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Masculinity Revisited

Written by admin, Monday, October 13th, 2008 in Culture, Dating Columns, Sex & Dating

I realized there was something painfully ironic today when I was walking down the street and I saw a few guys (from a local fraternity, I believe) trying to be masculine. Wearing huge football jerseys, horribly baggy jeans and beat up sneakers (seemingly a uniform around here for some guys), they walked around together still trying to maintain a little bit of masculinity- that is, everything they did seemed to scream one loud “no homo”. Of course, this made it almost more painfully ironic, because the more they worked against this self-perception, the more they embodied it- just in a creepy, somewhat anti-self-actualizing way.

And then it hit me. Masculinity has really changed over the years, especially in America- but also in Europe and Canada to a lesser extent. To be “masculine” now, men seem to try to fit into these little ridiculously stupid “gender roles” and do poorly at it- as if loudly screaming for Generic Local Football Team #56 somehow gave them credit for having a penis. Further, everything about them- the lack of decent clothing, the poor grooming habits, their messy vehicle (a truck, go figure), and even their speech continued to scream “I’m a guy”. But somehow it just didn’t hit the mark- for all of the effort and attempts, it just came off as poor, unwashed, and generally boring.

So, it’s time to work against the stereotypes. In this article, I’m going to explain where these nasty little expectations have come from, why they are ridiculous, and how you can work against them- not to come off as a “metrosexual” or something silly like that, but to come off in a confident, suave way.

The History of Masculine Gender Roles, Cliffs Notes Edition

It’s always easy to presume that the way the Western world handles masculinity is normal. This is as wrong as it could possibly be.

Back in the 1940s during WW2, masculinity (and patriotism) were cherished like crown jewels in the West- it was our crutch, a kind of proverbial launching pad that helped mobilize entire nations against each other. And, naturally, images of masculinity and strength began to come out in full swing. Of course, most are familiar with the image of Rosie the Riveter- a kind of self-reliant woman- which was used to encourage women to pseudo-independence to “help the work force” (among other things). But, more interesting for men, it began to facilitate a new kind of man- the grizzled, rough, and unkempt man. Of course, the pictures of American/British heroes were no longer ones of clean shaven strong men- they were of slightly haggard warriors, worn men with leather-like skin and strong hands who were ready to kill for their country.

Of course, this changed a lot. Images of these rough men in t-shirts (standard issue underwear for the U.S. Army/Navy) came home- and it became acceptable to wear. Before this time, men were expected to be clean shaven and well dressed- now the rules were changing. The idea of a muscular man in very little became sexy- and it came back home with the soldiers. Actors like Marlon Brando and James Dean helped them out, giving them a “rough” look- and thus, the sexy badboy was born in the American mind.

Of course, this didn’t really stop the roles from changing there. In fact, stuff got exponentially more interesting.

Flash forward to the 60s. Culture was changing drastically, and so was fashion and the idea of men. Culture all across the Western world became much more liberal and relaxed- of course, hand-in-hand with rampant drug use and anti-war movements. More pertinently, however, was the idea of James Bond- a suave, woman magnet super-spy. James Bond had everything a man wanted- cool technology, great fashion, more sex than a male prostitute with absolutely beautiful women, and the affirmation of an awesome job well done. He quickly became an icon- a kind of symbol for ultimate masculinity.

Jump forward to the 70s. Less of the 60s extremism, but music kept getting better and culture became even more defined- and thus came Dirty Harry. Made in 1971 (so somewhat loosely still part of the 60s according to some), Harry Callahan is a quick tongued man with a huge gun. Harry, following the archetype that would be abused for years to come in horrible Steven Segal movies, is a cop that breaks the rules and the red tape and shoots first- he’s almost an anti-hero. But he’s a badass- and though he isn’t as suave or as sexy as James Bond, he still acts as a cultural icon.

Now the 80s and the era of the hyper masculine. This is the era of the powerful wrestling shows- this is the era of Hulk Hogan, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Sylvester Stallone. One of the most powerful images in this era of powersuits is that of John Rambo, the hyper-muscular hyper-violent former Green Beret killing machine. Rambo is essentially indestructible- he talks even less than Dirty Harry, carries a gun three times as big, and wears very little- he’s a bundle of muscle and ass-kicking.

So, what’s so important about this? Well, to paraphrase a recent documentary touching on the topic, Bigger,
Stronger, Faster*
, the transition from the 60s to the 80s was absolutely enormous. In simple terms, we went from a country in the 40s that began to flirt with the ideas of the “rough badboy” to a country that, in the 80s on, is now clearly obsessed with becoming muscular and powerful with little words- and in some senses, with absolutely no attachment to females.

But how do I qualify these statements?

Why these roles are so stupid

Let’s take a look at three of the people I just mentioned that are representative of their culture- James Bond (the 60s), Dirty Harry (the 70s), and John Rambo (the 80s)- and let’s take a quick look at what makes them so interesting.

For you movie buffs out there (or those of you that played Goldeneye 007), you probably know that James Bond’s main gun for most of his movie shots is a Walther PPK- a small pistol that is legitimately tiny- a secretive sidearm, not a huge weapon. Bond talks a lot with women, but keeps his words simple and to the point- and he has a legitimate confidence and control over his scenario. As I’ve said before, James Bond is a great character for men to follow- and a pretty damn good role model for the 60s.

Dirty Harry is a big different. With about 4 or 5 inches added to his gun (now a huge revolver rather than a tiny pistol), Harry doesn’t talk as much, and seems to somewhat grunt through his teeth more than anything else. He’s confident and savvy, but not in the direct sense- he’s a rebel, the kind of guy who is really under control only in the sense that very little is under his control.

John Rambo is basically walking steroids (joke somewhat intended). Rambo barely talks and basically solves his problems by murdering them- quite literally. He’s strong and confident, but only in his own ability to make what he doesn’t like disappear. Women are conspicuously absent- he kills men, and women barely really stand him other than in the obligatory sense. His famous gun? A huge machine gun, with a nearly two foot barrel.

So why am I focusing on the guns, the talking, and the women so much? Because that’s what matters. Without sounding like a gender studies professor, there is legitimacy in saying that a lot of the scenarios in these movies are largely figurative- you can read a lot between the lines. Rambo wields a big gun because it is representative of a huge penis- Bond has no need for it for obvious reasons. Rambo is essentially proving his masculinity by having the “biggest”- it’s being contrasted to the small futile weapons of the people against him. Do note how even the knives he uses are absolutely massive. James Bond dresses well and looks nice because he has the confidence to- Rambo and Dirty Harry coddle viewers into thinking they can get away with not dressing well. The nasty caveat to James Bond is that most realize you can’t walk around in tuxedoes and (then) excellently designed clothing all the time- the later movies seem to focus less on class and charm and more on the action, as if such a thing is irrelevant. Women are (essentially) lacking in Rambo and Dirty Harry films as if to infer a fraternity-like “men only” atmosphere, whereas earlier films “blend” better. Face it- Rambo could be somewhat impotent for all we know- we’re simply urged to enjoy his base violence.

Of course, before I get nasty e-mails, I don’t hate Rambo or Dirty Harry. Hell, 80s-era action movies are pretty damn amusing, if only for their corniness. The problem is, simply put, that these movies carry a very heavy cultural weight with them- they are the reason why a lot of our culture is the way it is today. A lot of us as kids saw the Rambo movies and took them to heart- and we learned to emulate and admire our heroes, taking cues on how to act.

Having a big gun like in Rambo or a big car like in The Fast and the Furious is a way to protect against impotence. Wonder why the guy in the Enzyte commercials didn’t have a sportscar or carry a big gun? He didn’t need to (he was too busy being paid to promote what we now know is a BS drug). There is something true about the old adage that many cops like being able to carry a gun to make up for something they lack- and be it a size issue or simply an irrational worry of sexual impotency, it’s very clearly an attempt to protect oneself from lacking.

The worst thing? Practically, a lot of “masculine” things in today’s society are women-free in a way that is almost homosexual. There’s this ridiculous sense that a lot of these masculine things are women-free (think the “He-Man Woman Haters Club” from The Little Rascals)- that is, really “manly” things are forbidden from the female touch. Sure, women can be on the outside of such things (think the horrible female commentators on ESPN), but they never really get to be “in” the club- they simply get to look pretty and stay the hell away when it matters.

The idea here, in a nutshell, is that somehow you can become manly by carrying a big gun, driving big expensive cars, not talking much, and only handling women in the most distant way (which one could say leads to a lot of guys objectifying women and having difficulty with serious relationships). Further, it encourages guys to pretend they are masculine by doing these very things- it can range from something as simple as watching sports because “the guys” do or going overboard and actually developing an obsession for guns or “manly” food.

Of course, these are not things that always mean you are trying to be manly- but if you really sit down and think about it, not all guys are into what they are into out of genuine interest- many just seem to attach to whatever seems to “fit the bill”. The problem with this is pretty obvious- it’s lacking of confidence and it’s just lame.

How to go against the grain

So how do you get out of this nasty trap of “masculinity”?

Simply put, you rationalize and try to break your mind free from the media.

This isn’t saying that you should abstain from what I’ve mentioned before- sports can be fun, and hell, guns and cars are damn cool. The important thing to do, however, is to have a solid reason for liking them rather than just “my friends do”- that is to say, to try to enjoy it for itself rather than doing it because others do.

Don’t build up ridiculous definitions of what “is” and “is not” manly- try to be open. Sure, you shouldn’t go spooning with men in your underwear, but don’t automatically presume “female” things (shopping, musical theatre, design, fashion, dancing, parties, television shows, even certain kinds of music) are beyond your realm- be willing to cross into them. Being willing to go into realms like that is not only really masculine and confident, but it will also help you find women- because that is exactly where they are. You are more likely to find an awesome girl at something like a nice jazz club rather than finding one at a shady bar- that’s just how like works. I know plenty of guys who capitalize on Yoga clubs in this way- one guy for every 30 hot and very fit women is a damn good statistic if you’re looking to find someone.

Of course, I’m not saying you should bend to this whole “feminine male” thing- in fact, I hate that, and I’ve expressed that before. Dress like a man, act like a man, enjoy yourself like one. Don’t paint your walls pink and go around trying to “get in touch with your feminine side”- just be a man and be willing to go anywhere you damn well please.

This idea of “Being a man but being open to women” is a tough concept- too often guys are pidgeonholed into the binary of “woman” and “man” to the point where they think it’s a proverbial turf war, establishing boundaries and territories and killing anyone who crosses them. Instead of thinking of things like certain activities as “female” or “male”, rather consider them neutral territory, and simply something for you to explore.

Being a real man means you have the guts to be able to stand up to a lot more than what we may fantasize men fought- while the adrenaline-packed escapades of John Rambo are impressive, it doesn’t take half the courage or masculinity that actually balling up and taking on responsibility does. Real life is rarely about such clear cut black-and-white worlds as seen in movies- and it’s intensely more masculine to be able to make decisions and stick to them rather than adhering to a bland world of “them” and “us”. In the world of Rambo and Dirty Harry, pulling out a gun and shooting fixes things- but in the real world, that never works. There’s certainly a time to beat someone down and even a time to go into full out killing machine mode- but it’s understanding the other times that matters as well. It sounds stereotypical, but even having the guts to stand up and take responsibility for your actions is infinitely more masculine than pulling out a hunting knife and killing things indiscriminately- no matter what movies may infer.

But let’s make this more simple. Face it: as crazy as this sounds, male ballet dancers are badass mofos, mainly because they get to feel up extremely hot/flexible women all day, and in contrast, they have gallons of testosterone. Ignore the tights. They are just hiding a guy who is so damn bold that they are willing to dress up like cokehead clowns to show off their packages. I doubt even I would have the guts to do that, even if I was promised hot women. So think of it this way- which is more manly?- John Rambo, semi-naked penis replacement toting psychopath who seemingly abstains from the female touch, or Joe, the fairly decent guy somewhere in someone’s Yoga class right now around 40 women who all think it’s great to have a hot guy to look at and would essentially all die to go on a date with him?

I think I’d say the latter. Joe, you lucky bastard.

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21 Responses to Masculinity Revisited

  1. AndYouWillKnowUs says:

    And what about Bob, the creepy, fat, ugly guy that is in yoga class with 30+ women that he ogles and makes feel like meat?

    Hell lets tame Bob down, turn him into Bill- the skinny ugly guy in yoga class that isn’t too social and comes off kind of creepy due to an inability to communicate. What about him?

    Joe is a lucky bastard indeed for being hot.

  2. Cman says:

    I think what Kirk was trying to assert with that line is that most females would find the fact that you have the confidence to take a Yoga class attractive. That being said, you are really splitting hairs. You have set up two horrible scenarios. First, he said to take the class to show your confidence in your masculinity, as in TAKE the class not flail around while “ogling” everyone in the class. That is pretty shady, and they will see right through it. Second, fortunately for Bill, Yoga is more of meditating/inner-discover practice. So as long as he can pull off a simple “Hey” and “See you next week” every now and then, he should be fine. Finally, he used a Yoga class as an example because it is generally viewed as a more feminine activity on account of the Rambo mindset, yet it really is rather difficult. So selecting something more to your interests but thought of in the same manner might be better suited, i.e. Bob might have more actual interest and fit in better at a cooking class, though the exercise might not hurt him…
    So tl;dr Average guy taking Yoga class = confidence = attractive.
    I hope I did not just get trolled like I feel I did….

  3. Xelkelvos says:

    As to AYWKU, Bob needs to lose some weight and coupling the yoga class with a diet and maybe other exercises would help.
    Bill, needs to be less shy and that in itself earns dozens of points as for women, guy don’t need to be as good looking when compared to the standards guys might want. Similarly, if Joe was shy, he’d lose a few points, but not as much a Bill might gain through confidence.
    Take the opposite, Jim, who’s both good looking, but arrogant. Sure some of the women like him, but his attitude and actions push most of them away as the guy who would either deal out a one night stand or end up as abusive.

  4. AndYouWillKnowUs says:

    Haha, I think I love our made up people. In order to respond to this you should have to make up a person or talk about a previously made up one.

  5. Cameron says:

    How about James the slightly feminine man. Don’t underestimate his masculinity or he will throw down. He’s not a push over but he can’t seem to get the girl. Why not?

  6. Bo says:

    I’d like to know your opinions about Craig, though. The lanky smelly dude that only hangs out at the pub, always removed one stool from any male, but every feman that enters through the gates will have him stuck to their butts alllll night…

  7. Anna says:

    Cameron: James needs to realize that his interests work in collusion with the girl’s interests, not in competition. If he enjoys cooking and decorating, that’s wonderful. Both of those activities are lots of fun to do in tandem with someone, but if he underestimates the girl’s skill (ie, tries to compete) at something, there will be a different kind of throwdown.

    Bo: Craig…needs help.

    Let’s face it-a confident guy who is comfortable in a bunch of different situations, whether it be waiting in line for The Dark Knight on opening night, singing in a choir because he loves singing, or playing paintball with his chums is going to have a much easier time accommodating and melding with the interests of another party, such as a love interest. Relationships are a compromise, and if you don’t have any flexibility, you’re going to be snapped in half by the first gentle breeze that rocks your well-tended and fragile “masculinity.”

  8. Yum22Yum23 says:

    Or, put it another way:
    _how about no?_
    Simply that, I am tired of all this masculinity bullshit, this is just as bad as _what is mentioned at the beginning of this article_ and on the article posted in the forums about delayed adulthood. If only because of insecuritites, some will always try to give a “masculine” perception to whatever they do.
    Put it another way:
    REAL MEN don’t need to confirm theyr virility, not even mention it, because REAL MEN are badass enough to be secure about being REAL MEN.
    Whatever it is you do, the masculine/feminine character of it only really defined by society, not by clearly defined technical rules of physics/biology.
    My kick, for example, is craft, I just love making things, that means DIY, building, coding, cooking and even sewing; some of you might argue that sewing for example is a “woman’s” thing, to this I say “fuck no”, just imagine the satisfaction of wearing the clothes you have made with your own hands, how awesome is that, huh?
    Now another way of expressing the idea:
    REAL MEN define their own standards, REAL MEN do not care about what other standards say they are.

  9. Yum22Yum23 says:

    oh snap, ugly typos:

  10. AndYouWillKnowUs says:

    Just to poke fun at your definition:
    So, real men are the basement dwelling don’t-give-a-shit /b/tard types?

    I think a real man is more of a balance between society’s expectations and his own standards. It most definitely is not Rambo though. Ever.

  11. Yum22Yum23 says:

    Well I went a bit overboard on purpose(REAL MEN are THE BEST ad infinitum.), my point was that it doesn’t really matter what you like or do, the thing is that instead of looking for things to make you like masculine, just assume whatever it is you do. As was said before, confidence is the real key, as long as you are confident that you are right to do what you do, let us take the male dancer example (however misogynistic it is), the win in it is that he does what he like and fuck people who say they look gay. To reuse and overused slogan “Just do it”

    However if you only do things to get laid, that is just as bad as enforcing masculinity in my opinion.

  12. Yum22Yum23 says:

    again, typo:

    To specify to socializing point, we both know that /b/tards proud of not socializing are just finding excuses not to go out (my case) and meet people.

    Then again and all the argument could be voided by this, but people are still trying to figure out what the fuck humans are here for (I vote for nothing), so how could you define a man if you can’t even define a human.

  13. LolRandum says:

    Actually, women are really attracted to these rugged men. It isn’t just men going around on steroids while women run screaming; there’s a reason they’ve stayed around for so long (demand).

    The other side of the coin should be challenging women’s views of “sexy men”. Is a stay at home dad sexy? Of course he is; he’s taking care of the kids because he loves them so much. Maybe a man doesn’t earn that much, but if he works hard that should be desirable.

    However, I’ve noticed a lot of women just want these buff, new age guys with everything all in the package. The whole point of adhering to these stereotypes is to be desirable; it won’t change until women change as well.

  14. Tyciol says:

    Okay, sufficed to say, stuff like yoga, dance and martial arts are for learning skills. They get advertised for making you fit, lose weight, stronger, etc. Don’t buy that shit. You can do all that in the process, but if that’s your focus, your skill acquisition will be sacrificed, and you could do a hell of a better job by training focusing solely on losing fat or gaining muscle or whatever it is you want.

    You can do that at home, or by joining a gym, get fit, and then take the yoga/ballet. So no excuses for fat Bob or skinny Bill. You have to realize it’s a science and each step their own. Not wanting to creep out ladies by looking unappealing is considerate and a nice thing, but instead of complaining how that makes you deserve chicks, you act on it and become healthy and pleasant-looking. It’s not just to impress chicks, it’s usually hygenic and lets you avoid some forms of sickness and survive a hip fracture.

    Joe probably isn’t taking the yoga to pick up chicks either. That’s a nice side effect, but actually, he’s probably taking it to learn the skills too.

  15. King of da Billy Goats says:

    I’ve got to agree with the author and YumYum, Do what you want because you want to do it. If nothing else, learn a craft. I doubt very seriously that there is a single guy on the face of the planet who doesn’t enjoy making something useful with his hands. Psychologists might tell you it denotes a need to feel like god, and I will gladly tell these psychologists to eat it on your behalf. Sleeping on a bed thats not only comfortable as anything, but bears your handiwork? Awesome feeling. Own a vehicle? Learn how to do even the base maintenance (i.e. Oil change, tire rotation, spark plug replacement) It will give you a newfound respect for the vehicle, and a bit more confidence. When you get to the point that you’re out on a date and your tire goes flat, you should be able to respond with cool composure and have the tire changed without stopping the small talk. That, in my experience, is the confidence women love. Not the ‘I AM MAN, I CAN TAKE ON ANYTHING!!’ type of confidence, but the ‘No biggy, this’ll just take a sec.’ confidence that a real man wears like a drop of Old Spice behind his ears.

  16. Kevin says:

    Excellent take on modern masculinity. I would agree 100% with what you’ve said here 😀

  17. Anon says:

    Well the thing with rambo is is that it isn’t about murdering or having the bigger dick, it’s about a Vietnam vet haunted by his actions there.

    I get the point, but you chose a terrible movie predator would have been a perfect example though.

  18. Coituz says:

    The reason why bond is so sexy is simply:
    He is always keeping his cool.
    Did bond ever freak out? No.
    Did he ever get really angry? No.
    Did he ever get a little upset. Probably not.

    One thing that is really, really manly and extremely appreciated by wimmenz and important in chaotic situations is simply keeping your cool. Instead of slamming the wheel and screaming “FUCK YOU FUCKING FUCK” at the car in front of you, you should, in the presence of a woman, keep your calm and perhaps even make a small joke about it.

    Overall agree with all y’all said and them article.

  19. Tyciol says:

    Learning a craft is a great idea Billy.

  20. Stoner says:

    Masculinity is something that flourishes in varying degrees across a wide spectrum of humanoids.

    If you’ve got buttloads of it, or it comes easily–lucky for you.

    If not, don’t be phony or try to hard to fit in. Everything has advantages and disadvantages, and one thing I’d never trade is all there is to learn from being on the outside looking in and from having to question everthing from a to z.

    Somewhere in the middle, Phyllis Diller is laughing and smiling, and there’s no gun, no flesh screaming out to be worshipped.

  21. JP says:

    If you take a yoga class so all the pretty ladies get to see how confident you are, you’re not confident, you’re bad with women, and you’re probably bad with yoga.

    Masculinity is about doing whatever you want, getting what you want, taking what you want, so how are you going to do something you don’t want, HOPING other people see something in you, HOPING that turns into sex. Sounds sort of pathetic to me.

    Dancing class, fine, nothing wrong with knowing how, but personally I hate dancing. I get tired, and bored, it seems like a waste of time. But I can at least see the necessity to know how. (that being said, I haven’t taken one, and don’t plan on the near future changing that)

    There is a difference between doing things BECAUSE they’re feminine, so everyone can see how fucking cool you are taking sewing classes or reading romance novels and women’s magazines, and doing things that you want to, in spite of the fact that they are feminine.

    I don’t want to dance, I don’t want to sew, I want to cook (I like to eat, so it only makes sense) and I don’t want to take yoga. I didn’t decide on those things because society told me to. Been over dancing, I see sewing as useless, yoga offers flexibility, breath control, meditative inner peace. I have flexibility (not to that level, and I don’t really see why I would want that level) and my exercise is weights, very simple, I want to get stronger. I’ve moved furniture, worked on cars, tanks (military) and been in fights, in general, I’ve seen how strength benefits me directly, and my inner peace comes from reading, my drawing, and self exploration. Yoga brings nothing good to the table.

    I’m tired of seeing articles where people claim to redefine masculinity by suggesting you do something you don’t want to, for reasons you don’t need, so that people could see you as confident. (they don’t though, girls think you’re weird for taking a feminine class with no interest in it, even more weird when you explain how confident you are to be taking that class)

    You want to be seen as confident, be confident, act with confidence, you want women to be attracted to you, talk to them, a lot, get the hang of what you should do.

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