Tuesday, May 27, 2008

The Art of Manliness

I told Gorgeous Wife the other day that I had recently started following a blog titled The Art of Manliness. Her automatic response was, “Isn't that some sort of oxymoron?” It was spoken in jest, of course, but the sentiment gave me something to think about: When did “manliness” stop being a virtue? I contend that it never did, but that the public's opinion of men and their idea of what manliness is has changed. In fact, I think most people spend so much time soaking in what society tells them about masculinity that they don't really think about how their own true feelings on the subject might differ.

Part of reason that manliness is looked down upon, I feel, rests with the feminist movement. In the laudable desire to correct wrongs against women, society has now swung the other direction and demeans men. Just as an example, how many modern sitcoms (say, in the last twenty-five years or so) regularly portray the husband as dim-witted and clueless, while his wife rolls her eyes and valiantly compensates for his idiocies? Lots of them. How many frequently show the reverse scenario? Maybe they exist, but I can't think of any. A sitcom which attempted to do so today would probably be criticized as being sexist. It seems that, as a society, we have come to believe that if you make fun of women, it's sexist, but if you make fun of men, it's humor.

The other reason that I feel that manliness is scorned today is that the accepted definition of manliness has changed. “Manliness,” for some reason, has become synonymous with machismo and boorish behavior, but this was not always so. Manliness, as it ought to be defined, is a positive trait, and is just as positive as and is complimentary to womanliness. The idea of masculinity and femininity both being positive and complimentary traits is not new; in fact, it is present in Asian philosophy and is one aspect represented by the Taoist taijitu (☯). (Not being a follower of Taoism myself, I welcome correction in phrasing from any actual Taoism adherents.)

Unfortunately, there are a lot of men who are also deluded in their understanding of the meaning of manliness, and whose behavior only reinforces the misconception. That's one reason why I was so pleased to run across the aforementioned blog. Not only does it set straight what manliness really means, it tries to help men who may have the wrong ideas about masculinity to change their behavior and stop reinforcing the stereotypes. I'd encourage the men out there (and women, too!) to take a peek at The Art of Manliness and see what it really means to be a man.

Just as an example, they've recently been doing a series of articles about Benjamin Franklin's Thirteen Virtues, and just a couple of days ago they did a post about the last one, humility. After the discussion of the topic, the article presented ways to practice humility in everyday life:

  1. Give credit where credit is due.
  2. Don't name/experience drop. (Don't be constantly talking about how great you are.)
  3. Do what's expected, but don't make a big deal out of it.
  4. Perform service and charity anonymously.
  5. Stop one-upping people.

If these aren't the antithesis of what is popularly considered to be masculine, I don't know what is. I was particularly amused by the video at the end that talked about one way to stop the chronic “one-uppers:” become an astronaut and walk on the moon:

Edit: Video no longer available. Bummer.

Anyway, this is my first post where I rant about a topic of any real weight, so I'd encourage you to share your thoughts. Drop me a comment.


Anonymous said...

I completely agree with you. I think another thing that has fallen under the sword of "feminism" is Chivalry. I notice that is also talked about on The Art of Manliness website. I just want to encourage all you men out there to practice The Art of Manliness. A man is really what women want you to be.

Anonymous said...

I agree with you as well... my husband and I struggle with this topic as we're raising our own son -- the media is almost as detrimental to our boys' souls and hearts as it is to our daughters' bodies and minds.
Being a "Man" is not dependent on the number of animals that you have killed, or the "partners" you have had or even your high score on Halo 2, and it is so difficult to deprogram your kids from that mindset. I think that the best thing that we can do as parents and adults is teach the kids under our influence, and lead by example. (Can you tell I just got put in as primary president?)

I also agree with you that much of the decline is partly due to the feminist movement (gasp!!!). As with other social movements -and I prepare to be vilified here-- the problem starts when the goal becomes superiority, not equality. That said, however; I don't think that the downward decline on the perception of what is "Manly" is a new one. I was re-reading Louisa May Alcott's Little Men a while ago and am reminded that this very idea is a main theme in the story. The boys have to choose between what is "easy" and what is "right" and they have to learn the difference between true courage and grandstanding.

Anyway, long story short, give me Ward Cleaver over Homer Simpson any old day!

BTW: Hi Robert and family!

Cutey said...

I read your post and wanted to leave a nice long post but so far everyone has already said what needs to be said. But I would like to add this one small bit that my dad told me years ago. He said he got this from a movie. "A Man is a Man when he becomes a Husband and a Father, and in THAT order"