Self Help

No Man's Land Masculinity Maligned, Reimag

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Matheus Puppe

· 20 min read

Introduction: The author introduces three chapters that explore how masculinity has been maligned, reimagined, and misrepresented. He makes the chapters available for free online and thanks his editor Trevor Blake.

  1. No Man’s Land: The author describes a dystopian future where women rule over men that was imagined in 1940s science fiction. However, some contemporary writers argue that future is approaching based on trends showing boys struggling in school and work. Christina Hoff Sommers, Michelle Conlin, and Peg Tyre present evidence that boys face disadvantages and disengagement. The author observes some of these trends firsthand in a workshop with teen boys. Critics like Guy Garcia and Michael Kimmel argue men are dropping in value and postponing adulthood.

  2. “Reimagining Masculinity”: The author says masculinity has been reimagined as something that needs to be deconstructed and remade by feminists and pro-feminists. However, he argues their vision of a “new man” is flawed and such reconstruction is neither possible nor desirable. He explores how masculinity has been understood and defined, critiquing attempts to make it more feminine and politically correct.

  3. Misrepresenting Masculinity : The author argues that masculinity is often misrepresented in the media and pop culture. While masculine virtues like courage, mastery, and honor are admired, masculinity itself is frequently parodied, ridiculed, and blamed for society’s problems. At the same time, some criticize that masculine ideals are unrealistic and unattainable. The author says this leaves men with no clear path to understand themselves.

In summary, the three chapters explore the author’s view that masculinity has been maligned through a narrative of male decline and disadvantage; reimagined through attempts to reconstruct masculinity to align with feminist values; and misrepresented through inconsistent and conflicting portrayals in culture and media. The author aims to offer his own perspective on masculinity that addresses these issues.

  • By 2009, there was evidence that many young men were more interested in partying, casual sex and leisure activities than in education, work or relationships. Two events brought attention to this: 1) The Great Recession disproportionately affected men, leading to higher male unemployment. 2) A report showed women poised to make up over half the workforce, highlighting the rise of female breadwinners.

  • Some analysts argued this showed the “decline of men” or even “the end of men.” Women seemed to be succeeding while many men lacked direction or purpose.

  • However, the demands on men are contradictory. Women want men to compete with them at work but also cooperate at home. This creates “substantial tension.” Men have become “alienated from the means of reproduction” as well as production.

  • The rise of feminism, birth control, and state support for single mothers led to the breakdown of the traditional patriarchal family. Divorce allows women to control their families and cut men out. Many children now grow up in single-parent homes or with an absent father. Men have little role in reproduction and child-rearing.

  • American family structure has become matrilineal or matrifocal. Giving children the father’s last name is vestigial. Without the illusion of patriarchy, men might opt out of fatherhood and relationships altogether.

  • Critics argue men should just “man up.” But the old patriarchal system is gone. Telling men to adopt traditional roles won’t work. The new economy and society favor female traits. Reimagining masculinity to suit society won’t address the root issues.

  • Few solutions have been offered. Making schools more “boy-friendly” might help. But fundamentally the issue is societal changes have made the traditional male role obsolete, while still demanding men fill that role. This contradiction creates the “decline of men.” A new social system is needed that provides purpose and meaning for both sexes.

  • Animals in captivity suffer and are deprived of fulfilling their natural instincts and interests. Likewise, taming men and restricting them to civilized society has always been challenging. Providing outlets like sports, hobbies and adventure stories helps meet men’s needs for challenge and aggression.

  • Work used to be more physically demanding and engaging for men, satisfying their desires for purpose and competition. The industrial revolution and transition to service jobs made work less fulfilling, so men turned to vicarious and symbolic displays of masculinity.

  • Feminism convinced men to eliminate traditional sex roles to support women’s liberation and equality. But in practice, women maintained their own identities and organized to advocate for themselves, while men were left with little to define themselves.

  • Feminism promised androgyny but delivered female empowerment. Women gained new opportunities while men lost power and standing. Rapid social changes allowed this transfer of power to happen quickly, leaving men unprepared.

  • Some hope men will remake themselves after losing privilege, symbolized by the “Burning Man.” But men have been tamed into an unnatural captivity where they cannot fulfill their instincts, leaving them “world-sick, inwardly dead.” Women have expanded their roles, but men have only lost.

  • Feminism claimed to see men and women as merely human, but in reality told men to support women while women pursued their own interests. Men lost concrete privileges and standing, despite claims of egalitarianism.

The summary outlines how the argument portrays the relationship between men, society, and feminism. Men have lost meaning and purpose due to social changes, while feminism promised egalitarianism but delivered female empowerment at men’s expense. The essay argues this has left men trapped in a captivity where they cannot fulfill themselves.

  • The myth of a peaceful matriarchal prehistory is not supported by evidence. Humans and our hominid ancestors have a long history of male violence and aggression.

  • Calls for a “return” to a feminine system are misguided because there is no evidence such a system ever existed. While stereotypes should be challenged, males and females are biologically different.

  • The “new way of women” praises female empowerment and communication styles while downplaying physical differences. It relies on transferring power and opportunity from men to women.

  • The “new way of men” attempted to reimagine a peaceful, egalitarian masculinity compatible with feminist goals. Robert Bly’s Iron John tried to help men reconnect with a “wild man” in a harmonious way. However, Bly’s vision was criticized as sexist and lacked a realistic acknowledgement of violence and aggression.

  • Bly blamed industrialization for separating boys from masculine role models like their fathers. He tried to help men understand their “primal nature” but in a non-cruel way. However, Bly’s solutions seemed forced and lacked a realistic understanding of violence and conflict. His “inner warrior” was impotent, unable to actually make war.

  • According to Bly, if societies do not constructively channel aggressive “warrior energy,” it will manifest in destructive ways like violence and crime. But Bly’s own vision of the “inner warrior” never actually engages in conflict.

  • In summary, while the mythopoetic men’s movement and Robert Bly aimed to reimagine masculinity in a peaceful way compatible with feminism, their solutions lacked realism and staying power. Constructive visions of masculinity must acknowledge and channel men’s capacity for aggression and violence, not ignore it.

  • The “reimagined” masculinities promoted by Robert Bly, Sam Keen, Michael Kimmel, and others require men to deny their own interests in favor of helping women and minorities achieve their goals. These conceptions of masculinity have limited appeal because they do not address most men’s desire to improve their own lives and circumstances.

  • Feminists and pacifists promote an ascetic masculinity that requires men to restrain themselves and live passive, self-disciplined lives. While some intellectual men may find this appealing, most men will not passionately devote themselves to feminist causes or be willing to indefinitely put aside their own interests.

  • The equality that feminists advocate requires men to restrain themselves so that women can prosper and do whatever they want. Feminists demand equal outcomes and the diversion of resources away from men’s programs to women’s programs. This amounts to a soft discrimination against men. Feminism is not really about equality but rather serving women’s interests.

  • The “Men Going Their Own Way” (MGTOW) movement encourages men to serve their own interests rather than women’s interests. While still a fringe movement, many young men seem to be “going their own way” by not eagerly serving feminist goals. Young men see that society favors everyone but them, so they are becoming cynical and distrustful. Lectures telling them they need to help women achieve equality fall on deaf ears.

  • In summary, the reimagined masculinities promoted by feminists and pacifists require men to sacrifice their own interests to help women prosper. However, most men will not devote themselves indefinitely to causes that do not benefit them. Feminism claims to want equality but really promotes women’s interests over men’s. Many young men today are rejecting calls to help feminist causes and instead are “going their own way.”

  • Young men today are thinking more short-term and seeking instant gratification. They are less interested in long-term investment in relationships or careers.

  • Some men have adopted pick-up artist techniques to appear “alpha” and attract women for short-term relationships. Long-term relationships and marriage are seen as unlikely or unfulfilling by these men.

  • Changes in the “sexual economy” have made it easier for men to get sex without commitment. Birth control and financial independence of women have reduced the costs of premarital sex and out-of-wedlock births. Women demand less commitment from men in exchange for sex.

  • Studies show relationships today involve less romance, commitment, and dating. Sex is happening sooner, and many relationships are purely sexual with no emotional connection.

  • Although feminists say women want fair, egalitarian relationships, women seem to prefer stereotypically masculine “alpha” men over more egalitarian men. When women do get egalitarian men, they often end up unhappy or divorced.

  • As many men have struggled in the post-industrial economy, calls for men to “reimagine masculinity” have intensified. But feminists also insist that men “man up.” Men have been positioning themselves as a marginalized group to compete for grievance status.

  • Many see traditional masculinity as problematic, but there is no consensus on an alternative masculinity that also satisfies women. Demands for men to change seem more like punishment than a real solution.

The summary outlines how social and economic changes have enabled more superficial relationships and instant gratification for some men. At the same time, men have faced pressure to change traditional masculinity in ways that do not seem pragmatic or benefit them. There are conflicting and contradictory demands on men to be more sensitive and still “man up.”

The summary is:

Many have tried to redefine traditional masculinity to make it less “toxic” and more progressive. However, these attempts have failed to resonate with most men. Researchers and feminists pushing new models of masculinity have been surprised that men continue to care deeply about appearing traditionally masculine.

These reimaginings of masculinity have attempted to provide men a sense of masculine identity without actual power or authority. They promote domesticated, feminized versions of masculinity that women and feminists prefer, not what most men actually want. The new models of masculinity are designed more to manipulate men into compliant roles that benefit women, not to empower men.

The researchers and writers proposing new masculinities have been unable to conceptualize masculinity without invoking the same traditional masculine virtues (like strength, courage, mastery) that they are supposedly trying to challenge. Their clumsy attempts to tap into these masculine archetypes reveal that even they know most men are not interested in the emasculated roles they are selling.

The proliferation of these reimagined masculinities is a symptom of the general disempowerment of men. As the state and women have gained more authority in society, men have given up personal sovereignty. Reimagining masculinity is an effort to make men content with their subjugation by giving them simulated masculine identities without any real power or independence. But masculinity cannot be reduced to talking tough or gender-neutral “personhood.”

The hypocrisy of these new models is that they continue to judge and motivate men in the language of traditional masculinity, even after proposing that masculinity be redefined as something tamer and more feminine. Men see through these manipulative attempts to pacify them with pseudo-identities, and continue to care most about proving themselves in accordance with older masculine ideals. Masculinity is not something that can be redefined based primarily on the interests of women.

  • Displays of aggression in men are often portrayed as signs of insecurity and weakness in the media and popular culture. Masculinity is frequently pathologized.

  • Compared to what standard are men depicted as weak and insecure? Women spend billions annually on products and services aimed at improving self-image and confidence.

  • This biased view of masculinity has been present for a long time. References to outdated stereotypes of masculine men like John Wayne are still commonly used to critique masculinity.

  • To understand views of masculinity, it’s important to understand the assumptions and perceptions of those critical of traditional masculinity, like feminists. Their views are often informed more by stereotypes and cliches than thoughtful analysis.

  • Robert Brannon’s 1976 book “The Forty-Nine Percent Majority” put forth a model of American masculinity with four dimensions:

  1. No Sissy Stuff: Avoiding stereotypically feminine qualities.

  2. The Big Wheel: Success, status, and ambition.

  3. The Sturdy Oak: Toughness, confidence, and self-reliance.

  4. Give ‘Em Hell!: Aggression, violence, and daring.

  • Though the book is out of print, Brannon’s list remains influential and is frequently cited. It has shaped popular and academic ideas about masculinity.

  • Brannon believed social roles, like the male gender role, were primarily learned and culturally determined rather than biological. He relied on Margaret Mead’s flawed anthropological work to support this view.

  • Mead inaccurately portrayed the cultures she studied in New Guinea. The Arapesh were not as peaceful and feminine as she described. The neighboring Mundugumor were aggressive and warlike, not unusual traits.

  • In summary, Brannon’s influential model of masculinity and the perceptions of masculinity he helped shape rely more on stereotype and misinformation than fact. His work and the work of others critical of traditional masculinity should be viewed skeptically.

  • Margaret Mead portrayed the Mundugumor tribe as having males and females that were equally aggressive. However, given Mead’s tendency to see what she wanted to see and other data on human and ape behavior, her assertion is questionable.

  • Mead also described the Tchambuli tribe as having dominant, aggressive women and sensitive, artistic men. Deborah Gewertz did follow-up research and found this characterization to be an oversimplification. She found that the women had temporarily gained more influence due to historical circumstances, but that the men were working to regain dominance. This example shows that sex roles are not completely interchangeable or socially constructed.

  • Mead’s research was very influential and helped shift anthropology toward believing that culture and social roles primarily determine behavior (cultural determinism), rather than biology (biological determinism). Her accounts of tribes like the Arapesh, Mundugumor, and Tchambuli led her to famously conclude that masculine and feminine traits are largely cultural. However, later research has called her conclusions into question.

  • Derek Freeman criticized Mead for denying the importance of biology in her conclusions. He argued that she was ideologically motivated to find “negative instances” that seemed to prove cultural determinism. For example, her portrayal of Samoan culture as peaceful and easygoing contradicted most other accounts and seemed to be wishful thinking. Samoan culture actually placed great importance on rank, bravery, and war.

  • Like Mead, Brannon’s theories reflect wishful thinking and tell feminists what they want to hear. The idea that masculine sex roles can be completely rewritten is appealing but unrealistic. Both hard biological determinism and hard cultural determinism can reflect hubris and lead to harmful assumptions or policies. In reality, nature and nurture interact in human development.

  • In summary, evidence suggests Mead’s research was flawed and ideologically motivated. Brannon built on Mead’s questionable conclusions, and both researchers’ views appear to reflect an unrealistic belief in the power of culture to determine human behavior. A more balanced perspective recognizes the complex interplay between biological and cultural influences.

  • All cultures have different social roles and norms for men and women, but they are not entirely arbitrarily assigned or interchangeable. Biological sex influences the development of gender roles.

  • Attempts to redefine masculinity and gender roles are limited by human nature. Some aspects of traditional roles are resistant to change because they are rooted in human biology and evolution.

  • Universal or near-universal norms for males across cultures include dominance in the public sphere, greater aggression and violence, higher risk-taking, and higher mortality rates. These tendencies have an evolutionary basis and are selected for.

  • Three of Brannon’s four themes of traditional masculinity—the “Big Wheel,” the “Sturdy Oak,” and “Give ‘Em Hell”—reflect advice that would have been evolutionarily adaptive for males seeking to reproduce. They promote signaling high status, displaying strength and courage, and willingness to take risks and be aggressive.

  • Brannon’s criticism of the “No Sissy Stuff” theme was off-base. Concern for masculine reputation and honor is not equivalent to Hitler’s views. Some male avoidance of stereotypically feminine activities is due to accumulated cultural associations, even if the reasons are not always consciously understood.

  • Saying one is “secure in his masculinity” when breaking norms of masculinity is often a form of competitive signaling between men. It acknowledges the norms even as it claims to flout them.

In summary, while culture shapes the details of gender roles, biology constrains them. Masculine roles have evolutionary roots. And criticizing traditional masculine values often relies on rhetorical strategies that wrongly equate them with immorality or tyranny. Masculinity is a complex topic, and simplistic analyses should be viewed with skepticism.

  • There is nothing inherently masculine or feminine about doing household chores like washing dishes. However, cultural norms have traditionally associated dish washing with women’s work, so men are often reluctant to openly embrace or boast about doing dishes, even if they do their fair share at home.

  • Some male writers have criticized men for avoiding emotional expression and vulnerability, framing it as “emotional incompetence.” However, displaying vulnerability can be tactically disadvantageous for men in many contexts. Exposing vulnerabilities can signal weakness and leave a man open to manipulation or loss of status. Men have good reasons to be selective about with whom they share vulnerabilities.

  • Crying openly is seen as natural for women but a sign of weakness or defeat for men. A man who frequently cries in public is likely to lose status among other men. Men seek to ally with other high-status men who appear strong, courageous, and competent. Membership in high-status male groups provides benefits like desirable social connections, resources, and protection.

  • The push for boys to avoid “sissy stuff” and prove themselves as men is not just about differentiating from mothers or finding a male identity. It also routes boys away from behaviors and interests that could handicap them in competition with other males. Even if a man hopes to attract a female mate, appearing too feminine could be a disadvantage.

  • Human behavior is shaped by evolution, even if people are unaware of evolutionary processes. Modern society has disrupted many of the variables that shaped human instincts, but human brains and drives remain largely the same. A man well-suited to gain status and reproduce in a primal environment may struggle in a modern context. However, the basic traits that lead to male status have endured.

  • The male sex role described by Brannon has persisted because it aligns with human evolution. Attempts to radically redefine masculinity often fail because they ignore human nature. The seeming lack of motivation seen in some modern men stems from attempts to reimagine manhood in ways inconsistent with human instincts.

  • Brannon’s model of masculinity was meant more to critique and change men than to understand them. Rather than explore why male virtues and hierarchies have endured across cultures, Brannon caricatured and dismissed them. He failed to consider the benefits of traditional masculinity and focused on those who struggle with its demands. He portrayed men as cluelessly acting out an outdated script, rather than purposefully navigating social hierarchies.

The passage criticizes the pro-feminist men’s movement’s tendency to mock traditional masculinity by creating “straw man” caricatures of men that are easily knocked down. The lists created by Robert Brannon and Michael Kimmel exemplify this strategy. Brannon’s list presents masculine values like strength, courage and status in an exaggerated way so they can be dismissed. His critique seems motivated by resentment of his father’s generation. Kimmel’s similar “Guy Code” presents a caricature of immature “guys” obsessed with trivial matters.

These critiques suggest the pro-feminist men’s movement is motivated by a desire for status and resentment of traditional masculinity. The “omega males” who join this movement idolize strong women as a way to get back at the men who made them feel weak and inferior. The pro-feminist men’s movement shares this motivation with parts of the gay movement.

One of the main arguments these pro-feminist critiques employ is the “argument from failure” - since no man can live up to the masculine ideal perfectly, the ideal is flawed and men should abandon it. But this ignores the benefits men gain from striving for this ideal. The argument mistakenly assumes an ideal must be perfectly achieved to have value. Like Christians striving to imitate Christ, men can become better by striving for an ideal even if they never fully achieve it.

The key points are:

  1. Pro-feminist men’s movement critiques rely on straw man caricatures of masculinity that are easily knocked down.

  2. These critiques are often motivated by resentment of traditional masculinity and a desire for status.

  3. The “argument from failure” they employ is flawed because ideals can have value even if they are never perfectly achieved.

  4. Men can gain benefits from striving to achieve masculine ideals, even if they fall short.

  • The values and ideals associated with manliness should be considered on their own merits rather than dismissed because no man can perfectly embody them. This is the “fallacy of the impossible form.”

  • There are debates around whether certain traits are better for men to possess, e.g. open vs. circumspect, vulnerable vs. invulnerable, high vs. low group status, etc. The answers depend on the situation and one’s perspective. Some traits have evolutionary origins and have helped men compete.

  • While physical strength and prowess were once economically valuable, technology has made them less so in modern societies. However, modern militaries still require physical fitness, and we rely on risky physical labor from poorer countries. We shouldn’t assume the current system is better or permanent. Completely abandoning traditional masculine virtues could be problematic.

  • Some argue traditional masculinity causes “unacceptable collateral damage,” especially to women. However, women have often encouraged war and conflict between men. While women and children have frequently been victims of male violence, achieving “fairness” and “equality” between the sexes may be impossible given their biological differences. Feminism has given women power over men, not equality.

  • Pro-feminist critiques of masculinity are often propagandistic, intellectually dishonest, and motivated by a desire to elevate women over men. Their arguments are flawed, ignore science and human nature, and masculinity ideals have been consistent across cultures.

  • While Brannon captured some universal masculine themes, his analysis was skewed. A man’s masculine honor and status have been central to his identity throughout history.

The key arguments and ideas in the summary are as follows:

  1. Masculine ideals should be evaluated on their own merits, not by whether any man can achieve them.

  2. There are complex debates around which traits are better for men that depend on context. Some masculine traits are biologically based and useful for competition.

  3. Physical strength is less economically important today but still necessary for the military and in other countries. Abandoning masculine virtues altogether could be problematic.

  4. Achieving fairness between men and women may be impossible. Feminism gave women power over men, not equality.

  5. Many critiques of masculinity are intellectually dishonest and motivated by misandry, not egalitarianism. They ignore evidence and masculine ideals have been consistent across cultures.

  6. Masculine honor and status have been central to men’s identities throughout human history.

The key ideas are that masculinity should not be dismissed or judged too harshly, the debates around gender are complex with biological and social components, and critiques of masculinity are often motivated more by a desire to elevate women over men than true egalitarianism. Masculine virtues remain important for society and masculine status is deeply meaningful for most men.

  • Men construct a masculine identity or “form” that matches their values and interests.
  • A man’s pride in his masculinity can benefit him but also make him vulnerable to manipulation.
  • People sometimes tell men to “man up” simply to get them to do what they want.
  • Some people criticize traditional masculinity but then tell men they should change their views of strength and masculinity.
  • Whether abandoning or reimagining traditional masculine ideals is in a man’s best interest depends on the person and situation. There is no objective answer.
  • If a man does change his views of masculinity, he will be serving the interests of those telling him to change, not necessarily his own interests.
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About Matheus Puppe