Are Men Manly Enough?

Are Men Manly Enough?

Recently, 8 authors, bloggers and comedians participated in a discussion in the Room for Debate area of the NY Times called “Are Modern Men Manly Enough?” The New York Times asked:

Are men spending too much time at the spa and the gym in lieu of grittier, manlier pursuits? And if so, is this making them less masculine?

The debate includes short pieces that advocate a return to manliness. A few excerpts…

“Rediscover the Don Draper Within” by Joel Stein, columnist:

We can’t solve this man-crisis by sitting on a couch watching “Ice Road Truckers.” We’ve got to start fixing our own toilets, exercising outside at 6 a.m. and hunting the meat that we cowardly eat from far crueler factory farms. Otherwise, the tribe down the street might raid us and pillage our apartment.

“Where are the Meat and Potato Men?” by Natasha Scripture, blogger and author:

Come to think of it, I haven’t met a manly man in quite some time. Maybe because most of them live in Montana. Or Texas. Or Sicily! They’re certainly rare sightings in New York City because here the abundant local species seems to be the metrosexual.

Lot of jokes at men’s expense, many of them funny. But what is there to really learn from this? How did men get this way? Is this a good thing or a bad thing?

If you prefer a world where men are the he-man type, then you must advocate for a world where women are the docile and helpless type.

Not surprisingly, I’ll say that it’s both.

What’s bad about men – and, well, women as well- is that we’re completely not self-sufficient. I’ve long ago accepted that I’d be the first person kicked off Survivor island. The lack of air-conditioning alone would spell my demise. I own a wrench but can’t use it. I have a very active subscription on Angie’s List. I hire a handyman to hang big picture frames. And I’m not really ashamed at all. Because really, who said that you’re more of a man because you can use tools, fix computers, or hunt for food?

We’re fortunate enough to live in a world where I don’t have to do these things. If I DID have to do these these things for a) survival or b) to be attractive to women, I’d be at a disadvantage. But I don’t. I have a plumber and a gardener and a handyman and a pool guy. And my wife has a nail woman and a monthly cleaning lady and a daytime babysitter to take things off of her plate that she either couldn’t or wouldn’t want to do herself. We’re lucky. But we’re not lesser men or women for it.

To me the one guy who really got it right in that NYT piece was Lawrence Schlossman, blogger:

I want to tell the modern man that he doesn’t have to look like a gold rush-era carnival worker or brew his own micro whatever to be considered a man in my eyes. No, it’s way easier than that. How about being a good guy, a good person.

When women say they want a “man, not a boy”, I’m pretty sure that this is the crux of it. Sure, it’s a bonus if you can build a deck in your backyard. But really, what separates the men from the boys? It’s integrity. Honor. Responsibility. Sticking with your word. Knowing how to sacrifice. Putting loved ones first. It’s certainly not about manual labor, ability to survive in the wilderness or fighting for your honor. Those are remnants of a 19th century world. Many of us don’t want to return to that world.

To be fair, I’ve heard the lamentations from women about men losing their masculinity; those same women better take a good look in the mirror about how they’ve lost their femininity. You can’t have it both ways. If you prefer a world where men are the he-man type, then you must advocate for a world where women are the docile and helpless type. And if you think that’s silly, I would ask you: why? Why should men continue to embody ancient stereotypes but women shouldn’t?

That’s right: they shouldn’t.

What we need to do is recognize that many men have become more like women – helping at home, believing in monogamy and pacifism and community. And many women have become more like men: direct, challenging, ambitious, driven. There’s nothing wrong with acknowledging these original stereotypes, or admitting that the lines have been blurred between the genders. What I hope to offer to you, as a reader, is a knowledge that if you’re looking for a typically masculine man, you’re better off being a typically feminine woman. If you’re a typically masculine woman, you’ll have a better fit with a typically feminine man.

As for me, despite my lack of traditional manly skills, I’m still a man. I’m the traditional breadwinner and my wife is the happy stay-at-home mom. And I can assure you that, by abdicating responsibility for home improvement, I am doing what’s best for everyone involved. I don’t have to get frustrated with my failure to wire the lamps in my backyard, my wife won’t be widowed because I haven’t electrocuted myself, I have more time to spend with my family, AND I’m contributing to the U.S. economy!

So to all you Do-It-Yourselfers: you want to be a better man than I am? Great. Hunt me some chicken and I’ll give you $10 before I cook it on my George Foreman grill.

Read all of the entries in the discussion here. I look forward to hearing your thoughts on what makes a man into “a man”.

Join our conversation (143 Comments).
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  1. 61

      “But, with the exception of those cases where I clearly initiated,  what I have found is that  if a man will not pay — or even worse, when he tries to stick the bill on the  woman or pay less than his fair share  –  that often speaks to a bigger flaw in his character that reveals itself in time.  “

    This is very true. My mother told me this. She said that my boyfriend did not spend enough money on me. I dismissed her advice as old-fashioned but now I realise what she was getting at. It wasn’t the fact that money was involved, it was the fact that he didn’t want to do anything for me that would incur cost. He resented the idea of spending money on me. Despite the fact I’m thousands in debt, and he was born with a silver spoon in his mouth, he was reluctant to take me out to dinner and all that kind of couple stuff. Now silly me is in even more in debt because of a spontaneous decision to book a transatlantic flight to visit him in the States.    

    I agree with the above. A man should at least offer to pay, because he can’t be trying that hard to impress me if he wants me to pay the bill. I believe in chivalry. This does not make me anti-feminist. I’m hardened by experiences of dating terrible guys. These men claimed to be feminists and believe in equal treatment but their behaviour showed they have little respect for women. Now I’d rather see the intent behind what a man does, and   you’ve got to judge them on what they do and not what they say.

  2. 62

    Very interesting thread. The concepts of “manly” and “womanly” used to be clearly defined, and what comes across in this debate is that as society, the workplace and income structures have changed, we now have to redefine what “manly” and “womanly” mean, because biologically they are very important concepts as far as mating/pair-bonding/relationships are concerned. For sexual attraction to develop,  (a necessary prerequisite to bonding, relationships and marriage) we need to feel sexually excited by out potential partner, and that part is a biological reaction (intellectual and emotional  compatibility play into it, but its a biological reaction) that is based on the differences between men and women. It occurs to me that in a strange way this  may be why we have become overly obsessed with physical appearances in recent years- the man with great abs, the woman with huge barbie boobs – the ambiguity over societal roles has led us to seek SOMETHING to classify each other as “manly” or “womanly”. In the past, mens and womens roles were so different that a woman didn’t HAVE to have big boobs to be considered a woman – all women were so obviously womanly in their roles, expectations and behaviours that physical appearance was not  the only thing that differentiated us.   Same goes for men. Now, what else do we have??! I think the yearning for chivalry, DIY etc..  stems from this – we need to hang on to the sense that men are men and we need there to be things that mark this out, in some wy or another, in order to feel attracted to them. Does tht mean men should all go hunting or mend toilets just to show us they are men – no, but it means that both sexes feel the need to preceive the manliness or womanliness of their mate in some form or another. If we all sound a bit mixed up and contradictory about this right now, its because we all  ARE a bit mixed up.   

    My new man earns a lot less money than I do, but I consider him  extremely manly. Why? because he buys me dinner EVEN THOUGH he earns less money than me, because he doesn’t sulk or fret about the income difference, and because he remains very confident in his masculinity and is sexually assertive in the bedroom.  He also has a physical job and is very good at fixing things. How do I transmit my “womanliness” to him, despite my high powered job and high income? By dressing femininly, appreciating his efforts, letting him take decisions and drive me places and finding ways to pay for things that he can feel comfortable with.  The fact that he is not intimidated by my income or my job make him very manly, in my opinion.

  3. 63

    @Helen #61

    Excellent points and examples. I’ll add one: the guy who wants to split the bill evenly amongst his companion(s) when he has ordered more alcoholic beverages (or more expensive ones)  than others in his party. Thus he actually pays less of the bill and tip than he would have with separate checks.

    Under-tipping itself can be an issue with some fellows. They chip in 5% of the total bill, making their companions cough up more than their fair  share to take care of the server.

    Who’s feeling entitled?

  4. 64

    My original comment was only to say no woman would DISLIKE chivalry. That’s pretty clear, and still true. I never once said it was required or expected. Just that no sane woman would not like it. *knock knock* are you there guys? This blog talks a lot about how women should behave around men, and as soon as I suggest something about how men could behave…It’s all entitlement, expectations and demands for equality! “Chivalry is antiquated!”. Lets pray the BJ’s you love so much never become antiquated…

    Chivalry is not antiquated. Not my idea of it anyway! I’m only learning what it really means in the past year and a half and only because a MAN is showing me…

    Yes, holding doors for anyone, offering your jacket, offering to pay, giving up your seat on the bus, offering to help carry heavy things, offering to return a shopping cart for an elderly woman, asking “do you want or need?”, rubbing a sore back, saying “I love you” without prompting.

    These are not antiquated actions…They are behaviors that speak to the character of a man. No…they are not ALL requirements. Ask yourself why you would argue that it’s too much to think a man embody all these traits?

    Would the man who thinks to return someones shopping cart not think to open a door? Would the man who rubs your back not think to say “I love you” un-prompted? Would the man who snatches away heavy things not think to ask if you   need anything?

      You get my point?

  5. 65

    “The funny thing is, though, that although some women have these long, contradictory list, they tend to get fixated on things like actions that appear chivalrous, like a guy who always holds doors open or drives you around on dates, or whether men are willing to pay for all the dates and/or schedule and direct all the dates — things that are fairly superficial in the long run.”
    Eh, you can speak for yourself on that one…

  6. 66

    what makes a man manly?   funny…i just blogged on this myself a couple of weeks ago.   Some of my male friends describe others as ”not very manly” and i think they mean they are not ”fixers” or masculine in the tradtional sense.   but for me, manly is it was has kind of disappeared into our new world of IT guys and metrosexuals.   And I don’t think – much like Evan – that is is necessarily a bad thing.   So a guy doesn’t get sweaty, or play football, or build a deck.   The guy who is man enough to say out loud that he loves his wife and kids, that sees his role as provider and protector, that has a firm handshake and a solid sense of honour and integrity (as mentioned so often above) – that’s manly enough for me.

  7. 67

    Chivalry is antiquated!”. Lets pray the BJ’s you love so much never become antiquated…

    Women also love oral sex. Another apples to orange.


  8. 68

    A man paying for a date shows he has interest in a woman, if a man didn’t pay for me when we went out I would know that he was not interested in me. I’ve never gone out with a man who didn’t automatically just pay, there is never even a moment to do the fake wallet grab. Its a basic courtesy that most men are 100% willing to do.

    Likewise, if I showed up to a date without makeup on, with my hair in a ponytail and jeans and a tshirt I would be sending the man I was going out with a very clear message: that I am not trying to impress him. To the men on here complaining about paying (I really do believe you are the minority) how would you feel about a date who didn’t put time into her appearance? Believe it or not, on dates that I am excited about, I will go and get my hair done, maybe get a touch up on my manicure, sometimes I will even buy a pretty dress or  earrings. These are also costs women put into dating, does it give you some perspective?

  9. 69

    Frank…You’re not getting the reference. Giving BJ’s is something I have seen pop up on this blog as one of the things women should do to keep men happy.

    It’s not apples to oranges. I’ve never called anyone entitled or expectant for saying “Give him oral sex!”.

    Meh, whatever. Don’t really care if you get it or not.

  10. 70

    I find it kind of sad all these men arguing this…

    “NO! We men should not have to have all those GOOD qualities. Generous actions and behaviors are antiquated! Lower your expectations. Don’t appreciate it when a man does nice things for you. That makes you entitled!!”

    Come off it guys. You don’t even realize how what you’re saying looks….
    Like a lot of whiny little boys who think WHO THEY ARE is not represented by how they treat others.

  11. 71

    Am fascinated by how my views have been distorted by a few of you here. Rachael, I never spoke against any of the examples you offer, and I agree that they are indicators of character. I keep an eye out for most of these, or the lack of them, when on dates with women. At the same time, people can and do use these kind of actions as a way to promote a false persona. There are countless stories of women writing about, or commenting about, men who took charge of everything, acted chivalrous, got themselves some sex, and then disappeared or strung their girlfriends along for months on end while dating other women at the same time.
    My point is that things like holding doors and paying for dates aren’t, in and of themselves, great signs of character over the long run. They might be worth noting, but it seems like there are still a lot of women who will drop a guy in a hot minute if he doesn’t pony up for dinner, have every detail of the date in order, or forgets to hold the door open for her on the way into a restaurant. As I said before, men have their versions of this kind of behavior. And again, I do think it’s superficial. Some people are so in a rush to find the flaws and push the reject button that they never give anyone a decent chance. They claim to not want to “waste time,” but they end up spending years playing the field because no one measures up.
    On the other hand, it’s much more difficult to fake true respect, caring, loyalty, supportiveness, honest communication, and the rest. If you find a lifelong partner, I doubt the thing you’ll most remember and treasure is that he paid for your dinner. It will most like be the continued specific acts of kindness, which may or may not fit into the standard chivalry narrative. Lucy’s story is a good example of a man who didn’t demonstrate these. He had a lot more financially, but was entirely stingy over a longer period of time. But she couldn’t have known this from going on one or two dates with him. Perhaps everything else about him seemed good early on. Or maybe she overlooked a lot of other signs that he wasn’t a good match due to hotness or whatever. The fact that she still is looking for men to “impress” her makes me think it was the latter.
    First dates shouldn’t be about putting on a show. And if you want that, you’ll probably continued to get fooled by people who’ll do anything to look good in the short term, but have no intention to be with you over the long term.

  12. 72

    Nathan, first impressions are important because initially they are all we have to go on. I could turn up to a job interview not dressed immaculately, not having done my research, not at my sharpest and say it’s all about the qualifications – after all I know I’m good at what I do. However, it won’t work out too well because I didn’t give the right first impression to the potential employer. It is a bit like that with a date. If a guy wants to show up not making much of an effort and making the woman pay for her half of the date, he might well be a great guy underneath but that isn’t the impression he is giving and that impression is all we have to go on. This isn’t a case of women being superficial – if that is the way a man starts off behaving, I can only assume he is never going to put any effort into me. That doesn’t mean that some people who make good first impressions don’t turn out to be pretty awful partners later on.

  13. 73

    Rachael, you are still conflating generosity, respect and decency with chivalry — there is a difference. Most of the examples you offered are just regular examples of ordinary decent behaviour, and relating chivalry to oral sex is just silly.

    “I will get my hair done…sometimes buy a dress…these are costs that women put into dating”
    I always find it amusing that women seem to think that men get their hair cut and clothes for free.

    Look, I don’t really want to get into the whole “who should pay” debate because it’s been beaten to death on this blog and others. Nathan is right; it’s so easy to appear like a perfect gentleman that judging someone’s long term potential on these traits is naïve. I’m always impeccably polite, punctual and well-mannered on dates and I will always pay but I only want to get laid so all those “indicators” are irrelevant. I will stand on my head if that’s what it takes to get laid so it’s fairly easy to open a door, pull back a chair etc.

    That’s why in general I feel sorry for women when they are choosing a potential partner — on first impressions it’s almost impossible to know whether a man is serious or not. I can safely assume that when I date a woman there’s a 90% chance it could go further if I wanted — for women the chances are surely lower.

  14. 74

    In my dating experience, I found it true that a good “show”, so to speak, didn’t necessarily mean the guy was going to be a long-term quality partner. He could have been the most chivalrous man in the world and still be a terrible person in many other ways.
    However, in every good relationship I had, the man did indeed have all of those chivalrous qualities that are being written off as superficial… and the chivalrous men were always more likely to also demonstrate the true respect, caring, loyalty, honest communication and all of those other important qualities you mentioned.
    On the other hand, I found that the men who had no interest in showing chivalry from the beginning also had no interest in showing true respect, caring, loyalty and supportiveness either.
    So yes, first impressions and chivalrous behavior on early dates have been pretty accurate signals of a man’s overall character. Sure, some of the chivalrous men have behaved poorly in other ways, but none of the non-chivalrous men I dated demonstrated positive qualities in other areas either.
    Yep, I’ll keep recommending chivalry as a positive sign… not as the end all, be all, but as an initial positive sign of a man’s overall character.

  15. 75

    When I think “manly”, my three immediate thoughts are: integrity; the ability and desire to take charge; and someone physically bigger/stronger than me.

    But I think that what a woman wants in a man can include a lot more than just “manly” things, and if a man satisfies a lot of those “wants”, often he doesn’t have to be as manly to appeal.  
    I’d imagine same goes for a man and what he thinks of as womanly, in comparison to, or in addition to, what he personally wants in a woman.
    I thought one of the most interesting points in the article was the question, “What makes a woman womanly?”   Which led me to wonder….”And how much does it matter how manly a man is, or how womanly a woman is?”   How important is that to attraction?   That’s not a rhetorical question…I am truly interested in pondering that.

  16. 76

    Tom, I don’t really get why guys like you go on dates at all. Surely you can get what you want by picking someone up in a night club? Why bother with the whole dating palaver?

  17. 77

    I’ve always been jealous of men and wished I was one because masculinity is superior to feminity, according to the traditional definitions. At least when men want to be more attractive to the opposite sex, they can do things that are positive beyond merely dating, things that are exciting and interesting and have value, like starting companies, making money, traveling, learning to do stuff. A woman’s only value is being pretty and receptive and having sex and babies, according to traditional feminine standards, and nowadays most men don’t even care too much about the cooking part. I mean, really? Men also get to “choose,” they get to win someone over, they get to have sex with no consequences, they can build a great life and not worry about settling down, ever, and they’re less emotionally needy! Damn, I want to be a man so badly.

  18. 78

    SS # 78

    “Sure, some of the chivalrous men have behaved poorly in other ways, but none of the non-chivalrous men I dated demonstrated positive qualities in other areas either.”

    You  are not the only woman to find that to be true.

  19. 79

    I wrote my previous post before reading everybody’s debate on paying for dates, etc.   I think that the asker should offer to pay the whole date. That’s just good manners.  
    My boyfriend always pays– he also earns five times as much as me and is the “asker” 9 out of 10 times.   Having said that, from date one, I have always offered to pay the tip, as one of my many small ways of showing my gratitude.   He usually accepts this offer, which makes me feel good.   If I suggest we go to a movie I want to see, I offer to pay.   If I offer to make him dinner, I go and buy the groceries at Whole Foods, and pick up dessert, too– without a second thought, of course.  
    Tom, women are fully aware that most men just want to get laid.   All too aware: )      Maybe that’s why we’re so alarmed if a man doesn’t have the good sense to pull out his wallet at the end of the date.   If he’s not smart enough to realize that paying for the date is going to improve his chances of getting laid, then he’s probably not even worth it for the sex, let alone any type of future : D
    Joking aside, I guess I sort of have a foot in both the men’s and the women’s arguments in this thread.   I think good manners are universally appealing in both genders….I also think that some things we think of as “simply good manners” also have assumptions about gender roles built right into them.   We think of manners as “common courtesy” but they are very steeped in gender-biased cultural tradition and they take a looong time to change.

  20. 80

    I feel like there are a lot of conflicting definitions of “chivalry” being floated around here. If chivalry means demonstrating kindness, giving full attention on dates, being willing to lift something heavy if needed, getting up for a person in obvious need of a seat – then I’m all for that. I honestly don’t understand how anyone reading my comments could think otherwise.
    However, when those behaviors get conflated with things like paying for all or most of the dates, being expected to take charge and have everything planned all or most of the time, and gestures like pushing in a woman’s chair (which often come off as trying too hard) – that’s where I am in disagreement. SS brings up personal experience. Well, in my experience, the women where I had to do all the work, where a major amount of chasing was involved, really weren’t interested. It’s always been the case for me that when a woman was genuinely interested, she stepped up quickly and began sharing the paying for dates, offering acts of kindness, calling, etc. Like Tom, I’m entirely bored with the paying for first date discussion, but I do think that once you move beyond that, it really should be more of a shared experience. And not just financially. I know that doesn’t fly with some of the women here, and certainly some men are all over taking charge and staying in charge. But others of us aren’t. Men are diverse in that way – go figure.
    I love Hope’s questions in 79, especially the idea that being manly or womanly isn’t the only thing behind attraction.  
    Fiona, if a man otherwise impressed you, was kind, attentive, funny, etc. but didn’t want to pay for the whole first date, would you still reject him? I agree with you that first impressions are important, but I think a good first impression can come in many forms. It’s kind of sad how some women still zero in on money spent as the major indicator of a man’s interest. I say that because whenever the topic comes up, more than a few of you on every dating forum will fight tooth and nail to explain how important it is that a guy pays for the date. Just as there are more than a few men that will fight tooth and nail to explain how important it is that a woman is a 9 or a 10 in the looks department.
    One last point. I think a lot of people – regardless of gender – forget how different online dating and blind dating in general are from what most of our parents, grandparents, and ancestors did in the past. Going on a date with someone in the past usually meant being tied to an intricate set of social connections. You were connected through peers. The parents of both daters sometimes knew each other. Perhaps you were both part of the same spiritual community. Anyway, there was a stronger sense of urgency around treating the other person well on a date, even if nothing came of it. Because if you didn’t, it could quickly burn your reputation. This, coupled with the fact that men were the breadwinners and were expected to be in control of relationships, brought about a lot of what is considered chivalrous behavior. Obviously, plenty of people still experience these kinds of social webs when dating. But with online dating and other forms that bring strangers together, the dynamic is different. You are often total strangers. More than half the time, you’ll never see each other again. And because it’s so easy to share horror stories and publicly rant about all the things people dislike about each other these days, any little thing can and sometimes is used as an excuse for rejection. Not because it’s a sound reason, but because people are strangers grasping at straws. They can’t go to the friend who introduced them, or the people in the community that know them to suss out any back-story. So, I get it why some of these things are being used as indicators. I just don’t think they are as great of indicators for long term success as some of you think.
    At the end of the day, with online dating and blind dating, going on a single date with someone only gives you a tiny slice of information. Unless someone is totally off, it really is mostly a gut decision whether or not you decide to go out again. How much can you truly know about a stranger after a few hours together? And how much can they know about you?

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