrong.” — Danny

Science and technology are still dominated by men so I disagree with Brett too. Science and technology is manly and it is a white man and asian male game mostly. Females suck at computers. Being able to type fast on a computer and use office suite programs does not make one good with computers or an elite hacker or whatever you want to call it.

“I don’t believe that technology is the main source of this interest today but rather society’s push to make things manly seem wrong. Men are being raised to think that things that were once manly and noble are barbaric and inappropriate. Men don’t know how to be men anymore because society pushes them away from that which is manly but at their core they still crave that which is masculine.” –Danny

It is taboo and politically incorrect (cultural marxism) but the real blame is to be placed in Jews, feminists and liberals (including their Jewish masters). No way out but through the Jew western man. That is the reality of the situation : no way out but through the Jews.

32 John Hosie October 14, 2011 at 8:34 am

Looks to me like it is pretty clear that there is a rise around WWI that tails off and then at Kennedy’s time to somewhere in the Vietnam War era there is another small rise that tails off as peace, love, sex, and drugs picked up with the protests over the war. Interesting. I just wonder how many Edgar Rice Burroughs books were included, or Gordon Dickson (Dorsai Trilogy), Larry Niven (see wiki on Niven’s Laws of Known Space), Jerry Pournelle(Janissaries series, Falkenberg’s Legion and all the teaming with Larry Niven), Robert Heinlein (Starship Troopers), and John Norman (Chronicles of Gor).

Kevin Francis DeBurgh (Burke),
You may have a worthwhile opinion on manliness. I don’t know. I can’t get past the highly sexist and antisemetic language. For one thing, I know MANY women who are excellent in computer sciences, and I’ve been in the industry over 30 years. For another, blaming Jews for the drop in manliness over the last 40 years is both offensive and wrong. I see no place whatsoever in intelligent discussion for racism of any kind. It sickens me.

Don’t get me wrong, I have serious problems with Marxism and the “entitlement” mentality it seems to generate in an otherwise free society. I do believe that feminism has had a terrible impact on a man’s role in society and has left many men confused over their identity. I also recognize that there are definite differences between how women and men handle things in the workplace, and there are differences in how people deal with things as a result of cultural upbringing.

My only Master is a Jewish carpenter, and I am proud of it. If this were my blog, I’d ban you from it if you can’t contribute appropriately. Obviously you have a great deal of anger. You need to deal with it.

33 Billy W October 14, 2011 at 9:55 am

This is an interesting article but as I read it I couldn’t help but wonder what that says about our culture. If manhood was synonymous with working with your hands on land you owned or in a trade where you were a member of a given guild, then wouldn’t that be more symptomatic with cultural norms? Are we making the mistake of associating gender-specific traits with physical acts of the past? I would think that to be more progressive as men we could interpret “hunting down” an elusive code to solve an algorithm as a software programmer or “steeling our will” against the impossible challenges of designing a new yacht as a boat designer for a billionaire as fostering the same traits as the men that laid the foundation to our respective countries in the past. The field may change but the inherent qualities that have traditionally defined men still apply. This raises another question, “Have we as men sold ourselves short by falsely comparing our accomplishments in our current context to some older cultural standard?”

34 Bryce October 14, 2011 at 10:22 am

On the subject of “virtue” and “excellence” as a part of manliness in the Greco-Roman tradition:

At the same time as the Greek and Roman civilizations were at their peak, Judaism and Christianity were growing by leaps and bounds. The Greco-Roman and Judeo-Christian societies had basically the same definition of manliness, or “virtus” in Latin, which is where we get the word “virtue.” With one significant difference: In the Judeo-Christian perspective, “manliness” or “virtue” has a strong component of service rooted in Old and New Testament teachings about leadership through service. Jesus himself said that if you want to lead, you must serve others. A virtuous or manly man serves others first, and a key difference that marked the transition from boyhood to manhood is moving from being served to serving.

As the Greco-Roman and Judeo-Christian traditions shaped what we call Western civilization, the idea of manliness as service became deeply ingrained.

With the increase in self-centeredness over the years, that notion of service has really taken a hit. So, we need to reclaim this idea, perhaps by incorporating service into new rights of passage.

35 Bernt October 14, 2011 at 11:23 am

A few thoughts/observations:
- in regards to the American/British graphs, I would have everyone note that the Y values are different. If superimposed on each other the American graph would be at an overall higher value (in general) than the British one, suggesting that regardless of what authors were writing about specifically, Americans were using the terms more.
- some of the debate on here about data sets and what not remind me of the debates in sports about advanced stats and whether Kevin Love really is more ‘valuable’ than Kevin Garnett or whatever. What is important about Brett’s position and this data set are the questions posed, not the answers anyone is trying to derive from the graphs (IMO). While we may never be able to attribute causative relationships to the graphs, they certainly suggest some correlative relationships (e.g. the Industrial Revolution, WWI, etc).
- I agree with whoever observed that WWI removed a lot of the romance and idealism about what was manly. War was no longer gallant and honorable – it was a hellhole where one waited to die an ugly and seemingly pointless death. No longer did you face your opponent – you died by their gas. An entire generation was robbed of sons, brothers, potential fathers. Tough stuff.
- lastly, never thought I’d read an anti-Semite on this site. I find it rather offensive…and stupid. As they say, don’t feed the trolls.

36 Tim October 14, 2011 at 12:13 pm

@JohnD

That peak in the use of the term “masculine” coincides nicely with the peak in the use of the term “feminism”

http://books.google.com/ngrams/graph?content=manliness%2Cmanhood%2Cmasculine%2Cfeminism&year_start=1800&year_end=2008&corpus=0&smoothing=1

Perhaps the recent interest in the meaning of masculinity was sparked by feminists raising awareness of the problems that the traditional views have caused?

37 Daniel Shevchenko October 14, 2011 at 12:19 pm

I think these two are extremely interesting:
http://books.google.com/ngrams/graph?content=manhood%2Cfeminism&year_start=1900&year_end=2000&corpus=0&smoothing=1

Are we no longer required to be manly? What do we do instead?

38 Rob October 14, 2011 at 12:57 pm

@Brett-

I read the story online. It’s kind of a wash. It’s not about ‘Gah, men just suck!’ this time around. In fact, I don’t know what it was about. She points out some statistics, relates a few case studies, travels to places to just do something, inter-mingles it with her experience in trying to find ‘one true love’, and then just ends it.
I really didn’t get a sense that Ms. Bolick was happy with herself and that the whole article was an attempt to soothe her expectations of love and the failure of that. Being from the West and having spent some time in the Northeast, I’d say it is typical of the mild hypochondriacs there. Think Sarah Chalk’s character Elliot from the T.V. show ‘Scrubs’, a basket-case of intelligence and emotion that watches too much T.V. But then again, I have never met the woman in person, so I don’t really know.
I learned that the USSR needed a lot of men, and that need changed the culture a lot, making the US today look like a great place. It’s worth a read, I guess.

39 Daniel Comp October 14, 2011 at 1:06 pm

“How about virtue and excellence, character and competence? ”

Wrap it up, I’ll take it!!

(that’s the theme for my day… getting FROM the day, not THROUGH the day)
Great thoughts you two!

40 Jason Chaney October 14, 2011 at 6:43 pm

I wouldn’t be surprised if there is a relation with the modern male malaise, books of the subject, and a zeitgeist of society. This seems to shadow a relation proposed by Strauss and Howe in their book “The Fourth Turning” It proposes a certain generational theory based upon 4 basic archetypes and fashions them into cyclical wheel that travels down the path of history. In a nutshell, Gen. Xer’s such as my self are defined as the “nomad” group. Theoretically, we are constantly searching and questioning principles. We will can expect our society to continue to unravel until it reaches a crisis. The society general disposition has an impact on the values given and asked of from the four phases of life (childhood, young adult, midlife, and elders). I don’t give the theory justice in my description. Wiki’s description in certainly more thorough, but I didn’t get the same “Aha!” from reading it as I did the book.

-Working hard at making things easier- J.C.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Strauss-Howe_generational_theory

41 Nick D October 14, 2011 at 7:43 pm

Feminism is not the problem…women being able to make choices for themselves is not something that should threaten anyone’s manhood….lets not use that as a scapegoat, it is silly and backwards thinking, just like mister jew hater up there. get a grip and act like a man instead of blaming groups of ethnic people, it is shortsighted and ridiculous sounding.

42 Joe October 14, 2011 at 9:38 pm

Not sure if anyone has mentioned this yet, but the book “Manhood in America” by Michael Kimmel (in its 3rd edition, so its pretty popular) explains this exact rise and fall of “manhood” as a topic of interest, struggle, confusion, and achievement in society from the 1800′s to present day. I would say it’s a must read for every male, and I believe many women would find it interesting and enlightening. My college professor, a communications and gender studies professor, recommended the book.

43 Johann October 15, 2011 at 2:54 am

Well, everyone seems to have left more than enough explanation. I challenge you gentlemen to Act on these convictions. For My part: I can Assure you that I shall raise My sons Proper and set The Best Example A Man can.

44 Stein October 15, 2011 at 10:24 am

Aside from the anti semite, these are all interesting responses to Brett’s thoughtful post. I think to some extent the term “manhood” is a moving target. I do not know if we will have fixed definition of what it means. To many of us it means a sense of honor, duty, responsibility, comradeship, mischief and randiness. There are many things that go into the definition. To further the discussion men, I would invite all but one of you to join us in the discussion forums. That is where you will have the best opportunity I have ever found to explore and openly discuss your vision of manhood, and forge some real manly relationships.

45 Sean Grogan October 15, 2011 at 1:27 pm

I just did one for “Man” and you can see a noticeable drop

46 Collin October 15, 2011 at 5:16 pm

A man accepts responsibly, leads courageously, rejects passivity, and seeks the greater reward. Look through the past, and you’ll see these characteristics being what was valued, even when being a man was defined by job/occupation. You could be a farmer/carpenter/soldier/whatever, but if you were short sighted, cowardly, passive, and didn’t shoulder responsibility, you were called a fool and a waste of a man.

When society started changing around the Industrial Revolution, a lot of men didn’t know what it was that made them a man. All they knew was that they weren’t women, so we ended up with several generations of males who just didn’t do anything that women did, and they thought that made them men. Women talked, so they didn’t talk. Women had feelings, so they didn’t have feelings. Women liked certain colors, so they didn’t like color. Women were soft, so they were hard. Women drank wine, so they drank beer. Sadly, that was most of our fathers and grandfathers.

47 Tim Gibson October 16, 2011 at 3:56 pm
48 JS October 17, 2011 at 3:41 pm

I’d take the site with a pinch of salt. According to Google, 5.5% of English books contain the word “the”…

49 Lee October 17, 2011 at 6:19 pm

Actually, it just reminds me of the cyclical nature of fashion. While the graph doesn’t have data going back past the early 1800s, the small slice of time certainly seems cyclical. Just like most things in life.

What happens if you put in womanliness or femininity into the search? Just my $.02.

50 TubbyMike October 17, 2011 at 9:32 pm

A lot of food for thought here (aside from the obvious anti-Jewish rant). As an Englishman, I can only echo the theory that WWI did for the idea of noble manliness once the horrors of industrialised slaughter sank in. Also consider that the male populations of whole villages and sometimes small towns were wiped out and that there were in the early 20′s often no men around to speak of manliness and masculinity. It might be interesting to find out if these words also suffered a similar decline in French and German at around the same time, although I’m not sure that there are direct translations in either language? Another angle might be to check Australian English, if the data exists, as hideous numbers of ANZAC’s were also slaughtered in defence of “the Empire” or at least its idealised notion.

Again, as stated by other comments, WWII seems to not have had the same effect; possibly due to the British view that required total war on all fronts (domestic and military). WWI tended to be about the preservation of empires and societal structure, whereas WWII was s**t or bust from the British viewpoint. Perhaps there was less time for debate in 1939? Certainly, other areas of literature seemed less prominent second time around. There seems to be no equivalent of the “War Poets” for WWII.

I have no idea whether any of this is significant, or just a rant from a tired man, but it might be marginally interesting to find out.

51 RNJohnny October 17, 2011 at 9:42 pm

I think the beauty of this resurgence in men being interested in manliness is that we have the benefit of hindsight and the freedom to redefine ourselves however we want. This is something the ladies missed with feminism. They had to out-man us to get the same freedoms that we have and made each other feel bad when one woman’s lifestyle didn’t match the rigid stereotype of feminists. We can be stay at home dads or breadwinners, tough or vulnerable; whatever we want, whenever we want.

52 Cellar October 18, 2011 at 10:42 am

Good article. You touched on something that I think is key and that is how we define manliness. One of the reasons I love this website is because it embraces the idea that being a “man” is about fostering certain virtues such as loyalty, honesty, the value of hard work, personal character, etc. As a man in his 30’s I feel that the art of being a gentleman is what has really been lost. All too often in the past I have felt that when someone uses the term “manly” they are conjuring those men I grew up with; the guy who because of his ultra-manliness can’t be bothered take off his badly soiled baseball cap, stand up straight, or put on a clean pair of jeans, let alone care about his personal hygiene or his outfit out of fear of being “unmanly”. At that rate men just become slobs. Men of my grandfather’s generation didn’t think of manliness this way. Sure they reveled in manly activities such as splitting wood and working on the truck, but they were also raised to understand the virtues of being a gentleman. Shooting a rifle is manly but so is caring for a pair of quality dress shoes and carrying a conversation. My grandfather can fully disassemble and clean a Winchester rifle and knows how to bake a mean loaf of wheat bread and in those days perhaps nothing was more valuable than the strength of a man’s word. I think part of reclaiming manliness for our modern world does involve embracing hard work but also encouraging ourselves to relearn the “art” of manliness. Everything from how we speak, do honest business, take care of ourselves physically and intellectually. It’s not just that we don’t work on the farm as much but we are not raising young men to know the virtues and skills of a proper man. I didn’t even learn how to correctly shine a pair of shoes, iron a dress shirt, or shave properly until I was 32! I think the crises of modern man isn’t just loss of physical labor, it is living in a time when manly skills and virtues have been lost in virtually every area of our lives. It’s the small things…time to bring it back.

53 Marlin Kimmel October 19, 2011 at 4:08 am

To the author of: Cellar October 18, 2011 at 10:42 am.

I honestly could not have said it better myself!

Great post Brett & Kate! It really got me thinking about why my generation seems to only care about how much fun we can have, and not about how we can help influence the course of history by being more manly. I have always thought being manly really boils down to his integrity (what you chose to do when nobody is watching, or when you think nobody is watching), as well as how trustworthy his word is.

Thank you for the inspiring articles you post!

54 Carmo October 19, 2011 at 11:26 am

Where have all the good men gone? Ask the feminists. They have either been turned into sniveling beta’s or non committal ass*****.

55 Bryan October 21, 2011 at 7:35 am

Great post! Its interesting to see the graphs and a review of the history. I have a few points. The first is about the media. I watched the new show ‘Man Up’ the other night because I was curious about their ideas of ‘manning up’. After watching the show and seeing about a minutes worth of being ‘tough’, I told my wife they should just take articles from your site and base the shows on them. ‘Man Up’ did not do even a fraction of what the movie ‘Courageous’ did in the mindset of being a real man.
I also agree with the values. They are certainly not taught in these shows. Its hard to get a real value lesson off a comedy show. I believe men can stand or fall on their values. In my writing I try to talk about real desire, influences and being a real man from a Christian perspective. Either way it all about being a real man.

56 Ransom October 26, 2011 at 1:32 am

Brett, I’ve finally got to ask, are you keen on Hillsdale College? Your thoughts on concepts such as manliness are surprisingly reminiscent of the things I’ve learned there, especially in relation to the Greco-Roman and Judeo-Christian traditions. Both this site and the college provide a rare but invaluable education, and I thank you for doing your part.

57 Pauly October 27, 2011 at 6:06 am

Out of opinion in my home down this wrong. If you want to know what it looks like in my home town. Get a graphics calculator or even plot the function y=-x. That says it all.

58 Pauly October 27, 2011 at 6:07 am

town*

59 Luke March 11, 2014 at 6:27 am

Having read the article and seen the graph, I thought was interesting. Still, I considered the art of being manly was not talk or claim about being manly, but simply doing and inspiring manly things. So, I typed in the two words that I thought resembled this – Honour and Integrity – and I’ve got to say, I was quite surprised and a little disappointed by the trend.

https://books.google.com/ngrams/graph?content=Honour%2CIntegrity&case_insensitive=on&year_start=1800&year_end=2008&corpus=0&smoothing=1&share=&direct_url=t4%3B%2CHonour%3B%2Cc0%3B%2Cs0%3B%3Bhonour%3B%2Cc0%3B%3BHonour%3B%2Cc0%3B.t4%3B%2CIntegrity%3B%2Cc0%3B%2Cs0%3B%3Bintegrity%3B%2Cc0%3B%3BIntegrity%3B%2Cc0

60 Alex Stewart March 28, 2014 at 8:44 pm

Well, I’m incredibly late to THIS party and there may not be any point to even adding these two cents, but I feel like the more that the feminist movement pushes equality through sameness, the more men will become concerned with defining manliness. Femininity and masculinity are two sides of the same coin. If there is no femininity, there is no masculinity. I think the problem is trying to be men in a society that’s getting rid of gender altogether.

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