On Masculinity

As is now expected, whenever something tragic happens, everyone takes out their favorite axe and starts grinding it.  It's as sad as it is predictable.  And, of course, it rarely intersects with the harsh reality of our world.

Today's object lesson is a recent shooting.  No, not the one Myrtle Beach, and no, not the one in Belgium.  I'm talking about  Elliot Rodger's recent rampage where he stabbed three people to death, shot three others to death, and injured several others with wild shooting and reckless driving.

In some circles, a lot has been made of his apparent activity in the Men's Rights Movement.  Men's Rights is a tricky thing.  Like most everything else, it can't be distilled down into a caricature, despite how much people want to.  Yes, a lot of it is socially awkward losers, but there are also some aspects of it that are worth considering (such as suicide rates for men or visitation rights).  The problem is that, like most fringe groups, the lunatics are often running the asylum.

Rodger was also a member of something called PUAhate, which I only partially understand.  PUA stands for Pick Up Artist.  Think of it as "The Rules" but for men.  As near as I've been able to figure, PUAhate seems to be a collection of failed pick up artists who are now bitter.  Of course, if they'd just treat women like people, this problem would probably go away.

Anyway, all of this has led certain dark corners of the internet to hold this up as a prime example of The Problem With Masculinity.  Some are even saying that his associations are proof that masculinity is a destructive force that must be destroyed.  Nothing could be further from the truth.

What seems to be misunderstood here is that MRA and PUA and The Game and all that nonsense is not masculinity.  The 1950's caricature of smacking your wife around if she gets lippy isn't masculinity.  Frat Boy "culture" isn't masculinity.  These knuckledraggers, and the tumblr activists that scream about them, have no idea of what masculinity is.

Masculinity is three things: Self Reliance, Strength, Self Sacrifice

Think about "manly" things.  No, not getting drunk and banging a sorority girl, but truly manly items and occupations.

Motorcycles: it's a symbol of Self Reliance
Cowboys: Self Reliance and Strength
Firefighters: Strength and Self Sacrifice
Astronauts: Self Reliance and Strength
Soldiers: Strength, but they get medals for Self Sacrifice
Ninjas/Pirates: Self Reliance and Strength
Fixing Your Own Damn Car: Self Reliance and Strength

In this model, Strength has dual meanings.  It's primarily physical strength, but it's also mental fortitude, intestinal fortitude, and stoicism.  That's why Never Crying is considered manly.

I would also argue that while Self Reliance and Strength are certainly very important aspects of masculinity, it's Self Sacrifice that is possibly the biggest part.  The peak of masculinity, the goal to which manly men strive is to be A Hero.  And nine times out of ten, being A Hero requires sacrifice: the firefighter who charges into a burning building, the soldier diving onto a grenade to save his comrades, etc.

The Von Hoffmann Brothers published a somewhat tongue-in-cheek book back in 1997 called The Big Damn Book Of Sheer Manliness.  While this is hardly a serious book, it's still mostly accurate in many ways (perhaps in spite of itself).  But, in between the ruminations on girly playing cards, beef jerky, and WD-40 (although WD-40 falls under Self Reliance) there's quite a bit of good stuff in there.  In fact, the giant list of Manly Movies is chock full of films that represent the three tenants I've listed, and many of them feature all three points.

Being a man, being masculine isn't about destruction.  It isn't about putting women in their place.  It isn't about notches on your bed post.  It's about self reliance, personal strength, and sacrifice.  When there's a problem, you take it upon your own broad shoulders and solve it, no matter how much you'd rather do something else, or you'd rather let someone else do it.

And, incidentally, that is why men prefer to be the primary breadwinner.  It's ingrained.  It has nothing to do with keeping their wife sequestered in the home.  It's about being the one who earns the money (Self Reliance), having the endurance to work however many hours it takes (Strength), and being willing to be a stranger in your own home if it means your family is provided for (Self Sacrifice).  It's not that we want to be martyrs or that we're hoping for a pity party.  It's how we're wired.

So no, brave hashtag warriors, the world doesn't need less masculinity.  It needs more.  What it needs less of is spoiled wonks who don't know the difference between being a man and being a sad poseur.

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