What Does it Mean to Be a Man? And Why Is Masculinity “Bad”?

Men Ask for Dating Advice From Match. Hell Freezes Over!

Let’s dispense with the inevitable criticisms up front.

I am a man whose entire life is spent advocating for smart, strong, successful women to have happy relationships.

I am about as liberal as they come.

I am furious about Donald Trump, Brett Kavanagh and the new Alabama abortion law.

I recognize that a lot of our world’s problems are caused by “old white males.”

And yet, I’m citing an article about masculinity by David French of the conservative publication National Review for one key reason: he’s right.

We’ve become so tribal – so eager to attack our enemies, so blind in defending our own – that common sense has gone out the window. I won’t let that happen here.

We’ve become so tribal – so eager to attack our enemies, so blind in defending our own – that common sense has gone out the window. I won’t let that happen here.

I can be a white male liberal feminist and still point out the blind spots of liberals and feminists, just as easily as I point out the blind spots of the MGTOW, anti-feminist right.

But enough about me. 🙂

Enjoy this piece by French, which is worth thinking about and discussing below:

“It is interesting that in a world that otherwise teaches boys and girls to “be yourself,” that rule often applies to everyone but the “traditional” male who has traditional male impulses and characteristics. Then, they’re a problem. Then, they’re often deemed toxic. Combine this reality with a new economy that doesn’t naturally favor physical strength and physical courage to the same extent, and it’s easy to see how men struggle.

As I’ve argued before, acculturation into healthy traditional masculinity used to be a far more natural and inevitable act. Even upper-class men had to learn to work (at least to some degree) with their hands; to earn a living, working-class men often had to be strong; and with more intact families (and male-dominated work spaces), men did not lack for role models.

That does not mean that men were perfect. There is already too much nostalgia in our society for a past that had virtues but also had terrible vices. But it does mean that it was easier for a man to have purpose, and meaningful and sustainable happiness is elusive without purpose…

We do our sons no favors when we tell them that they don’t have to answer that voice inside them that tells them to be strong, to be brave, and to lead. We do them no favors when we let them abandon the quest to become a grown man when that quest gets hard. Yes, we do them no favors when we’re not sensitive to those boys who don’t conform to traditional masculinity, but when it comes to the crisis besetting our young men, traditional masculinity isn’t the problem; it can be part of the cure.”

Like most rational debates, this isn’t a matter of either/or, it’s both/and.

For far too long, men have been violent, insensitive, sexist, and controlling – as part of both their nature and as part of societal expectations. Thankfully, that is starting to crumble as these conversations take place in the media. But the answer, as French points out, is not to destroy all things masculine but to teach men to temper their nature as fighters, conquerors and seed-spreaders and channel the best of masculinity into a better product. Women who are down on men would be well served to acknowledge this nuance instead of throwing all “old white men” under the bus as part of the problem.

Your thoughts, below, are greatly appreciated.


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  1. 1

    Excellent article by French.

  2. 2

    Couldn’t agree more! Enough said.

  3. 3

    Oh boy. Where to begin? I’ll begin here.

    “We do our sons no favors when we tell them that they don’t have to answer that voice inside them that tells them to be strong, to be brave, and to lead. We do them no favors when we let them abandon the quest to become a grown man when that quest gets hard. Yes, we do them no favors when we’re not sensitive to those boys who don’t conform to traditional masculinity, but when it comes to the crisis besetting our young men, traditional masculinity isn’t the problem; it can be part of the cure.”

    The thing is, it will be forever difficult to know what’s innate and what’s taught. What about the inner voice that may tell a woman the same thing? Things get so binary and people aren’t that strictly in lines. I believe in fluidity. I do agree with Evan that some of the worst impulses in people can be tempered and channeled so we can be our best selves. Yeah, go with the voice inside you, but what about men whose inner voice *isn’t* telling them this? I think the problem is there is no one voice, there are several. And no room to hear most of them. I’m talking about trans people, gender non-conforming people, and every male-bodied person along the spectrum. Their voices may not be telling them one specific thing at all times.

    So maybe listen to your voices. Plural. Maybe watch if one of those voices may cause harm to others.

    “Even as they want to become the grown man they see in their father or in their idols, they’ll often fiercely resist (especially at first) the process. They’ll find the discipline oppressive. Building toughness requires enduring pain. And who likes enduring pain? Effective leaders have to have a degree of stoicism, but it can be hard to suppress natural emotions to see reality clearly.”

    Growing up isn’t easy but if you’re fiercely resisting it there is a reason and that should be examined. Why not listen to *that* resisting voice? I couldn’t wait to grow up! It was still difficult but I wanted it. I loved my childhood and I love my adulthood. (Adolescence was a different matter. ;-))

    The problem with the sentence, “Who doesn’t like enduring pain” is that that will trigger people. Some emotional pain is inherent with adolescence, but some pain at the same stage is destructive. Blanketing it all at as the same can be harmful.

    There needs to be more nuance in this discussion, more definition, more discussion. I do think that those men who fit into the more ‘masculine’ category may be getting a bad rap now. There is room to hear their story, just that story was dominant and oppressive for a long time. And so many of these folks still hold power. The balance of power has not fallen into the hands of the trans, gender non-conforming, and the less masculine men yet. So we are at a place to pause. And be mindful of compassion for all in the spectrum. No one has to be silenced or unheard.

    1. 3.1

      S. said, “Yeah, go with the voice inside you, but what about men whose inner voice *isn’t* telling them this?”

      What about them?

      IMHO, ONE of the main problems in society is catering to the minority at the expense of the majority. It isn’t fair or just and ultimately, benefits no one.

      If a male child has no interest in sports, scouting, competition, ie. traditionally male activities, that’s fine! No need to ostracize or mistreat that child. Discover what that child’s interests are. But at the same time, let’s quit trying to feminize and /or demonize traditionally masculine men.

  4. 4

    The way I see it is that many who complain that “they’re not allowed to be men anymore” do – whether consciously or subconsciously – fundamentally misunderstand what “toxic masculinity” actually describes. It does not describe traditional masculin attributes like physical strength or assertiveness. It describes men “being themselves” and thereby negatively influencing the lives of those around them, be it by disrespecting women’s intellect and bodily autonomy or beating down on men expressing their masculinity in a different way or depriving children of their right to self-expression. The only aspect of “masculinity” that is “toxic” and therefore needs to be addressed is the idea that men can express themselves at the expense of others.

    1. 4.1

      And what about toxic femininity, then?

      Mansplaining? How about women who simply can’t take criticism, without calling it mansplaining? How about women why femsplain?

      The problem is that people are coming up with these buzzwords and using them to bludgeon people with. Mansplaining? I wish I had a dollar for every time a woman tried to femsplain, or accused me of mansplaining, and I was then able to prove that she was wrong.

      The problem is that people misuse these terms way way way too much. It’s like the whole “far-right” thing…the number of times I have seen people on the left mislabel people, or a group, as far right, is mind boggling…and then I started to understand that they were simply labeling anyone that was to the right of them, as far-right. It’s a bully tactic for some…and some are simply in denial that they are far left, and thus see anyone who is on the right as far-right.

      1. 4.1.1

        RustyLH: let me take a wild guess — you voted for Trump, correct?

        1. RustyLH

          Instead of throwing in the towel by using red herrings and ad hominems, just try to debate the points. I suspect you don’t have an argument, which is why you didn’t even try to debate the points.

        2. Lynx


          So, if I interpret you correctly, you believe:

          (A) There is no such thing as ‘mansplaining’ [for a man to comment on or explain something to a woman in a condescending, overconfident, and often inaccurate or oversimplified manner]. Women simply cannot take criticism.

          (B) There is, however, ‘femsplaining’ [the act of a woman — typically, of the feminist variety — to mistakenly believe she knows more than a man and about a man’s actions, then attempts to explain her ‘knowledge’], and you are talented at proving women wrong.

          (C) Liberals label those who are more conservative.

          These are your beliefs. Maybe they conform with objective reality, maybe they don’t. Doesn’t matter. I cannot debate a person about their beliefs. I cannot debate sweeping generalizations. I chose to counter by making my own sweeping generalization. Ironic, no?

        3. RustyLH

          You should not assume things about people. You are really bad at it. You project your own biases way too much.

          First, Manslpaining is complete BS. Poor little victim…you women who claim to be our equals. It’s called communication. Let me give an example of how BS this notion of mansplaining is.

          A CEO who…gasp…is a CEO…has other managers, both men and women, around a conference table. (Taken from the Gillette ad.) He is on a time schedule. His job as the leader of the meeting is to keep the progress moving forward…not let it get derailed, or go over the time limit. Often, the leader will have a set amount of time that he/she will allow for specific topics. So the woman is being too wordy, and going to go over the time before getting to the point, so he says, “What she’s trying to say is…blah blah blah…so, OK, on to the next topic.

          Then a male manager does the same thing, so he does the very same thing, “What he’s trying to say is…blah blah blah…so, OK, on to the next topic.”

          Or, how about this. A woman at a party is talking about a subject…a guy thinks she is wrong, and so he states so and goes on a spiel about what he believes to be true. Maybe he’s right, maybe he’s wrong. Who cares…this is just normal conversation when people discuss things. I have been on both ends of this, with both genders. The difference is, I never claim victim status over this. It’s called discussing things…debating things. Ah, but when it’s a man doing it, he’s mansplaining, right? This is just one more BS thing that has been created as a tool to bludgeon people with, in this outrage culture…this “I’m so offended,” culture, we now live in.

          As for the toxic masculinity, that again is total BS. It is once again, a tool created to bludgeon people with.

          I have news for you, there will always be toxic men, AND women. That’s been true forever, and it will be true forever. I am not responsible for how other men, or women, act. I will not be held accountable for them.

          This is not to say that I would not intervene if I see anyone, man or woman, doing something really wrong. Good men already do that. Bad men will never do that…no matter how many ridiculous Gillette adds there are.

          Masculinity is not toxic. Femininity is not toxic. People are toxic…some people are toxic, and masculinity/femininity, has nothing to do with it.

          I do bring up toxic femininity when toxic femininity is brought up, as a tool to steer the conversation to the point that we can actually agree on the point above. Masculinity/femininity is not toxic. And there is no such thing as mansplaining or femsplaining. There is people conversing. If both people are already in complete agreement, there’s really nothing to talk about. People learn through talking. Sometimes you are the one who is right, and sometimes you are the one who’s wrong. Just because a man was right, and you were wrong, does not make it mansplaining. Just because you were right, and he was wrong, doesn’t make it mansplaining. Just because we was confident about his opinion/belief, whether he was right, or wrong, does not make it mansplaining.

          You are never going to find a strong, confident man, if you keep buying into this new wave BS. Strong, confident men will avoid you like the plague.

          Want to find a good man? Want a high quality, strong, confident man? Drop the who victim culture, microaggression stuff. I know a lot of high quality men, and we talk, and I assure you that nothing makes them break off all contact like hearing you say things like Patriarchy, micro-aggession, mansplaining, etc…

      2. 4.1.2

        Rusty, this post is neither about toxic feminity nor about mansplaining. Answering concerns about one subject with whataboutisms is not helpful.
        Now, my experience is that toxic feminity is usually brought up by men who are not willing to acknowledge that they and their fellow men sometimes act in a way that is disrespectful/harmful to other people (the sort of behavior I would describe as “toxic masculinity”). Yes, you are correct that some women also engage in such behavior that is disrespectful/harmful to others, regardless of their gender. However, since men as a group have traditionally controlled social conversations I think tackling toxic masculinity will help us tackle toxic behavior by people of all gender. If it’s less acceptable to be disrespectful it will be less acceptable for people of all genders.
        Regarding mansplaining, I can only recommend that you learn to not speak sometimes. Maybe you know something the woman durant know. Maybe you’re right and she’s wrong in some instances. And if you know that that should be enough for you. Why would you want to convince her of your superiority? Save yourself the aggrevation.

  5. 5

    I mostly agree with the article.
    Testosterone goes hand in hand with poor impulse control. “Good” masculinity is testosterone plus impulse control. “Bad” masculinity happens when men don’t control their impulses. Women who have high T or exposed to T can develop the same type of impulse issues. Boys learn to control their hormonally amplified impulses from their fathers at a very young age then these skills re-enforced by male role models as they mature. “Good” masculinity is passed down. Too many boys don’t have involved fathers and K through 12 is almost all women. As a result, there’s multi generational problem of men being pushed to the fringes of society. A war on masculinity will lead to more problems if we don’t truly value the good.

  6. 6

    Exactly. For too long have women(in the rest of the world other than North America and Europe having it far, far worse than women in the west do, but still) been victims of male patriarchy.

    That’s why I am against hateful movements like Men’s rights, the red pill, and why I also believe men need to stop approaching even when women are giving them signals of interest.

    I don’t approach women, as even when I’m being given ”approval” to approach I feel that because these women are attractive(young, slim, and pretty) and I’m below average(5’8” with shoes on) I reckon men’s toxicity(hot men using women for casual sex and them dumping them) is causing these young women who are easily to be considered the most attractive women in the world, as most people are obese or overweight, to be lowering their standards massively to get a boyfriend.

    That women are forced to date men they aren’t attracted to because there are very few men who aren’t obese/overweight is sexual aggression in itself, and why I’m very passive when it comes to dating.

    I also believe that in order to truly emancipate western women, I believe that women should actively pursue the men they want to sleep with, hook with, date, and marry, with women being the ones to propose marriage to men, ideally.

    I’m a feminist who went to a college where the vast majority of the students were women, and it breaks my heart to see(and to experience) women dating men just because we have a job and men with jobs are scarce, or because we are 20 and already our mortgage is paid for whereas most 18-35 year old men are either living with their parents or with roomates.

    ”As a result, there’s multi generational problem of men being pushed to the fringes of society. A war on masculinity will lead to more problems if we don’t truly value the good.”

    I don’t see anything wrong with a war on masculinity. There’s a war on women taking place in every Country of this earth, including the USA and Canada. There are more men than there are women in every Country.

    Men also have a higher sex drive than women do, men are more aggressive than women on average and more willing to take risky/violent actions to gain sexual favours from women – so maybe the right thing to do would be to abort as many male fetuses as possible, much like they did to female fetuses in China, so that we can keep women safe, and making the world a much better place for women to be born into?

  7. 7

    I think this is a matter of toxic BEHAVIOR, not toxic masculinity. And it is way more related to A) power, B) natural dominance, and C) Entitlement than masculinity.

    The only time masculinity is considered toxic is when men use it as an excuse to treat others like crap. Just like religion is toxic when it is used as an excuse for hate and violence. TOXIC is the key word. Not masculinity. The problem is that men have simply used masculinity as an excuse for bad behavior too long. Women never had that excuse. And absolutely no one condones the same behavior in women.

    The part where society does mess up is when it attributes bad behavior to the same excuse. If a man kills, abuses, fights, and is violent, we blame it on the fact that he’s a man. Yet when a woman kills, abuses, fights, and is violent, we blame it on her being “evil”. That makes no sense at all. Why? Because we can’t blame it on her being a man? Why not blame it on her being a woman?

    When it comes to being abusive, fighting, and overall violence, women are no different than men. I think the only reason we rape less is because we don’t have the equipment to penetrate with. Pointing a gun at some guys head and telling him he better get hard or else will probably have the opposite effect. And because we’re restricted by physical strength. Even a man won’t go after a stronger victim unless he is using something that will give him an advantage. Men kill way more often and commit more violent crimes. I think it’s once again A) a matter of physical strength, and B) a matter of mental programming.

    “a new economy that doesn’t naturally favor physical strength and physical courage to the same extent”

    The only men (people, actually) who don’t work with their hands are office workers. Every other profession involves some degree of physical labor. A lot require quite a high degree. Same goes for physical courage. Tons of dangerous jobs out there.

    And this country prides itself on its male sports. No one is calling men toxic for becoming athletes, firefighters, physical laborers, etc. No one is telling men that they cannot become such.

    “Even upper-class men had to learn to work (at least to some degree) with their hands;”

    Depends on the time. Plenty of times in history it was considered scandalous for an upper class man to do so. Aristocracy set itself apart from the lower classes by NOT working with their hands. This is very much dependent on what culture deemed appropriate at the time.

    “But it does mean that it was easier for a man to have purpose”

    I’m not sure what role models French is referring to. The men who could beat their wives and children and get away with it (like they still do in “good-ole-boy” areas nowadays? The ones who were in charge of their wives and children because they were entitled to instead of having to earn it? The ones who cheated and had affairs because their wives had no choice but to turn a blind eye to it? Because those are the only role-models we are loosing. Good family men are still good family men. A construction worker still has plenty of male construction workers as role-models. The only reason it was easier for him to have a purpose was because someone handed it to him. He was entitled to it.

    “to teach men to temper their nature as fighters, conquerors and seed-spreaders”

    You mean like we’ve been doing to women for centuries? All females in nature fight for dominance. And quite brutally. It’s natural because it ensures survival. Same goes for conquering. Territory equals resources equals survival. Seed-spreaders – All right, we’re seed catchers. But anyone who claims we’re not just as inclined to do so has never seen a female animal in heat. There’s no denying women get extremely horny around ovulation time. And females in nature have zero loyalty, so variety applies to both genders as well. It’s also proven that women’s sexual behavior greatly depends on culture and upbringing, rather than nature.

    Once again, none of this points toward masculinity being under attack. But toxic behavior.

    Are there extremists? Sure. But, as mentioned, they’re on both sides of the fence.

  8. 8

    Awesome comments folks! Really enjoyed going through them. French’s article really leaves much room for serious thought.
    Ironically, the three most important men in my life are what Evan referred to as “old White guys”, all in their 80s. These men; my best friend, my ex husband, a quasi partner, are the most kind, gentle, most understanding of women yet they are very masculine. They grew up at all levels of privilege from a leading society family to an immigrant farmers kid. What they have in common were good male role models, they all are highly educated, well read, good critical thinkers, and yep, they did hard physical work starting in their youth.
    I contrast that with the men I saw in my family and what I see today in my community and many of my students. Men who opted out of education or don’t care about it and have reacted to women’s growing independence by ceasing to be men. They exist in an angry sort of limbo, lashing out at the world, being unwilling to see the part their own behavior lead to their being in their current situation. At many socioeconomic levels, the life led by men’s fathers and grandfathers is no longer available to them. In the tribes, this happened long ago where our warriors became alcoholics or killed themselves because they had no way to be men anymore. Tribal men are still healing from this today. Working class jobs no longer are sufficient to raise a family and have a stay at home wife; that life is over. When men especially feel up against the wall, they lash out. Most women get strong, change, and endure.
    Used to do environmental work back home; loggers would get in my face damning Indians and environs for taking away “their” jobs. I’d tell them “one feller-buncher” takes the place of eight of you guys, “there are five times as many logging operations as there were a few decades ago yet the forest only grows so fast”, and “no one, including high paid professionals, can afford to raise 8-10 kids on one salary which your religion tells you to do”. Then I’d as “who is your real enemy here”? Their brains just could not process this and they’d just lash out some more.
    There is a place for manly men but it is to serve and protect communities rather than oneself. We need strong guys on the front lines at pipeline protests, becoming active in climate change issues, helping build sustainable communities. That will require questioning, critical thinking, knowing who your real enemy is.

  9. 9

    What David French gets wrong in his article (which I don’t blame him for, since he shares his experiences as a man) is assuming that the impulses he describes, only men have. The truth is that women have these impulses too: to be strong, to fight for what is right, and to win. It’s just that we’ve had them hammered out of us over thousands of years, of men controlling us and saying that we aren’t allowed to be that way. No, all these impulses are really HUMAN impulses. But the reason that we assume they’re male only is because males are physically stronger than females (too much of our energy goes to developing our reproductive systems, whereas in males, it goes toward muscle and bone), and have had the power to control us to prevent us from expressing them.

    As some other people wrote here, those impulses are neither good nor bad, but neutral, depending on how we (both male and female) use them. We can use them for the good of ourselves and others, or we can use them to harm others. What we need to learn for the sake of a peaceful and productive society is to harness those impulses for good, not to harm or control willy-nilly. I think we need to get out of these rigid gender conformities and be true to our natural impulses without hurting others.

    1. 9.1
      Evan Marc Katz

      If you don’t think men are more prone to anger or violence than women, I suggest you open a newspaper or read about testosterone. We are equal; we are not the same. This is not up for debate. Men have to work harder to channel their natural impulses for sex and control, which is why this conversation exists about the difference between masculinity (a thing) and toxic masculinity (a different thing).

      1. 9.1.1

        Evan, if I wanted to learn about testosterone, I would not open a newspaper to do so. I didn’t say there were no sex differences in testosterone levels. Rather, that these impulses described in his article are common to both males and females, coming from a woman who remembers how these urges were normal as a girl and had them repeatedly shamed or discouraged out. This happens to women all over the world. In addition to whatever biological urges govern these impulses (and it’s not only testosterone), social expectations have also enlarged the gender differences.

  10. 10
    Karl R

    I’m not particularly impressed by the article. It’s essentially an appeal to emotion, which the author (David French) is trying to disguise as an appeal to logic.

    David French makes certain arguments that have merit. There is a value to drive, to discipline. The mantra, “No pain, no gain,” applies to many human endeavors. But he (without any logical support) qualifies those as *masculine* traits.


    This morning I was reading an article about Nadia Comenici. (Don’t waste your time looking for it. The article, while factually accurate, was poorly written.) But the article described a woman who was driven and disciplined (and who dominated her highly competitive field) … while still a pre-teen and teenager. Or to put it in a way that those younger than me would understand…. Simone Biles has drive and determination that would equal or exceed any Navy SEAL. To anyone looking at the matter dispassionately, these are not inherently *masculine* traits. And therefore, those traits should be encouraged in everyone.

    I really have to wonder how this article was received in the French household. At the culmination of the article, David French recounts how he carried his son up an incline (getting a break periodically, while his *wife* carried his son up the incline), without collapsing from fatigue like his former, out-of-shape-self, might have. Um … hrmm … uh … what part of *wife* sounds masculine? And while Mr. French was apparently able to carry his son further than Mrs. French could, that sounds more like *biology*, rather than masculinity/femininity. (I can also do shit that my wife can’t … because 11″ of height and 80 lbs. of body-mass actually translates into meaningful bio-mechanics.)

    I encourage discipline, exercise, and even drive (within limits) … but let’s not obfuscate the value of those traits by assigning a gender to them. This is a junk op-ed that’s *slightly* less insulting to my intelligence than the average op-ed.

    1. 10.1

      Karl, yes – you pretty much wrote exactly the same things I wrote above: that these traits are neither masculine nor feminine exclusively, but human, and that the only main difference is the physical strength of male vs. female humans in what they can accomplish physically. I am not sure why anyone should take such umbrage at that.

      I can’t help thinking that some really love to emphasize differences between men and women (even if some differences are not scientifically valid, like how both sides pursue or do math), as if that made both sexes more fun and attractive. The reality is that the biological differences between us are more than enough for fun, for those who run the hetero way. We don’t need to add so many artificial distinctions to the extent that we do today, in most parts of the world.

  11. 11

    As a woman, I think the majority of women I know appreciate strong (not controlling), masculine men. A strong masculine man who is also genuinely kind is nearly irresistible. From what I’ve heard, men also appreciate a kind feminine woman. Sadly, I believe that we are creating a gender neutral society and I can’t imagine this will benefit anyone. After all, relationships seem to work best when we compliment each other and show appreciation for our differences. It has been my experience that women in the working world often need to adopt a masculine energy in order to succeed. They need to be purpose driven and goal oriented, not to mention strong and perhaps aggressive. I personally find it very difficult to turn this off once I’m at home, and I know other women feel the same. So now there are two masculine energy individuals in the home who no longer compliment each other. Ironically, I hear many men complain that after marriage their wives lose interest in sex. I truly believe this is part of the reason. They no longer feel feminine. During the dating/courtship period, their boyfriend/husband would typically do/say things that made them feel feminine, but when ordinary life sets in, that no longer happens. Conversations stop being about what they appreciate about each other and turn into conversations about responsibilities. Nothing makes a woman feel more feminine than her husband greeting her with “did you finish ironing my shirt?”, or “what’s for dinner?” (I’m joking here). There’s nothing to balance the dynamic anymore. I wish that more men and women understood this and could have kind, open conversations. Wouldn’t it be nice if each day you reminded yourself and your partner of what complimentary part of them you appreciate? Maybe then both men and women could be comfortable just being who they were born to be.

  12. 12

    Interesting article and comments. I think some clarification is in order here, because much, if not most, of what purports to be “traditional masculinity” in today’s America, is NOT “traditional masculinity” as I learned it in growing up as an older “baby boomer” in the Old South. Much of the new version is lacking key components, and some of it frankly isn’t “masculinity” at all. There’s a lot more to real “traditional masculinity” than competitiveness, drive, physical courage, strength and testosterone-fueled aggressiveness.

    Remember those three men Noquay talked about? They are the younger part of what’s been called the “Greatest Generation” of Americans. The older of those men were forged in the Great Depression, and the crucible of WWII; the younger ones came of age in the mid to late fifties. They came from hard times too. This was a different time; it may have been simpler in many ways, but it was harder, and far from idyllic. Men were often the sole breadwinners for a family. For able-bodied young men, military service (often compulsory, through conscription) was the norm, not the exception. Women, having limited opportunities in the workplace, were mostly economically dependent on men. The Constitution said everyone had equal rights; segregation said otherwise. In short, the circumstances that produced those men who served as our role models were not something any of us now would want to re-create. I for one, feel no nostalgia for any of it. That said, it wasn’t all bad. If some traditional aspects of the South I know were questionable, there were some solid values. Strength and physical courage mattered, but it had to be backed by moral courage as well. Honor, integrity and personal character mattered; I saw business deals that in today’s money would involve millions of dollars done on nothing more than a handshake and confidence that the other man’s word was good. A man’s word was his bond, and he fulfilled it, every time, or he lost his reputation. He was taught manners (a quaint concept in the eyes of many today), and that meant generally that he treated people with courtesy and respect. It implied a certain deference to one’s elders and to authority in general. It was understood that women were to be treated with particular respect, and protectiveness, because they were physically weaker, and adult men and women alike were protective of children (though a lot of this would be considered “tough love” in today’s world, it was effective, just the same). Without a lot of modern conveniences taken for granted today, housework was a lot more drudgery than now, so boys and girls were raised with daily chores; boys mowed the lawn, and raked the yard; girls helped with the cooking and cleaning. On the farm, especially, a family was a team, and kids of both genders were expected to do their part as soon as they were old enough. Boys were allowed to do a certain amount of roughhousing, including some fisticuffs as long as it didn’t go too far, and sports were pretty rough; scrapes, bruises, bloody noses and occasional broken bones were a part of a boy growing up, and a natural outlet for male competitiveness and aggression. Boys in particular were encouraged to control their emotions and their impulsive behavior the older they got and if high school wasn’t enough, military service soon instilled the necessary self-discipline, as well as responsibility and accountability. Not everyone enjoyed his time there, but we all got exposed to different commend/leaderships styles, and learned what worked and what didn’t, One of my commanding officers expressed it this way: “If you want there best from your men, give them yours”. That was sound advice; works in civilian life too, in both work and relationships; being an effective leader, as a boss, or as a husband and father, requires wanting the best for those you lead, not just yourself. There was an ethic of service, among most men; “Duty, Honor, Country” wasn’t a slogan, it was a way of life, and the concept of “duty” wasn’t just military; it extended to family, community, and and people in general. There was an ideal that whatever good life gave you, you should “pay it forward” and /or try to give something back. I was taught that whatever charity a man extended to others he did freely, and expected no particular credit or notice for it. It was just what a good man did, and it was nothing to be remarked on, much less bragged about. I think I had some pretty good role models; I’m grateful for that. I don’t think boys and young men today have so many to learn from, which is one part of how we got to where we are today.

    Today’s society doesn’t seem to lend itself to creating men who can model that version of “traditional masculinity ” for the boys and young men of today. They are badly needed just the same. We can talk about how we got to this state of affairs but honestly the main thing is to find out how to make some, in this day of the anti-hero, instant gratification and generations who value money, power, status and and social media validation above all else.That’s going to be for some of you younger folks to figure out, if you want to, because the greatest generation is almost all gone, and even us older baby boomers are getting too old to help you much.

    I’d like to follow up with more comments later especially on some points Karl R brought up, but I thought we’d better define just what we’re talking about first. Thoughts?

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    To Buck 25: I totally agree with every word you said. I am a younger baby boomer, but my Dad, who was born in 1936 and who sadly passed away in 2017, inspires me to respond to you. I have never responded online to any type of blog.

    Yes, women were dependent on men, etc.., and “the South” brings to mind male chauvinism and racism, but what you are mainly addressing is how our culture has shifted so much. One of your last lines, …”in this day of the anti-hero, instant gratification and generations who value money, power, status and and social media validation above all else” is so true and makes me sad. I believe that young men–and women, value these things because they were born into this reality. They do not know what it was like to grow up in the times you describe in your post.

    My Dad was very patriotic, conservative, and believed the 50’s were the greatest time in our country. Again–I am addressing the “masculinity” issue, not racism, equal rights, or any other aspect of our country that still needs addressing today. When I was 13, I used to say my Dad was “stuck in the (19)50’s.”.Now, I understand that he valued what you value about how our country was different and how it produced a different type of man.

    Thank you for your post. It’s made me both nostalgic and sad. But, it’s made me remember my Dad, whom I still miss to this day.

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    If you want to know my thoughts on this entire idea of toxic masculinity here it is. Military generals and warlords have been teaching their soldiers to be “tempered fighters” for thousands, upon thousands of years. Sun Tzu’s Art of War favors espionage over sieges and that book is 5000 years old. You are not bringing ANYTHING new to the table whatsoever. Please realize this.

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