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More manliness

A reader who used to blog (and should take it up again) emails regarding my post on manliness:

Nice post; you hit the nail pretty square with that one.

There is a question here which is worth exploring, I think… given that the trappings of manliness have changed over time, and given that people all have different ideas of what real manliness is, I believe there is now a legitimate, open question about what these core values really are. It’s the sort of thing that you can feel, that you know when you see it, but I have yet to find anyone who can really articulate it well.

I’ve found a useful way of exploring this question: make a short list of what you consider the most important attributes of good men, and then SUBTRACT from that list the attributes that also apply to good women – in short, make a distinction between manliness, and adulthood. Once you get past the violence stuff, the conversation gets pretty interesting. For example, courtesy and kindness for weaker members of society is essential for both ‘real’ women and men; as important an indicator as it is, it does not seem to indicate the essential distinction. Cowardice is always bad, honesty and responsibility are always good. A man must be a good adult, of course, but he most also be more than that. Something else is afoot here.

My current conclusion is that nobody I know really has a handle on it. Men and women alike appreciate manliness, respect it, and can usually recognize it when they see it, but they cannot really define it. I find that fascinating. Was it always that way, I wonder?

Is this part of the point, or part of the problem?

I have an incredibly unlikely touchstone for illustrating this distinction – George Costanza, from Seinfeld. In one episode, George lies about being an oceanographer to impress a girl on the beach, and soon finds himself in the presence of a whale in distress, lying just offshore. The girl, of course, implores him to ‘do something’, and of course he has utterly no idea what to do… eventually, and inexorably, he finally takes of his cap, throws it down into the sand, and wades off into the surf to go save the whale. That image of this fat, helpless little guy, striding into the sea to do god-know-what against incredibly stupid odds, was both hilarious and poignant. But the key here is that this scene totally could not have worked with a female lead – it would have made no sense whatsoever. The underlying values that made this moment so funny and so memorable are distinct to men.

I’ve had very much that same feeling at a few of the times when I’ve felt like I’ve lived up to my own ideals of being a fairly good man. A sense of duty, an awareness that things have stopped being strictly logical, a willingness – indeed, a compulsion – to step into the unknown and just make whatever is wrong, right. Isolation. Knowing that you don’t really know what you’re doing. An almost humorous sense that things are just about to slide outside the norm, maybe way outside, and that you’re going to ride it where ever it goes. All of that fits, somehow, and I’m certain that most women don’t experience it nearly the same way.

Can you articulate what I’m looking for here? It’d make a hell of a post, if you can

It’s one of those things where I don’t know what it is but I know when I see it.

Meanwhile, Michael Bane hits it squarely: You Just Can’t See Him From the Road…

16 Responses to “More manliness”

  1. Paul Says:

    The cowboy way is very much a manly way. However I do think the test of a man is if he is willing to step into the unknown and do it. Only men will do that.

    I know someone will mention child rearing or marriage as the womans answer, but that is not what the unknown is.

    The unknown is I know I will fall if I let go, but I can’t hang on, so lets make something up in the fall.

    Some would say that is stupidty, and in a sense they would be right. But is defenitely a test of the unknown.

    But that is not right either……..I guess I know it when I see it is best.

  2. divemedic Says:

    IF the cowboy way is the manly way, what does that say about the wannabe cowboys at all of the country bars? Wearing cowboy hats, big belt buckles, etc. when most of them have never even SEEN a cow, except on TV, or through the car window as they passed by on the highway.

  3. Ed Rasimus Says:

    It seems that manliness is most easily defined by describing what it is not rather than what it is. It becomes more apparent in its absence. There are some characteristics that come to mind, such as honesty, integrity, trust, leadership, taking responsibility for your actions, courage, moral foundation…but then you rub against the faulty dilemma in the request; the demand that you then subtract those traits that a woman could have as well. I’ve known some excellent women fighter pilots who possessed all of the courage, skill, leadership and “manliness” you could ask for.

    It winds up being a sociological construct, one in which our expectations of men and women differ somewhat–this line is blurring in modern America. Cultural events like “feminism” and gay rights and Alan Alda’s “feminine side” and pacifism and dependence upon the nanny state.

    As for cowboys, when you meet one you know the hat and buckle are real. A wannabe is a wannabe in whatever costume they don.

  4. tim buckner Says:

    George was pretending to be a marine biologist but really wanted to pretend to be an architect.But he did pull out the Titleist that was obstructing the whales blowhole thus saving the beasts life and earning his manly credentials,until the next episode where he probably did something to get said credentials revoked.

  5. Steve Says:

    You wanted to know. Just remember that. So I’ll tell you.

    Manliness is the ability to suffer. Not only to suffer, but suffer in complete and total silence. If there is to be any complaint whatsoever, it should be either hyper profane, or hyper intelligent, or preferably combination of both, and never made before women or children. Only to other men, manly ones.

    Manliness is the ability to say a lot in few words. Perhaps none.

    Manliness is the courage to risk insulting others in the unshakable knowledge of the truth and the facts, regardless of whether the truth is really true, or the facts factual. Preferring to be wantonly in error rather than unmanly. And knowing it.

    Manliness is unshakability in the face of the realities of life. Birth, death, joblessness, relationship problems.

    Manliness is a bottomless capacity for hard work.

    Manlieness is the ability to set an example. Not neccesarily a good one, but a manly one.

    And finally, manliness is the joy of being ocassionally wrong and not giving a rat’s ass. Not only forgiving your own fallability, but reveling in it.

    A good example of manliness:

    http://www.tcm.com/mediaroom/index.jsp?cid=213022

  6. TennGoodBoy Says:

    What kinda men sit around and analyze what is manly? Oh, I know. Girly Men…

  7. Tam Says:

    Iíve had very much that same feeling at a few of the times when Iíve felt like Iíve lived up to my own ideals of being a fairly good man. A sense of duty, an awareness that things have stopped being strictly logical, a willingness Ė indeed, a compulsion Ė to step into the unknown and just make whatever is wrong, right. Isolation. Knowing that you donít really know what youíre doing. An almost humorous sense that things are just about to slide outside the norm, maybe way outside, and that youíre going to ride it where ever it goes. All of that fits, somehow, and Iím certain that most women donít experience it nearly the same way.

    Whoever you are, Random Internet Person, I want you to know that my ovaries started singing Ave Maria when I read that.

    Thank you.

  8. Zendo Deb Says:

    The “Cowboy” really depends not on defining the role of men in society, but in severely LIMITING the defined role of women.

    Take a look at the old TV show “Gunsmoke” Women are maiden school marms, wives, or whores.

    “There are some characteristics that come to mind, such as honesty, integrity, trust, leadership, taking responsibility for your actions, courage, moral foundation”

    Are you saying women can’t have these traits? Or that women who have these traits are “manly?” I submit that is a list of qualities of an adult.

    I suppose you will say Margarette Thatcher wasn’t a good leader? Of course women leaders through history haven’t been treated well by the powers-that-be. (Consider Joan of Arc: The British were so put out by the fact that she won a couple of major battles they had her burned at the stake.)

    “Moral foundation” is an interesting one, because people usually mean, “You should have exactly the same moral foundation I have.” Or why do you think “Hate is not a family value” drives so many people crazy. (Bets on how long it takes someone to respond to that line? with the ” is not ‘Hate'”)

    But people miss the real changes that took place with respect to the choices women have in this country.

    It wasn’t until the early 20th century that information about contraception/fertility was made available. The information was deemed obscene and people went to jail for passing out biology information to adults. Why? Control. Women weren’t allowed to have access to information about their own health.

    My mother when she graduated from high school had to fight a battle with my grandfather to be able to go to college. Girls didn’t need college after all, they just should get married and have babies. When she graduated (a teaching certificate only took 2 years back then) she had to work for 2 years before marrying my dad – to prove that it was worth sending her – so that my grandfather would even consider sending her younger sisters to college.

    In college she had 3 choices – at least as she saw it. Teaching. Nursing. Librarian. There were probably other choices but, a lot of avenues were blocked. (For example, when the manly men of the AMA were put in charge of medical school accreditation in the early 20th – or late 19th – century, the first thing they did was to close down the schools that were turning out women and black doctors, so the deck was stacked.)

    If you don’t like ancient history, a dear friend of mine was told – on more than one occasion (this was in the 1980s BTW) that women had no place in an engineering program because women couldn’t be engineers (too stupid I guess) and they should just stay home and have babies. The 1980s wasn’t exactly the dark ages.

    How many of you reading this think you will not treat your daughters equally when it comes to whether or not they should go to college? Whether they could be engineers, scientists or mathematicians or doctors?

    Women – in the past hundred years – have been told they weren’t smart enough to go to college, or to even vote, let alone be doctors or engineers. That they were too weak to play sports. Too girly to use guns. Not competitive enough to be managers/business people, …. the list goes on.

    I’m sure it was much easier to be a manly man in John’ Wayne’s Old West, where women couldn’t do much of anything, than it is today.

  9. Jerry Says:

    Shirley Muldowny(sic) is one of the greatest drag racers I have ever seen. She could do anything better, except being male. I have no fault with her for that. I love her, she set an example. She PROVED that women can be better at some things. That thing you carry in your pocket, does not, make you better than someone, it keep’s you equal.

    Jerry

  10. Ben Says:

    Manliness, I think, is well put in the title of one of my favorite films, “The Right Stuff.”

  11. ModlCitizn Says:

    Manliness is leadership with balls.

    Leadership being the ability to inspire individuals into action with a vision. All these traits ascribed to manliness are necessary traits of leadership. A man carries his own weight ALWAYS at a minimum, plus he provides for others. Imagine the interactions of tribal societies of 50 or less humans; the acts of the tribe leader is the definition of manliness for that group, and in a sense humanity as well.

    Jeff Cooper was a great man. I suggest all refer to his example.

  12. Heathe Says:

    …Sooo a man can only be many when he has a clingy woman begging him to do ridiculous things? That’s all I’m getting out of the Costanza comparison. I’m also not sure what is meant about women not experiencing certain feelings the same way, but I suppose there’s no way to prove that one way or another until someone can be both – but I’d hazard the guess that it is rare that any two people experience certain feelings the same way.

  13. nk Says:

    It’s a natural thing. You can be a pretty man, an ugly man, a dirty man, but the man part shows.

  14. nk Says:

    You understand it best from women — the way they behave towards you.

  15. nk Says:

    If you want one particular thing … men do not mind uncertainty — contingencies that they may or may not have to face miles down the road. Women like their world to be in perfect order.

  16. mikee Says:

    George wading into the surf was funny was funny because he had been trapped into behaving in a manly fashion – despite his obvious and overwhelming un-manliness – by his lying about having a manly career to impress the woman.

    George describing his actions to his friends afterward was even more funny: “The sea was angry that day, like an old man trying to return soup at a deli…”

    But Kramer wins the faux-manliness title for the episode with his egregious bon mot about his golf ball, thoughtlessly struck into the sea, lodged in the whale’s blowhole, retrieved by George, presented accusingly by George at the conclusion of the tale, when Kramer ends the episode with, “A hole in one!”