The Art of Masculinity in the Modern World: Is the Manly Man Still Relevant?
Spoiler alert: YES!
Men are under a lot of pressure today.
They are under a tug-of-war and it’s up to them to put an end to the game.
On the one side, there is an army of (mostly) male figures who want to keep the status quo. The traditionally masculine man who wants to keep the world upholding the same ideals that have been at play for centuries.
On the other hand, the world is already changing and there’s no way to stop the ball from rolling. Another large group of (mostly) women, but also more and more men, are asking the traditional masculine to become less stuck in their ways and more adapted to the times.
What’s the everyday man supposed to do? Both these sides are loud, opinionated, and are trying to push their own agenda, whether it’s honest and truthful or not.
Of course, nobody is a blank slate. Men come in with the teachings of their fathers (who were most likely traditional men). They also come in with peer pressure, the opinions of the group, and their own personal mind on the matter.
All the while they keep taking sips of a pretty unsavory cocktail of opposing views, wondering which side to take.
They bring traditional masculinity out into the world and they see it no longer works. But still, their peers tell them it’s the right thing to do.
That’s where the conflict happens.
And that’s where the frustration, anxiety, and anger at the world also come in. They’re at a loss: what to choose?
But what if you could have them both? Is that an option?
Let me tell you why that’s possible, with nothing but a little tweak in perspective.
Before everything, men need to know there is not only one way to being a man. And there is not only one way of being happy as a man.
If you’re trapped between various aspects of masculinity and you don’t know what to choose, you don’t need to be.
You can absolutely be masculine without being toxic.
And you can be the modern man while also being traditional.
The only thing you need to let go of is the toxic aspects of masculinity.
Not masculinity itself.
So where do we draw the line between masculine, toxic, and traditional?
1. Protector vs. guardian
A masculine man wants to protect those he loves and those he deems in need of protection.
The toxic man does too, but his protection quickly turns into abuse.
That’s where the confusion is. People imagine toxic masculinity as being always abusive. But that’s false. It usually starts as an act of love.
The toxic also wants to protect what he loves, but if the protected rejects his efforts, he turns abusive.
Also, he uses protection as an exchange of services. He asks for obedience for his protection. So he is actually protecting others from the problems he himself might create.
My cousin married one of those mob guys. He is the typical abuser who considers himself very manly. He is a former fighter, has huge muscles, always hangs out with the guys, cheats on his wife every chance he gets, and doesn’t let her work. Presumably to protect her.
I live about 10 minutes away from them and I’ve never felt I needed the protection of a huge man to keep me indoors for my own sake.
Sounds like he would be doing that for his own sake.
I never needed to pay for that presumed protection with my freedom.
2. Confidence vs. aggression and leadership vs. dominance.
I hear a lot of toxic men saying they want to ‘dominate’ the world. They want to crush it, smash it, destroy it.
These words are used about both business and sex and they say a lot about where that person is coming from. And that place is toxic.
Only other people who are into crushing and destroying will be impressed by this attitude. Women scoff at it. Employees meet it with eye rolls. Society at large is unfazed.
Literally, nobody is impressed with aggression and dominance but other bros who think they’re going somewhere with it.
But everybody is impressed with a man who is confident, assertive, not afraid to speak his own mind, able to lead people towards success in a supportive manner, and willing to build with others for a common goal.
Look at the image of Putin and Zelensky. And think of when the Russian war in Ukraine started.
Do you remember how many women were instantly head-over-heels with Zelensky, the protector of his country, who stands strong in front of external aggression?
Whether you think that’s true or not is not the issue here. This is the image that was put forward and that is the image that the world fell in love with.
All while Putin was projecting a toxic masculine image: aggressive, bully, riding wild animals bare-chested, blank-faced, destroyer, smasher, crusher.
And who did the women fall for? His opposite! The man who is constantly wearing a kaki T-shirt, loves his family, and stands up to bullies to protect what he loves.
Let that sink in.
3. Calm vs. denial
A feature that is considered highly masculine is remaining calm in stressful situations. Which is great. He who takes control of his emotions is better at life than anyone else.
Unfortunately, it’s also considered highly masculine to pretend you have no emotion. That’s where the toxic seeps in.
Whether you like it or not, you have feelings.
When you try to stuff them down, they come out in inappropriate ways, like breaking somebody’s jaw because his nostrils flare when he talks to you (or insert any other reason here).
Walking around with your chest all puffed up pretending nothing can touch you is not fooling anyone. Everybody can tell because everybody else has feelings and they know you have them too.
However, this is not men’s fault. Men have been taught since forever that feelings are weakness and weakness is bad.
It’s a useful tactic in times of war, famine, and general hardship, when humans are in survival mode. That’s when the last things you need are your feelings, preventing you from running away from wild animals because you’re busy crying over a squashed daisy.
But what works in times of war doesn’t work in times of peace.
Survival mode is counterproductive to happiness.
That’s why so many men are utterly unhappy.
These are just a few examples of how masculinity can turn toxic, but actually, there’s a big distinction between the 2.
Here are some traits that are considered desirable masculinity:
And some traits that are considered toxic masculinity:
violence, aggression, and domination
intolerance of others who are seen as weak
sexual harassment in various degrees
entitled inequality in the workplace
As you can see, they’re not the same. Not even close.
But toxic masculinity has been paraded as natural masculinity for centuries. It has affected women, men, children, and society as a whole.
It’s not just the women. Men are harder on other men than they are on anyone else.
And it finally reached a point when it’s no longer tolerated, no longer efficient, and just plain inappropriate.
But because it’s a time of change, people don’t yet know where they belong.
They’re trying to grab onto the new but still not letting go of the old.
Transformations are hard. And they take sacrifices.
But the only thing we need to sacrifice is toxicity. Not masculinity.
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