I’ve gotten some interesting feedback lately. Specifically from a guy who feels I’m a self-important, self-absorbed egoist for having the temerity to make pronouncements on what constitutes a “real man”these days.
In fairness to all concerned, this fellow hasn’t actually read my book yet (that’d be Man Up in Ten Lessons), or, as far as I know, read a blog I’ve written or a video I’ve produced. So he can’t know that my goal is to simply suggest a few ways men can go about becoming more comfortable in their own skins. Just being a man, period, would do nicely for most guys. He simply assumes, from the book’s title and cover, that I’m a pompous windbag, embarrassingly full of myself, etc.etc. — you get the picture.
Now I may well be a pompous windbag (God, I hope not) — but to assume there isn’t something going on with men these days, something not-so-good, to assume all’s well on the man front, is to run the risk of being laughed out of the room.
Neal Gabler, writing in the Los Angeles Times (“Day of the Lout“), worries that the primary role model for young American men today is The Lout:
The lout is not exactly a reversion to the old macho stereotype. He isn’t tough, muscular, steely, monosyllabic, able to build a car engine or a house single-handedly or sail around the world solo. He’s not a sophisticate either, a Dos Equis most-interesting-man-the-world type. He doesn’t dress to the nines or know his wines or drive a Porsche, and he isn’t able to make witty cocktail party repartee. A lout is someone who is proudly stuck in a kind of adolescent parody of manhood that conflates insensitivity and machismo.
Louts luxuriate in their lack of sophistication. Louts travel in packs or just hang out with one another. Louts dress in T-shirts and jeans and eschew fashion. Louts guzzle beer rather than sip wine, and they are most likely to be spotted in bars or lounging on living room couches watching football. Louts don’t talk feelings; they talk sports and beer. Louts have few needs and no shackles. Above all, louts may ogle women and snicker about them, but women are pointedly never their top priority. At most, women are objects, just like in the old days. That’s the revenge part. Louts don’t have to make any concessions to women. Louts barely need women. Just give a lout a Bud and his buds and he’s happy.
Meanwhile, Kay Hymowitz, author of Manning Up: How the Rise of Women Has Turned Men Into Boys, describes great swaths of young North American men as “pre-adult” males, like actors in a play who only know the lines they are not to say:
[The pre-adult male] has to compete in a fierce job market, but he can’t act too bossy or self-confident. He should be sensitive but not paternalistic, smart but not cocky. To deepen his predicament, because he is single, his advisers and confidants are generally undomesticated guys just like him.
Single men have never been civilization’s most responsible actors; they continue to be more troubled and less successful than men who deliberately choose to become husbands and fathers. So we can be disgusted if some of them continue to live in rooms decorated with “Star Wars” posters and crushed beer cans and to treat women like disposable estrogen toys, but we shouldn’t be surprised.
Relatively affluent, free of family responsibilities, and entertained by an array of media devoted to his every pleasure, the single young man can live in pig heaven—and often does. Women put up with him for a while, but then in fear and disgust either give up on any idea of a husband and kids or just go to a sperm bank and get the DNA without the troublesome man. But these rational choices on the part of women only serve to legitimize men’s attachment to the sand box. Why should they grow up? No one needs them anyway. There’s nothing they have to do.
They might as well just have another beer.
Then there’s Tamara Shayne, who muses that tens of millions of North American men have become lazy, and have lost any compelling reason to demonstrate courage in their daily lives:
Lastly, the reason this generation of foolish lazy men has become an epidemic has to do with bravery. Women, going back for centuries, have been drawn to courageous men. The problem is that up until very recently, that used to mean something. Bravery used to mean being brave in a situation that called for it – fighting the draft, fighting for our country, standing up to other men in fights, risking your neck at your job in dangerous working conditions. But now, no one has to be brave anymore. We’ve created a world that has eliminated all risk and when there’s no risk, why would you ever need to face fear? So how can men show they are brave now? By going on Jackass! Technically I mean the show, but really if you’re just willing to act like one, that’s good enough for us. Get kicked out of a club, bully the weak, talk like Beavis and Butthead, imitate Jim Carey, revel in being fat, steal Stop signs. Flouting social conventions is one of the few ways left for a man to demonstrate courage. Which basically means, the stupider you act, the more your buddies will high five you, and the more women will buy into this notion that you are doing something manly. It seems so outrageous but I’ve seen it with my own eyes so many times; guys act stupid and girls mistake this for machismo and encourage the behavior. If you think this isn’t true, take a trip to any frat house in this country.
Clearly, I’m not making this stuff up. And as for the “who the hell do you think you are?” critique, my answer is simply this: I’m a guy who’s lived more than six decades, and therefor have some observations to dole out and some tales to tell. And as far as I can tell, there are a whole lot of men out there (and a lot of women, too) who are looking for a bit of guidance in these oh-so confusing, troubled times.