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Mainly Manly Writing about Manly Men

[ 219 ] January 13, 2014 |

If I were smart, I’d probably leave any commentary on this blog post to the cat graphic which accompanied its twitter link:

But I’m gonna be dumb instead and say obviously it’s a huge mistake to characterize qualities you admire as “traditionally masculine” if you’re not intending to be incredibly sexist. If you want to write stories about men being heroic and doing cool action-hero-type things, that’s cool. But continuing to call that behavior we tend to valorize “traditionally masculine” is just jerky and misguided.  Lots of things have “traditionally” been called this and that and the traditions were based on bullshit.

I get that there are lots of men out there who like to imagine themselves as real-life heroes. It’s an impulse I understand, as it is fun to play the badass. (Hence the popularity of badass heroines like Katniss Everdeen.) But I think for too many men (especially conservative men) this need to be a badass can lead to warped thinking.

When you think about real-life heroes, real-life badasses…the soldiers, the firefighters, the doctors without borders, the legitimately lethal martial artists…the percentage of people who are actual badasses is vanishingly small. And, men, chances are very very very good that YOU’RE NOT ONE OF THEM. And you never will be. And denigrating women will never help you become one. (And owning an arsenal of guns won’t either.) Anxious masculinity is such a bummer, even when it’s revealed in blog posts as seemingly innocuous as this one.



Comments (219)

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  1. (Shakezula) says:

    I’d also say that the overlap in a Hero/Bad Ass Venn Diagram might be 50% or less. And of course there’s behavior that is heroic that isn’t particularly masculine.

    • (Shakezula) says:

      Or to put it another way, it seems that certain men would like the definition of heroic to be Only Things Guys Do, Forever. So they get all wee-weed up by the idea of women in combat. Or even gay men in combat. Because cooties make the heroic thing less heroic.

    • DrDick says:

      Having known a lot of guys who were in Vietnam and hung out in fairly unsavory places, I have known a fair number of serious badasses. I have also known a few genuine heroes, but the overlap is tiny. Most of the badasses are simply sociopathic assholes and most of the heroes have absolutely no desire to repeat that performance.

      • jim, some guy in iowa says:

        think it’s fair to say we’re supposed to be scared of badasses in a way we’re not supposed to be scared of heroes?

      • (Shakezula) says:

        The thing I have found about badasses is they have to tell you how badass they are within five seconds of meeting you.

        To me this creates the impression of an insecure person who likes to brag a lot and generally impress everyone with his badassery.

        When an insecure person who likes to brag a lot is a badass due to weapons owned and/or combat skills, my Abusive Dick radar starts to bleep and I run like a bunny.

        Heroes (as I define them anyway) don’t brag.

        • BruceJ says:

          No, this is the thing you’ve found out about fake badasses. Real badasses don’t feel the need to tell you about their badassery.

          Just know you’ll never go on a hike twice with them.

          “my…pant…god…my…lungs…pant pant…are liquefying…pant pant…and leaking …pant pant…out of my skin…I…can’t…pant pant…feel…my…legs…pant”

          “Oh come on, it’s only another ten miles!

          • (Shakezula) says:

            Those are jocks. Maybe hardasses.

            But your definition excludes the duds who sit around bragging or who think their collection of unused weapons makes them in to Rambo, so that’s cool.

            • DrDick says:

              BruceJ has a point. The really serious badasses I have meant did not have to advertise it, they just did it. People rarely messed with them more than once. Those guys are really scary, because they can be real friendly, right up to the point where they rip your head off and shit down your neck.

    • Jaime Oria says:

      While spending time at the library a lot the past 18 months (don’t ask), I couldn’t help but wonder if someone on the GQ editorial staff had lost a bet and the forfeit was to use the word ‘badass’ on the cover 4 times in a year’s worth of issues. There it was, like clockwork: “Bruce Willis Gives Us A Master Class in Badass” “Bryan Cranston Breaking Badass”….(and of naturally, those weren’t the only two examples where ‘badass’ was applied to describe men whose careers are well-paid games of Pretend) It was a sort of publisher’s Tourette’s, this word burped out at guaranteed intervals.

    • Eric says:

      AAARGHH!!! Why did I click that link? Is there nothing that comes out of her mouth that isn’t Z-grade #slatepitch?

    • James E. Powell says:

      I read the first half or so. This is the same fawning “you’re not going to believe how fresh and provocative this person is” article about Paglia I’ve read many times over the last 20 years. Oh, and get this – she’s a lesbian! Which means, what exactly? Why do the writers of these articles always say that as if it was some super secret maybe scandalous thing that is only now being revealed and which makes her completely conventional claims about American society so much more interesting?

  2. Mathguy says:

    What?! Owning a gun doesn’t make me a badass?

    –George Zimmerman

  3. Gwen says:

    Suddenly inspired, btw, to write a story about a hypermasculine protagonist who is crippled by his own hypermasculinity, so busy trying to be a hero that he has trouble actually being one.

    “The City is in danger. Unfortunately The Mighty Dong is too busy screwing voluptuous co-eds to stop Doktor Doom from vaporizing us all.”

  4. J. Otto Pohl says:

    Unfortunately I don’t have any posts that are more manly than the one you linked to for you to hate link to my blog. The manliest thing I have recently is this piece.

    As far as literature, my last post on the subject is not manly at all being as that three of the five works it refers to are by women.

    But, now that you have given me an example maybe I can try and write something ultra-masculine so I can earn a hate link from you. ;-)

  5. Barry Freed says:

    When you think about real-life heroes, real-life badasses…the soldiers, the firefighters, the doctors without borders, the legitimately lethal martial artists…the percentage of people who are actual real-life badasses is vanishingly small.

    Case in point: Audie Murphy.

    Short, a bit nebbishy looking (if you ask me) and the most highly decorated American soldier of WWII. If I was about to get in a bar room brawl with a bunch of guys and he was one of them I wouldn’t give him a second look. Which would be a big mistake.

    • LeeEsq says:

      You also have that Finnish guy from the Winter War with Russia. Even tinier than Audie Murphy, shorter than him by three inches and approaching his middle age years. Scared the shit out of the Soviet forces though single-handidly.

      • Lurker says:

        The most impressive thing about Häyhä is his civilian life. After beibg severely wounded, he returned to a civilian life that was shattered. Like 400,000 other Karelians, Häyhä’s family lost their home, which was ceded to Soviet Union. After the Finnish troops retook the area in the Continuation War, Häyhä returned to Karelia to rebuild his home, like 230,000 other Karelians. Two years later, in 1944, the area was lost again, this time permanently. Häyhä was evacuated back to what ws left if Finland with his family. There, he rebuilt his life for a second time, this time on a smaller resettlement homestead granted by the government. In addition to his work as farmer, he was active in the association of the military invalids.

        This successful transfer to a civilian life is something that very many decorated heroes don’t manage. Very often, being badass is a symptom of an asocial character, which makes civilian, peaceful life difficult.

        • jim, some guy in iowa says:

          Murphy didn’t adjust very well. Bill Mauldin wrote about how difficult he was to be around during the filming of “Red Badge of Courage”

          • Major Kong says:

            A lot of those guys didn’t adjust very well. It’s just that the WWII generation rarely talked about it.

            I read about one guy who couldn’t sleep in the same bed with his wife for many years after – because he was afraid he might wake up in the middle of the night thinking she was a Jap and kill her.

            • steve says:

              I often wonder if the babyboomers and the constant theme of their “emotionally distant fathers,” which often appears in work about them are the direct result of a huge mass of undiagnosed/untreated PTSD sufferers.

              • Ralph Wiggum says:

                Interesting. Now you mention it, it’s not a ridiculous notion.

                • A friend of mine’s a therapist and on the young end of the Boomer group, and is fully convinced of that. She extends the PTSD into my Gen X assigned group because our Boomer dads as often as not wound up splitting before our 12th birthday, emotionally shattered by Vietnam, or both. On the bright side, she believes with equal surety that the trend is going, perhaps slowly, in the opposite direction, especially in the working class and poor groups she works with. Furthermore, we both see a big mess of under-30 groups of bougie hipster parents who are really into being dads and write blogs about being Cool Mamas and whatnot.

                  I’ll go one more and say I see a similar sentiment amongst my stump-jumper kinfolk and their world, particular the kids in their 20s. These kids are the kids of my erstwhile peers, and I’m seeing a joy to parenting that I really don’t think I saw from our folks back in the day. Stories I’ve been told have more than one newly minted grandma/pa admitting s/he could’ve done a better job but likes how his/her kid is rocking things.

                  So, yeah, not apropos of much, but a positive stroke, I like to think.

                • Aimai says:

                  I agree completely with the notion that WWI and II, followed by the Korean War, really emotionally disabled a whole lot of men of that generation qua parent and also qua husband. A lot of the “strong/silent type” of masculinity may really be an aberration. As was the assumption that marriage meant misery (“the ‘ol ball and chain”) for both parties. I just don’t see that assumption anymore. If people are going to get married they seem to really want to get married and anticipate happiness. I know plenty of divorced couples but the vast majority of people I know in my own class/social circle are very happilly married and extremely devoted to child rearing–its not a chore that people feel forced to do.

                • BigHank53 says:

                  If I recall my history correctly, the Hell’s Angels and other motorcycle gangs were basically started by WWII vets who couldn’t re-integrate into society and picked up military surplus motorcycles for $300.

              • (Shakezula) says:

                That would make perfect sense.

                *Here young man, let’s put you through some shit that will peel your mind like an orange. [Repeat for a few months or more.]
                *Congrats, you’re still physically intact, mostly, you get to go back home.
                *By the way, any hint that you didn’t just shake it off with a laugh and a shrug will be treated as a sign you’re a WEAK AND WORTHLESS.
                *Have a nice life!

              • LeeEsq says:

                It makes a lot of sense. Both my grandfathers managed to stay state-side during World War II. My maternal grandfather was nearly thirty and was a skilled draftsman, so we got work in war related work. The paternal grandfather was assigned to the Coast Guards. My parents had relatively good experience with my parents. Any screwiness was basically a result of being the first fully assimilated generation since my Great-Grandparents were very Orthodox Jews.

            • Katya says:

              I highly recommend The Best Years of Our Lives. It deals precisely with the difficulty of re-adjusting to civilian life after WWII (plus, it has Myrna Loy!).

            • DrDick says:

              My father was still having nightmares about his experiences in WWII (Guam, Saipan, & Iwo Jima) in his 70s.

        • CJColucci says:

          Where’s Loomis when we need him?

  6. Matt T. in New Orleans says:

    Wasn’t “Paul Kemp” the whiney-white-guy protagonist of Hunter Thompson’s should-have-stayed-list novel? Either was, this comes off as something a ’50s style dudebro would bleat.

  7. Patricia Kayden says:

    From the link: “So I write, and I tell stories about men who would never run ahead of women and children on a sinking ship, and I hope that some readers internalize that notion and live it out if they’re ever called on to do so.”

    Well, isn’t that nice of him?

  8. LeeEsq says:

    “We’re men, we’re mainly men. We’re men in tights.”

  9. James E. Powell says:

    I’ve seen quite a few of these “I’m a man for manly men!” blog posts over the years and this one is really not that bad.

    To me it reads, “I was raised with a certain narrative and I am not only going to adopt it, I’m going to reproduce it.”

    It’s an odd thing. I’ve seen it before but do not understand it – a person with a sort of nostalgia for a world that the person never experienced. When he was growing up, did all or most of the men in his life drink a lot, womanize, answer violence with violence? Were they really all stoic, courageous? Did he and his pals really face death together?

    • Vance Maverick says:

      Chandler’s version of this is so much better (“down these mean streets a man must go” etc.) And even that is sententious and leaden compared to his books.

  10. Karen says:

    Here’s another example. Zuhlsdorf is a Totally Not At Gay Catholic priest whose particular obsession is “masculine” worship.

    • Another Holocene Human says:

      OMG the comments.

      • Karen says:

        When the original post is bad, NEVER read the comments. I did, and I despair for humanity, especially that part of humanity that has any contact with Zuhlsdorf, the AirSoft priest, or any of those altar boys.

        • wjts says:

          “The Greatest Generation, those men who fought in WWII. came from some families which still hunted for food, which knew how to shoot, and be responsible with guns. They were close enough to the prairie experience to understand what it means to protect a family.”

          According to the numerous WWII films I’ve seen over the years, each infantry squad in the ETO was equipped with an M1942-JGfB (Jewish Guy from Brooklyn, 1942 pattern). I am… dubious that those guys were particularly close to the “prairie experience”.

          • Hogan says:

            You guys’re an elite corps. [khoff] They say I’m hard, and I am hard. They say I am a bastard, and I’ll tell you what, I am a bastard. A hard, tough bastard. A tough, hard bastard with a pumpkin for a head. But that doesn’t mean I can’t be proud’a you dumb lugs. And I am proud of you. All’a you — Wycziezbsky, O’Brien, McTavish, Silverstein, Pucci, and the little Norwegian. While some guys have skedaddled, and others have bolted into the castle, we’re the Joes that have faced the facts. And the facts are this. Is this. Are … whatever. [khoff khoff] We’re at war.

          • Froley says:

            According to the same films, the M1942-JGfBs were responsible for many Midwestern soldiers’ first experiences with the confusion and horror upon receiving incoming sarcasm.

          • Karen says:

            All squadrons in WWII had a Jewish kid from Brooklyn, an Italian from the Bronx, a hillbilly who got killed in the first reel, right after asking somebody to write his mother, and a steely-eyed, lantern-jawed WASP from the Midwest who saved everyone’s lives.

            • wjts says:

              You forgot the Irish guy and the quiet guy who loses it in the third or fourth reel.

            • Tehanu says:

              The hillbilly got killed in the first reel, sure, but it wasn’t his mother — it was his girl. “We’re getting married as soon as I get home!”

              • Karen says:

                Oh, you’re right. And yes, there has to be a quiet, bookish type to die right before the final firefight and an Irish troublemaker who becomes Mr. Midwest’s best friend.

                • wjts says:

                  There were two types of quiet guys. The quiet bookish one who bought it before the big firefight was usually issued to squads serving in Italy and North Africa, but by the time of the Normandy landings and the advance into Germany that type was replaced by a newer model who lost his shit somewhere between 2/3rds and 3/4ths of the way through the mission, endangering the entire team and usually costing the life of at least one other soldier. This newer model was not popular with the troops, although it remained in service through both Korea and Vietnam.

          • herr doktor bimler says:

            The Greatest Generation … were close enough to the prairie experience to understand what it means to protect a family

            Forgive my skepticism. On this side of the world, the troops sent off to WW2 were mainly urban… rural families were considered to be involved in Crucial Wartime Industry, and therefore exempt.
            See also industrial workforce shortages, Rosie the Riveter, etc.

            • N__B says:

              My two uncles who were drafted for WWII into, in their words, the fucking infantry, were both from the South Bronx. There was a deficit of prairie dogs in their combined life experience.

    • Ralph Wiggum says:

      Of course, the actual veteran (and someone who actually apparently pays attention to Catholic Just War theology) is shouted down, not least for quoting that long-haired hippy peace-freak, Pope Paul VI.

      • wjts says:

        I wonder if they argue that Maximilian Kolbe should be stripped of his sainthood on account of how he took the sissy way out rather than grabbing the machine gun from his captors’ hands and blasting his way to freedom like a Real Man would have.

  11. I have am a bad-ass but only after I’ve eaten my preferred species of chili.

    • Aimai says:

      Glurg. Reading that was very, very, difficult.

      • Karen says:

        The argument — to give the thing an undeserved honor — boils down to “boys won’t grow up unless they dislike their mothers.” I’m the mother of sons, so this makes me particularly livid.

        • Aimai says:

          I think its quite creepy the way he talks about “social engineers”–by which he seems to mean women and liberals–while demanding that a different form of social engineering be practiced by men such as himself. Its all social engineering–there is absolutely nothing new in a man arguing that the energy and goals of young men be channelled by their seniors in directions that the elders approve of. Why he (and his readers) pretend this is something new and different is beyond me. He is afraid of young men who he believes are incapable of being raised honorably by their own parents and schools and he wishes to substitute a form of gang membership for them to prevent them from becoming too individualistic and (in his mind) too independent and alienated from the virtues he feels they need.

          • As I understand it, “social engineer” means (in those circles) someone who tries to change someone’s mind about something by discussing it with them, away from the natural order of things.

            • Aimai says:

              I think its pretty clear that the term “social engineer” is meant to contrast communist/liberal thought with natural law–communists and liberals and psychologists and (probably) Jews talk about the desirability of changing previously understood custom or “natural” behavior while heterosexual marriage defenders, catholic priests, and republicans acknowledge life as it is and also natural law. So its “social engineering,” for example, to try to get people to share but its just nature to let the free market reign. Its “social engineering” to try to stop bullying but its just nature to let the jocks and the high status people bully the gays and the outcasts. Its social engineering to institute TItle 9 and affirmative action policies but its not social engineering to have legacy acceptance criteria for private schools or for there to be all male organizations.

              • Anonymous says:

                “Its “social engineering” to try to stop bullying but its just nature to let the jocks and the high status people bully the gays and the outcasts”

                This one is natural. Lots of animals live in cliques with social heirarchies and abuse where getting kicked out is a death sentence.

                That said, dogs eating their own poo is natural but that’s not a justification for letting your child do the same thing.

                Your objection is not so much with “natural” it’s with the notion that “natural” = “morally right”

              • You’re right. I confused it with a different use of “social engineering” (but the only one I’ve actually heard a person use).

                I think you’re crediting the post with your own background knowledge of a position like the writer’s, though.

                • Aimai says:

                  Well, I read the post which uses “social engineering” to mean “mothers” and liberals and teachers and liberals and its a pretty common trope on the right wing to oppose specifically liberal ideas about “social engineering” with conservative hard headed realism about “human nature” so I suppose you could say I was reading that into the post. But if you read around, especially Catholic thought, you will often find social engineering used in just this way–its the thing that limp wristed liberals do that good catholics and conservatives don’t do. You know who else uses “social engineering” this way? Paul Ryan, Eric Cantor, and pretty much the entire kit and caboodle of the Republicans in the house and the senate.

                • I’ve only heard the sense you’re using it in w/r/t Hayek and similar theorists, and only online. I’ve read some conservative sites and I’ve never seen it used there. I suddenly started hearing it used, though, in discussions of things like talking to people in bars, or calling them on the phone to get their passwords and other private information–and by extension to both e-mailing people to con them into thinking you’re someone you’re not, and plain phishing operations–but a bit paranoid as if everyone who wanted your information was about to use it to manipulate your accounts.

                  I agree that the writer is probably echoing a use of the term he’s heard elsewhere, but the “logic” is such an incoherent blog of incompatible statements that I’d hesitate to guess at what other beliefs the writer has. Anyone who’s willing to say little boys shouldn’t be punished for aggressive behavior is either in a dream-world or is using “aggressive” in some dream-like definition where it doesn’t include hitting and biting.

    • Oh, great. I could only read one paragraph, but it’s nice to know that refusing to “punish” little boys when they show “aggression” will make for teenagers and men who are better able to handle their aggression. Because “male initiation” or something. Without “male initiation” boys will turn to gangs.

    • Gwen says:

      I got about six paragraphs in and then I felt like gouging my eyes out.

    • ChrisTS says:

      Oh, gack, I admit I find it even worse that this was written by a priest.

    • Sly says:

      When I think of victims of bullying, my mind immediately turns to a Byzantine Emperor who had his male relatives on his father’s side blinded and/or their tongue’s cut out because people thought he was a shitty ruler (and he was).

      • Hogan says:

        The great thing about a Catholic education is the range of historical and cultural references you can deploy to pretty up your most violent and authoritarian impulses. The right shade of lipstick for any pig.

    • Jeffrey Beaumont says:

      Probably not even vaguely fair to lump that garbage from catholic men or whatever with Paul Kemp.

  12. dsn says:

    Everything you wanted to know about (actual) badasses

    The writing style may feature some over the top metaphors, but a lot of these guys were in fact, as crazy as their writeups make them out to be.

  13. Lee Rudolph says:

    Some call them the Mad Mullahs…but they call themselves Badasses from the Madrassas!

    (Now showing in selected theaters; everywhere this Friday.)

  14. Nobdy says:

    Honor, courtesy, respect for self and others

    How could a woman ever be expected to adopt such manly virtues? Their biology would never allow it. Why if a woman were to attempt courtesy her womb would fly out through her netherport and slap her in the face, using the fallopian tubes as slapping flippers. This is simple science.

    Or is it that those things are just assumed in women as a baseline expectation of society (of course many women lack them, but they are expected to have them nonetheless) and virtues in men because so many dudes are lacking them??

    P.S. While men are mostly larger and stronger than women the real reason that certain pursuits are more closely associated with men, besides culture, is risk appetite and testosterone driven violence appetite. Some of the reason men have more of these are cultural, some are biological (testosterone is a helluva drug) but these lauded appetites are mostly maladaptive in modern society. They may fuel the heroic but restrained cop, but they also fuel police brutality and criminal thuggery (one of the things jail does best to control crime is to let young men age out of their testosterony 20s while segregated from society). And non-violent risk appetitite does fuel entrepreneurship and innovation but also things like the financial collapse and dangerous driving. Whoops.

    This guy is super self-satisified for someone who has not thought through what he is saying at all.

  15. Anderson says:

    “The traditions of masculinity? What are they? I will tell you. They are three: rape, murder, and domestic battery. Good day, gentlemen.”

    (w/apologies to WSC)

  16. Aimai says:

    I don’t find the original post that bad, actually. The guy basically cops to writing fantasies of the kind of man he’d like to be, being rewarded by the kind of success he’d like his heroes to have in a world he’d like to be in. In other words: he’s a fantasist. He adds to that a dream that if people followed “the rules” and were “virtuous” the world would be a better place. Hey! I think that too! Of course, I’m not under any illusion that the virtues, such as they were, of Le Morte D’Artur, Conan the Barbarian, or Roman “virtu” (scare quotes here because he’s clearly not talking about anything actually practiced by any real Romans) have anything at all to do with, say, women and children first.

    Virtu, as understood by a Roman elite, certainly didn’t put women and children first at any time. Ditto for the virtues of the actual Morte D’Artur. If he read any real histories, like, say, Barbara Tuchmann’s history of the 14th century.

    I have really complicated feelings about all this focus on warfare and killing as the primary masculine virtues. I see the attraction, I really do. I was a big lover of Conan when I was a young girl and longed to respond to violence with violence. However, in the context of the lives most people live 1) only some kinds of women and children have their interests actually vindicated by the violent acts of men. And 2) Most of the rights which are important to me as a woman and a mother are not so much vindicated by violence as derailed by it. My husband, and countless other good men, have worked tirelessly to perform their functions as husbands, fathers, citizens through endurance and hard work, not killing people.

    • jim, some guy in iowa says:

      i’ve read worse things, I think… though billing himself as the ‘ayatollah of rockandrollah’ kind of digs a hole right off

      he should try writing his kind of book with a woman protagonist. from how he describes his own politics, I’m kind of surprised he doesn’t – it might do really well

      • Aimai says:

        Robert E. Howard used to say that he wrote Conan the way he did because it cut down on how much thought he had to give his plots. Conan basically just cut his way out of every dilemma, hacked his way through every situation. There can’t be any life lessons for the ordinary man or woman, or even the ordinary person in society with that as a framework.

        This is another thing which reading this guy’s blog made me think. There’s a reason why westerns and war novels are a specialized genre–because they are cut off from reality and from familial life. The entire point of Shane, for example, is that the lone gunfighter can’t co-exist with the family farm. (You could make the same argument, of course, for John Wayne’s character in The Searchers). The blogger concentrates specifically on men and men’s relationships because (he says) he thinks they are cool and also so very necessary to inculcating virtues–but actually those warlike relationships and all male buddy/trench style relationships don’t really inculcate the virtues necessary for civilization or working with lots of other people or doing the daily sacrifices that are necessary for working and living together with other people. Sure, you might be well trained to order people into line or organize them to get off the Concordia, but you are probably not going to accept the daily grind and humiliation of laboring without reward to feed your family.

        Martial virtues are a special kind of virtue–they aren’t usually applied to non military persons or situations, the honor of non members/non males/sexually active women doesn’t even exist in any real sense. So martial virtues don’t really work in democracies, where lots of different races, sexes, and kinds of people need to intermingle and be respected. Martial virtues, at least historically, are also rather all or nothing. You win or you lose. But real social life is full of half measures, compromises,a nd struggles that can’t easily be resolved into winners and losers. Or one has to keep slogging even having lost social status.

        But those would be very, very, grim novels to write–exactly the same gloomy, pointless, stories that Thers was pillorying over at Whiskey Fire today in “Patriotism at the Fillums” where his dejected interlocutor suffers the horror of watching “Lone Survivor” and finding out that its possible to write a warrior story in which the warrior doesn’t win.

        • jim, some guy in iowa says:

          i think you’ve put into words better than I could why my favorite junk/genre reading is Ross Macdonald’s Lew Archer series. there weren’t usually very happy endings – most of the time all Archer really did was figure out how things got so screwed up, and hoped that was enough to get the survivors on a different track

          • Aimai says:

            I think now is a great time to put up a link to O No, John Ringo.

            If you have never read this incredible review, you should. But the reason I put it up here is that the John Ringo books are all about the “masculine virtues” and the “fun with violence” trope without having any meaningful connection with the lived experience of most men and women or, if it is anything like their lived experience, their experience is so degraded and violent and miserable that its hardly worth living.

            • rea says:

              To be fair, John Ringo heartily approved of that review, which might lead one to suspect that the books were written with a certain amount of sarcastic intent:


              • BigHank53 says:

                Some of John Ringo’s self-awareness seems to have worn thin over the years. One of his recent books spent a paragraph sneering over organic farming ’cause they use shit to fertilize fields. Having grown up near some dairy farms, I can assure Mr. Ringo that they have always used shit to fertilize fields, because (a) it works and (b) finding a few tons of free shit to spread on your field isn’t a difficult trick for many farmers. Last year he reportedly pitched a snit over John Scalzi’s winning a Hugo, with a bunch of whining about “political correctness.”

              • Aimai says:

                Yeah, no, I think he’s a nice guy and he took a ribbing pretty well but I don’ tthink he wrote those books with any kind of “sarcastic intent.” I think he liked spinning those fantasies, unironically and certainly with no didactic intent.

                • I don’t remember where I saw this, but according to Ringo he wanted to write another book and the OH JOHN RINGO NO kept crawling inside his head and making it impossible for him to write the other stuff he wanted.

                  So he told his publisher about it, (supposedly) to say that he wanted to write the damn book and get it out of the way, and the publisher was all like “Huh, I think that would actually sell.”

                  Of course, the part that I’m leaving out here is that Ringo still had to actually make the choice to write the book and publish it. But as you say that’s where the fantasist comes in.

                • But Ringo had published the books already, that were being critiqued in the famous “O, John Ringo, no” essay. He’s not in any worse sitution than any other shlock writer who finds out that people don’t universally admire reading his soft porn/mary sue fantasies or that what he is writing is kind of disgusting to normal people and his real fans are drooling morons. David Lodge wrote a pretty funny fictional account of a “serious” writer whose works are fed through a computer program and who discovers that he “always uses the word hand within ten words of the word breast” in an incredibly creepy and ritualistic way (IIRC). So my withers are unwrung for Ringo.

          • Anderson says:

            The gumshoe as psychiatrist, was my overall impression. Makes some of the series feel a bit dated.

            • jim, some guy in iowa says:

              oh sure. everything that doesn’t have a smartphone is dated. and Macdonald wasn’t quite the Writer he wanted to be, either

              but i’ll take a bit of psychiatry, even though the whole thing is kind of debunked now, over the ten million and seventh iteration of revenge porn

        • Karen says:

          Your comment about martial values and virtues being incompatible with civilian democratic virtues casts in interesting light on why these two genres – westerns and Conan fantasies — became so popular after WWI and WWII.

          • Hogan says:

            There’s always been a streak of Cincinnatus in American culture–martial virtues aren’t something you cultivate; when there’s a war that needs fighting, you fight it without a bunch of fuss and then take off your uniform, go home and carry on with what you were doing. It’s the Washington/Grant/Eisenhower tradition. The other streak is represented by McClellan, Patton and MacArthur. You know–assholes.

        • The entire point of Shane, for example, is that the lone gunfighter can’t co-exist with the family farm. (You could make the same argument, of course, for John Wayne’s character in The Searchers).

          Or A View from the Bridge, which is an enormously schematic drama about the difference between the Old Country (in this case Sicily) and Civilized Life, the Oresteia in English. (I don’t know who it was who ruined Miller, the postwar college English department or the Communists.)

        • Herbal Infusion Bagger says:

          There’s some tragic irony in R.E. Howard, who created multiple archetypical manly “lone wolf” characters (Conan, Kull, Bran Mak Morn, Turlough Dubh, Solomon Kane), killing himself immediately after the death of his mother.

          • Aimai says:

            did he really? I forgot that. I had all his books when I was a teenager. Wish I still had them. He even wrote medieval romances among his other potboilers.

          • Jaime Oria says:

            IIRC, his mother was on her deathbed and Howard couldn’t face seeing her go, so he went first.

            • Aimai says:

              I just read the wiki on him. It looks like he prepared in advance to kill himself, even buying an entire family cemetery plot and leaving lots of clues and orders for after his own death, got the gun and waited until the Nurse told him his mother was not going to recover from her long struggle with TB and her coma.

        • Hogan says:

          (You could make the same argument, of course, for John Wayne’s character in The Searchers).

          Or his character in The Man who Shot Liberty Valance, or his character in The Sands of Iwo Jima, or his character in . . . hey, wait a minute . . .

      • he should try writing his kind of book with a woman protagonist. from how he describes his own politics, I’m kind of surprised he doesn’t – it might do really well

        Filmwise, Salt was apparently written for Tom Cruise and is the standard ridiculous nonsense, but it WAS interesting for having Angelina Jolie avenge her innocent husband by killing dozens and blowing shit up.

      • slightly_peeved says:

        billing himself as the ‘ayatollah of rockandrollah’

        So he’s modelling himself on a Canadian singer/songwriter and actor then? Not that he isn’t extremely athletic, but I think it’s apt that he models himself on someone who is pretending to fight.

    • MacCheerful says:

      It is also interesting to note that the nuance involved in the virtue he describes – actually intelligently putting the needs of weaker individuals first (while swinging a sword and bedding the nubile) is so difficult that for most people masculinity just becomes the sword swinging.

      I give you Bret Hume on who recently has demonstrated masculinity:

      It’s too obvious to point out that the only person Chris (and his aides) was putting first was Chris. It’s also that the real masculine virtue being prized is not virtue or self sacrifice but directness – going from point A to point B in as straight a line as possible without concern about social or ethical constraints.

      So sure, more stories about self sacrificing virtuous handsome warriors would not be a bad thing if they really demonstrate those virtues.

    • Major Kong says:

      It ain’t all it’s cracked up to be.

      I was utterly terrified – but I got in the plane and flew it anyway.

      • Hogan says:

        Archie Gates: You’re scared, right?

        Conrad Vig: Maybe.

        Archie Gates: The way it works is, you do the thing you’re scared shitless of, and you get the courage AFTER you do it, not before you do it.

        Conrad Vig: That’s a dumbass way to work. It should be the other way around.

        Archie Gates: I know. That’s the way it works.

    • Hogan says:

      Who was that guy who wrote the eight-part gazillion-word version of this post? Friend of Vox Day? This is way better than that; at least it doesn’t go much beyond “I tell the stories I tell because they’re the stories I want to hear,” which is fair enough. Traditional masculinity virtus blah whatever; just keep it in the books and in your pants and we’ll get along fine.

      • bspencer says:

        I think if he had just said “I want to write stories about larger-than-life guys doing badass-type stuff because that’s what I like” I wouldn’t have blinked. Because there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.

        I just think he’s still–even if he doesn’t realize it–consigning certain behaviors to men and certain others to women. (And it just so happens that all the men stuff is the stuff he digs and admires.)

        • Hogan says:

          Oh yeah, he’s still running about two quarts low on self-awareness, but at least he doesn’t seem to be insisting that his fantasy is what reality should look like.

    • Ronan says:

      I think a world where people followed the rules (all the time?) and were virtous (all the time again?) would be terrible
      when i go, I want it to be sobbing uncontrollably at 110 yrs of age, begging god for another few decades.

      • Aimai says:

        Youll be sobbing, but not for another few decades. Adventures and breaking all the rules are mot equal to fun, actually, no matter how many comic books you have collected.

        • Ronan says:

          im not speaking in favour of adventures, im speaking against them – or at least the ones where you end up dead. i dont see any attraction to killing or dying tbh, and certainly think any rules or virtures that this gombeen would put us under would be more than justly broken. so a world of virtues and rules written by the some uber mensch? nein danke

          • Aimai says:

            I don’t understand what rules you think anyone is making you follow?

            • Ronan says:

              well the context is obviously the OP, and the fantasies of the link, which i dont see any positives in personally. as in:

              “He adds to that a dream that if people followed “the rules” and were “virtuous” the world would be a better place. Hey! I think that too! ”


              “I have really complicated feelings about all this focus on warfare and killing as the primary masculine virtues. I see the attraction, I really do. ”

              all im saying is I dont see how, if people followed the rules and virtues he lays out,
              the world is going to be in any way a better place. itd be terrible, imo
              anyway this isnt really here nor there.

              in the *real world*, no i dont really think there are any meanigful ‘rules’ that people are making me follow which are making my life difficult.

              obvs the context is the thread – or i prob should have been clearer i guess

    • Medicine Man says:

      I was going to say something similar.

      I don’t have any objection to someone writing some pulp fiction if they’re being honest about what they’re up to. It is the John Ringo/Vox Day types who are compelled to take their unrealistically idealized masculinity, wear it like a security blanket, and then project scorn on to anyone not like-minded. The author of this blog post, Paul Kemp, seems to do a bit of both but at least isn’t a gaping asshole about it.

      I rate this one “M” for meh.

  17. Jon C. says:

    the percentage of people who are actual real-life badasses is vanishingly small. And, men, chances are very very very good that YOU’RE NOT ONE OF THEM. And you never will be.

    “Sure, I could have stayed in the past. I could have even been king. But in my own way, I am king. Hail to the King, baby.”

  18. brad says:

    Look, being a bad ass depends on how the flesh between your legs is shaped, not on your competency at the skills required to be bad ass in any context, especially not fictive ones. And the notion of virtue held by warriors who cut off and preserved the penises of their opponents on occasion as trophies is entirely relevant to being a manly man of manly virtue today.
    So there. Stoopid girls. Stay on your side of the playground.

    • patgreene says:

      I know you’re being sarcastic, and I appreciate it, but when I hear men (and sometimes women) making those arguments in seriousness, I want to tell them about my sister-in-law. She’s a delicate flower, 5’4″ with long blond hair and quite pretty, who can lift a three hundred pound man and carry him out of a burning building. She’s an EMT and a firefighter and currently captain at her firehouse. (She also raises horses, but that’s beside the point.) She’s a true badass.

  19. But sadly, like all the greats, El Macho was gone too soon. He died in the most macho way possible: riding a shark with 250 pounds of dynamite strapped to his chest into the mouth of an active volcano! It was glorious!

  20. Kamron says:

    Just thinking that if I replace “man” with “white”, I wonder if the guy would get why he’s the recipient of the lolcat above… (despite his nice disavowals at the end of the post).
    “My characters- as a rule they’re white. They’re smart, brave, strong, and industrious. Do I write this way because Im a racist? No, I do not. I write this way because I read a lot of SciFi about white people when I was young, and it was inspiring to me. And because, when I look around the world, I see white people behaving badly- not at all up to the standards of white people from the fiction of my youth, or of the standard I have set for myself as a white person.”
    “Now, the internet being what it is, I’m sure someone somewhere will read this and conclude something about me personally- that Im a racist. But I think anyone of any color can be smart, brave, strong, and benevolent. I voted for Obama ferchrisake!
    I merely reject the idea that exposing the virtues of white people is anti-black.
    By providing exemplars of certain behaviors and characteristics that I consider virtuous, I am not thereby asserting that other behaviors and characteristics are necessarily non-virtuous. E.g., I think it’s great for a black to be smart and industrious or otherwise demonstrate discipline. I think it’s great when a white guy plays jazz like a real musician or tries to do hip-hop or even dances.”

    In the comments, he gives an example about a mugger, which Ill translate to Racist thusly:
    “Now, let’s say we’ve got a white guy and a black guy who start businesses. If the white guy’s business fails due to lack of industriousness, that’s just pathetic. I think we can all agree that’s pathetic. If you don’t think a white guy being lazy is pathetic, I don’t even want to talk to you.
    But the black guy- if he works hard (and some do!) and has a successful business, that’s awesome and I love black people so it’s even more awesome. But if he lays around in his underwear all day watching soaps and eating fried chicken, well I don’t think anyone would really condemn him for just being himself. Certainly not the way we’d condemn a white guy who behaved like that.”

  21. Lurker says:

    What, then, us a manly man? I remember very well an officer debriefing a platoon after an exercise:
    Now, I want to mention one man for his extraordinary deeds. Private X was the last man of the third squad. His position was to guard the back of the platoon. As required by the tactical doctrine, he took his position automatically. He calmly turned his back to the action and kept scanning the forest. Nothing happened for an hour. The forest was completely empty. He missed all the interesting things, looking vigilantly at unarmed trees. He is a fucking hero! He did his job without complaining, although it is utterly unglamourous. He watched the backs of everyone else. Remember: if you don’t have anything to do, you can always at least look at a direction no one else is looking at.

    Full disclosure: I was not the private X, nor the officer. I qualify for neither level of badassery. I just happened to be watching.

  22. Sisyphus says:

    There is no normal. There are just people. Comparisons to some “norm” are really the root of inequality.

  23. Paul Herzberg says:

    Any excuse to quote The X-Files:

    “Rugged, manly men in the full bloom of their manhood.”

  24. Do better says:

    Is this a troll post? Are you all really that upset or just looking to kick up some dust? Don’t you have a prius to drive? Maybe a fart to smell? Or how about a starving kid in Micronesia to save with your facebook posts? Ey kid, there a loose thread in your sweatervest. Maybe you can fix it with your PhD in creative writing.

  25. joe from Lowell says:

    They drink a lot. They sometimes womanize. They answer violence with violence…They have their emotions mostly in check.

    That jumped out at me. They get all rowdy and drink and fuck and fight, but they have their emotions in check. What does that mean?

  26. Halloween Jack says:

    For the (web)comic relief: Manly Guys Doing Manly Things. Lots of videogame injokes, but should be enjoyable to the ungamed, nevertheless.

  27. guthrie says:

    I cringe whenever I hear someone say, to a boy ” You throw like a girl”. It’s splitting up the world into things that men do and things that women do, and they don’t overlap, and girls can’t throw. Whereas in real life, they definitely can and do.

  28. […] Lawyers, Guns and Money, B. Spencer points out that ninety-nine percent of men are not bad-asses either and that denigrating women won’t turn them into […]

  29. […] Guns and Money is skeptical about the excessive hyping of masculinity by authors claiming to be very […]

  30. […] including Liz Bourke, Deb E. Howell, Cora Buhlert, Kameron Hurley, Chuck Wendig, Sam Sykes, and B. Spencer. Their responses discussed numerous reasons why Kemp’s post is misguided at best, deeply […]

  31. […] Mainly Manly Writing about Manly Men […]

  32. […] at Lawyers, Guns and Money hates Paul Kemp’s post on Why I write masculine stories. When you think about real-life heroes, […]

  33. […] “Anxious masculinity is such a bummer.” […]

  34. […] is the “every man has an inner badass and one tango with a troll will unleash it” writ large. And I hate that I’m having to disabuse people of this idea again. But here goes: […]

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