There have been a lot of articles written lately, I have noticed, on the subject of manhood—specifically, the dearth of what the writers fondly call “real men.” A few days ago someone I know shared an article citing Ray Romano as the embodiment of what’s wrong with modern men. Just this morning I was linked to another article about “Why Men Aren’t Really Men Anymore.”
These are just instances in a long line of recent articles about how the paradigm of manhood is changing. I find the topic to be absolutely fascinating, and I’d like to take this opportunity to see if I can contribute in some small way to the conversation. So with that in mind:
Dear people who write articles calling for a return to the “real manhood” of the old days: Fuck you.
Articles like this infuriate me, because they’re so close to hitting on a fundamental truth…and at the same time, they’re so far away.
The fact is, there are two critical, necessary ingredients to being a “real man.” The first is power, confidence, potence, badassery, Alpha. The manhood that makes you somebody that nobody fucks with. This is the aspect of manhood to which so many people seem to be calling for a return.
The Coldbomb article above identifies Don Draper and Tony Soprano as alternatives to Ray Romano. But the same article goes on to say, “Still, if you get past Tony’s tendency to murder loved ones and friends as a matter of convenience, and Don’s massive identity theft that has rendered his whole life a lie…” as though these are not critical parts of these characters’ identity. This doesn’t work. It’s definitely unfortunate when modern men seem to emulate Ray Romano, but murderers and thieves aren’t exactly ideal archetypes of masculinity either.
There is a second characteristic that is required to be a “real man,” and that characteristic is kindness, sensitivity, compassion, Beta. These qualities are typically mentioned in the articles, but only ever in passing—and some articles specifically cite them as signs of weakness, things to be looked down upon.
The fact is, no matter how much of a pathetic sad-sack of a man Ray Romano’s character may be…he’s a compassionate, sensitive, loving husband who genuinely cares for his family. He’s not a masculine ideal—I get it. But neither is Tony Soprano. BOTH of them are incomplete examples of manhood. The Coldbomb article acknowledges this—lamenting the lack of any kind of complete masculine ideal in media.
To be a real man, you have to be BOTH of these things—compassionate and powerful, confident and sensitive, Alpha and Beta. That is the ONLY way to be a real man, and anything else falls short of the masculine ideal. Having power and confidence without compassion and sensitivity makes you a douchebag. Having sensitivity and compassion without power and confidence makes you a sad-sack.
The reason why we keep seeing all of these articles coming out lately is because we’re undergoing a slow shift in the paradigm of modern manhood, away from Alpha and towards Beta.
Whenever a shift like this happens, you always see people who lament the direction things are going and wish we could go back to the way things were. That’s exactly what these articles are doing. But reality check time—the way things were was seriously fucked up, and we’re STILL massively wrapped up in it. We’re still deeply enmeshed in misogyny and patriarchy. This tiny, slight move towards a more “Beta” archetype of modern manhood has people so freaked out that they’re desperately writing articles about how to bring back the way things used to be.
But that’s not the way it works. We’re moving away from one flawed model of manhood, and towards another. The All-Beta sad-sack is a broken archetype of manhood, and not one we should be holding up as an ideal…but so is the All-Alpha douchebag.
What makes me angry is that as a society, we’re moving away from being douchebags and towards being sad-sacks…and all anyone can write about is how we need to go back to the good old days of douchebaggery.
Fuck that. That’s not what being a Real Man is.
A “real man” has the balls to go up and talk to a woman he thinks is attractive…but a Real Man has the balls to politely leave her own when she indicates she isn’t interested. A “real man” won’t back down from a fight…but a Real Man knows how to end a fight safely, and knows how to leave his opponent a way to exit gracefully. A “real man” has power…a Real Man knows how to exercise it responsibly.
Let’s see some articles about that, hm?
7 thoughts on “To Those Concerned About “Real Men””
I think if you had taken a closer read of my post (which you so elegantly trash above), you would see we are basically saying the same thing. And you also missed the bigger, over-reaching point of my piece, which is anything but an attempt, as you say to lament “the loss of ‘real manhood’ in modern society.”
My post was aimed at showing how mainstream media portrayals of manhood and masculinity skew what the reality is. But it was easier for you to write your tough guy post telling me to fuck off if you skewed the argument I was trying to make to suit your needs, rather than presenting it in its entirety.
Hopefully, your readers will take the time to read and understand my post, as you clearly did not. That said, thanks for the link.
Frankly, I’m honored to have caught your attention in the first place. I struggled with the language, which I regret now—but if it’s a mistake then I will hold on to the integrity to leave it up rather than editing.
I agree with you unreservedly on the dearth of masculine role models in media, and how that lack affects us as a society. It is clear from your writing that your intention isn’t actually to hold up Tony Soprano or Don Draper as an actual male ideal, so I do believe an edit is in order there. I have unthinkingly lumped your message into a larger cultural movement that I realize it wasn’t intended to be a part of.
My thanks for taking the time to address me directly. A Real Man thinks before writing. :P
“Dear people who write articles lamenting the loss of “real manhood” in modern society: Fuck you.”
Nice post. I like you.
I suspect that throughout time, the man who makes friends easily has always fared better than the brutal loner.
The old-timey view of “real men” has gone away because those old times have also gone away. Even as little as a hundred years ago, even in major cities, it wasn’t unreasonable to expect to have to fight for one’s life in a very literal sense; moreso if one lived in a rural area. “Manliness” was about having useful strength, and the uses this was applied to generally involved fighting or lifting/pulling something heavy, tasks for which women (on average) are poorly suited.
The yearning for these archaic old times comes from our need for exposition. The behaviors of our predecessors give us a model for action that we apply to our current lives, and for most of human history that model has consistently been useful. Of course, the modern era – at least in most first-world countries – has removed the need to be ready for a fight at almost any given moment, and certainly has reduced the need for raw power to till the fields or work awful conditions in some factory somewhere.
People pine for Ye Olden Days due, at least in part, to Grass Being Greener syndrome, those damn dastardly fences. The assumption being that if we could only behave as our fathers and grandfathers and great-grandfathers did we’d have an easier time of it, that life would be simpler and straightforward. It’s easy to build that narrative, just like it’s easy to be macho and cocksure.
Applause. Thank you, sir!
Couple things, first off, Hi Casey, how’s it going?
Second, I tend to find that anyone who starts talking about “real [enter noun here]” and the dearth of those [noun]’s in modern society’s media portraits seem to be looking at [noun’s archtype and nature] through any one of a series of either Jade/Rose/Chartreuse -colored glasses or a serious Nostalgia Filter. I was having a conversation like this a few weeks ago, and there was a certain bemoaning of the lack of “hero” types in modern movies and et cetera like you used to see in the Conan Universe of Robert E. Howard. Specifically about how he treated people and in slightly more specific ways, how he treated people possessing two X-Chromosomes. The issue is that society’s perception of virtue has changed from those so-called “good old days” and so watching/reading a tale of a overly-muscled shirtless man running about murdering every man and fucking every woman can be fun it’s no longer seen by the majority of society as a viable Hero Archtype … at least that’s my perception of the thing.
And lastly, if I had to point out by your above-mentioned definitions a character in current popular fiction who exemplified the qualities of a “real man” I’d have to go with Michael Westen from Burn Notice, a flawed character who certain lives up to the Alpha aspect, but can also be seen through his interactions with his friends, his family, the Client Of The Week, and Fi to have the Beta, or soft skills as well. (it’s entirely possible though that I’m only thinking of this because I spent most of last night watching Burn Notice so I may be a little fixated there)
All having been said, I hold as my opinion, and an opinion that comes from only 1 cup of coffee this morning so take of that what you will.