What It Means to Be a Man

Mr. David Beckham, muscular, short-haired, mildly bearded, sport-playing, was voted Most Masculine Man in the world.
Mr. David Beckham, muscular, short-haired, mildly bearded, sport-playing, was voted Most Masculine Man in the world.

Ecce Homo?

Since the dawn of civlization the males of the human species have been the laborers, putting their natural physical strength to work hunting animals to feed their females, or, alternatively, breaking the soil with ploughs and mastering herds of animals. Indeed, men have always been close to the earth, out in the blistering sun and the pouring rain, working hard, sweaty and dirty. Men built the bridges, ruled the nations, and fought the battles. Brutal, physical, dominating, powerful, aggressive, primitive, coarse is what they are. With the rise of feminizing civlization, men have had to resort to indirect outlets for their primal energies, such as an obsession with sports, action movies, vehicles, and perverse sexual activities. Psychologists have explained it all succinctly: men are achievement oriented, deriving much more pleasure from victory; men are systems oriented, preferring to work with cars and motorcycles than feelings.

No

So, where would that leave me? I don't care for sports or vehicles. I am polite, well-dressed, educated, versed in literature, don't like to get my hands dirty, hate fighting, and generally sensitive to the feelings of others. According to the above paradigm, I might as well be a woman. Have I fallen under the pernicious influence of feminist ideology, conspiring, unbeknownst to the main of society, to feminize men for the sake of their own domination? Have I been whipped? Of course I have not. One wonders why I would even need to ask such a question. We all understand, do we not, that there is such a variety in humanity that such pigeonholing as what counts as a man is silly.

It is not silly, however, as there is a genuine, and often-articulated, thread of thought running through society that only the paradigm I described above counts as a man, because only the traits I outlined therein are masculine traits. It is never raised by thoughtful people in thoughtful conversation: it appears amongst the vapid, or in silly, flippant situations like, say, Hollywood movies and television. Regardless of how cavalier film and television can be, it is very influential. Moreover, film and television derive from a milieu of real attitudes held by real people. Perhaps rarely spoken, because rarely ever admitted even to themselves, but a large percentage of women and men hold to the above (hyperbolic) paradigm of a man--though never quite that strongly, of course.

Let's take a look at the above paradigm more closely. There appear to be two pairs of binary elements. The one is masculinity versus femininity and the second is savagery versus cultivation. According to the paradigm, masculinity is savage and feminity is cultivated. Whenever a woman shows signs of savagery, she has lost her feminity; whenever a man shows signs of culture, he has lost his masculinity. The woman who likes football and working on cars, on this paradigm, must be a tomboy; the man who likes poetry and baking must be a sissy.

We could probably add to this some other pairing, such as physical and spiritual. Men, in the paradigm, are taken to be representative of the animal side of humanity, hairy, sexual, appetitive, strong. But this conceit can be subsumed under savagery and cultivation.

So, is there anything to the link between the savage and the male?

If savagery and masculinity are equated, then it follows that before laws and civilizations, all humanity was masculine. As humanity gradually became more civilized, they gradually became more and more feminine, until today when only football players and rappers uphold the masculine camp. While it is difficult to logically disprove this little history, if only because the concepts with which we are dealing are rather anomalous, it should come across as patently false. When attempting to theorize about such abstract notions it is always fair to reject one theory if a much more plausible one is available. And a more plausible theory can be reached by separating savagery from masculinity.

If this is the case, then masculinity--whatever is entailed thereby--can be expressed in either a savage or a cultivated fashion. The same, of course, would apply to femininity. The difficulty is that femininity does not seem to express itself at all in savagery. I think the solution is simple: neither does masculinity express itself at all in savagery. The paradigm of savagery is neither masculine nor feminine. The farther one departs from the flourishing of human consciousness in civilization, the farther one departs from the human qualities of masculinity and femininity. Dogs are not masculine or feminine; people are masculine or feminine.

It is not, then, that masculinity merely can express itself in cultivation, but that masculinity can only express itself through cultivation and savagery is merely a pseudo-masculinity. If there has been any revenge exacted upon the males of our species for centuries of female oppression, it is this: that stupidity and savagery has been deceptively insinuated into the concept of masculinity, where it does not belong.

James J. Corbett, AKA "Gentleman Jim," one of history's great boxers, was known for his manners and fashion sense.
James J. Corbett, AKA "Gentleman Jim," one of history's great boxers, was known for his manners and fashion sense.
"That boy ain't right."  Says who?
"That boy ain't right." Says who?

A Real Man

So, when we watch film or television and we see a woman telling a man, boyfriend, husband or whatever, "I want a REAL man," it seems the screenwriters have simply eaten up the paradigm. That is not necessarily the case, however. There must still be traits to associate with masculinity that distinguish it from femininity beyond genitals, body type and chemicals--or at the very least deriving from genitals, body type and chemicals in a non-reductive fashion.

Let's take the trait psychologists usually apply to males: systems-oriented. The word 'systems' instantly conjures up machines. But language is a system. Perhaps the reader has heard of 'the legal system.' Mathematics, laws of physics, philosophy, ethics, the human body, choreography: all of these work with systems.

Another trait psychologists give is achievement-oriented. Men take more delight in victory. This is why more males play video games, they claim. It's not clear how drinking beer, belching, and watching football can be considered more achievement-oriented than writing a successful novel, yet some people seem to implicitly hold this idea.

The misconception that masculinity implies savagery is unfortunately pervasive. Being well-dressed, reading poetry, listening to certain kinds of music--all of this is taken to be feminine. Being well-dressed is not feminine, unless one dresses in a feminine way. It is simply up to a cultivated man to use fashion to express his masculinity. Doing so, he will be a much more successful male than the man wears only denim and wifebeaters.

Again, I admit that there is no strong logical argument here. I am relying primarily upon the intuition of the readers, readers who may well subscribe to the paradigm in the first paragraph, to see that the alternative view of masculinity I present is more plausible. The idea is not to discount that there are feminine men and masculine women, but that masculinity, whatever it entails, does not mean being savage; it means being cultivated enough to express one's masculinity in a unique way, in a cultivated way. A feminine man must just be either failing to express his masculinity or not desiring to express his masculinity--indeed, he could well be desirous of expressing femininity. It is not a matter of over-cultivation, nor of not playing enough sports, or working enough with his hands. Perhaps once this pernicious idea is removed, we'll come to respect and understand real masculinity, and with it femininity, much better.

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Comments 28 comments

pgrundy 7 years ago

I think that other people use gender was a way to show disapproval and it isn't necessarily rational. I remember my ex screaming at me at one point, "You're a whore! You're a man!" (Weird combo, huh? I had joined a book club. He didn't believe in books, even though we know they exist.) By contrast my current partner is always saying, "Yeah but you're not a REAL girl," referring to my admitted lack of girlish skills--chit chat, love of salon appointments, etc.

I also see people take negative qualities (love of hair appointments, chit chat) and elevate them by attaching them to gender roles. Just like you say in your essay, gnorance is elevated in the U.S. as masculine. Real men know how to fix cars, but have no time for book learnin'! don't like that one at all and it seems you don't either. Conversely, when I was in school, I was always getting this from my professors, "You don't LOOK like you can write like this." That was a clumsy way of saying, "Don't your tits get in the way when you think?"

Your essay is so well-reasoned. I don't think people who lean on this kind of thing are being reasonable though. Also, I often wonder WHY we have to have these roles. I question how valid any of the elements of them are, seriously. Great hub as usual!


Arthur Windermere profile image

Arthur Windermere 7 years ago Author

Hey Pam! You're right, gender is used to show disapproval. The odd thing is ignorance is considered masculine, but a woman getting an education is considered not girly enough. So, curiously, these people think nobody should be educated. I think that's the crux. It's anti-intellectualism under a veneer of gender issues. I guess it sounds better to say, "But that's not manly," or "that's not ladylike," than to say, "But then you'll know stuff and I'll feel inadequate."

I'm surprised you experienced that kind of treatment in university. I'm not sure when exactly you started your studies, but it couldn't have been before the 70s. I guess I didn't realize how sexist things where until recently.

Thanks for your thoughtful comment, Pam! Now if you'll excuse me, I must dress up my dolls in these new outfits I made them.


pgrundy 7 years ago

lol! I started in '71 and quit attending in '91. (Why rush through it?) In 1971 there was only one woman prof in the psych department. By 1991 there was one woman prof in the psych department. I was in psych & philosophy. No women in philosophy, zero. The biggest department was the history department--over 30 profs, all men in '71, still all men in '91. This was at a public university too, the state university.

It's getting better but not fast.

After all that I still feel inadequate, but now I'm comfortable with my inadequacy. Back then, I thought I had to do something about it so I went to school forever. I learned a lot but not about the subjects I studied. :)


Tom Cornett profile image

Tom Cornett 7 years ago from Ohio

Nice hub Arthur....Years ago, I saw 3 rednecks in a truck teasing a guy who was planting flowers by his house, near the street. They called him names and when he ignored them.....they got out and attacked him. It took the flower guy about 45 seconds to leave them laying, moaning on the sidewalk. He calmly went back to planting his flowers.

Just a little foot note: He was also a gay history teacher. :)


Jewels profile image

Jewels 7 years ago from Australia

Nice to see a man pulling apart these paradigms. From my standpoint you can have the male animal traits and the female animal traits as analysed by the psyches of the world. Then the feminine principles as applied to a more spiritual nature and same with the male principles as applied to a more spiritual essence. These later principles show that the only difference between male and female humans is the plumbing. The rest is a construct that needs to tumble (in my view!)


Arthur Windermere profile image

Arthur Windermere 7 years ago Author

Shocking, Pam! Here in Ottawa there are lots of women in philosophy, both professors and students. Even pretty ones! Who knew they could think, right? ;)


Arthur Windermere profile image

Arthur Windermere 7 years ago Author

Tom: That's a great story! Thanks for sharing. So there you have it, these bad gender paradigms can even be hazardous to one's health.

Jewels: That's interesting. I'm not entirely sure what you mean in the first part of your comment--you could easily write a whole hub explaining it, I bet. At any rate, I think there is supposed to be a difference in the way male brains are wired, but I haven't really looked into it. Maybe that's what you mean by 'plumbing.' Thanks for your comment!


Jewels profile image

Jewels 7 years ago from Australia

I think Pam eluded to it saying: "I often wonder WHY we have to have these roles. I question how valid any of the elements of them are." And you're right, I could right a big hub on the remainder of what I'm eluding to.


IdeaMorphist profile image

IdeaMorphist 6 years ago from Chicagoland

I absolutely love this! When I took a sociology class I got caught up in what society deems masculine and feminine and how that differs throughout cultures. It really is interesting to think that a gender, which is often easily questioned anyway, provides so many stereotypes in society.


Arthur Windermere profile image

Arthur Windermere 6 years ago Author

Thanks for commenting, IdeaMorphist. That's a very good point. Not all cultures view gender distinctions in the same way. European machismo unfortunately became dominant somewhere along the way. Perhaps because of the way 'macho' guys belittle men who aren't like them and challenge them to be more manly. It's a familiar story from the movies: a lower-class father calls his son a pansy for wanting to get an education.

Cheers!


Jane Bovary profile image

Jane Bovary 6 years ago from The Fatal Shore

It might be my extended ring finger but I also take delight in victory!

More interesting stuff Arthur...I'm still digesting it. I agree with you about the pseudo-masculinity. It tough to be culturally trapped in that way.

I find it interesting that men fear feminization more than women fear masculinization ...or rather it's society in general that seems to fear the feminization of men more then the reverse. A tomboy is often regarded with a kind of good-humoured indulgence, whereas a feminine boy is an 'object of concern'. {I'm generalizing, I know not everyone has that attitude.]

A woman may freely wear a pair of pants or chunky, mannish army boots but a man in a skirt and heels attracts immediate attention, probably because the average Joe just would never wear one....and why wouldn't they wear one? Because they fear it would feminize them.. Women are a little culturally freer, at least in superficial ways, to experiment with their identity.

There are a plethora of feminizing insults for men..eg; sissy, nancy, 'girl', pansy etc yet much much fewer reverse insults for women...off the top of my head I can only think of *butch*.

I don't know what it all means...


Arthur Windermere profile image

Arthur Windermere 6 years ago Author

I like winning and I'm very hairy, but I assure you I have ladyfingers and read poetry. Does that make me a sissy or butch?

That's a very good point. I suppose there are a few things going on there. From a feminist point of view, it suggests we can all understand why a woman would want to be a man, "but who in his right mind would want to be a woman?" From my macho point of view, men find (attractive) women who dress manly sexy and women don't find (attractive) men who dress like women sexy. You think it could be that simple? No, me neither.

Cheers!


epigramman profile image

epigramman 6 years ago

What it means to be a man?

IT'S TOP TEN TIME -

What it means to be a man like Arthur:

10. He gives losers like me - a life!!! His hubs have zest and zeal!

9. Damn he looks so cool in that hat!

8. God (no not that God!) he's so intelligent - as in intellectual intelligent!!!

7. He has a very inquisitive mind!

6. He is constantly searching - and searching - and searching!

5. He is bold and daring and a total original!

4. He`s so cool - it will now be spelled with a capital `K`

3. and hip will be spelled like hep!!!

2. His language is so inventive that no one else will be able to speak it for at least 100 years.

1. Pamela Lee Anderson thinks he`s hot - and not just

because he`s a Canadian!!!


Arthur Windermere profile image

Arthur Windermere 6 years ago Author

Hey e-man,

lol thanks so much, that's easily the most flattering thing anyone's ever written about me. Jane Bovary--she only thinks this stuff about me, never says it.

I'll just add a #11 in there, "Has an awesome buddy like epigramman!" Cheers!


Jane Bovary profile image

Jane Bovary 6 years ago from The Fatal Shore

*spills coffee over keyboard*...hahahaha


Arthur Windermere profile image

Arthur Windermere 6 years ago Author

It's funny 'cause it's true, right? You'll feel so much better once you've just admitted your feelings for me. Just my woman's intuition.


Jane Bovary profile image

Jane Bovary 6 years ago from The Fatal Shore

Actually it is pretty true...I'm not sure about Pamela Anderson though.


Arthur Windermere profile image

Arthur Windermere 6 years ago Author

hehe you never know. I'll have to ask Pammy--that's what I calls her--next time we have lunch. Of course, it might be difficult, since according to (2), nobody can speak English anymore.

And thanks, that's sweet of you. Okay, you can have a bottle of scotch now. ;)


epigramman profile image

epigramman 6 years ago

well I spill coffee all over my keyboard everytime I think of Jane Bovary!!!


Arthur Windermere profile image

Arthur Windermere 6 years ago Author

I've never heard it called coffee before.


Randy Behavior profile image

Randy Behavior 6 years ago from Near the Ocean

My sister just complained that after the papers had been signed for her new vehicle, her car salesmen turned to her husband and said, "shouldn't she be home in the kitchen?" Car Salesmen = Traditional masculinity alive and well unfortunately


Arthur Windermere profile image

Arthur Windermere 6 years ago Author

Hey Randy,

So you live in West Virginia? Or the car salesman was 90. One of those, one would think, is true. I don't recall seeing any traditional masculinity (of that sort) in Quebec. Maybe we're just an enlightened nation. Or maybe I've managed to avoid the douchebags.

Cheers!


Randy Behavior profile image

Randy Behavior 6 years ago from Near the Ocean

My sister lives in Utah... enough said?


dawnM profile image

dawnM 6 years ago from Camarillo, CA

when a man is sensative there is nothing wrong with that, some of the best lovers are men that have the ability to speak to a women in a way that stimulates her mind and once a man has a grasp on that he has a grasp on her. I wrote and article on how to have mind sex with your wife, if more husbands read it there would be a whole world of happy husbands out there. You are a fantastic writer!!!! great hub


Arthur Windermere profile image

Arthur Windermere 6 years ago Author

Hey Dawn,

That's all very true. There's a good reason the French have reputations as great lovers: they have such a stimulating, sensitive, poetic culture.

I'll be sure to check out your hub on mind sex. Of course, penis-in-vagina sex is not to be underrated. hehe Gets the oxytocin flowing.

Thanks for the kind words.

Cheers!


attemptedhumour profile image

attemptedhumour 6 years ago from Australia

There's a theory that when we are borne our brain decides what gender we are. If we are male then testosterone is sent around our body. The amounts sent can differ so a flood could create a Man, Man, whilst a drought could create an Arthur Windemere. Being a Soccer playing, Bricklayer it was rather frightening to discover that i seemed to fit the caveman scenario at the beginning of this hub, although i do write poetry (ok crap rhyming poetry) I sing and partake in creative writing. So isn't that two bob each way? Must dash to the waxing parlor.


Christian Alexander Tietgen 5 years ago

David Beckham isn't that masculine.


asdsa 4 years ago

Just quit complaining and take interest in your man and his decisions. He will appreciate you a whole lot more instead of you being selfish with getting his attention. Tell him how sexy he is. Ladies are great but they talk about nothing. Lol! Quit boring us and start doing things we like to see!

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