What is masculinity? Many of my works discuss sex and gender, often in a critical light, criticizing the various facets of each which I find disagreement with; this is because, the fact is, there are no gender-free or sex-free encounters. Sex and gender both color everything that we do as the inescapable facticity of who we are.
Many today have resisted the focus of some on sex and gender questions by saying that our conceptions of gender simply don’t matter or that they’re inflated to be more important than they really are.
The Trump administration kicking trans persons out of the military is just the latest iteration in a litany of discussions which place gender roles at the forefront of a social discussion, which has caused many to balk. This often gut-level reaction stems from the heteronormativity of our culture, and I’d argue that these people do actually care very much about gender, but only their gender or notions of gender.
When it comes to the discussion of gender, trans persons often take the stage, but this masks some other questions of gender which are equally as important. Personally, questions like, “What is my maleness?” and, “What does it mean to be a male in today’s world?” are very important questions I can ask myself, and I think if the gender-skeptics were male and presumed to be female, they’d likely be at least a little bit bothered by this, and likely vice-versa, if they were female and presumed to be male.
So what is this vague notion of maleness? I’d like to offer my take on what my maleness means to me, and dispel some cultural myths about what males really are, and see if we can get back to a more balanced, sane, sensible identity as men, one that doesn’t involve unsolicited penis pictures and obnoxiously abusive behavior, which is quickly becoming the narrative of the male today, whether we like it or not.
While women and trans people are fighting for their gendered rights, and rightfully so, and I think many men have distracted themselves from the focus at hand, which is to answer the question, “What is masculinity,” so that they may better be in a place to help others to facilitate their own self-discovery of their cultural and personal identities, and the legal and social structures which foster their wellbeing through which those identities may flourish.
I challenge those who wish to deny the importance of gender roles in the minds of others to try to live without them in their own little worlds.
The Rejection of the Alpha-Male: What Masculinity is NOT
The western world has rebranded the term “egotistical-narcissist” as “alpha-male” and suddenly pretended it was acceptable behavior for about a decade. Thankfully that time is coming to an end as the wannabe “alpha males” are pushed to the fringes of society.
Much of the Alt-right and Men’s Rights Activism (MRAs) movements are predicated upon this notion of the ultra-tough, take-no-prisoners “alpha male,” a model which is devoid of any real content and a total fabrication based on appearances. This model values toughness, it either overtly or covertly worships violence and mistakes rude and hostile rejection for selectivity.
This ideal is basically the rabid fascism of gender identities, it sees the self and its own identity as the only true and thus valuable identity, and has a very hard time dealing with the identities of others, their differences, and has a low tolerance for things which it doesn’t understand, rather than a willingness to learn.
The model of the so-called “alpha male” that our society has somehow erected probably stems from frustrated men in chat rooms and pick-up artist movements who’ve tried to substitute a macho image for depth, substance, thoughtfulness, wellness, mindfulness, responsibility, and truly potent effectiveness at dealing with life in general. This model is complete nonsense and is a total fabrication by dating gurus and bitter, angry men who’ve found a likeness and similarity through which to bond, and that common ground is usually a lack of attention or affection from women.
I strongly and passionately reject it.
“Girls only date jerks,” they’ve told us, and, “Nice guys finish last,” serve as the mottos which have stood the test of time and reminded us that we need to, in fact, be jerks. This is a lie. I’m here to say, that on a very real and deep philosophical level, I think we all know it to be true that nobody can fall in love with rudeness, with aggressiveness, or with money. People fall in love with other people, other compositions of genes and collections of chromosomes, they do not fall in love with singular traits or behaviors. They may be attracted to certain traits, but they do not fall in love with certain traits.
In my experience, especially women, are incredibly flexible in who they come to date, love, have sex with, appreciate, marry, and more, whereas men are much more rigid, requiring a certain body type and sexual style to be satisfied. There’s nothing wrong with either approach so long as it doesn’t present in an abusive way, such as fat or skinny shaming — there’s nothing wrong with preferences, whether they moral or physical. In my experience, women are much more likely to value the intangible traits in a man than a man is in a woman, as can be evidenced by the frequency with which each sex feels a deep, gut-level attraction to ambition.
I rarely hear a man say, “Man, she’s so ambitious, she has such drive to get things done, now that is sexy,”…but conversely, this is something women say or feel quite often.
The most fascinating part of the worship of the so-called “alpha male” status is that it promises two things and, in a classic and ironic bait-and-switch of epic proportions, delivers the exact opposite of both, and those two things are physical and emotional strength, with a corresponding sense of personal security, and an abundance of sex.
It’s really a cultural outgrowth of both bad science and pornography, as well as the patriarchal romance myth, which is the myth that women are innately romantic and monogamous and thus need a man to spend their lives with and become dependent upon physically, emotionally, and financially. This is how men have kept women dependent, helpless, and subservient for centuries, by perpetuating this myth, a myth that needs to be dispelled.
For every one eccentric feminist, it seems, there are a dozen or so posturing guys out there who subscribe to this toxic notion of maleness, with terms which reek of a fraudulent and phony elitism, such as “high-status male,” and other terms which are devoid of any real strength or substance. In the real world, strength is pain coupled with endurance, strength is keeping a level head in times of turmoil, strength is selflessness and giving, not machismo taking and self-absorbed narcissism.
The Return to Stoicism
“Waste no time arguing about what a good man should be. Be one.”
These words from Marcus Aurelius nearly 2,000 years ago still ring true today, and the imperative to do so is equally as great as it was then, if not greater. Marcus was a great thinker and profound stoic, and I think it would behoove us, men, to reach back to the great male thinkers of the past and augment their best ideas in our conception of maleness; Marcus Aurelius wouldn’t badger women for sex, nor would he unexpectedly raise his tunic to flash his junk to unsuspecting women.
“Men exist for the sake of one another,” says Aurelius also, the former Emperor of ancient Rome, and last of the so-called five good emperors. He was also appropriately known as Marcus the Wise.
Marcus’ concept of masculinity revolved around balance and sensibility, not malevolence and self-consciousness masquerading as superiority; he valued truth, honor, a slow dignity, and a philosophy of radical acceptance, over the vices of immediate gratification and an inflated sense of pride.
The Ego, for Marcus Aurelius, was a faulty trap that most people fall into, and the wise avoid by virtue of their foresight and self-sacrifice. 2,000 years later, we still remember Marcus Aurelius for the wisdom he imparted upon the human race.
Genuine masculinity values truth over the narratives which makes us most comfortable or Machiavellian consequentialism, the idea that consequences and results are more important than authenticity and the methods of achieving our ends. Masculinity doesn’t reject the fragments of the world which makes it uncomfortable to create its own protective little bubble, it deals with them calmly, honestly, patiently, and it questions why these parts of the world need to be shut out in order that it may protect its fragile ego.
Genuine masculinity is always willing to work on itself and improve, rather than play the blame game. I’ll even add that genuine masculinity often has no problem assuming the blame for things it might not even be wholly responsible for if that means that we can fix the error in question.
In short, the displacement of blame onto another to fix a problem isn’t right, but the displacing of blame onto ourselves long enough that we may endure and fix the problem is both perfectly chivalrous and admirably honorable.
This is because masculinity puts others before itself, it puts functionality and truth before itself, and genuine masculinity puts virtue and principles first while putting its ego last. This is the opposite of what our culture has come to tell us is true masculinity, and what’s supposed to “work,” in our lives as men.
Masculinity is the willingness to clutch those we care about in our arms and forgive those who need it, to hug another even when they’re the very ones who may have wronged us in the first place, not because we’re weak and cower at the feet of others, but, to the contrary, because we’re so abundantly strong that we can afford to do so. And, if we aren’t that abundantly strong at current, we will find a way to become that strong person for our friends, families, lovers, and communities at large. That’s what being a decent, virtuous human being is all about.
Masculinity is and always has had an air of Stoicism about it, a sense of mastery and calmness, and it wasn’t always a tumbling ball of hot-headed aggression, ready to discharge at the slightest perceived injustice. The virtuous men of old placed women above themselves, not on a pedestal for some end, but simply because it was the right thing to do, at least in theory. So what happened to Stoicism?
What happened to the Stoicism that embodies the idea that, “I know in my core that everything is going to be alright, and I can reason and work my way through anything, and there’s no need to lose my sensible nature of anything external — for I am in complete control of myself; I am the master of my reactions to life.” I think if we asked most women if this calm, collected, responsible, thoughtful, patient, kind, caring, strong, and understanding man was the kind of man they wanted, they would nearly unanimously say, quite emphatically, “Yes, yes, that’s exactly what I want in a man.”
Beyond just women, I feel that society at large can also agree. So to answer my question, “What is maleness?” maleness, to me, is a balance, a harmony that does not place the ego, the self, the individual radically above the other facets of life, it seeks to strike a balance in its core between its male self and the female other, its complementary opposite, and this includes listening, admitting its wrongs, a willingness to compromise and see the value of the other perspectives (of all people, really).
It does the same for the various gender identities and other social structures which exist within the minds of others — because it’s considerate of others, it’s gentlemanly and seeks not to offend for the sake of offense in the name of gaining shock-value points with the most easily-amused members of the heard; it’s values and principles operate often in secret, it is striving to make the world a better place behind the scenes every moment of every day, and in order to achieve this task, masculinity realizes that the balance between the world and the self are vital to its success; thus, a virtuous man is always improving upon his virtue, both in the eyes of others and before himself.
A great man is a caring man, and he is a caring man because he is an understanding man, and he’s a patient man because he’s both understandings and cares for what is right, and because of all of these things, he is ultimate, above all, a strong man.
© 2019; Joe Duncan. All Rights Reserved