Monday, October 5, 2015

Manhood: A Brief Reflection

Recently, folks in my corner of the blogosphere have been making merry sport of a self-help column in the New York Times that equates modern manhood with, among other things, the ability to use a melon-baller. And indeed, the widespread derision is wholly justified. Manhood is not defined by what you own or the music you enjoy. Manhood is something much greater.

First, to use an admittedly crude formulation, manhood is about owning your shit. As I frequently emphasize with my students, a true man recognizes his own agency. If he is unhappy with his circumstances, he does everything in his power to change things for the better -- and he does so without whinging, without disproportionate cruelty, and without inferring negative motives where none exist.

Second, manhood is about sticking up for the vulnerable and recognizing that with great power comes great responsibility. It's no accident that little boys immediately and almost universally imprint on comic book superheroes. Superman and Spiderman and all the rest represent the natural masculine ethos in its purest form.

Third, manhood is about problem-solving -- leavened with a little risk-taking and a whole lot of selflessness. This past Friday, I saw a fabulous fictional representation of this principle in the character of Mark Watney. The protagonist of The Martian does at times feel despair as the odds and the elements conspire against him. In the end, however, he buckles down and gets to work. "If I die," he says in a message later, "let [my parents] know that I died for something big and beautiful and greater than me." Watney wants to live -- but he also knows he's a small piece of a much larger puzzle.

Fourth - and most importantly of all - manhood is about virtue. All those copy-book headings about temperance and fortitude are just as relevant now as they were in the days of Kipling. Unfortunately, they are often ignored in favor of hipster consumerism and hashtag activism -- and young men, searching in vain for guidance and wise counsel, are left tragically bereft of both.   

ETA: Welcome, Instapundit readers! To answer two controversies that have arisen in the comments: 1) I used "whinge" deliberately. I picked it up from friends who live overseas, and I've always understood it to mean "to whine excessively for no good reason." 2) The necessity for kindness, I thought, is implied both in the point about protecting the vulnerable and in the point about maintaining one's virtue. But just to be clear, yes -- I do believe a true man is kind where kindness is warranted.


  1. Excellent brief article but as a writer you should never allow a word like "whining" to be misspelled.

    1. Whinging isn't a spelling error. "To whinge" means "To complain in a particularly annoying fashion." Look it up!

    2. Many, many thanks for informing me about "whinge." I can think of few words more valuable than it for describing many of the irritations of modern life. We are a whinging society.

      --Michael W. Perry, author of My Nights with Leukemia

    3. "Done too much of both types of whining" << The English Beat, a great line.

      Whinge -- cringeworthy whines of so many Democrats.
      Let's not call them "the Left", let's call them Democrats. Everything bad they're getting is because too many voters vote for Democrats.

      America won't be as great again until far fewer folk vote for them Dems.

    4. Whinging. British expression for complaining and carrying on.

  2. I'm not buying any Late Old German origin. It's clearly a portmanteau of "whine" and "cringe." I may be Modern for going there, but at least I'm late-old-German enough not to say the word out loud. Three times, in the forest at midnight, under full moon.

    More interesting origin: "Virtue" *literally* means manliness.

  3. masculinity: everything that femininity is not.

  4. Whinge is very much a word. Aussies had a common term "Whinging Pom" decades ago about British immigrants who would complain about everything.

  5. Well, Hillarious isn't going to send a Christmas card to you!