The Masculinity Revelation (part 1 of 6)
One of my ongoing endeavors has been studying and learning the aspects of masculinity. I’m not the only one to do so. Smarter men, and more prolific writers and bloggers than I have attempted to do the same. I’ve never wanted to simply rehash the work of other people; I’ve wanted to add my own perspectives to the knowledge base.
Masculinity is difficult to pin down, and intelligent discourse is even more difficult. When it comes to masculinity, people hold tons of hidden assumptions, and hold many hidden agendas. A person needs to get past these assumptions and agendas to truly understand masculinity. You can’t really trust a definition provided by somebody with an agenda. Instead, I believe a male needs to experience a process of learning what masculinity is for himself. These are my efforts to do so, and I’m sharing them with you hoping you find them useful on your journey.
A while back I wrote this article on the nature of masculinity and femininity. The article describes the premise that masculinity and femininity are related as complementary opposites, a concept that is mostly misunderstood in western cultures. Although that premise is important, the previous article never took a stand as to what masculinity actually is. The time has arrived to correct that omission.
Recently at a men’s retreat in Nashville, I was presented with a revelation on masculinity (and femininity). That revelation grew and expanded over the next several days until things became clear for me. The speaker lifted the veil and revealed an answer to the question, “what is masculinity?” After that, things started to fall into place. This new article is the first of several parts to walk you through the thought process behind that revelation. I hope it helps you as much as the revelation did me.
If you’re a feminist, or even fluid in your gender role, you should still find this series of articles educational. Of course, an open mind and growth mindset are important. The revelation unfolds one step at a time, so there’s a good chance your criticisms will pop up before I get to them. Be patient. Keep an open mind. Feel free to comment. I also recommend you read the previous article for background, as it provides important information for later aspects.
The revelation unfolds in this order:
- Part 1 defines masculinity;
- Part 2 defines femininity, based on complementary opposites;
- Part 3 addresses balance in life and roles;
- Part 4 addresses the role of masculinity and femininity in a modern world with fluid gender roles;
- Part 5 suggests how proper balance works towards better sex;
- Part 6 explores how to use your masculinity to be a better person;
Now let’s get started…
Part 1: I Don’t Know Much About Masculinity, But I Know What I Like
People will argue about individual facets of masculinity all day long. In fact, psychologists, wannabe gurus and bloggers do so all the time. There are seemingly never-ending discussions and arguments over key characteristics of the masculine archetype, such as strength, courage, leadership, integrity, confidence, intensity, physicality etc. If experts have trouble, how can the rest of us sort this out?
You don’t need a degree in art appreciation to know what art you like and don’t like. Similarly, you don’t need a degree in men’s studies, psychology or anthropology to understand masculinity. Masculinity might be difficult to pin down, but people tend to recognize it without a formal definition. When people see an example of masculinity in the real world, people will have a gut feel for masculinity’s presence. A person might or might not choose to like what they see, but they will recognize masculinity. Similarly, when people see masculinity sorely lacking in a place they would expect to see it, they have a gut feel for its absence. Let’s use that as a starting point. Let’s start with what our guts tell us and examine some common examples where we feel masculinity’s presence.
Who Are the Masculine Role Models?
Who are the masculine archetypes, or the masculine role models nowadays? You probably have some personal masculine role models in your own life. I doubt anybody else reading this blog would recognize them though. Instead, who is well-known that we can use as examples? We have sports heroes, actors, soldiers and a whole lot of fictional characters we can possibly look at.
Sports and Masculinity
Let’s start with the sports heroes. Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Peyton Manning, are names from American football that you might recognize and admire for being masculine. Perhaps Conor McGregor stands out as particularly masculine to you, or perhaps Roy Keane. Michael Jordan, Lebron James, Kevin Durant, Roger Federer, Andre Agassi are all great players in their fields who also appear masculine.
For that matter, anybody who plays sports professionally will generally have a high degree of masculinity associated with them. Masculinity and sports seem to go together.
Actors and Masculinity
Actors like Sean Connery, George Clooney, Harrison Ford, Liam Neeson and others might evoke masculinity for some of you. If you’re older, perhaps Clint Eastwood, Steve McQueen, or even John Wayne were symbols of masculinity. Even Richard Burton, Cary Grant or Errol Flynn exemplify masculinity if you like older films.
Military and Masculinity
Soldiers are harder to identify, as they don’t get the fame nowadays like sports or movie stars. Perhaps George S. Patton, or Audie Murphy come to mind. You might even recognize Pat Tillman, or Salvatore ‘Sal’ Giunta as masculine role models from the military.
Let’s face it, any Medal of Honor recipient is an example of masculinity. Anybody who willingly takes up arms to protect their country is probably a masculine role model.
Oddly enough, fictional characters can be good examples of masculinity. The creators of the characters have the ability to merge all the stereotypes of masculinity into a character for the movie screen. The more masculine actors get to play them. The fictional characters we admire provide a view into our social psyche of what we consider masculine. Any of the characteristics of masculinity can be combined in myriad ways to create an inspiring character.
So who might be some masculine exemplars in the fictional worlds? For the Star Wars fans, perhaps Hans Solo (played by Harrison Ford), Yoda, and Obi Wan Kenobi are masculine models. Even Darth Vader is masculine in his own way. For the Star Trek fans, we have Captains Kirk and Picard. In the Marvel Cinematic Universe, we have Tony Stark, Thor, Odin and of course Captain America. Let’s not forget Nick Fury, Phil Coulson, and Hawkeye. The MCU is jam packed with masculine role models.
We can step into other genres too. Clint Eastwood has a history of playing masculine roles (Josey Wales, Harry Callahan) as does John Wayne. Liam Neeson is famous for his portrayal of Bryan Mills in the Taken movies. If your girlfriend dragged you off to see 50 Shades of Grey, you might even recognize Christian Grey as a masculine role model. He’s especially a kind of masculinity that women fantasize about.
I could go on and on.
What Can We Determine From These Examples?
I’ve probably missed your favorite masculine role model or character. There’s just too many of them. There’s the problem for the psychologists, gurus and bloggers. There are dozens, perhaps hundreds, of characteristics to be identified among these many masculine role models. You can take these characteristics, slice them, dice them, juxtapose them, rearrange and sort them. You still won’t have defined the archetype of masculinity. Perhaps IBM Watson could sort them out, but even Watson is only as good as the rules that humans program in to it.
Examining and inventorying the many detailed characteristics has not yielded a consistent view of masculinity. Perhaps this has been the wrong approach. I believe the trick here is to abstract upwards to the higher level characteristics. That’s where the revelation comes in.
What Ties These Role Models Together?
What do all these role models have in common? What abstract concept do they all embody? The sportsmen win games. The soldiers protect their homelands. The starship captains save the galaxy. The superheroes protect mankind. What do they have in common?
Therein lies the revelation that was laid in front of me and a group of other like minded men by Dr. Robert Glover, a foremost expert on men, masculinity and relationships. When asked, “What is masculinity?”, he didn’t have to think about it. His immediate answer:
“Masculinity equals mastery.”
Whether they are real or fictional, the popular masculine role models seem to start with one very basic trait in common: they exhibit mastery. To simplify this slightly more, they make stuff happen. Comedian Larry the Cable Guy would say, “Git ‘er dun!” That’s right, a comedian whose schtick was a parody of masculinity hit the nail on the head.
Masculine role models get stuff done, even if they struggle at it. They get stuff done, even if they’re total douche bags when they do it. They get stuff done, even if we despise them for it.
Getting stuff done is the most obvious evidence of masculinity.
Mastery is the invisible ingredient behind the primary visible characteristic of masculinity, getting stuff done.
Addendum May 2018
As part of my efforts to engage with men on the subject of masculinity, I’ve discovered the phrase “masculinity equals mastery” can be confusing for some people. In a typical western society fashion, people tend to assume a precise symmetrical relationship; if masculinity = mastery, then mastery = masculinity. As we dive deeper into the subject, we’ll see the relationship is not symmetric. It might alleviate the confusion to say that masculinity is strongly linked to mastery, but mastery is loosely linked with masculinity. As we’ll see later, mastery is not restricted to masculinity.
Prove It by Looking at the Opposite
Let’s take quick look at the anti-masculine role models, the parodies of masculinity. They are all over TV and in the movies. I wrote about Matthew Perry in the recent remake of The Odd Couple. The humor of the show revolves around the failures of both characters, Oscar and Felix. Then there’s the TV show, Kevin Can Wait starring Kevin James. The character Kevin has assorted misadventures and comic failures. Also, Steve Carrel starred in the 40 Year Old Virgin, in which his character Andy failed to find a woman for, well, 40 years. For that matter, look at the extremely popular The Big Bang Theory. Despite being extremely intelligent characters, the four male leads (Leonard, Sheldon, Rajesh, Howard) pretty much fumble everything else in life. The other male characters, Stuart and Barry, are also parodies of masculinity. Stuart, in particular, is the epitome of the “sad sack” stereotype.
Do these representations of the male sex even remotely suggest masculinity? Would you emulate these guys?
I hope you answered “no” to both questions. The stereotype of the humorous male character is a bumbling, inept idiot. (Or in the case of the Big Bang Theory, bumbling Ph.D.s). Male characters are funny when they are incapable of making stuff happen. Failing to express mastery is a negative, even derogatory, characteristic of a male. That’s why the stereotype is funny.
How to be masculine
If you want to express masculinity, you need to be the antithesis of the comic male. In order to express your masculinity, you first need to learn how to get stuff done. You need to embody mastery.
Addendum April 2018
After discussion with other men about mastery, I’ve come to realize this concept can easily be misinterpreted. If you haven’t reached a level of performance in your area of expertise associated with a master skill level, you can still be considered masculine. Embodying mastery is an ongoing process, not an absolute metric of your abilities. Forget the 10,000 hours of practice to achieve world-class performance, unless that is your target. Your journey only needs to take you to the level of mastery associated with your needs, goals and aspirations.
Is masculinity toxic?
Masculinity is the expression of mastery, period. In fact, in almost all societies, people tend to revere mastery. Calling somebody a master craftsman, or a master sportsman, or a master anything is a great compliment. So no, masculinity itself is not toxic.
On the other hand, if somebody is a master assassin, a master thief, or a master…well, you can fill in the blank… then that person has been applying his masculinity / mastery in ways society judges to be “bad.” Where did things go wrong for them? In part 3, we’ll explore why the person exhibiting masculinity sometimes gives masculinity a bad rap.
What does it take to embody mastery? That’s a book unto itself. I have to admit, I’m still learning myself; that’s part of my journey. Nonetheless, here are some things to consider.
You first need to know what you want to make happen. Whether you want to get a date, get a divorce, change your life, or change the world, you need to understand what you want. Then you have to pay deliberate attention, even relentless focus, to achieving your goal.
If you want to embody mastery, you need to focus your attention on what you want to make happen.
It Takes Skills to Make Stuff Happen
The real masculine role models develop and improve themselves continually; you don’t see that side of them very often. They acquire knowledge, and perfect skills to make themselves better. They focus on internal qualities necessary to achieve their specific goals. If you want to express your masculinity, you need to do the same. Improve your knowledge of the areas affecting your goals. Develop your skills in the areas affecting your goals.
If you want to make stuff happen, you will need to practice and deliberately improve your skills to achieve your goals.
Resilience, or “grit”
Have no doubt about this: life is going to throw up impediments to making your stuff happen. You will suffer set backs. The masculine role models have developed an internal mindset enabling them to deal with setbacks and impediments. This is often called a growth mindset. It means that you understand your skills and capabilities can always be improving. It means you understand that setbacks are learning experiences. It means you brush yourself off and try again.
In order to express your masculinity, you will need to develop this mindset and build resilience.
You Need to Seek Out Advice to Make Stuff Happen
If you’re going to develop your knowledge and skills, you need to consult with the experts. The great tennis players have coaches, even though they play alone. Other sports greats have their own personal coaches too, above and beyond the team coach. Even if you simply want to be rich, you’ll need a financial coach. These coaches provide a degree of knowledge and analysis that you simply can’t perform on your own.
If you want to make stuff happen, you need to find a coach to take you to a higher skill level.
It Takes Sacrifice to Make Stuff Happen
Between the focus, the practice, the mindset and the coaching, you’re going to be using up a lot of your own time and resources. Something has to give to make way for mastery. Perhaps it’s the afternoon naps on weekends, or the beers with your buddies. Maybe it’s the easy, simple pleasures you’ve become used to. You need to prioritize your goals over the less productive parts of your life. You can’t embody mastery while also embodying sloth, laziness and inattention. You won’t be exercising your skills if you’re continually enjoying fun and games.
If you want to be masculine, there are going to be sacrifices involved.
Conquer Your Fears
If masculinity and mastery are new concepts to you, achieving them probably will take you outside your comfort zone. For most people, that’s a fearsome place to explore, even if they don’t recognize their fears. The fear might be real fear, or even moderate resistance to stepping outside the comfort zone. You’ll need to take a look at those fears and get over them before you can make stuff happen.
If you want to achieve mastery, you need to conquer the big and little fears that stop you.
Addendum May 2018
You might notice one thing missing from this list: forcing accomplishments to happen. Mastery is a discipline of learning and applying skills to get stuff done. Using a sledge hammer to pound in a nail might make things happen, but skips the development of skill and ignores the necessary knowledge to do things properly. Applying force might move mountains and large boulders, it might damn rivers and it just might get things done, but applying force when it is not needed is not mastery.
Putting This All to Work
Remember those detailed masculine characteristics the so called experts like to debate? They’ve missed a key point: strength, courage, leadership, integrity, confidence, intensity, physicality are all variations of the skills and mindsets needed to achieve mastery. Let’s accept that mastery is the key characteristic and gives rise to all the others.
A blog post can only begin to address the detailed skills, mindsets and habits to achieve mastery and masculinity. Real actionable steps can’t be described in a few paragraphs. On the other hand, I can point you in the same direction I’m learning to go and offer up tips.
So what’s the first step towards mastery and masculinity?
The psychologists, bloggers and gurus generally agree on the first step. The first step is to exhibit mastery over yourself and your health. You can’t embody mastery if there is no “you” with a “body” to contain it. Are you fit? Are you healthy? Do you eat healthy foods and minimize the junk foods? Do you move and get exercise? If not, set your health goal, learn the skills, get a health coach of some type, and make it happen. Voila! You’ve exhibited your first step towards mastery.
From there, start to exercise mastery over your environment. You’ll find that everything from your bedroom to your office not only represent your attitudes and mindset but also feed back and reinforce your own sense of self. A messy house equals a messy mind!
Master yourself, master your environment, and then the sky’s the limit!
So what is masculinity? With Dr. Glover’s inspiration, I’ll say that masculinity is a set of observable characteristics of a person who embodies the mindset and skills associated with mastering one’s self and achieving one’s goals and desires.
That’s just a fancy way of saying masculine people know what they want, figure out how to get it, and then “git ‘r dun”.
We’ll need to understand this definition to understand the rest of the series. In particular, understanding femininity is up next.