On Manliness

I like to think of myself as a feminist, and I recognize that gender roles are harmful. That said, I still feel there might be room for some sort of “manliness” as a concept, if not under that name. This is up for debate, of course, since I recognize I’m subject to privilege-induced blindness. I’m thinking out loud so I can mull over and refine concepts.

The ironic thing is that I think feminism has raised the bar for mangrit, at least as far as I estimate it. The result for me is that the men who whine about women not being “feminine” by their standards are having their lack of “masculinity” exposed. If anything, the old definition of femininity as submissive and passive had a once-hidden backlash on masculinity: It’s produced a lot of snivelers who can’t deal with women as adults, on equal terms. Feminism encourages women to be strong in character, and I like that. I want higher standards, and I think having strong women in a society also helps encourage men to be strong.

The suppression of women was a handicap that kept misogynists from seeing how weak they really are. In a way, they were too busy fostering the appearance of “manliness” through the shallow trappings they forgot the core of growing into adulthood. The men who whine about feminists, throw out red herrings about their equipment size, accuse people of being trans, gay, or even just girly, and so on are being profoundly unmanly in my estimation because they neglect that core of maturity. It doesn’t matter how much muscle they have, how many triple baconators they eat, if they got six touchdowns in a single game, or if they pilot mecha powered by fighting spirit. It’s pointlessly hurtful. It’s defensive and weak. It’s intolerant. It’s speaks of an unearned sense of entitlement. It’s childish. That sort of thing puts my estimation of their mangrit into negative numbers, and the tough guy talk about athleticism and sexual prowess looks like a transparent attempt to hide from a sense of inadequacy, rather than a sincere expression of identity.

Moving on, to the core internal debate I’m having, is “manliness” as I’m attempting to define it just a cis-male-specific term for maturity or adulthood? Is it really necessary? Is it useful? Is there a better term that doesn’t implicitly diminish other, valid forms of adulthood? (Probably.) There are men out there who are “effeminate,” and I don’t want to imply disrespect, since I know intentions aren’t magically broadcast in words. I also don’t want to imply that being feminine is necessarily opposite or lesser. The same with androgyny and concepts that don’t align with the “classic” spectrum of male to female. Different people express themselves in different ways.

I’ve shifted my vocabulary and tropes before, and I know I’ll end up doing it again. Might as well be ready to discuss it.

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6 responses to “On Manliness

  1. I also think there is probably some value in the term manliness, even if the path towards clarifying it runs straight through a minefield. I see it as a subset of humanness, which is also rather nebulous, and certainly needs some poetic license around the edges.

    And I suspect that even without all the entrenched power structures and cultural elements that suppress and hurt women, that maybe men have a kind of biological bias towards acting like a bunch of fucking idiots. I think I can reasonably claim to being towards the “very sensitive” end of the scale when it comes to listening to women, but I know how terrible at listening I used to be, in spite of that; and I know how much conscious and deliberate effort it took to learn how to listen. I think it’s just all too easy for a man to say, basically, “I’m stronger than you and I don’t want to hear that. Shut up.”

    And when I look at the way religious men attack women, I also strongly suspect their hatred is indeed driven by sexual fear. Same with the misogynists in the atheist community. All this sexual aggression they come out with makes me think they’re scared of even trying to satisfy a woman sexually. Or they bullishly insist they can and have done, and will do again as long as they’re allowed to continue groping them at conferences. They’re terrified of anything that might make them slow down and become more aware of their insecurities.

    Okay, that’s enough troll bait for now I guess!

  2. For my part, I don’t think the concept “manliness” really deserves saving. Well, as a living parody of itself it’s probably fine, as long as its a parody of ITSELF and not actually attacking “unmanly” peoples.

    There are a few good things we can sift out of that term and use by themselves, applicable to all. Stoicism is a big part of the typical “manly” image, as well as “work ethic”. Those are things that can be taken as goods, or at least potential goods to the right personality types. Not everyone can or should be stoic, someone’s got to complain about things to get things to change. Then there’s plain ol’ being a big toughie. Well, that’s more part of the “beyond the impossible” parody aspect, but in the right circumstances, hopefully very rare, they could be valuable I suppose.

    At any rate, we can consider all those aspects applicable to everyone, and I think at the same time worth separating out instead of getting all mixed together.

  3. Is there such a thing as womanliness? If there is i’m not sure how i’d describe it, same as manliness.
    All I know is that i’ve had ‘manliness’ described to me by girlfriends and I was glad at the time that they thought I had some. Depends on the context in which it is used.
    I’m all for equality, as long as if you want it, you remember to give it.

  4. well, what terms do you associate with manliness? I’d venture: strong, aggressive, courageous, responsible, stoic (or epicurean if you dig the Falstaff type), etc. Perfectly fine words without assigning them to chromosomes.

  5. Its probably for the best. Skipping around the community sites in the past week, I’ve found that there’s been some very bizarre stuff going on when I wasn’t looking. One idol after another seems to be losing their mind about this whole feminism thing. I recall Dawkins saying something stupid some time ago, which I commented on in the very thread he said it in (I haven’t bothered reading comments to Pharyngula in a long time though, I can’t put my finger on it but something about a number of those commenters, though their heart is in the right place, grates on me something fierce). I have no idea if Dawkins ever retracted the comment or apologized for it though. Thunderfoot appears to have completely imploded on himself and rededicated his mission statement to defending misogyny (which he is unable to recognize as such due to a rather different world view).

    In general, the whole situation just struck me as bizarre. How did so many sexist people get involved in atheism and skepticism? Well, the sad answer is that there’s just a lot of sexist people. I’ve managed to miss out on a lot of this due to, I think, my lack of interest in pursuing relationships beyond friendship. Even as a kid that scene in Revenge of the Nerds where one of the nerds dresses as Darth Vader to have sex with a popular girl without her knowledge struck me as, at the very least, sleezy, even if I didn’t have the knowledge to call it “rape” at the time. My dad at the time didn’t defend the actions so much as say that since it’s a comedy movie, more is “acceptable” there than would be in real life. Still didn’t strike me as particularly funny though.

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