Where Have All The Good Men Gone?

One of the ongoing topics in the media today is the perpetual woe and wailing overthe state of manhood, masculinity and the supposed “crisis” afflicting young men today – causing them to forgo the traditions of manliness of yore and to languish in some perpetual limbo. Guys today – or so claim perpetual pearl-clutchers and mustache strokers – are refusing to grow up and become men, preferring instead to extend adolesence indefinitely, indulging in minimum-responsibility jobs, swilling down beer and drugs, chasing tail, playing video games and shirking responsibility until circumstances (i.e. bills and/or their parents) force them into becoming family men and therefore productive members of society. As evidence, we are presented with a mishmash of pop-cultural touchstones: the characters from Friends and Family Guy, the ouvre of Judd Appatow (especially Knocked Up) and the fact that women are pursuing degrees in greater numbers than men for the first time… even geek culture gets fingered because everybody knows that comics, movies and video games are the sole province of children and not mature adults.

Public Enemy #1

Public Enemy #1

The wails and lamentations that men (and those damn feminist women) are delaying or even avoiding traditional touchstones of adulthood like marriage and parenthood only further drives home the question: what happened, and where have all the good men gone? Why do men live in this state of peurile shallowness when they should be out there radiating masculinity as bread-winners, husbands and fathers like in days of yore? Who is to blame for this and how can we squeeze men back into the mold of traditional masculinity and adulthood?

Of course, as is so often the case, the problem is that men haven’t gone anywhere; it’s just that people are looking in the wrong place for the wrong things.

… And Where Are All The Gods?

The kick-off to this little rant was a discussion on my Facebook page over an article by R. J. Moeller – an evangelical conservative pundit –  that was written as part of a symposium aimed at “curing” this so-called masculinity crisis, decrying the current state of masculinity and it’s culture of lowered expectations for men. Moeller leads with a quote from professional worry-wart Kay Hymowitz’ article in the Wall Street Journal over the state of manhood in the 21st Century:

Not so long ago, the average American man in his 20s had achieved most of the milestones of adulthood: a high-school diploma, financial independence, marriage and children. Today, most men in their 20s hang out in a novel sort of limbo, a hybrid state of semi-hormonal adolescence and responsible self-reliance. This “pre-adulthood” has much to recommend it, especially for the college-educated. But it’s time to state what has become obvious to legions of frustrated young women: It doesn’t bring out the best in men.

Moeller agrees.The “problem” is that so many men are refusing – refusing, I say – to follow the heteronormative path to old-school masculine adulthood is a sign that we are in the End of Days and that men are becoming a vestigial remnant of what they once were, becoming feminized children instead of manly men with bristling mustachios, thickets of chest hair and radiant heterosexuality.

Moeller betrays his leanings in the next paragraph when he demonizes the idea of progressive social change, decrying the idea that leaving behind the social mores and goals of Leave It To Beaver and Victorian England1 is something to be applauded, and lays the blame firmly at the altar of liberal Berkley, where dread Cm’le P’glia lies dreaming. Ia! Ia! Clinton, F’thagan!

IT'S COMING FOR YOUR PENISES!! RUN!!

IT’S COMING FOR YOUR PENISES!! RUN!!

He goes on to blame modern culture for “lowering the standards” on young men, exchanging “character” for the supposedly questionable descriptors of being “progressive”, “open-minded” and “stylish”. This is a problem because, and I quote:

The problem here is that these are not, broadly speaking, manly things.

Let’s not kid ourselves; he’s complaining that being “open-minded” and understanding how to dress is faggy.

The problem, he insists is that we’ve gotten away from the moral codes of the 50s and lost manly role models like… Ron Swanson. No, seriously. He makes the point over and over again about how manly and masculine Nick Offerman is, apparently not understanding that Offerman a) is an actor and b) that Ron Swanson is an over-the-top parody of “masculinity”.

By contrast, he gives us… Chris Hardwick, Matt Mira, Jonah Ray and Jason Schwartzman. We are supposed to feel disdain for these people because Chris, Jonah and Matt are un-married “uber-nerds” in their 30s and Schartzmann has played “effeminiate losers” in movies.

Again: Moeller seems to not understand the difference between the actor and the role.

Moeller goes on to say that these “dainty dopes” – again, a direct quote, because he REALLY wants us to make the connection between nerd and “fag” – were clearly fascinated by Swanson, er, Offerman… because he represents “traditional manliness” and they were “attracted to it”.

Presumably, Moeller also imagined them comparing dick sizes. But we’ll get back to this in a moment.

The problem is that Moeller – like Hymowitz and other mourners of manliness – don’t seem to understand that the world has moved on and they’re desperately trying to portray themselves as taking a principled stand instead of as dinosaurs watching the asteroid closing in.

A Longing For Vintage Masculinity

I will be the first to say that there are many men who are casting about for a sense of identity, and purpose; there are many who feel – with justification – that somewhere along the way, we have lost track of what it means to be a man. Over the years, the traditional touchstones of masculinity and adulthood have worn away.

And this is a good thing.

Our old cultural definitions of masculinity were based on outdated ideals bound up in definition by opposition – being a man was defined in no small part in not being a woman. Men’s roles were clear-cut – we possessed greater upper body strength than women, therefore we were defined by our physicality: hunters, soldiers, workers, builders. Women were possessions, then second-class citizens barely a step above slaves, unable to earn money or even own property; therefor men were the providers, the bread-winners and the heads of households. Women bore and raised the children and did the menial work and housekeeping; therefor they were the nurturers and men were the doers. Sperm – or so the script went – was metaphorically cheap and eggs were expensive, so men were supposed to spread their seed far and wide while women were supposed to barter access to sex for material support and protection from the alpha males.

And yet time has marched on. Technology changed the nature of day-to-day living and put women on an equal level as men in terms of productivity. Culture changed, making women our social equals with the same rights and responsibilities as men. Medicine advanced, allowing women to control their fertility and suddenly women could fuck as consequence-free as men, giving them the freedom to explore and indulge their sexuality  in a way that was restricted only to men. Once women were able to hold the same social roles as men, the major differences are down to physical… and those matter less and less in modern society. Yeah, larger and denser fast-twitch muscles is cool and all when it comes to athletic competitions, but it ultimately has very little effect on day to day life.

How can you define yourself in opposition to something when you no longer have an opposite?

Social change between men and women happend incredibly rapidly. The concept of equality between the sexes – and the evolution of both laws and culture to allow for it – is less barely over 100 year old, as are the technological advances that mitigated the physical differences between men and women… and yet we have had millenia of of social conventions and conditioning that enforce gender roles. Small wonder that people feel conflicted – we’ve had virtually no time to get used to the idea that things have changed and we’re having to scramble to adapt. To quote Betty Friedan: dudes are feeling inadequate because we’ve run out of bears to hunt.

It’s only natural to look to the past for a potential model for masculine identity – after all, we presumably had plenty of models.  In trying to harken back to the “good old days” (which were really only “good” if you were a white, straight,middle or upper-class Protestant male if we’re going to be honest) we’re trying to go back to a time when the roles were more clear-cut and outlined in black and white, not all of these confusing shades of gray. Unfortunately these models of behavior no longer square with the society in which we live.

And neither, for that matter, do the touchstones of maturity and adulthood.

What Makes An Adult?

It used to be that the path for adulthood was fairly clearly marked. The transition from “boy” to “man” has always been an unclear one. Women’s transition to physical maturity is marked by her first menstruation; men have no such easily discernable line and so manhood rituals would spring up. You would be a man when you killed your first lion or at your circumcision or other equally as arbitrary rites of passage. In the modern world, it became a process of milestones: you graduated from high-school, went to college if you could afford it and got your degree, got a job that you would presumably hold for life, got married, bought a house, popped out 2.5 kids, bought 2.28 cars and the cycle would more or less perpetuate itself.

But just as social modes changed, so too did adulthood’s landmarks and the rituals have lost their meaning. We live in a world where our college degrees are fundamentally worthless and leave us saddled with crushing levels of debt in a system that’s rigged to keep us from paying it off for as long as possible. Home ownership – long heralded as an integral part of the American Dream – has been priced out of reach for many people and is fundamentally unsuited for a significant portion of the population. Not only are jobs almost impossible to find and don’t pay nearly enough, but the concept of a lifelong career has almost evaporated; the average American can expect to hold his or her job for only 3 to 5 years before moving on – and because of the country’s ass-backwards system of providing health care, losing one’s job has potentially dire consequences for your quality of life on many levels.

Small wonder so many people choose to put off “adulthood” for longer if they can afford to; the life we were told to expect doesn’t exist any more and the one we’ve been sold is defective. Turns out Meat Loaf is right: life is a lemon, but there’s no getting your money back.

There are days I have to remember I'm in my 30s because I still FEEL like I'm just out of college sometimes.

There are days I have to remind myself that I’m in my 30s.

Similarly the social standards of the age have meant that other social structures such as marriage and child-rearing no longer have the same impact that they once did. The definition of “family” has changed radically, especially in the last 20 years. Women are no longer dependent on husbands for financial support, and the levels of divorce mean that more and more children – nearly 10 million per year – grew up in single-parent family structures; as far as they are concerned, that is the norm rather than a married heterosexual couple. Marriage no longer has the social importance that it used to and remains entirely out of reach for a significant portion of the gay population. Pop culture has normalized the non-nuclear family where the rules of what makes a family are what you decide they are rather than what society has insisted upon.

Say What You Will About National Socalism, At Least It’s An Ethos.

Whenever the topic of the endless adolescence is brought up, there is an inevitable casting about for someone to blame. Hymowitz  makes nods to the disintigration of the old model, but is far quicker to split the blame between women and the culture-mongers of Madison Avenue and Hollywood, contrasting images of “manly men” of yore with the ever popular punching bag that is Seth Rogan’s character in Knocked Up. How, she argues, are men supposed to want to mature when they have distractions like video games and sports bars2 and television channels like Spike and Cartoon Network cater to their immaturity and encourage them to be post-pubescent Peter Pans? In Hymowitz’ world, men only “count” when they get married and have a couple kids… but why should they bother when women – those damned independent feminists – don’t need men for financial security or even children any more?

Moeller picks a different target; as far as he’s concerned, it can all be blamed on a world where lowered expectations of what is “manly” has birthed a world of liberals, nerds and fags (who are more or less one and the same, as far as he’s concerned). Manhood – as defined by Ron Swanson – has become a rare beast while boys have become increasingly pussified. It’s never more clear when he describes the Nerdist crew in increasingly feminizing terms; they’re “dainty dopes” in Ms. Pac-Man tees (again: driving home the idea that Jonah and Matt barely have time to record the podcast in between games of GoldenEye and sucking each other’s dicks) who are aroused by the presence of “true” manliness. Just, y’know, not enough to go be men… after all, they’re nerrrrds.

The mere mention of which is enough to make Mueller Hulk out...

“MUELLER SMASH NERDS!”

Nerds and nancy-boys who weep like pussies over the death of Steve Jobs and hide away in their nerd-caves and tree-houses because they couldn’t possibly hack it in the “real” world.

But in reality, the real answer is nobody is to blame… and everybody is. While Moeller wishes for the Conservative Fantasy America of the 50s (that never existed) and dreams of Swanson’s mustache tickling his neck, the self-selected mourners of masculinity don’t want to acknowledge that not only have the old models crumbled but we need to create new ones for ourselves. There is no Unified Theory of Manliness anymore; we each are going to have to decide for ourselves what this new world of masculinity and adulthood looks like.

The only difference between children and adults is the price of their toys.

Randal (XKCD) Munroe says what most of us have had to have thought of at least once…

This is in no small part why so many micro-cultures have sprung up; say what you will about bro culture for example, but it does provide a model of behavior with the support and validation of a group of your peers and a reward system that encourages men to indulge in sex without regret or remorse – heady stuff when you’re struggling for a masculine identity.

Boys 2 Men

None of this is new. The previous generation always believes that the one following is worse than any that came before.

“The youth now love luxury; they have bad manners, contempt for authority; they allow disrespect for elders and love chatter in place of exercise. Youths now are tyrants, not the servants of their households. They no longer rise when elders enter the room. They contradict their parents, chatter before company, gobble up sweets at the table, cross their legs, and tyrannize their teachers.” – Socrates (attributed by Plato)

The complaints of the modern pre-adult men – the interest in “childish” pursuits, the refusal to accept responsibility, overindulgence in alcohol and immature obsession with sex – are older than print.

Moreover, it’s not even accurate. The age of the average gamer – one of those hallmarks of childish arrested development – is 37… 45% of whom play video games with their children. Science-fiction – another go-to example of childish interests – is the province of hard sciences and engineers. The average fan of Star Wars is in his 30s and 40s. The average comic reader is in his late twenties and early thirties, many of whom are married, with children. And yet these are the supposed interests of children.

Hymowitz may blame Judd Appatow for romanticizing the man-child with the slacker lifestyle but she apparently misunderstands the entire point of Knocked Up; it’s about Ben Stone’s learning to accept responsibility3 , not “Isn’t life great when you never grow up?” Moeller not only mistakes the actor for the role but also the reasons for the appeal. Offerman’s got the mustache sure, but he’s not Swanson. He is however charismatic – who would have expected a professional actor to have charisma?? –  who lives a life of passion and driveappealing traits in damn near anyone. Shockingly, this is entirely separate from how much red meat and eggs and bacon he eats.

And those femme-y “dainty dorks” he belittles with their interest in toys and gadgets? They’re producing an award-winning podcast, enjoying careers as television hosts, best-selling authors, actors and up-and-coming comedians and cultural commentators  all the while running a new media empire that’s the digital arm of one of the most successful production companies in the world.

Not only are they thriving in the real world, they’re positioning themselves to drive it. Not bad for some effeminiate losers and boy-men. If this is some sort of swishy nerdy perma-adolesence, then sign my happy ass up!

A Modern Sort Of Manhood

We put too much importance on ritual and ceremony when it comes to deciding what makes a person “an adult”, and the rigidity of thought indulged in by Moeller and Hymowitz betrays their inability to accept progress and adapt to changing times. They want to turn back the clock and regress us to a simpler time tinged by nostalgia, false memories and imagination.

Moeller can keep his Ron Swanson fantasy; I submit that Henry Rollins makes for a superior definition of “man”, one who fits our world as it currently is.

Quien es mas macho?

Quien es mas macho?

When the outward touchstones of adulthood have been worn to nothing we must look inward to find what it means to be an adult. The difference between a boy and a man is about the mind as much as about the body.

A man accepts and manages his responsibilities, to himself, to his family and to his society. A boy does not.
A man has discipline and self-control; a boy is a slave to his impulses and desires.
A man has strong boundaries and maintains them; he has standards to which he holds himself and others and does not allow others to push him beyond those.
A man does not settle; he fights for his goals, ambitions and dreams. Even if he fails, that failure is more noble than never striving in the first place.
A man is comfortable enough in himself to embrace being vulnerable. He doesn’t fear the judgment of others or require their validation.
A man has a sense of purpose and drive that motivates him. A boy wallows in self-indulgence.
A man seeks to create his place in the world through his actions; a boy does only the minimum required to get by.
A man seeks to experience the transcendent in this world; a boy is content to dull himself and look no further than his immediate gratification.

This is modern manliness. It is in your behavior and in your soul, not in the external trappings of adulthood. It has nothing to do with how thick your facial hair is, how much meat you eat, how high your testosterone count is, how big your dick is or how many women you have slept with.

Let Moeller mourn the days of the dinosaurs. The rest of us will go and be sexy mammals instead.

  1. Fucking seriously? []
  2. No, seriously []
  3. And developing the emotional endurance needed to put up with Katherine Heigl for the next 18 years []

Comments

  1. crommunist says:

    The thing that jumped out at me, that you sort of glanced off, is how much the New Deal and racially preferential programs (affirmative action programs) for white Americans are deeply ingrained in how 20th century masculinity was defined by the previous generation. The GI Bill made home ownership possible with a high school degree, and rapid expansion of the manufacturing sector thanks to the Interstate and Rural Electrification programs meant that you could "settle down" with kids and a spouse in your 20s. Those conditions no longer exist.

    It's also telling that it's WHITE masculinity that he's memorializing and lamenting. That "average American" line doesn't speak at all to what life looked like for the "average" black or Latino or Chinese man in the mid 20th century, or even well into the Reagan 80s (which, by the way, ALSO looked nothing like his "traditional" masculinity).

    Then again, if you had a basic grasp of history and demography, they wouldn't LET you write for Fox News, so maybe it's sort of a Catch-22.

    • And while we're talking about history and demography, I'd like to point out that it was white middle class women who were confined to the home within the breadwinner model. Poor and non-white women have always been out working in the public sphere.

      • Indeed! Whenever people go on and on about how back in the day women didn't work, I always say–which women are you talking about? Because you are not talking about any women in my family history–neither on my mother's African American side nor my father's Italian American side…so….yeah.

  2. I'll take my nerds, queers, nancy-boys and perpetual man-children over any mythical old-fashioned He-Men, thanks. I love that I can (good-naturedly) kick my son's ass at video games and discuss fanfiction ideas with my husband. We're adults who have bred and own real estate, but in a lot of ways we're still kids. And there's nothing wrong with that. These things aren't mutually exclusive.

  3. I have a little problem with the difference between a boy and a man.
    It's defined around the notion of "doing" things. I think thatt intentions count. I had lots of problems managing my impulses, even when I was struggling against them with a purpose. recently (recovering from depression) but I've tried hard. Things are better now.
    Even if boys can and will be inmature, I've seen a lot of them trying to do things (or with the will to do it). It doesn't seem fair to attribute bad characteristics to a certain age group, This things are fuzzy most of the time.

    • Let’s tie it down a little, then: responsibility isn’t merely an action. When you come right out and own up to your mistakes, you’re not just doing a thing; you’re doing a thing that demonstrates maturity. Hiding your mistake or shifting blame to a scapegoat, similarly, is not just acting; it’s acting with immaturity. Not every action is indicative of maturity level, but many are. Watching cartoons isn’t inherently immature. Playing video games isn’t, either. Your friends might grow out of them as they age, but you’re not neccessarily in a state of arrested development because you didn’t.

      And yes, this issue is one I’ve been thinking about independently. Doc’s rules match the ones I came up with pretty closely.

      • Gentleman Johnny says:

        On the other hand, intentions don't count for much if they're not acted on. Having grand intentions and not moving to make them real is absolutely a sign of immaturity.

  4. One of the things I love about Ron Swanson is that he's just one of many different kinds of men (and women) on the show, and over the course of the show, he has increasingly gained understanding and respect for men who don't share his version of masculinity; he also shows himself to be a strong and sincere supporter of the women in his life, even when their goals are far outside of the 50s/caveman ideal for femininity or even explicitly feminist.

    Parks and Rec, I love it so much.

    • Sorry, this came out pretty tangential. My point was that if even their role model Ron Swanson is okay with nerds, man-children and "dainty dopes," surely Moeller and Hymowitz can somehow manage too?

  5. OldBrownSquirrel says:

    My notion of manhood is that men are into sports, firearms, domestic pickup trucks, and Harley Davidson motorcycles. I'm not into any of those things, and I'm perfectly happy with myself, though I sometimes wonder whether some of my problems with dating stem from my being perceived as insufficiently masculine.

    • My husband hates sports, doesn't swear or drink, is very soft-spoken, skinny, wears glasses, and is into "egghead" things. About the only stereotypically masculine thing about him is his stoicism.

      Sometimes he'll confide in me that he'll get these fleeting feelings that he "should" get into sports or whatever, because he feels the occasional judgement of society and/or other men. But at the end of the day, he's happy with himself and I love him just as he is.

  6. My takeaway from this article is that in order to be a man, I need to grow a fancy moustache and go clock a bear in the jaw.

    On a more serious note, I always liked the idea of 'real man' being gender-inspecific. I have as much respect for women (and transgenders, and asexuals, etc, etc) who tick the items on my version of your manliness list (which cleaves pretty close to yours, as it happens) as I do for men who do.

    • I see it as being more about gender-inspecific adulthood than about gender-specific manliness.

      • Agreed. I don't like this idea I've seen pop up twice in the comments so far that women can be men, too! Why can't we just be women without valuing one gendered version of adulthood over the other.

        • Agreed! I wish that all those good qualities weren't gendered male. Women can totally be those things!

        • Note: My comment that men can have vaginas was not a "women can be men, too!" comment, rather a "gender does not equal genitals" comment.

          Women can have penises, too!

    • I thoroughly encourage the moustache, although the bear thing seems like a bad idea.

  7. I'm sending this link to my husband. He's hardly a stereotypical macho man, but I've been struggling for almost nine months with an illness that has prevented me from working. The fact that he can't feed and house me on his own, and we've had to move in with his mother has been a bit of a blow to his ego. I'm hoping he can realize that he's doing what he needs to do to keep our family going, and that's very adult.

    • I think this is right. One of the most toxic parts of American identity and traditional notions of manhood is the idea self-seficiency and too much emphasis on the individual above the group. People should not feel ashamed about accepting help from other people when they need help, nor should they refused to provide aid when others need them and they can do something. Even if its just letting somebody kvetch for an hour. Our continual emphasis on self-sufficiency and the individual is one reason why the American healthcare system sucks monkey.

      • This is one reason why I'm not really fond of a lot of modern cultural tastes and preferences. A lot of it strikes me as highly self-indulgent and too much about personal happiness. Personal happiness is important but too much emphasis on the self hurts the well-being of society because it takes away the notion of even a little sacrifice for a greater group, be it your family or nation. This isn't really a good way to run society and at least a little self-sacrifice is necessary. A lot of problems in America can be contributed to the fact that a lot of people don't want to sacrifice, that is pay taxes, to support institutions and programs for the communal good.

    • Gentleman Horndog says:

      Making sacrifices (like, say, sacrificing your own pride) to care for the people you love fits any definition of manliness worth caring about. Not that the approval of some stranger on the internet means anything, but I just wanted to acknowledge your fella as Doing It Right. :-)

  8. Oh! DNL shout out watch!

    Loved the references to Bonnit Tyler and Laurie Anderson. Okay, I know DNL is probably referencing the Fridays skit and not Laurie Anderson's "Smoke Rings," but I choose to go with Laurie Anderson…because she is way more macho than Fridays.

  9. Clementine Danger says:

    According to the list, I am almost a real man brimming with masculinity. Apart from the vagina.

    I'm not even kidding. I love that list, and this post, and I especially love that the list is applicable to most 20-somethings. As a person caught in the throes of post-grad blues and terrified of the economy, I fully support the idea of turning inward to see what adulthood means to an individual. I'm really, really curious what the guys have to say about this one.

    It also occurs to me that this return to the hetero-normative cowboy ideal might be an American thing. I mean, I'm not sure, I haven't been to every country in the world, and I'm not a guy, but it just looks different. Here in Western Europe I've noticed 20-something guys struggling with the idea of what masculinity is too, but it takes on wildly different forms. All joking about Europe aside, the culture here is very different, and a lot less invested in this particular idea of manliness. I'd be interested to know what this struggle looks like in other cultures.

    • You can be a man with a vagina!

      Anyhow, masculinity (and femininity) varies by many factors, including location. American Masculinities have things in common with European Masculinities (because they are all Western Masculinities), but they are different.

      True story. When I first arrived in Germany, one of my Army colleagues pulled me aside and gave me a warning. "Watch out," he said, "All the Germans are gay!" I thought he was joking…but he was serious. He was convinced that every German was gay. I pointed out that this was statistically impossible, but he pointed to the German civilians walking down the street as his evidence. And there I could see his "evidence"–German men wore clothes and eyeglass frames with color, they had nice haircuts, they stood cliser than Americans do when talking. The German women didn't wear as much make-up as American women, dressed a bit more practically, and their hair wasn't as tall. In short, Germans (at least Germans in Augsburg in the 1990s) didn't conform to the same gender codes as Americans (at least the Americans who join the Army, who tended to be working class and often rural)…so they had to be gay.

      It is all very sad. Anyway, book recommendation! I recommend George Mosse's "Image of Man." It is about the creation of the masculinity that Moeller, et. al. are naturalizing and mourning. Spoiler: it isn't old, it is a product of the 19th Century along with the rise of nationalism. And it is pretty toxic. Sure there were other modes of masculinity before the 19th Century, but they looked very different than the ones people are currently going on about missing.

      • Clementine Danger says:

        "You can be a man with a vagina! "

        I keep forgetting the world is a lot more awesome today than it was when I I was learning all this stuff as a kid. It's weird. Once you put an idea in a kid's head, it can be mighty hard to dislodge. Feels like I'm being deprogrammed. I apologize, of course you're right. I honestly can't believe myself sometimes.

        And that is a pretty sad story. My (American) boyfriend and I joke about each other's cultures all the time, in a Monkey Island Insult Sword Fight kind of way. The "European men be actin like ladies" thing always comes up. It confused me at first, because I was 100% unaware that that was a stereotype. But it's true, there's a big difference. I don't see guys greeting each other with a hug or a peck on the cheek in the US, the fashion is really different, and people kind of make fun of guys who obviously go the extra mile when it comes to grooming and fashion. It's really hard for me to find a balance between "just a different culture" and "you know, this is just a little bit offensive". I guess I'll have to figure it out as I go. I don't want to be that immigrant who starts every sentence with "In my country…" That gets old really quick.

        Belgium is kind of going through a seriously weird mixed 50s/20s retro phase, culture-wise, both in fashion and music and attitudes. Actually, we have been for a couple of years now. We're a little late on the 40 year rule. A lot of 20-somethings are reaching back to the fantasy ideal of that time (gentlemanly men in fedoras and May West type ladies) minus all the actual prejudice of the respective eras. Funnily enough, it's the American ideal of that time, not our own. Mostly because ours was all language wars and actual wars and famine and stuff. From what I can see (but I'm in it up to my nose, so not the most unbiased observer here) the ideal of manliness that we're reaching back for is the charming, classy, confident gentleman. Less lumberjack and cowboy and breadwinner, more suave and classy confidence. Which is still just a way of making your masculinity dependent on factors outside of yourself and has the same problems the post describes, but it is interesting to me how different these things are in different cultures. Seems to me that young men the world over are struggling with the concept of masculinity (personally I'm struggling with my own concept of femininity as well) and it seems like every culture has a different idea of what it is. Although I did notice they all do it by reaching back in time to a romanticized version of the past. Which I hear is just what happens in times of economic crisis, so I shouldn't be surprised really.

        Anyway. I've had a lot of cause to think about cultural differences lately, maybe that's why the question came to mind.

      • Clementine Danger says:

        So, I was thinking about this some more, and I have so many questions. I know this is extremely personal, so if I'm sticking my nose where it doesn't belong, please let me know, and I apologize.

        But you mentioned being trans, and that just leads me to believe that you're someone who has really had to think a lot about the concepts of masculinity and femininity, and I'm just wondering what that journey looks like. I'll say right up front that I have personal reasons to be asking that question, but there's an intellectual curiosity as well. I'm just wondering what it's like to be misgendered in this culture, and how much these ideas about what masculinity is influence the process. I mean, I keep reading and hearing that you "just know" when your biological sex and gender identity don't line up, and that you "just feel like a man", but that doesn't really tell me anything, considering the fact that we live in a world where even men don't know what being a man really is. If even men don't know what it really is, what hope does a lady like me have?

        I don't know. I guess I'm just curious. Doing some soul-searching. Again, if it's too personal, let me know and I'll mind my own business.

        • So, I'll give you an answer, but first some caveats!

          The umbrella term transgender encompasses a number of different identities, some of which have really different identity narratives. So what I'm going to say is more specific to transsexual identity, and also pretty specific to my experience as a person who is not only transsexual but who was raised in a feminist household and so has certain sorts of vocabulary available to me and had the privilege of not having to internalize rigid gender roles.

          Next thing, I'll be using the term cisgender. Cisgender just means a person who is not transgender.

          Lastly, I speak from my own experience.

          Okay. A lot of transsexuals say things like "I knew I was a woman because I would cry." Or "I knew I was a man because I liked playing with trucks." Or the "I felt like a man/woman." Or the "I was a man trapped in woman's body." Etc.

          Now quite a few progressive types will hear this and cringe and think it is sexism or buying into stereotypes…and so, you know, transsexuals are the devil. Here are a couple things I will say about that. For most of the history of when medical intervention has been available for Trans people (at least as far back as Alan Hart's gender reassignment surgery in 1915), access to medical intervention has been controlled by cisgenderd medical professionals. They would not allow Trans people access to medical intervention unless the Trans person conformed to the stories that cisgendered people wanted to hear. This is still true to some extent. So Trans people have learned to tell their stories in ways that cisgendered people understand or that make cisgendered people feel comfortable. That is where a lot of the "I'm a woman because I like wearing dresses" stuff comes from–an imposition by cisgendered people onto Trans people.

          So what is my story? I follow this understanding. Gender Identity can be called what Freud termed Body Ego. The idea of Body Ego was developed around the time of WW1 by doctors dealing with soldiers experiencing phantom leg syndrome. They didn't have a leg anymore, but they could still feel it. So the idea developed that we have bodies, and we have our internal sense of our body–how we know with our eyes closed what the contours and edges of our bodies are.

          More recent research has pointed to two different hormone washes during the time a fetus is developing. The first leads to the sex development of the body, and the second to the sex development of the brain. For transsexuals, these two washes don't match up. In other words, a transsexual person has a disconnect between their physical sex and brain sex…or physical body, and how their brain understands their body–body ego. This is often why a lot of Trans people don't start getting bad dysphoria until puberty kicks in and the body develops in a way contrary to their body ego.

          So the contours of my body as my brain experienced them and the physical contours of my body were at odds. I then went and got medical intervention to align my physical body with my body ego. And now I no longer suffer from dysphoria (more or less). This is about bodies. This is not about gender roles, gender stereotypes, gender presentations, or sexuali.

          You can be a gay trans man or a straight trans man or bi or pansexual or whatever.(sexuality)
          You can be a super feminine trans man who like to do drag or a burly butch lumberjack Trans man (gender presentation)
          You can be a man who cries or one who is stoic (gender roles/stereotypes)

          I reject completely the idea that I am a man because I don't like wearing dresses–lots of women don't wear dresses. I reject the idea that I am a man because I play video games–because lots of women play video games. I reject essentialized gender roles and stereotypes.None of that has anything to do with my relationship to my body–which is ultimately what transsexuality is about for me.

          The problem is that it is really hard for people who don't have a disconnect between their body and body ego to understand…and I think a lot of cisgendered people have serious anxiety about wanting to maintain an essentialism of gender/sex (even people who imagine themselves quite progressive)–and so Trans people have to conform to those narratives when in mixed company lest we get denied medical care or even just get murdered.

          But for me it is about bodies.
          I have a trans man friend who is a flamboyant gay drag queen. He wears make up and wigs and dresses….but he transitioned because his body wasn't matching his body ego. It wasn't the dress that was the problem, but the disconnect between body and body ego. Same with my butch lesbian trans woman friend. Or my andro gender queer friend.

          I don't particularly like the male gender role. It irritates me constantly. I don't like male gender stereotypes. I'm going to create my own gender presentation, and I don't care if someone thinks it makes me look gay (or European). I didn't transition for any of that. I transitioned so that the body I had on the inside and the body I had on the outside matched up.

          I don't know if that will make any sense, but there you go!

          • Clementine Danger says:

            It makes sense to me. It's a perspective I hadn't considered, so this helps a lot. Thank you.

          • But how do you deal with all the questions of "what is the way I ought or even want to be?" I currently identify as cis-gendered hetero duder, largely due to conditioning and fear of all-the-way homosexual encounters, but it's not as if I feel I have a leg to stand on in terms of what is the best way for me to be. Subsequently, I have this nagging sense that I'm unexaminedly conforming to so many of the traditional masculine elements that I would probably loathe if I were aware of them. And yet, there is this (probably mostly fair) sense that it's what's of expected of me by women. I also get further confused reading the kind of universalist advice given in these columns–everybody in all circumstances and identities, be confident, assertive, self-fulfilled all the time, positive, etc etc. I see the utility, maybe even essentiality, of a lot of this advice in sheer practical terms, in terms of what works to attract people. But so much of these qualities are so heavily lauded in the testosterone-choked business world, the same kind of advice I so despise in the professional context, showered on 20-somethings like myself who are unhappily looking at the working world from the scrutiny of the career counselor's office. I have always prided myself on living a life examined, on reflecting on my behavior, the norms I fall prey to, and so on, but by god it's exhausting, and this constant analysis which engenders self-doubt is a huge obstacle to positivity and proactivity. Sigh. How to cope?

          • Gentleman Johnny says:

            First I want to say, I think I've been there all around. I can't tell you what's right for you but here are my thoughts as best I can come up with them, issue by issue.

            Are you "really" cisgendered, hetero etc or is it culturally conditioned? Short form, it doesn't matter. If the idea of sex with another guy squicks you out then it does and that's OK. If it doesn't squick you out enough that you wonder if it might be fun, see how far your experimentation goes within your comfort level. From Chippendales to online porn, you may well be able to determine if you're completely uncomfortable, comfortable with it not doing anything for you or comfortable enough to to experimentally branch out into the real world. I'd rather leave it to someone with experience in the gay community to instruct you past that point. The main point here is that whatever the result, that's you and that's fine. The best way for you to be is the one you are comfortable being. Sexual orientation doesn't have right and wrong answers.

            Now personally, I see the business motivational stuff as being very different from the sort of advice here. First, its sometimes hard to convey the underlying sentiment that when you're being your best self, you're not acting. You're focusing on the parts of yourself that are best. It also means dealing with your feelings in a mature, healthy way, not pretending you don't have them.

            In the business world, it tends to come across much more like the PUA style secret formulas. If you use these words, maintain eye contact for this long, shake hands with this much pressure, you'll be an effective executive and once you are, you'll learn to be confident for reals. The truth is that really effective leaders laugh at middle management who use motivation seminar speak.

            To some extent that self-doubt will go away with time. If you're in you're early 20's, you really are still figuring out who you are. You'll be comfortable in more situations because you've been in them before and already know what you value and what your sense of right and wrong says to do. In the meantime, sometimes its better to just DO and worry about all the subconscious reasons later. Especially when it comes to dating, it doesn't matter so much if you have a thing for redheads because you're a geek, had a good Irish upbringing, have stereotypes based on the media etc. If you want to go talk to that redhead at a party, go do it. Even if your reasons are "bad", you're not doing anything wrong, so there's no reason not to. You might get shot down, you may find she wasn't that interesting after all or it may work out great. You'll never know if you spend half an hour trying to figure out why you want to talk to her in the first place.

          • So I'm going to give you some contradictory advice.
            1) it is good to examine yourself and do self analysis.
            2) it is also good not to over think things.

            Another set of contradictory observations.
            1) there are quite a few things that are socially constructed, the plus side of that is that you can deconstruct some things that don't work for you and reconstruct things in ways that will work for you.
            2) there are some things that aren't all that socially constructed, and that is okay, too. I knew a guy in the Army that really, really didn't want to be gay. He tried really hard to be straight. Dated women, sort of had sex with them. But he couldn't make himself straight or bisexual no matter how hard he tried. So it turns out his sexual desire wasn't all that socially constructed in the end, and he just had to come to terms with who he was.

            Anyway, so here is my point. If you weren't cisgendered, you'd probably already have some inkling on the matter. Though, cis or trans, you still have the right to construct your gender presentation in whatever way makes most comfortable.

            As for sexuality, go with your libido. If guys don't get you hot, they don't get you hot. That's all don't over think it or beat yourself up. No judgement. If some guy makes you hot but you don't want to act on it, then don't act on it. That's okay too. If some guy makes you hot and you make out with him and you think, "hum…That was okay, but that's all I want to do." That's cool. If you make out with a dude, and think its awesome and want to keep on doing it…that's cool too. But you don't need to worry about it now, go with the flow and let things happen–or not happen. Don't judge yourself and beat yourself up, let yourself be.

            There is all this stuff going on–social pressure–blah blah.
            There is also all this advice from DNL to be like this or that–blah blah.

            Here is my ultimate two pieces of advice.
            1) do the things that make you happy and feel comfortable–most specially when you are in your room by yourself when no one is looking.
            2) don't do things that hurt other people

            So you are happy being who you are and doing what your doing? Then keep doing that. Read some advice from DNL that seems interesting? Try it out. If it doesn't feel right for you? Don't do it! If it feels authentic/comfortable for you, add it to your toolbox. Don't worry about any of the rest of it.

            So lots of guys are expected to like football. If you don't like football, that's okay. It is also okay if you do like football. Be kind and gentle with yourself.

            I'll end by giving you a quote from the amazing genderqueer activist Les Feinberg. Ze said at a speech I was attending, "If you are going to argue that gender is a continuum, you also have to defend the poles."

            What this means is, if you are a normative looking cisgendered hetero dude, that is totally okay, because you are part of the continuum of life, too. You are not only valid if you happen to feel most comfortable outside the norms. When I fight to have who I am seen as valid, I also fight for your right to be who you are–even if who you are happens to align with norms. Or not, if you feel more like yourself if you do a bit something different.

            It is okay and you have time to figure things out.

            As for dating, be your best self and keep making yourself a better you…whatever that means for you…not for anyone else. Then find someone who likes you for who you are and that you like for who they are. That is all.

          • Gentleman Johnny says:

            The commentary on brain washes and body ego really makes sense of the other refrain of trans people "I felt like I didn't fit in my own body". Fascinating stuff, Trooper and I appreciate your willingness to share.

          • I don't mind sharing at all…in the right context!

            It is just difficult to explain body dysphoria without relying on gender stereotypes. Because it all ends up being "I felt like a man" or "I felt like a woman!" I don't know how men or women feel…I suspect there is no such thing as feeling like a man or feeling like a woman. Just like there is really no such thing as being a real man or a real woman. If you think about it, the whole thing is absurd. Why does drinking Scotch make you a real man, but drinking a Tequila Sunrise makes you a fake man? Why does giving birth make you a real woman but enjoying smoking cigars make you a fake woman? All bogus, if you ask me.

            But I do know if I feel at home in my body.

          • (genderqueer person who just stumbled across this discussion, hope you don't mind me jumping in!)

            I hear you about the difficulty of explaining bodily dysphoria. I actually only realised I wasn't cis a few years ago (mid-twenties), after I'd already learned about trans* issues and made trans* friends. It was so utterly bizarre, when I was questioning my gender, to attempt to describe the odd sort of dissonance I felt about various parts of my body only to realise I had used exactly the same words that I saw trans* people use all the time – words I'd never dreamed could apply to me. I still have no idea how to explain the whole thing in such a way that the me of three years ago wouldn't skip over going "wow, trans* people have it so hard, I'm so glad I don't have to deal with that." And I perennially try to find an analogy or metaphor or something for cis people only to fall flat, because dysphoria – even the relatively mild version I've got – is unlike anything else I've experienced.

            But of course, explaining the body stuff is a cinch compared to explaining gender identity! I mean, there's a definite component of social stuff to my own identity. It's not just that my body doesn't agree with my mental map of what it ought to look like (breasts oh god why), it's also that I'm somewhat uncomfortable with being gendered female (+ massively uncomfortable being gendered male, which leaves me in a bit of a pickle). And people will immediately jump to stereotypes and gender roles, and that's just… it's not right but I don't know how to explain the way it actually is. I don't say I'm not a woman because I do maths or don't like to wear skirts or don't wear make-up or didn't play with dolls as a kid – hell, all that is true for my mother as well and I wouldn't dream of saying she's not a woman. I say I'm not a woman because when I try to call myself one I can barely even get the word out, it just feels so wrong. Or because my first instinct on being called "she" is to either flinch or look behind me to see who people are talking to. But try and explain *that* to someone who's never felt uncomfortable in that way, especially when I don't really understand how it works myself.

            And I still don't know what it's like to feel like a woman or a man. All I know is what it's like not to feel like one.

      • Gentleman Johnny says:

        Trooper, I had a similar experience once while dealing poker. It was the run-up to the first Obama election. We had a few Germans playing at the table and one of the local Las Vegas starts spouting off about Obama. After a few minutes of monologue that would make Bill O'Rielly call for a fact check he turns to the out of towners and says "you're German. You're socialist. What do you think of Obama?" In a perfect twist of irony, one of them was both a socialist and quite witty. It went from cringe worthy to hilarious very quickly.

        No moral about gender roles here, more about the dangers of having preconceptions about ANY roles.

        • Indeed!

          You must collect really amazing stories being a poker dealer!

          • Gentleman Johnny says:

            Collect-ed. I haven't done that for three or four years. I was a street performer for a while (less crazy stories than you'd expect), did some burlesque/sideshow/other crazy theatrical stuff for a while (lots of stories) now I'm going to coding school so I can afford to do burlesque/sideshow/other crazy theatrical stuff and get a Techshop membership.

    • I think one of the subtexts here is that as the gender stereotypes are worn down, it’s becoming less of a case of what it means to be a man (or woman) and more one of being an adult – regardless of gender. It doesn’t matter if you have a penis or vagina – the mental hallmarks of maturity are the same. This would even have been true in the so-called good old days, except that back then they would have manifested in different ways, while now they’re increasingly converging.

      Unfortunately, society expectations are still a while from catching up.

    • I was thinking the same thing! For me, being a "man" is the same as being a "woman" – it just means "be the adult version of yourself" (DNL nailed it with the man vs boy list above). I was recently complaining about an ex, saying he wasn't masculine enough for me, but I corrected myself to say that he didn't have the adult qualities that I needed from him. I realized what he was lacking weren't man-specific traits, they were adult traits.

      I also think one of the ultimate, most attractive, most masculine things a guy can do is simply be comfortable with himself. Be comfortable in his sexuality, in his preferences, in his beliefs. I like guys who care about their clothes because they enjoy fashion (not just to get laid), or who care about animals/are vegan (hoping to find one for myself!), are feminists (whether they know it or not), or openly love babies or think puppies are cute, etc. I like a man who just is who he is, no apologies, no embarrassment.

      I've seen way too many "traditionally masculine" men become nasty, destructive, controlling assholes because they are so tortured by denying who they really are and trying to make everyone else fit into a mold. No thanks! I'll take a "faggy" guy in a pink polo cooing over a baby over that any day…so long as he's responsible and working towards a dream. To me, that's a MAN!

    • You probably are. Masculinity is defined by driving direction and purpose to the point of self-sacrifice. Many women are masculine, and ever more so in America as unfortunately femininity is denigrated. The feminine, by contrast, is not about release, or about goals or drive. The feminine is about life moment to moment. It nourishes a mans soul and works to strengthen his masculinity.

      Unfortunately there are precious few feminine ladies in America today, in part because feminism teaches that we're all the same aside from plumbing, and that the feminine is an artificial construct created by chauvinist men.

      • Clementine Danger says:

        It's a matter of perspective, but I can say for a fact that what attracted me to modern 21st century feminism is that it lets me be feminine, and that it has very complex and well thought out ideas about femininity itself, expressing and accepting it, policing the femininity of others, and so on. It is much, much more complex than "every woman should be Rosie the Riveter". There's much, much more than I can or want to sum up here. I recommend you read up on it, because your idea of what feminism is and says seems a bit outdated and superficial to me.

        http://www.shakesville.com/2011/06/on-policing-fe

      • Speaking personally, I like there to be balance in a relationship. Since I'm a purposeful, driven woman, I chose to marry a man who is nurturing and who nourishes my soul. We both draw from traditional concepts of "masculinity" and "femininity" to enhance our personal strengths and to be the best partner we can to each other.

        I wish you luck in finding a woman who wants to nourish your soul and support your masculinity – and I also wish you luck in doing so in a way that doesn't exploit or oppress her!

  10. Is there any room for people who think that Ron Swanson and Henry Rollins are not really good examples of manhood or adulthood for anybody? Ron Swason is antiquated but Henry Rollins has too much of an in your face attitude that isn't really that healthy or productive. It leaves no room for gentleness. I'm against the cult of the badass for everybody, its not something that any human should inspire to. Henry Rollins' creed is also very antiquated in its own way with its emphasis on responsibility, goals, honor, etc. If a person is unambitious and just wants to live a calm and quiet life than they certainly should be able to without having their manhood or womanhood attacked.

    And honestly, I'm more than a little sympathetic to the arguments raised about modern entertainment choices. There is a certain lack of seriousness in a lot of entertainment choices and too much emphasis on spectacle. I know that cultural tastes were not on average more sophisticated in the past but there isn't enough emphasis on high culture these days. Too many people are avoiding things that challenge or confront them.

    • Gentleman Horndog says:

      I had a buddy who was way into Rollins, about twenty years ago. (Shit, am I old.) I never got that heavy into him myself, but I heard enough of his spoken word stuff to know that the in-your-face thing is just part of his act; he also showed quite a bit of compassion and vulnerability. His story of his best friend getting murdered in front of him was wrenching.

      But like I said, that was a while ago. Don't know if his recent work still has that strong core of humanity.

      • Dr_NerdLove says:

        I've seen Rollins live several times. He's very comfortable with being vulnerable (he has no problem admitting weakness or when he's nervous or hurt or being anything other than who he is) and is incredibly insightful, compassionate and hilarious.One of his best moments is talking about meeting a young fan of his in Australia who was dying of cancer. Hilarious and gut-wrenching all at the same time.He's also – it's worth noting – an introvert.

        • To bring it full circle, Henry Rollins was on The Nerdist some time ago and it was a really fascinating glimpse into what makes him tick, if anyone is interested.

    • That is really only a front he is burtal but also a very caring person. He went overseas to combat zones the countless times once he went the first time to connect with them he has gone many times over the past couple of years.
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ThZFJwlqfNM

  11. I have friendly relations with two gentlemen who both regularly wear skirts in public. I think it's simply awesome – when others make fun of them or fall into the predictable insults to their manhood, it doesn't even make sense to me anymore. I think that the fact that they go out in public wearing comfortable, good-looking clothing *without giving two fucks about what anybody else thinks* is at least twice as masculine as the insecure men who don't wear these things out of pure fear, who never seek to question their conformity. It's so simple. I don't know why people don't understand this.

    Also, it helps that one of them is a 10-year military veteran and the other one gets more tail than RJ Moeller could ever dream of (women are attracted to confidence, who knew??).

    • I think this may explain why when I wear a kilt, men seem to feel threatened and women seem to pay a LOT more attention to me. Not to make sweeping generalizations, but it's just something I've noticed.

      • Blackhat says:

        Scotsmen wear kilts and we're terrifying. A fear of a man in a kilt is instinctive in all non-Scotsmen.

  12. Fantastic post!!! Thank you very much for this. I really like your distinction between the trappings of childhood and actual maturity. It matters not if you read comics or like sci fi, it matters how you live your life and treat those around you. And jeez, personally Chris Hardwick is one of my swoon-worthy dream dates…all man, baby! Thanks again for your well thought out post.

  13. Gentleman Horndog says:

    It's occurred to me on more than one occasion (though, sadly, none recent/memorable enough to use as a concrete example) that, if you accept the premise that the opposite of "man" is not "woman" but is in fact "boy", a whole bunch of outrageously sexist statements are not only defanged, but actually quite insightful — doubly so when you mentally swap the word "man" for "adult."

    Whether or not the speaker actually MEANT it that way is a different story. But, hey, lemons, lemonade, etc.

    And I find that any time I hear the kind of professional worriers the Doc cites, there's an unmistakable undertone of terror. It's as if they're only comfortable with their own sense of masculinity if they have the entire culture validating it for them — and if that's taken away, what does that make them?

  14. One more factor that I'd include in our changing perceptions and definitions of "manliness" is life expectancy. We live a lot longer than we used to. If your average life expectancy is 60-65, then at age 20, you're already a third of the way there. If your life expectancy is 80-90, or even 100 (as there are more people living a full century these days) then you're only a quarter or even a fifth of the way there.

    The last time we had a major shift in perceptions of childhood vs. adulthood was during the Industrial Revolution, when the notion of "childhood" was invented in the first place (and then, it was mainly the purview of the middle and upper classes). Life expectancy increased then, and the idea that children weren't just miniature adults was also coming into vogue. I'm not saying that it was a cause and effect, that people sat down and said, "Hey, we're living longer these days, let's give kids some time to be kids." I'm saying that, in combination with economic factors, the way that economic factors are in play now, life expectancy can have an effect on how people view the progression of one's life span.

    The notion of "adolescence" only came into being in the 1950's, in Postwar America, as an extension of the idea of childhood, recognizing that there was a sort of "in between" phase, when people were no longer children, but not yet adults, with more social concerns than they'd had as children, but without the same responsibilities that they would have as adults.

    So, perhaps Moeller, in his haste to look to the "good old days" of when men were men and they "grew up" when they were supposed to, should lay the blame squarely on the decade he so reveres, which invented the idea of "teenagers" in the first place.

    • The average life expectancy was low because people of a high infant mortality rate than anything else. If you made it into early twenties than you had a decent chance of living into your sixties or seventies. Also, at least in England, the average age of marriage was mid-twenties for men and women since at least the 1600s, when we started to have accurate records about these things till the early 1960s. People tended to work to build up a bit of capital before marriage.

      When people talk about the good old days, they tend not to have a freaking clue about what really happened.

      • I'd also like to argue that the idea of teenagers as we understand it existed at least since the 19th century even if we didn't call them teens back then. In the past the average age of full adulthood for men was around 25 to 27 in most European countries. In pre-WWI Germany, men had to be twenty-five to vote. America was an outlier with setting the voting age at twenty-one.

        • As I am pressed for time, this is the quickest (fairly reliable) link I can find:
          http://www.ushistory.org/us/46c.asp

          I've worked with professors who specialize in this time frame. It's widely recognized that "teenagers," as we know them in the US, are an invention of postwar America.

          • Clementine Danger says:

            I'd argue for "discovery" rather than "invention", seeing as how puberty is a biological process. Aaand I realize how nitpicky that sounds. I'll stop now.

          • Gentleman Johnny says:

            You know, those are the same word in Greek? No issues with your making the distinction, just wondering if there really is a distinction to be made.

          • Clementine Danger says:

            Eh, it's a pet peeve of mine from way back in middle school, when my teacher insisted that Newton invented gravity and I wouldn't let up saying he discovered it. Things got nasty. The principle had to get involved. It just wasn't a good day for anyone.

            I'd whine about it more, but I'm saving it for my autobiography.

          • I see your point, but I'm still not certain that teenagers as we understand them aren't an invention. Because teenager-Dom isn't about physiology really, it is about a social position–pubescent/post-pubescent people who are not though of as being adults and aren't expected to have adult responsibilities.

            Country singer Loretta Lynn got married and had kids at 14 because where/when she was from, there was no concept that 12-18 was a time to not work, not get married, not have to be responsible. For a lot of time, the concept was you had two states, child or adult. The social construct of in in between teenager space is pretty new…and I think an invention rather than a discovery.

            That said Newton discovered gravity, he didn't invent it.

          • Clementine Danger says:

            I don't want to sound glib here, I realize full well that I started this, but is it really relevant? Puberty has always existed, as a biological process, and I also understand it's only recently we've been acknowledging it as a separate phase in life and adjusting to that fact. Both are true. In my view of history, it rarely matters whether something is discovered or invented, what matters is how society adapts to it. Like the invention/discovery/acknowledgement/whatever of the concept of romantic love. Whatever anyone personally feels romantic love is, the point is that the idea exists now and society changed because of it. That's why I called it a nitpick and a pet peeve, and it's not a huge deal to me. Cat made a really interesting point there and I'm kind of kicking myself for distracting from it.

            And you're damn straight he didn't. I am *never* letting that one go.

          • Is the social concept of teenager space really that new? Bellow I posted a link that made a very good argument that teenage-dom was we understand it dates from the late 19th century. Even before that, when most people became peasants, laborers, or craftsman of some sort, late puberty was not viewed as a time of adult responsibility. In very traditional societies, people were under the thumbs of their fathers till they got married. People learning a craft were not viewed as full adults until they were on their own, often in the mid to late 20s. It wasn't uncommon for people to inherit their master's shop and marry his widow if they age difference wasn't to big.

            I think that historical evidence points to people in the Middle Ages viewing the aging process very similar to how modern people view it. Only in the Americas did things like the marriage age get lower because greater economic opportunities combined with a strident Protestantism made it easier to marry younger.

          • That depended on class. Trades people married later, but nobility often married earlier.

            I discuss the book you linked to (which looks fascinating by the way) right below that link!

            Anyhow, I think the Google Ngram for the word teenager is pretty telling: http://books.google.com/ngrams/graph?content=teen

          • I don't know. I'd argue that teenagers existed as long as people spent of their adolescence in school rather than working. The high school movement dates from the late 19th century. By the very early 20th century, most Americans and considerable numbers of Europeans aged 14 to 18 were in school rather than at work. In America this experience included high school clubs, dating, and nearly everything else associated with modern teenage life. I'm just not seeing the argument that there were no teenagers until the end of WWII. All of the developments started in the 19th century. The bellow book argues that the modern teenagers existed in embryonic form since the 1890s.

            http://www.amazon.com/Teenage-The-Creation-Youth-

          • If I recall correctly, it wasn't until the 1930s with Roosevelt that there was a major push to get everyone into high school…this was especially tricky with rural and farm kids. And so by the 1930s/1940s it really stuck, and after WW2 teenagers became a marketing demographic…and that is really what people mean when they say "teenagers were invented in post-war America." The savage book talks about earlier youth cultures–noting they really pick up steam after WW1…which is true. But (and full disclosure, quite a lot of my academic research deals with interwar youth culture), those people…the worshippers of Goethe and Rimbaud and Jazz and the Charleston and all that…they weren't conceived of as teenagers…and they often weren't what we think of as teenagers either. They were collegiates. They weren't the 14-17 group that came to dominance post-war. They were 18-24+. It was a big thing to be born in the new century so a lot of the people who made up the "youth" culture of the twenties were in their twenties.

            Savage is right that these earlier youth cultures are really important, the Zazous, the Bright Young Things, the Smart Set, the Swing Kids, the New Men and New Women…but they were older than teenagers. This is similar to the way that the creation of the "tween" is a more recent phenomenon than the creation of the teen. It is an extension of the process that began with industrialization and the massification of entertainment, but it is a new group construct.

            ETA: I just want to clarify that there is one big thing going on with the teenager thing. People are conflating teenage culture with youth culture. So when people say, "teenagers are an invention of the post war era" — people often hear "youth culture is an invention of the post war era." Everything I have read lends support to the idea that teenagers are an invention of the postwar era, but that youth culture goes back to the end of the 19th century, but picked up massively after WW1. But youth culture and teenage culture are not the same.

            I had a scholar you wasn't reading what I wrote carefully think they caught me in a contradiction when I was talking about youth culture in the late 20s early 30s and they pointed out that none of the people I was talking about were teenagers…they were in their late 20s! I replied, yes. Youth culture before WW2 included people in their 20s.

  15. Can we just scrap the 'man' bit in the last paragraph and just put 'adult' there instead? because I think everyone of every gender needs to read this and apply it to them.

    • I agree that the criteria in the last paragraph apply to all adults. However, I would argue that it is helpful to address this as a gender-specific issue in this case, as it's gender and masculinity that are being addressed in this article, and in the article which inspired it.

      • I agree, there's nothing in the list of attributes that precludes it from being a list of how to be a "woman".

        But if as a male of our species, you're searching for how to be a man and not a boy, that's a good list, because "man" implies adult, and that list gets you to adult.

        So long as "Man" no longer equals, "Not a woman," I think life will be much improved for everyone.

      • I agree. While a lot of those things are gender neutral, really, I think having a gender identity isn't something we're going to get rid of anytime soon, and I like the idea of instituting a healthier one. That said, I prefer to think of femininity and masculinity as different approaches to problems/the world (and there is some scientific backing of this that I can't seem to find for free online), that all people can use, and that can be exchanged when one or the other is a better fit for a particular situation.

  16. Attribute your xkcd comics, Randall is a cool dude and you should support him.

  17. Not to sound like some kind of conspiracy theorist, but I sometimes feel like society wants to keep us forever "young" because then we are easier to manipulate. While we avoid responsibility, act on our impulses, and feel "like, totally misunderstood, man", we make good little consumers and voters. We are easy to anger and easy to satisfy (even though our own inadequacies keep us forever unsatisfied, making sure we keep on consumin' to fill the void).

    • This is a really good point. And as much of a geek as I am, I'm not blind to the fact that geekery means buying/consuming stuff.

      • On the plus side, I think there's a pretty strong and growing geeky movement towards creation, both within fandom contexts and in original works and activities. Not to disagree with the original point, mind you.

        • I was referring more to fast cars and anti-age products, I guess. Forever young and wild at heart, don't be like them crabby adults, having 9-5 jobs and payin' taxes, doing the grind 'till the keel over ;)

          I might be wrong, but I always felt our society was kindda afraid of growing up, because we get all wrinkly and responsible and uncool. "Old" is almost like a dirty word.

          • This is so true! But I think there are an increasing number of different narratives of not-old – the live fast and die young is one, the fun forever no responsibilities is another another.

            Strangely, the vast majority of people I've met who live lives that don't involve 9-5 and property taxes but do involve doing a wide variety of things they consider fun, including ones that are seen as childish, are grey-haired and wrinkly and totally cool with it.

          • I took 9-5 as an example because the trope is: a dissatisfied office worker who dreams of becoming an artist or freelance journalist and "truly living". The "dream" job is, of course, the job we wanted as a child, because "astronaut" is easier to explain to kids than "consultant" or "engineer". Nothing wrong with office work or 9-5, people. They can be just as fulfilling and creative as any other "dream" job :)

          • Also true! Not meaning to diss the 9-5 thing either – all kinds of things can work for people!

    • Gentleman Johnny says:

      I would quibble slightly. Society doesn't want to keep us young. That is to say the collective force of our extended peer group doesn't. Even up to the level of our government, they'd prefer responsible adults. Responsible adults=tax revenue. Hell, responsible adults=engaged voters. As much as the interests of the common man are supposed to be a bane to politicians, its why most of them got into the racket to begin with.

      A large number of individual companies, though, make their bread and butter on non-essentials like video games, comics and action movies. Its in their direct financial interest to convince us to indulge in their products. Collectively, the force of their marketing can make it seem like all of society is conspiring to keep us "young".

      • I think a little rephrasing is needed :) When I say "young" I guess I also mean "immature". Immature people can have jobs and pay taxes. But they still crave approval of others in the same way teenagers do.
        "Hey man, leave the old ball-and-chain at home, buy our boat and take the guys fishing!". "Oh, you want gun control? What are ya, a sissy?". "Yes, our product is shit, but hey, boobs!"
        This kind of behaviour is targeted both at men and women (but more obvious when it comes to man), and some of those tactics sound like the kind of rhetoric you might hear among a group of teenagers – usually sharing a group mentality that leads to peer pressure. Of course, it's not all there is to it, but sometimes I feel we're expected to behave like insecure children, probably because I associate confidence and individualism with grown-ups.

      • I don't think there's any particular conspiracy at work, but I don't necessarily agree that society as a whole is in favor of younger people behaving more like adults. The reported youth unemployment rate is already high, and if you factor in underemployment and people who are hiding out in school but who would rather be working, a large portion of people in their 20s ought to be very dissatisfied with their economic prospects. The idea that they don't really need to grow up and get real jobs yet supports current power structures – older workers have less competition and society as a whole doesn't need to worry as much about rioting and demonstrations.

        I think that's even more the case when it comes to voting. I'd agree that most politicians start out with good intentions, but I think most of them are currently struggling to satisfy both their donors and a group of middle aged and elderly voters who care deeply about Social Security and Medicare but who also fret about the deficit. Introducing a new active voting block with very different interests makes things complicated and hard to balance, at least if you're an incumbent who'd like to focus on making incremental changes.

        • Gentleman Johnny says:

          As relates to politics, I think that's exactly the cause of a lot of the commotion right now. Several large blocs are becoming active, including the young and tech savvy. People who have made a career out of the old model aren't really sure what to do about it. Some of them court the new blocs, some try to get their old blocs (base) more active to counteract the effect.

  18. Eh, you can be any age and still be a gullible derpy derp that falls for stuff that's "supposed" to pander to your demographics sensibilities. I don't know if it's exactly "easier", maybe that the number of suckers might be higher the younger they are since they probably wouldn't know any better.

    • this was a response to SharkSmirk's comment…hit the wrong button.

      There should really be an edit/delete option on here =|

    • Gentleman Johnny says:

      I think its mostly that younger=more disposable income in the eyes of advertisers. That's why commercials have two targets: 18-34 and old enough to send the bill to Medicare.

  19. Thereal McCoy says:

    "suddenly women could fuck as consequence-free as men"

    If only.

  20. Needless to say, that list also distinguishes women from girls.

    Feminist pedantry over.

    • Yes, what distinguishes adults from children really doesn't depend on biological sex, gender identity, or sexuality. I personally have a relatively low bar for adulthood. Any human who reached the age of legal majority and does their best to take care of themselves is an adult. What they do in their free time, as long as it isn't unethical and doesn't impede in their ability to take care of themselves and any dependent, is irrelevant.

    • Couldn't agree more. I find it really annoying when you're, lets say, 25 an people still refer to you as a "girl". WOMAN! I'm a WO-MAN! It's not a damn insult. ;)

  21. While there are extremely valid critiques of the the stuff being created by the entertainment industry and marketed as a reflection of my generation (~twenty-somethings~), generally, this post gets a two syllable "damn."

  22. The only thing I have problem with on this article is the part where you say

    " Not only are jobs almost impossible to find and don’t pay nearly enough, but the concept of a lifelong career has almost evaporated; the average American can expect to hold his or her job for only 3 to 5 years before moving on – and because of the country’s ass-backwards system of providing health care, losing one’s job has potentially dire consequences for your quality of life on many levels.

    Small wonder so many people choose to put off “adulthood”"

    One of the ideals of being a man is that a man works but during this bad economic time even the Ron Swanson of the world are having a hard time finding a job. In this case it's not a issue of people choosing to hold off on this part of adulthood it's an issue of them being denied access to it.

    This is one of those things about this whole men refusing to grow up I find unfair. We have a generation of men (and women for that matter) who are entering a hostile job market but instead of bring up that's a problem society would rather call people that are having a hard time find a job losers.

  23. Instead of "man", that final list could apply to all humans of responsibility-bearing age/disposition.

    All men are real men. Being a man is whatever a man is doing. Sure, some of them behave annoyingly, irresponsibly, or otherwise without honor, but it's not like this is tied to the MIGHTY PENILE GONADS.

    Just sayin."

  24. An excellent list. One very close to my own. The XKCD sentiment of "It's our turn to decide what that means" is exactly on the nose. That's WHY this list has to be "A Man" as opposed to "An Adult". That's why the question on the table in this post is "Where have all the good MEN gone." Having a set of values to point to as what a MAN should do is the goal, not that the values be unique.

    To quote another internet celebrity I enjoy, "Words mean things." The argument at stake would lose its punch if it was just "An Adult does x, a Child does y." For reasonable people, it will go without saying that it could be "A Woman" just as easily as "A Man" or "A Sentient Adult" for this list. The values are transitive and equitable. But labels are powerful, for good or bad (just try reading tumblr for an hour. ugh).

    500 lists that are identical for each label would be a lot more useful and powerful than a generic "An Adult is…" list. This one just so happens to have the "MAN" label.

  25. thisis40ish says:

    A great article.. which to be honest, could also be applied to women. Take away the kids, , the trappings of 'women-hood' like a husband or a desire to 'home make' and suddenly you're not a woman.. you're a …. slut? spinster? less than person? A sad sack? The media seems to imply that women are 'winning' as men are 'losing' but I think that the constant reference to the idolatry of 'Mad Man' America means everyone loses. Maybe we should stop looking backwards and wringing our hands, and look forward to define what man and woman hood means now and in he future.

  26. I love this post. It perfectly expresses what I could never say and get the pageviews for (let's face it, a female blogger blogging about social stuff is going to have a harder time reaching male audiences on this sort of thing). My boyfriend and I always discuss how feminism is beneficial overall to females (disregarding the extremist "feminazis"…even I've had bad experiences within organizations as a female). However, one thing that has happened with positive evolution of female roles is a stagnation of male roles. Yeah, the definition of a traditional "women's job" may have changed/is changing but men are still expected overall to be breadwinners, head of households, etc. There is no way these two things can be reconciled.

    Some men lash out with frustration at this positive shift by demanding society go back to "traditional" times and blaming "those damn feminists" for their insecurities, confusion, anger at being unable to fulfill the only "traditional manly man" role they were raised to fulfill, etc. This is completely counterproductive to everyone in the long run, despite false claims of "natural order" and other silly arguments about men being superior, smarter, more stable, blahblahblah than women.

    There needs to be a REAL men's rights movement; perhaps not even for men's "rights" but for male social evolution. None of this whiny MRA crap about how they can't get laid because "dem feminist bitches". Just as women were given more options than "housewife, housewife, and housewife", men must be given more options than "breadwinner, breadwinner, paragon of masculinity, and breadwinner". Just as some women bristle at the idea of being a housewife, I'm sure some men bristle at the idea of being trapped as sole breadwinner.

    I probably didn't say this as well as the Doctor or other commentators here. I'm not a very eloquent person.

    • OldBrownSquirrel says:

      As I see it, the movement that does the most to free men of the burdens of stereotypes and the expectation of conventional masculinity is the gay rights movement. They're infinitely more constructive than MRAs and more relevant to what you describe as male social evolution than feminism.

    • I don't bristle, I relish. To my mind, there is no problem to be solved, there is no sinister oppressor. There is overanalyzation, there is invention of problems in countries too rich for people to know what real problems are, and there is a sense of entitlement and looking out for number 1 and number 1s interests.

      I do bristle at others declaring what "more options" I need to be given. I want to be a man, and I'm firmly of the belief that those who would declare sex roles to be social constructs don't know what masculinity and femininity ARE. Being feminine doesn't mean being subjugated; it isn't something women must be liberated from. Ultimately men and women are individuals and cannot be categorized, but there isn't some requirement for societal validation.

      In order to put these western ideas in perspective, I will quote a Russian expression on the true nature of femininity in a relationship. "Man is the head of the family; woman is the neck. The neck turns the head."

      Femininity is the essence of life, the momentary joy of living. Masculinity is drive, direction, and purpose to the point of sacrifice on the altar of these.

      Just as a woman corporate career climber or social crusader is masculine, so a 20-something male lounger/person living life is feminine. He is without masculine purpose — he has a hole in his soul but he is not sure of what goes there.

  27. Ah, how all those 'back in the day' articles, laments over the golden days etc. annoy me. Most of the time, what's happening is evolution, progress. If there is less 'masculinity', if 30 year old guys [or girls] are in pacman shirts and talking about video games – it probably means that they can afford to do that. Primarily because we live longer now.

    And if I'm allowed to sound like one of those whiny assholes who cry about good old times when men had mustaches and all that – there are not many things that makes me think "this guy is a pussy" than those who whine about goddamnfeminists and longing for good old days.

    As Pete Doherty said 'there are no good old days, these are good old days'.

  28. I wonder why no one has ever drawn fanart of Doctor Nerdlove in a labcoat and Captain Awkward in a uniform. It's an egregious omition really.

  29. Read your article and then immediately came across this great, pertinent, vid. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ayzwzGB2kXw

    As usual, great article Doc.

  30. Twitterpatedss7 says:

    Loved the bolded text. Great examples of the differences. Thanks for the awesome post!

  31. TheTheSays says:

    that is true for us men that are looking for a good woman today, and where did they all go to nowadays?

  32. The author of this post seems to think that the only non-socially engineered difference between men and women is physical. Pure nonsense. It is very clear the author hasn’t the faintest notion of the true nature of mutually enriching masculine-feminine duality.

    Also, relating the decline of masculine self-possessed men with real directions in life to the completely separate issue of racism is so typical of the individual who seems to think that just because technology and race relations have improved therefore everything else in the past must have been a more rudimentary and preliminary iteration of the enlightened present.

    For the record, just as in the white world where egalitarian victim-inventing aggressive feminism seeks to neutralize everybody in to a giant mass of indiscriminate sameness, in the black world masculine self-possession and responsibility is under attack by paternalist government.

    By the way, yours and Moellers definitions of manliness are shockingly similar. You spent the whole article whining about how ‘everybody should accept everybody as they are and all else is anachronistic’ but then your conclusion is identical to his.

    I submit that Ron Swanson the character exhibits the characteristics in your conclusion far more than media-obsessed, media-producing podcast commentators. Reason: their podcast focuses on infantile topics, not the important issues of the day. Can we really say they are self-possessed men striving to make the world a better place?

    So, they may not be the antithesis of manliness, but neither are they paragons. Ron Swanson, by contrast, demonstrates purpose through the strength and ubiquity of his convictions. His life is a fight for something, even if his fight is on a very small scale.

    Paragons of manliness:
    Teddy Roosevelt
    Nikola Tesla
    Ron Paul
    Andrew Mellon
    Daniel Burnham
    Martin Luther King, Jr.
    Edward Snowden
    George Washington
    Napoleon
    Peter the Great
    The founder of Land’s End
    Henry Ford
    Mark Twain
    Grover Cleveland
    Calvin Coolidge
    Dwight Eisenhower
    Winston Churchill
    Frederick Douglass
    Gary Kasparov
    And many more.

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  34. I don't percieve a crisis in manhood, but rather in delayed adulthood for both genders. Your post touched on it breifly but for a variety of reasons the path to professional success has become much longer in duration. The bar for financial security has become much higher. The future of stability has become almost non-existent. The idea of obtaining a HS degree and entering the work force is a joke. Now a BS or 4 year degree is at a minimum a requirement to even think about having a stable, long term career. Even that is now becoming inadequate which means even more education, which means more time and further delay of 'growing up'. Even under the best of circumstances this means that a typical man or woman would complete their education in their mid-20's. But then you have to factor in a good 5-10 years of hard work to even begin to have enough experience to have a 'career'. And that's under the assumption that you'll even remain employed or have stable employment. Employment stability is so volatile now that no job is secure, no matter how well you do or how long you work for an employer. Unemployment benefits are a joke and until the ACA is fully implemented healthcare is crap shoot at best. Getting married, buying a home (assuming you can afford one), raising a family all require stability and financial security. In the face of employment unstability and financial insecurity is it any wonder many men and women are delaying growing up?