I’m answering your most important dating questions! If you have a question about love, sex or dating, then be sure to leave a comment. Maybe the next question I answer will be yours! This week: With all the talk about toxic masculinity, what does POSITIVE masculinity look like? Here’s what we can learn about being better men from the hicks, jocks and skids of Letterkenny.
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You’re texting with a girl you just met off Twitter and while you’re working your way up to actually asking her out on a date she mentions she’s in a polycule and you’re gonna need to get approval from her other two boyfriends.
Hey everyone, Harris O’Malley from doctornerdlove.com and this is Ask Dr. NerdLove, made possible by my generous patrons at patreon.com/DrNerdLove, and I am here today to answer YOUR questions about love, sex, dating and self-improvement. If you’ve got a short dating advice question you’d like to have answered, send it to me at firstname.lastname@example.org or share it in the comments and maybe you’ll have YOUR question featured on here.
This week’s question comes from Alex who asks: “I keep hearing about toxic masculinity, but I never hear about what this ‘positive masculinity’ looks like and I’m starting to think it just means acting like a chick.”
First of all, let’s take about 20% off there bud.
Now my initial response would be to just point you to my episode on positive masculinity — which I’ve conveniently linked in the show notes or you can just hit the thing in the corner.
But alright, Alex. Ok, alright, let’s actually talk about this for half a second. Because if we’re being entirely honest, a lot of the examples of positive masculinity including the ones I frequently refer to, are, if we’re being generous, kind of hard to live up to. If you were to look at the most popular examples of positive masculinity, you’d be forgiven for thinking that you need to be almost perfect in order to be a “good” man.
Don’t get me wrong: while I think that Steve Rogers makes for a great role model and an example for people to try to live up to, there is the fact that he’s basically flawless.
Ok, I guess his only real character flaw is that he just LOVES HIS BUDDY SO MUCH that he’s willing to break international law for him but honestly, isn’t that just the logical extension of “Good friends help you move, real friends help you move bodies?”
Of course, he also has the benefit of being, y’know. Fictional, which helps.
A lot of real world examples aren’t much better though. Bob Ross and Fred Rogers may as well be The Buddha and Jesus respectively. It’s a little hard to imagine Mr. Rogers having had a rough day and being a couple beers in at the bar and trying to figure out how to respond when some upcountry degen starts trying to muscle in on the woman he’s talking to.
Meanwhile a number of other folks — from Terry Crewes to the Fab Five from Queer Eye — have a certain… performative nature that can make their positivity seem scripted, even when it’s coming from a real and legitimate place.
But overall, if we look at ANY of these men, it can feel difficult to relate to them because, well, they feel like they’re so far down that particular path of positive masculinity that it feels like there’s no way you could ever measure up.
Which is a reason why I think there’s some value to studying some UNEXPECTED examples of positive masculinity, dudes who, frankly, have some flaws to them. People who screw up, but are trying to learn and do better.
And a great example of that… comes from the show Letterkenny.
So before we get into this, we’re going to be talking about moments from a bunch of different seasons, so if that’s something you’re concerned with, consider this your spoiler warning.
Part of what I like about Letterkenny is how often it will play with your expectations. Characters like Joint Boy, Tyson, Tanis and others go from being antagonists to friends, skids like Stewart actually get close with Wayne and the hicks… and even characters you might otherwise write off as one-note get surprising levels of depth and care.
Like our role models for this episode.
But it’s not who you think it might be. While Wayne seems like an obvious choice, he’s also too fond of a scrap, bit of a poopy-pants and inflexibly old-fashioned in some ways.
Squirrley Dan is closer, especially considering his work with his women’s studies teacher Professer Tricia… but he’s not quite right either.
And Daryl is… well…
Oh we’re gonna get some mileage out of that.
No, the prime example of positive masculinity I like to point to from Letterkenny… are Riley and Jonesy.
No, for real.
At first glance Riley and Jonesy are the literal OPPOSITE of positive masculinity. They’re jocks who’re obsessed with sex and working out and believe that sleeves are bullshit. When we first meet them, they play at being ready to pick a fight with Wayne in order to try to prove who’s the biggest swinging dick, but are too chickenshit to actually show up for the hockey game against the Natives. They can’t stop cheating on their girlfriend AND they’re incapable of actually hiding that fact, their only ambition in life are big-city slams and winning hockey games — eventually — and frankly, they’re just a couple of bros who’re about as sharp as a sack of wet mice.
I mean, let’s be real: they’ve got one brain between the two of them. Put them both together and they’re ALMOST as intelligent as one person.
And honestly that dude is gonna be kinda dumb.
By all outward appearances, they’re nipples-deep in a stew of toxic masculinity. But it’s BECAUSE of their shortcomings — and hoo boy do they have them — they’re actually a solid example of positive masculinity. It’s easier to relate to them because unlike the Rogers-es or Bob Ross or Karamo Brown… they’re a lot closer to the folks you’re likely to meet in your own life.
They’re relatable BECAUSE they’re flawed and imperfect. They make mistakes, they screw up in significant ways — ways that are far more relatable to someone who wants to do better. It’s easier to look at Riley and Jonesy and see yourself in them and the ways they screw up than than to see yourself in Steve Rogers. Captain America may be who we aspire to be… but Riley and Jonesy are closer to who we currently ARE.
That relatability is important because, in a very real way, it gives us permission to look at them and see someone who’s like us: not perfect, but trying their best. It’s one thing to look at someone like Bob Ross and admire them, but it’s another to feel like BEING Bob Ross is something that you could actually accomplish. The fact that Riley and Jonesy are more down to earth makes being a better man seem within reach.
And the fact that they’re seemingly so drenched in toxic masculine tropes is what makes their non-toxic sides stand out so clearly.
The first example of the positive masculine sides of Riley and Jonesy is in their relationship with one another. They care for each other in a deep and abiding way. They’re openly affectionate and supportive of one another — and not even with the fig leaf of “no-homo, bro”, but in the sense that this is just what friendships are. They genuinely love and care for one another and express it unreservedly with a surprising amount of platonic intimacy.
Considering we live in a time when wink-wink-nudge-nudge jokes about Frodo and Sam or Cap and Bucky are STILL in the mainstream, two bros who are just bros who care for each other is almost shockingly refreshing.
In fact, their complete lack of concern for being seen as being a little TOO into each other — or other dudes — actually reaches the point of being almost strange. The fact that they’re utterly unfazed by Dax and Ron’s cat-calling and hitting on them speaks to how secure they are in their sexuality.
Really, they’re more offended that Dax and Ron DON’T find them attractive. Not because they’re secretly hoping for some dirty dangle action in the steam room but because I mean, c’mon. They’re pretty. Hell, the quality of Dax and Ron’s chirping is what leads to them being friends. That’s a level of security and confidence you don’t find very often.
Especially when you contrast it with how easily Shorsey can get under their skin.
(Incidentally, you wouldn’t think I need to say this but “yes, but it doesn’t bother US when someone does it to us” doesn’t mean that catcalling and sexual harassment is ok)
What’s especially significant is how their friendship and connection trumps jealousy or resentment. They have no problem being in what’s functionally a polyamorous relationship with Katy; they’re just a package deal, that’s all. It’s perfectly normal as far as they’re concerned. Even after she decides she would rather date Riley exclusively… the only issue the two of them face is that they miss each other because they don’t get to hang out as often. They ask Katy to date both of them, not out of resentment or a weird Chasing-Amy-esque desire to “even things out” but because it’s how they’d have the best of both worlds: their friendship AND their fuckin’ rocket, boys.
(Hell, the fact that they can switch casual partners without blinking is kind of impressive for a couple of straight jocks)
By that same token, they have absolutely no reservations with being vulnerable with one another. They may have an issue with OTHER people thinking their chicken shit, especially when they come down with a nasty case of the Native Flu.
But they’re just as free with their vulnerable side as they are with their affection.
For a couple of jocks… that’s impressive. The idea that men — “real” men — don’t let their emotions get the better of them and that ‘pain don’t hurt’ — is deeply entrenched in our culture, especially in sports culture. The fact that they’re able to talk about those feelings freely with one another is a solid mark in their favor.
What’s even more impressive is how much they back one another up. When one of them is down — or when they’re both down, because let’s be honest, they’re basically dumb Canadian Tomax and Xamot — they’ll work to prop each other up and find a solution.
Usually involving either their big city slams or bearing down and pushing past that plateau. Which isn’t always the healthiest option but hey, the point is that they’re trying.
That’s actually important, because the the single biggest reason why Riley and Jonesy are great examples of positive masculinity is that they actually are TRYING to improve. When we first meet them, they’re a pair of sexist jock slackers; they want the rewards that come from being jocks without actually having to do anything to earn it. They, quite frankly, dogshit — both as hockey players AND as people.
But to their credit: they’re well aware of their flaws and shortcomings. Hell, they’ll be the first to tell you that, themselves. They have an almost surprising level of self-awareness and actually decide to put in the work to improve. They commit to being better hockey players and better men and end up becoming the legitimate stars of the Letterkenny hockey scene. In fact, they take things seriously enough that they’re willing to give up dating the hottest girl in Letterkenny in the process, because it interferes with their OTHER ambitions.
They apply that same level of commitment, drive and intensity to improve to… well, pretty much everything. They want to do better, they want to help other people do better… even if they get a little weird in the process.
But what’s most significant is how often they make mistakes… and how they respond to those mistakes. More often than not, they either take correction in stride or correct themselves without blinking. And while they may be about as sharp as a bowling ball, they clearly care about saying and doing the right thing.
They may not know the right words or they may say the wrong thing, but as soon as they realize they’re wrong, they’ll try to fix it for the next time. Once they understand their mistakes, they rarely make them a second time.
It… just takes them a while to understand that it’s a mistake in the first place.
And what’s remarkable is that, as dumb as they are… they’ve got hidden depths, ones that they’re justifiably proud of. They know a surprising amount about literature and film, they have a strong grasp of math and even some incredible insights into human psychology…
That they then admittedly use to get laid.
But that’s the whole point: the fact that they’re actually positive examples of masculinity doesn’t mean that they have to be plaster saints. It doesn’t mean that they have to swear off being a pair of fuckboy poonhounds whose lives revolve around reps, red rips, slams, beers and bro time.
Positive masculinity doesn’t mean that you have to be perfect, nor does it mean being feminine or agender. Riley and Jonesy are as traditionally masculine as you might want… it’s just not TOXIC.
And that makes all the difference.
So that’s going to do it for this episode. If you’ve got a question you want answered on here, share it in the comments. Maybe the question I’ll answer next time will be yours.
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