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“Traditional” masculinity: incoherent and odious

[ 250 ] June 4, 2014 |

In the case of Douthat vs. DeBoer, we find for DeBoer and reject Jonathan Chait’s strange finding that Douthat’s rejoinder to him is “persuasive and highly interesting.”*

DeBoer (writing in the immediate aftermath of the Santa Barbara shootings):

There’s an even deeper problem, though, for men who explicitly embrace traditional masculinity: there’s nothing traditional about knowing you’re embracing tradition. Whatever their virtues or vices, the manly men from long ago that these bros imagine they are emulating didn’t spend all their time thinking about what it meant to be manly men. Indeed: it’s precisely the unthinking acceptance of the gender hierarchy that gave these men the “confidence” (read: entitlement) that neo-masculinists want to emulate. But you can’t think your way to an unthinking prejudice. If you have to read a website to tell you to be traditionally masculine, you will never, ever be traditionally masculine. You can’t choose an unchosen attitude. John Wayne did not have a blog. And I truly believe that it’s the combination of this association between masculinity and the capacity for violence on one hand, and the ambient postmodernism we live in on the other, that creates these monsters.

The last two sentences strike me as a non-sequitur and a dubious overstatement, respectively; as Douthat rightly points out, Wayne’s masculinity is just as self-conscious and performative as the contemporary manifestations of toxic masculinity. But the larger point here is one I concur with quite strongly, and wrote about here: contemporary conceptions of masculinity are fundamentally toxic to both self and society, and anyone concerned with human freedom and flourishing should celebrate the relegation of the celebration of a meaningful, normative thing called “masculinity” to the historical dustbin.

Douthat’s response has half a point: Deboer’s discussion seems to conflate different versions of masculinity:

I mean, I understand his point insofar as ”the celebration of violence, sexual entitlement, throbbing misogyny, and a fake self-confidence” are problems that have always particularly infected the male half of humanity, and the sexism inherent in traditional gender hierarchies has allowed men to get away with violent, entitled, hateful behavior on an often-epic scale. But he’s making an argument about “traditional masculinity” as something distinct from “sexism,” as a cultural problem unto itself — an unworkable model for male aspiration, a life-ruining ideal, that straitjackets today’s young men with its toxic, sex-and-violence-saturated demands.

And I just don’t quite know what he’s talking about, because in our culture — Western, English-speaking, American — the traditional iconography of masculine heroism doesn’t really resemble this “Grand Theft Auto”/”Scarface” description at all. I mean, yes, if the “tradition” you have in mind is Pashtun honor killings, then I agree, traditional masculinity would be better off extinct. But where American society is concerned, when I look at the sewers of misogyny or the back alleys of “bro” culture, I mostly see men in revolt against both feminism and our culture’s older images of masculine strength and self-possession, not men struggling to inhabit the latter tradition, or live up to its impossible/immoral demands.

Take the one icon De Boer tosses off as example: The Western-movie hero, the John Wayne figure, the unselfconscious manly man. (Wayne himself, of course, was just as self-consciously performative in his way as any contemporary pick-up artist guru: He didn’t have a blog, but he was an actor with a stage name …) From De Boer’s description of what “traditional masculinity” entails, you would think that the archetypal movies of Wayne’s genre celebrated mass murder and sexual entitlement, or throbbed with palpable misogyny, or made true manliness look like a matter of imposing your will at gunpoint and then reaping your reward in bedpost notches. But watch some famous Westerns from the pre-Peckinpah era: Do you regularly see characters bedding a steady stream of willing women while shooting their way to fame and fortune? Surely not as often as you see men, in the style of the lead characters in “High Noon” and “Shane,” reluctantly shouldering a burden of violence and paying a heavy moral price; not as often as you see men (including Wayne in several of his most iconic roles) who don’t get the girl, don’t get sexual fulfillment (not a major theme of the genre, to put it mildly) or the life of domesticity they want, precisely because of their identity as gunslingers and the obligations and/or sins that accompany that way of life.

Now one can critique the “lonely gunslinger” trope on all sorts of ideological levels, but it’s very hard to see the kind of masculine ideal embodied by Shane and Will Kane as looming large, in any meaningful way, in the fantasy lives of contemporary misogynists. Whereas what clearly does loom large is a much more contemporary fixation: The male hero as lothario/ruthlessly effective killer predates the 1960s (every eras has had its outlaws, its fascinating anti-heroes, its Casanovas), but it comes in much more strongly in American culture with James Bond and Hugh Hefner and Howard Roark, and then with the ‘roidal action heroes and Bruckheimer fantasias of the 1980s. If you’re seeking a full-throttle of “celebration of violence,” the place to turn is “Bonnie and Clyde” or “The Wild Bunch,” not the work of Marion Mitchell Morrison. If you want “sexual entitlement, throbbing misogyny, and … fake self-confidence” layered on top, I recommend “Top Gun,” not the filmography of John Ford.

And the same point obtains if you widen your cultural lens beyond the Western and action genres, and look at “traditional” images of masculinity elsewhere in the imaginative landscape of the pre-sexual revolution past. De Boer says he wants a 21st century model of masculine heroism that isn’t ”anti-strength … anti-confidence or anti-leadership or anti-toughness,” that isn’t “anti-sex,” that avoids a simple “association between male strength and the capacity for violence,” and that doesn’t reductively associate “a man’s value with the number of women he has sex with.” I’d like that too! But I don’t see what’s particularly anti-traditional about that vision, since an image of masculinity that fulfills all of those conditions was not only present but ubiquitous all across the popular entertainments of the 19th and early 20th century.

Douthat wants to separate cultural conceptions of masculinity into two distinct and discrete models, pre- and post-sexual revolution, in order to rehabilitate the former and rescue it from the irredeemable taint of the latter. (Set aside here that he obviously overstates the non-sexual nature of the traditional image of masculinity.) Here’s why this can’t work: contemporary conceptions of masculinity draw haphazardly and inconsistently from both. It’s not, and has never been, a coherent ideology, so it can draw from both in entirely contradictory ways (consider our horrifying visit from “That Incel blogger,” a blogger in a movement enraged by the failures of pick-up artist techniques: he decries the evil of women not having sex with him on demand, while at the same time laments.…”a lack of female premarital chastity”). It’s less a narrative and more a pastische. Since both versions of masculinity are built on unearned and underdefended privileges and entitlements based on gender, they never made much sense to begin with. Both the modern and more traditional versions of masculinity are fodder for the confused, disconnected, and insecure to attempt to piece together a sense of self based on one’s genitalia and what it’s supposed to mean; expecting that to make sense or maintain internal consistency isn’t plausible or realistic.



Comments (250)

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  1. I have to respond to him at length, eventually, but in brief I’ll just say this: Douthat may very well be right to critique me for confusing traditional masculinity with some distorted vision of it that is actually fairly new. I think that, as you do here, there are some deeper pathologies lurking in the vision he prefers than he lets on. But more to the immediate point: while they might be wrong, the men who create the culture of neo-traditionalist masculinity THINK they’re endorsing traditional masculinity. They see themselves as part of a lineage of masculine ideals, which is threatened by women and “political correctness” and feminism and whatever else. So the question for both Ross and I is whether that corruption is inevitable. In other words, can the real, traditional masculinity be rescued by those that want it to be? Or is its corruption into the violence-and-sex fantasies of Elliot Rodger an inevitable consequence of bringing that ideal into modernity? You can guess where I stand, but I think that’s the stakes either way.

    Yes, John Wayne’s masculinity was itself performative. But he is emulated by men who believe in “John Wayne,” rather than John Wane. And while Douthat might be right in thinking that it’s unfair to judge traditional masculinity based on those who distort it while trying to achieve it, the fact is that they do distort it. Which I would argue is inevitable. Maybe traditional masculinity is preferable to “traditional masculinity,” but we have every reason to assume men will end up with the latter rather than the former.

    • DrDick says:

      Speaking as someone who grew up in the 50s and 60s in Oklahoma, this is frankly very similar to a lot of that back then, though even at the time there were diverse visions of masculinity, even within communities.

  2. Warren Terra says:

    Surely “in the case of Douthat vs. DeBoer,” the answers are (1) who cares? and (2) root for injuries!

    I mean, the signal feature of DeBoer, Academician of Rhetoric, is that he’s unreadable, and the signal feature of Douthat is that he’s unconscionable. So: why bother?

  3. Aimai says:

    IIRC John Wayne (i.e. the public, fictional, construct that was Marion Robert Morrisson) not only was wholly constructed for public delectation but he was also accused of being a violent womanizer, and played one on the screen as well. In fact my favorite Movie of his, The Quiet Man, turns on the character’s inability to embrace his own destructive masculine power (he has killed a man in the ring) and to fit in with the destructive, showy, bragging, masculinity favored by his new community (in Ireland). Its not until he gives in and performs masculinity as they see it–demanding his wife’s dowery from her brother, throwing her back to her brother as used goods, and fighting her brother that he can accept himself and be accepted. Its nothing but a struggle to achieve the right kind of masculine honor, and it goes against the character’s internal moral compass in the film.

    • Hogan says:

      “Sir! Sir! Here’s a good stick to beat the lovely lady.”

      Even Maureen O’Hara can’t get me to watch that again.

      I was thinking of The Man who Shot Liberty Valance, where Jimmy Stewart achieves manhood by getting the credit for killing Valance. Masculinity as fake but real (but real! More real than real!)

      • Aimai says:

        I still love the movie as a bit of ethnography. I love the way different notions of sexuality and marriage clash, the role of money and property in her sense of self worth and dignity, individual lines (“I can’t say its true and I won’t say its not…but there’s been talk!” “Is that a bed…or a parade ground?”) but I admit that I can’t watch it anymore, or not with my daughters.

    • Barry Freed says:

      Compare Jimmy Stewart who flew 20 combat missions over Europe in WWII and fought like hell not to be relegated to making training films and war-bond raising duties.

      Bringing up John Wayne in these contexts is always a mistake because it immediately brings to mind the notorious scene in Repo Man.

      • snarkout says:

        Or Lee Marvin or Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., or Clark Gable. You don’t even have to get into the case of actors who had a bunch of combat experience but weren’t leading-man types (like, say, Jackie Coogan). I once referred to Wayne as showing less physical bravery during World War II than Carole Lombard, and I’ll stick by that.

        But, c’mon, that don’t mean nothin’, Barry.

        • AcademicLurker says:

          My favorite along these lines is The Guns of Navarone, where several of the actors pretending to be British commandos in WW2 had in fact been British commandos in WW2.

          • snarkout says:

            “Look, you chaps only have to fight once. But I’ll have to do it all over again with Errol Flynn!”

          • Aimai says:

            For christ’s sake Hogan’s Heroes’ Lebeau had been in an actual German concentration camp.

            • Warren Terra says:

              This I didn’t know. It makes his participation in that execrable show all the more inexplicable.

              • He saw it as a way to get back at the Nazis. He wasn’t alone: The guy who played Sgt Schultz had been driven out of Austria by the Anschulss, and Werner Klemperer said that before he took the part he made sure that his character was always to play the fool.

                Fun fact: in the German-dubbed version, Col Klink talks about his housemaid who does her work naked. Them Deutchlanders and their sense of humor.

                • Warren Terra says:

                  The show portrays the Germans as ineffectual fools – but it also shows them as being vastly more humane than they in fact were, and of course it perpetuates the Western postwar error of seeing the POW situation from the perspective of Western POWs, who were treated far, far better than Eastern POWs.

                • Matty says:

                  I’m having a hard time wrapping my head around a German-dubbed version of Hogan’s Heroes. Where’s the market for a wacky comedy about a prison camp your country ran during an absolutely horrifying, brutal war that you then lost?

                • Manny Kant says:

                  Were the Germans vastly less humane to American POWs than they are depicted as being in Hogan’s Heroes? Obviously, the rest of what you say is true, but my understanding was that British and American POWs were basically treated according to the rules of war.

                • Warren Terra says:

                  Mostly, yes, but shenanigans were punished more sternly than with a seething “Hogan!“, and sometimes lethally.

                • Warren Terra says:

                  In any case, the relatively law-abiding treatment of Western POWs is an insane lens through which to view the Germany of WWII.

                • drkrick says:

                  Look, I was seven when that puppy went on the air and I knew it wasn’t exactly a documentary. I get the question of whether or not it was in good taste, but the concern that it was an important influence on how viewers thought about WWII Germany seems to give the viewers way too little credit.

                • I would say having been a hatchling then, that the public was more likely to get a sense of the way things were from war dramas like the Rat Patrol or other TV series that preceded HH, and from movies like The Longest Day, movies where you had subtitles to understand what the Nazis were saying to each other in their scenes.

                • IM says:

                  Where’s the market for a wacky comedy about a prison camp your country ran during an absolutely horrifying, brutal war that you then lost?

                  See: National socialism and second world war as a laughing matter and the heroes british and american, our new western friends.

                  A good fit for post war western germany.

                  And of course nowadays you identify with the allies anyway.

                • Hogan says:

                  war dramas like the Rat Patrol or other TV series that preceded HH, and from movies like The Longest Day

                  And more specifically, movies like Stalag 17 and The Great Escape.

                • Eric Scharf says:

                  Where’s the market for a wacky comedy about a prison camp your country ran during an absolutely horrifying, brutal war that you then lost?

                  They’re bringing back 24, aren’t they?

                • N__B says:

                  Where’s the market for a wacky comedy about a prison camp your country ran during an absolutely horrifying, brutal war that you then lost?

                  And folks, we’ve just heard the elevator pitch for The Andersonville Follies, starring Jeff Foxworthy as Hnery Wirz.

                • Erik Loomis says:

                  Wirz was German. Got to be Arnold.

                • N__B says:

                  Wirz was German. Got to be Arnold.

                  I hand my head in shame. Too much Core for me tonight, obviously.

                • Erik Loomis says:

                  I don’t want to hear anything about handing any heads with vodka.

                • Barry Freed says:

                  How about Christoph Waltz?

                • Erik Loomis says:

                  That actually could be pretty awesome. If there’s an Andersonville movie, I want Tarantino directing.

                • Halloween Jack says:

                  Where’s the market for a wacky comedy about a prison camp your country ran during an absolutely horrifying, brutal war that you then lost?

                  That would be like an American film about Vietnam, that was strongly critical of America’s conduct during that war, being a big hit in America… oh, wait.

        • Dilan Esper says:

          You know who had a worse war record than Wayne? Reagan.

  4. Anon21 says:

    I’m sort of idly curious if it’s possible to build a non-toxic masculinity. That is, a way of being and behaving that is distinctively male, but not violent, misogynistic, homophobic, or otherwise awful. One attempt that I know of (The Good Men Project) collapsed into misogyny almost immediately.

    • Aimai says:

      I know, personally, of many non toxic manly men. Maybe its not possible to build a movement of it but its certainly possible to live it and to share it with others.

      • Greg says:

        It’s possible for men to be good people, but I don’t know that it’s possible to conceive of masculinity in a non-sexist way. Identifying a virtue with the masculine implies that it’s something the feminine lacks. Likewise, any virtue associated with femininity that a man displays marks him as feminine.

        • Aimai says:

          I agree that this is traditionally the case but I’m not sure I’d argue that it must always be the case. There are many virtues and skills that both sexes can share with each other and excell at and that some human beings may fail to have. Can’t I consider it a manly virtue in my spouse that he is nurturing and courageous, while he may consider it a female virtue in me?

          • Greg says:

            What would make being nurturing and courageous masculine though? Just that they happened to be possessed by a particular man? Why attribute those virtues to the fact that he is a man, and not, for example, his nationality or religion? I think once we’ve reached a completely individualized conception of masculinity and femininity, we’ve defined them out of existence. A specific person’s idea of masculinity is not very relevant to the ideas we share as a culture.

            • Hogan says:

              And the ideas we share as a culture are becoming less relevant to specific people. Let’s call the whole thing off.

              • Ronan says:


                If our love song
                Could fly over mountains
                Could laugh at the ocean
                Just like the films
                There’s no reason
                To feel all the hard times
                To lay down the hard lines
                It’s absolutely true

        • ChrisTS says:

          Right. I think we are better off dropping both ‘femininity’ and ‘masculinity’ as concepts.

        • Tristan says:

          It’s possible for men to be good people

          Not all men

      • JL says:

        In addition to this, I know a lot of trans men and other transmasculine spectrum people (e.g. butch women and non-binary butches) who put a lot of effort into developing a non-toxic masculinity for themselvds.

        (I also, unfortunately, know some who embrace the toxic side of it because they are trying to prove that they’ve earned being considered masculine and that’s the way they know to do that.)

        And of course people of various genders can combine aspects of masculinity and femininity.

    • Tom Servo says:

      I’m a big fan of Ron Swanson. I mean, he’s a fictional character, but masculinity is a construct anyway.

      • wengler says:

        Or Nick Offerman(the guy who plays him). He has his own wood workshop.

        • Tom Servo says:

          I actually have a train whistle from his woodshop. He does not at all strike me as “violent, misogynistic, homophobic, or otherwise awful.” If he became a model for some sort of new “masculinity” we could do a lot worse. A lot of it seems like performance, but, then again, what “manly man” *can’t* you say that about?

    • FlipYrWhig says:

      Depends on what you mean by “distinctively male.” Is Mr. Darcy distinctively male? The honnête homme, the gentle/man. Western Civ is full of men of feeling, men of prudence, men of taste and refinement… Some people would say that this model isn’t “manly” but of course that begs the question.

    • LeftWingFox says:

      As long as masculinity is defined in opposition to femininity, it’ll be toxic.

      Better not to worry about being a “real man”, and let people like what they like, as long as they aren’t harming others.

      • Anon21 says:

        As long as masculinity is defined in opposition to femininity, it’ll be toxic.

        But is defining masculinity as distinct from femininity the same as defining masculinity as opposed to femininity? Under current conditions, opposition tends to be more common, but I’m wondering if it would be possible to create something different.

        Better not to worry about being a “real man”, and let people like what they like, as long as they aren’t harming others.

        I think at a minimum, a non-toxic masculinity would have to be truly voluntary and non-coercive (not even in the light sense of “good-natured” teasing of those male people who choose not to opt in). Maybe claiming the mantle of being distinctively male inherently suggests that those who reject masculine characteristics are somehow less male.

        • LeftWingFox says:

          Sounds like you’re pondering what I’m pondering.

        • Sly says:

          But is defining masculinity as distinct from femininity the same as defining masculinity as opposed to femininity? Under current conditions, opposition tends to be more common, but I’m wondering if it would be possible to create something different.

          So long as masculinity and femininity are thought of as binary and mutually exclusive identities, I’d say its impossible to think of them as anything but oppositional states. Further, if masculine and feminine identities are not binary and mutually exclusive, is there a point of even having them to begin with? If gender is totally fluid, then boundaries we try to construct around them have no positive utility, and so it stands to reason that the better course of action would be to just break the boundaries altogether.

          I suppose one could formulate two oppositional identities as complementary and/or symbiotic, but what examples do we have of such an arrangement anywhere else?

          • Barry Freed says:

            I suppose one could formulate two oppositional identities as complementary and/or symbiotic, but what examples do we have of such an arrangement anywhere else?

            A number of traditional cultures see the sexes as bipolar complementarities. See, for example, Sachiko Murata’s The Tao of Islam: A Sourcebook on Gender Relationships in Islamic Thought.

    • JustinV says:

      Ron Swanson? He seems like a self consciously performative masculine figure who is kind, understanding, supportive, and has tremendous respect for the intelligence and friendship of all kinds of women – none of whom he views as sex objects, but as peers. It’s a comedy figure, sure, but it’s the closest pop culture representation of masculinity that isn’t completely toxic which springs to mind.

      • Greg says:

        There is that whole part where he’s also a libertarian, gold-hoarding whackadoodle. I don’t know that you can take that away from him without destroying the concept of the character.

      • FlipYrWhig says:

        Hank Hill does a fair amount of gender-policing and is a mouthpiece for various kinds of traditional values, and yet, same thing: respectful, kind, fair, dutiful, and responsible. The character embodies a different set of values than you might expect as “traditional masculinity” by free association, but, then again, they’re both traditional and masculine by most definitions of both.

        • djw says:

          Hank hill seems like a good example of a character whose attachment to an idealized masculinity often trips him up–standing in the way of a good relationship with his not traditionally masculine son, for example–but his decency, practicality, and flexibility win out in the end.

      • Greg says:

        Chris shares all of the virtues you attribute to Ron, but he’s also emotionally demonstrative and health conscious, two traits Ron’s disdainful of. His attitude toward Chris, which is at least somewhat the show’s attitude, is that he’s less of a man as a result of these traits. Holding up Ron as the figure on P&R to emulate if you want to be a Man, as opposed to Chris or even Ben, is still something of a problem.

        • Tom Servo says:

          I find Ron’s difficulties with and suspicion of emotions very funny, because they remind me of myself. I’m hardly masculine, but I’ve struggled with being emotionally distant and that element of his character really resonates with me.

        • solidcitizen says:

          I think Ron and the show’s prolem with Chris is less his emotional demonstrations and fitness, but his tendency to do wildly overdo both. He is a normal “guy” who has some bizarre traits that put people off, and not just Ron from a masculine point of view.

          Not sure that Ron or the show has a problem with Ben. He seems like a fine addition to the list Parks and Rec charachers that embody a non-mysogynistic mansculinity. Different that Ron, but masculine.

    • Murc says:

      Sure there is.

      I’m a man. Therefore, by definition, anything I do is masculine. It’s actually impossible for it to NOT be masculine.

      And it’s distinctive, as well, because there’s only one of me.

      • Anon21 says:

        I’m a man. Therefore, by definition, anything I do is masculine. It’s actually impossible for it to NOT be masculine.

        Maybe this has its virtues as a prescription for how masculinity should work, but it’s emphatically not how it ever has worked. One of masculinity’s main functions is to police gender non-conforming behavior by men, to declare certain ways of being not authentically male.

        • Murc says:

          That’s true, but it is technically correct (the best kind of correct!) and I’ve found it’s really helpful in allowing me to be able to claim (truthfully!) to be masculine while at the same time utterly shutting down dudebros who want to police me on that.

          All I know is, I feel a lot happier since I started thinking about it like that.

        • Ken says:

          Right. Unless you’re wearing the T-shirt with the logo, it doesn’t count.

      • JL says:

        This is a little dismissive of masculine women, feminine men, and non-binary people of all sorts, who are proud of being those things.

    • AcademicLurker says:

      Ellen Willis on Bruce Springsteen’s non-toxic masculinity:

      I especially enjoyed the way he moved, acting out each song (dancing down the street, mounting his Harley) with just the right mixture of drama and self-parody, projecting a sense of maleness that depended not on the exclusion or denigration or conquest of women but on his appreciation of his body and what it could do.

      • Lee Rudolph says:

        I like(d) Ellen Willis a lot, but that passage makes absolutely no sense to me—it gives me no hint as to howhis appreciation of his body and what it could do” (my emphasis) served to “project[] a sense of maleness”, unless, indeed, his dancing and mounting involved male genitalia (which I suppose they, especially the latter, did have to take into account, but still…). I admit that the life I lead gives me very few occasions anyone at all dancing down streets or mounting Harleys (or Kawasakis, come to that), and that therefore I may be un- or under-informed on some relevant details of the construction of masculinity: even if I am, and 99 out of 100 of her readers are better informed than I, it still would have been better for her to expand on that, I think.

        • djw says:

          Yeah, she seems to be conflating masculinity w self-confidence and charisma.

          • Aimai says:

            I thnk she is talking about masculinity as a form of male sexual energy which is performative and non violent.

            • Lee Rudolph says:

              But what—other than the (assumed) male genitalia of the performer in this case (okay, and maybe the conformation of the pelvic girdle, etc.) —makes the performances she mentions examples of particularly “male sexual energy”? (For that matter, what makes the energy “sexual” rather than, for instance, “vital”?) Maybe the answer is, “I know it when I see it” (Jacobelis v. Ohio): but that would be (it seems to me) just a way of pushing the question-begging a little further back in the argument, rather than eliminating it.

    • Sly says:

      I’m sort of idly curious if it’s possible to build a non-toxic masculinity.

      It may be possible, theoretically, to construct a new masculine identity devoid of various anti-social features, but the current masculine identity is so rooted in systems of hierarchy and dominance that it may well in fact be totally irredeemable. The problem with such a project is that, by practicality, it must span multiple generations and its impossible to steer such a thing with any degree of foresight.

  5. Gwen says:

    It is time for the objectively terrible people of this blog to embrace Fightin’ Freddie. He’s right, at least on this one.

  6. burritoboy says:

    Well, yeah. The question “What is the best man?” immediately collapses into the questions “What is good?” and “What is a man?” which immediately collapses into “What is a human being?”, at which point you’re taking part in a Socratic dialogue. And the winner of a Socratic dialogue is Socrates, who is less than conventionally manly, to put it delicately.

  7. LeftWingFox says:

    contemporary conceptions of masculinity draw haphazardly and inconsistently from both.

    Exactly right. It’s a regular theme I see in MRA complaints, which is a desire to maintain traditional gender roles, while complaining about the consequences to men which come of those roles.

    Take the draft. Traditional gender roles mean that women aren’t allowed into combat. For feminists, the solution is to either allow women in combat equally, or to eliminate the draft completely. Many MRAs believe women are unfit for combat, so the solution is…

    … not sure what the solution is. Aside from “Stop whining about your problems” and “You owe me sandwiches and blow jobs for my gender’s service.”

  8. calling all toasters says:

    In the contest between gibbering baseless assertions vs. Jonahesque cultural skimming, I find for breakfast foods.

  9. Major Kong says:

    Soft-spoken Jimmy Stewart flew real combat missions over Germany in B-24s.

    “Tough guy” John Wayne stayed in Hollywood and made movies.

  10. Modulo Myself says:

    DeBoer’s essay isn’t that great, but it focuses on actual men. Douthat leaps on the John Wayne reference and ends up with ‘The Wild Bunch’ as a celebration of violence, rather than, you know, a movie that might have something to do with reality. Seriously, if violent men are being talked about and you respond with what Westerns were like before Peckinpah, you are living in a fantasy world.

    • JoyfulA says:

      The Westerns in their heyday were under the codes in Hollywood, were they not? So comparing a censored movie with an uncensored movie proves what?

      IOW, I agree.

    • burritoboy says:

      But we shouldn’t ignore that The Wild Bunch is not inherently more realistic than the Westerns made 20 years before it. The mere fact that William Holden, Robert Ryan and Ernest Borgnine were clearly cast to play off those actors’ own previous macho roles tells you how highly theatrical The Wild Bunch is.

  11. Tom Servo says:

    Objectively despicable.

  12. Aimai says:

    This is not my area of expertise and I find Douthat, DeBoer et all so soporific that I can’t be bothered to read wht they have to say but there is something that needs to be said and I will take a brief stab at it here. I’m sure it has been said better by others.

    Masculinity and Femininity can both only occur in tension with each other and they are also, in our society, rigidly applied categories which can only be approved when the right kind of people inhabit or enact them. That is why a Feminine male and a Masculine female, at least until recently, have been considered highly problematic if not positively disgusting and dangerous. As Mary Douglas would say they are liminal, in between, categories which (with limited exceptions) threaten the entire edifice.

    You can’t recapture Masculinity as a priviliged status for males without creating a new, lesser, despised category of males who are not considered masculine and of females who accept that they must only and forever aspire to be feminine. Those people always existed and they propped up the status of the high value Masculine or Feminine models. But why should the 85 pound weakling choose to always consider himself the loser in life’s competition when he can nerd his way to success? Why should Lena Dunham choose to accept right wing critic’s implicit insistence that if she doesn’t look like an anorexic she has no place on their TV screens?

    Once people are free to try to choose to emphasize a different basket of virtues, an individualized identity, a customized sexuality, more than two genders or more than a fixed gender, an authentic self created self you just can’t cram them back into rigid, binary, limiting identities like Masculine and Feminine.

    • ChrisTS says:

      Bingo. Nicely done, A.

    • Dr Ronnie James, DO says:

      Thank you. This is so much better than anything those guys said.

      I’m finding this debate has a weird echo in the recent flap over Kevin Williamson calling Laverne Cox “an effigy of a man” and saying she’ll never be a man. All the biological evidence (you know, that “natural law” they’re always yammering about) tells us anything, it’s that even though most of us fall into the male/female dichotomy as far as chromosomes/genitalia/secondary characteristics and identity, gender is far from a binary thing. Seems like it’s high time we stop constructing behavioral archetypes based strictly on what you saw when you played doctor.

    • KmCO says:

      Beautifully stated. I identify as a heterosexual woman, but I consider myself having some definite “masculine” traits as well. I am attracted to men that I consider “pretty,” and I don’t like to pretty myself up. I often have thought it would be a whole lot simpler if I were a gay man, as I don’t find myself resonating to a whole lot about heterosexuality and its culture, but I am also definitely attracted to men and not women.

      Anyone who thinks that gender identification is simple and clear-cut for everyone is lying, ignorant, or both.

  13. Jonny says:

    When was the last time Chait said anything useful?

  14. SatanicPanic says:

    when you said incoherent and odious I thought you mean DeBoer and Douthat

  15. Manny Kant says:

    Can’t they both be wrong?

    Anyway, this amused me:

    You would think that the archetypal movies of Wayne’s genre celebrated mass murder and sexual entitlement, or throbbed with palpable misogyny

    I mean, isn’t this a pretty perfect description of Wayne’s character in The Searchers?

  16. Utah says:

    “Traditional” is an interesting word. Usually it means “the way I remember doing it when I was a kid” as in “the traditional Pledge of Allegiance”. Douthat, however, uses it to mean “the way it was done in movies made before I was born.”

    The interesting question when someone uses “traditional” as a justification is how we tell the difference between the tradition, which of course is always contested and always changing, and the upstarts. The past never stays the same.

    Burke urged the French to treat their rights as if they were an entailed inheritance, because then they could keep the good and dump the bad — which is to say, ignore tradition entirely and use contemporary values to decide when to attach the patina of tradition to current practices. Is this debate any different?

    Does John Wayne’s authenticity or lack thereof tell us anything about whether weapons of mass murder should be freely for sale to anyone who wants to use them?

  17. wengler says:

    This question could more easily be dispensed with the answer that conservatives idolize morons.

    Also known as the George W. Bush jet crotch syndrome.

  18. Aimai says:

    I’ll tell you all what is depressing about the current state of the Masculinity Debate in the US–Father’s Day Cards and Gifts. Its the weirdest thing, its even more of a time warp than the mother’s day crap. I swear that all the cards assume that the category “father” is filled up with distant, walking, wallets who drink scotch or beer (exclusively) and who fish,play golf and give lectures but are otherwise taciturn. I don’t recognize any of the wonderful fathers I see around me in these things–aesthetically and culturally they seem to come from a very distant past. The mother’s day stuff seems more vague and sentimental–its still stuck in pink and focused on food and flowers but I don’t see it as quite the straight jacket as the Father’s day stuff.

    • Aimai says:

      I’m enjoying the way I think equal marriage will bust this up. The “To my two father'” or “my two mothers” cards are really going to have to forge a new path.

    • Murc says:

      I swear that all the cards assume that the category “father” is filled up with distant, walking, wallets who drink scotch or beer (exclusively) and who fish,play golf and give lectures but are otherwise taciturn.

      While it may not be filled up with men who are like that, this is, basically, my dad. Substitute “obsessively worries about his lawn” for “fish.”

      I mean, my father isn’t a bad guy. But I’ve been his son for thirty years and I know jack shit about the inner workings of his mind. If there were pictures in dictionaries, his would be next to “emotionally unavailable.”

    • ChrisTS says:

      I was looking at some new Life is Good t-shirts the other day. The ones for men were all lawn mowers, fishing poles, and barbeque grills. The ones for women were all flowers, flip flops by the sea, and – somewhat oddly – martinis.

      Of course, they were all color-coded as well: browns, blues, and greens for the men; pinks, purples, and yellows for the women.

  19. dave says:

    High Noon is a particularly useless example to use in this context since the entire movie is an obvious allegory of the McCarthy hearings.

  20. D.N. Nation says:

    If there’s any true vision of masculinity, it’s someone who can’t maintain an erection and then blames it on feminism and ladies havin’ birth control for years after.

  21. wjts says:

    Whatever their virtues or vices, the manly men from long ago that these bros imagine they are emulating didn’t spend all their time thinking about what it meant to be manly men.

    A KNYGHT ther was and that a worthy man,
    That fro the tyme that he first bigan
    To riden out, he loved chivalrie,
    Trouthe and honour, fredom and curteisie.
    Ful worthy was he in his lordes werre,
    And therto hadde he riden, no man ferre,
    As wel in cristendom as in hethenesse,
    And evere honoured for his worthynesse.

    • joel hanes says:

      Loke who that is most vertuous alway,
      Privee and apert, and most entendeth ay
      To do the gentil dedes that he can,
      And tak him for the grettest gentil man.

    • My opinion on the linked dispute is that both of them are wrong, and only appear right to the extent that they rip apart the other’s bad arguments.

      And you’ve just encapsulated the thing that’s most wrong with Freddie’s argument: the idea that self-consciously constructed masculinity is a recent innovation. If he actually read any feminist writers once in a while (between spasms of self-aggrandizement) he would know that wasn’t remotely true.

  22. libarbarian says:

    OMG. ThatIncelBlogger is a train-wreck.

  23. Aimai says:

    Isn’t anyone going to point out just how weird deBoer’s attack on “ambient postmodernity” is? It occupies the literal space in his sentence where a normal person might put “ambient misogyny.”

  24. Shakezula says:

    Close. Rigidly defined notions of what it means to be a real man or woman are toxic.

  25. Tiny Tim says:

    masculinity: be reasonably confident and not totally horrible.

  26. Another Holocene Human says:

    Why can’t we split the difference and say they’re both wrong? DeBoer had half of a point before devolving into argle bargle that Douthat called out. .. one is confused and egotistical, the other is confused and self centered. I am not getting of theboat here, those mangoes are clearly rotten.

  27. Eric Scharf says:

    I don’t have time for “masculinity,” new or old; I have my hands full just trying to be an adult.

    • Rob in CT says:

      LOL, yeah, I’ll second this.

      Also, I agree with those who quibble with finding for Freddie. He starts off well and then screws it up. I guess that’s better than Douthat, but…

    • Origami Isopod says:


      I think about the guys I admire the most in my personal life, and they’re not sweating at all over how “masculine” they are. They’re just trying to get their daily work and errands done, treat other people ethically, raise their kids (if they have kids), and have some fun when they can. Same as women.

    • JL says:

      I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that you are cis?

      Seriously though, I understand the point that a whole bunch of people are trying to make in this thread about how we shouldn’t worry about fitting into these rigid categories. But most trans/genderqueer people really do put serious thought into gender expression (which may not be binary and in fact often isn’t, but doesn’t mean that they aren’t putting quite a bit of effort into pondering masculinity and femininity). It’s easy to say that you shouldn’t care, that any adult should be too busy to care, when you’re socially accepted as having the right to your approximate gender by accident of birth.

      • Origami Isopod, Commisar [sic] of Ideology for the Bolsheviks says:

        Thank you for saying this. I agree overall with Eric Scharf’s sentiment when it comes to cisgender guys, but it’s very true that not all of us are privileged enough that we can just disregard the entire concept.

      • Eric Scharf says:

        You’re quite right; cis-privilege makes it easier to deprioritize gender expression.

  28. etv13 says:

    I saw Stagecoach last month, and Wayne’s character was very courteous to women — treated a prostitute like a lady, in fact. (It isn’t clear to me whether he knew she was a prostitute, and didn’t care, or just didn’t know, so there’s that.)

    • ChrisTS says:

      “Treated a prostitute like a lady.”

      There are no words.

      • Denverite says:

        I think — hope, really — s/he means “Lady” as in a female royal. Like duchess or countess or the like. Not “lady” as in “woman.”

        • etv13 says:

          I was speaking, actually, within the context of the film, in which the other characters draw a sharp distinction between the married woman traveling to meet her husband, and the prostitute who has just been run out of town. John Wayne’s character, the Ringo Kid, does not. When one of the men on the stagecoach shares his water with the married woman, and then starts to put it away, the Ringo Kid asks, “What about the other lady?” In his eyes, they are both ladies who are equally deserving of consideration. His view is clearly the one the film endorses; the prostitute, played by Claire Trevor, is sympathetically portrayed throughout, and the other characters, especially the married woman, are later ashamed of the way they first treated her.

          • Origami Isopod says:

            and the other characters, especially the married woman, are later ashamed of the way they first treated her.

            Plus for standing up for sex workers. Minus for having other women police her sexuality, then have a man be a Big Damn Hero by shaming those other women.

            • etv13 says:

              My impression was that the married woman wasn’t shamed by the Ringo Kid, but by the realization that she had mistreated a kind and generous person — i.e., she’s shamed by the prostitute herself, who helps her out despite the cold shoulder she’s been given.

              It was an interesting movie, and while Wayne’s character was certainly tall, vigorous, and set on vengeance, he was also sweet and tender, and while Wayne himself was 32, the character seems younger. (Maybe it’s just the effect of his nickname, the Ringo Kid.)

              • Origami Isopod, Commisar [sic] of Ideology for the Bolsheviks says:

                The essential problem here is that women aren’t the ones who benefit the post from the policing of women’s sexuality. Men are. The women who do the policing aren’t admirable, certainly, but focusing on them to the exclusion of how men police women’s bodies is misogynist.

  29. DrDick says:

    I am pretty certain that Douthat has never produced anything that, even by the most liberal standards, could ever be described as “persuasive and highly interesting.”

    • Murc says:

      At best, you have to chance that to “and” gate to an “or” gate to return a value of 1.

      • GeoX says:

        I keep reading this comment trying to get it to make sense, and it just DOESN’T WORK. Is it some kind of math language I don’t understand? HELP!

        • Warren Terra says:

          It doesn’t quite parse, there’s an extra “to” in there, it should be:

          At best, you have to chance that “AND” to an “OR” to return a value of 1.

          Now, remember a Boolean “AND” means both, and a Boolean “OR” means one or both (as opposed to a “XOR”, which means only one and not both), and that “1” means “True” (as opposed to “0” which means “False”).

          So, we’ve got

          I am pretty certain that Douthat has never produced anything that, even by the most liberal standards, could ever be described as persuasive, or as highly interesting.

  30. JBL says:

    What’s the asterisk for at the end of the first sentence?

  31. Lee Rudolph says:

    I assume, following Pogo, that it’s a squooshed spider (and that that’s why we’ve got more rain coming).

  32. dh says:

    I’m busy and haven’t had time to read the thread yet. Just popping in for a second. Has anyone quoted The Big Lebowski yet?

    • AcademicLurker says:

      sometimes there’s a man… I won’t say a hero, ’cause, what’s a hero? But sometimes, there’s a man. And I’m talkin’ about the Dude here. Sometimes, there’s a man, well, he’s the man for his time and place. He fits right in there. And that’s the Dude, in Los Angeles. And even if he’s a lazy man – and the Dude was most certainly that. Quite possibly the laziest in Los Angeles County, which would place him high in the runnin’ for laziest worldwide. But sometimes there’s a man, sometimes, there’s a man. Aw. I lost my train of thought here.

      • dh says:

        That’s a good one, but I was thinking of this quote.

        “The Big Lebowski: What makes a man, Mr. Lebowski?
        The Dude: Dude.
        The Big Lebowski: Huh?
        The Dude: Uhh… I don’t know sir.
        The Big Lebowski: Is it being prepared to do the right thing, whatever the cost? Isn’t that what makes a man?
        The Dude: Hmmm… Sure, that and a pair of testicles.”

  33. encephalopath says:

    “Irredeemable Taint”

    Next week’s pub trivia team name.

  34. IM says:

    Douthat confuses Hay code Hollywood with the real role models of fifties.

    The role model wasn’t John Wayne but rather Don Draper:

    – organization man (+)

    – war veteran (+)

    – married, wife with children housewife in suburb (+)

    – sleeping with the secretary (+)

    JFK would fit here too.

    Even the child of the rural depression that now works in the city and lives in the suburb fits.

    If you want another not anachronistic fictional role model, there’s superman: smallville to metropolis, organization man.

    • IM says:

      Now I remember a genuine alternative: George Baily in It’s a Wonderful Life

      • Bill in Section 147 says:

        +1. Or a thousand. I think you might find more than a smidge of gender stereotype in his character as far as how he thinks women are/should be but for a 40s era movie character he is pretty damn good. He also flies in the face of most manly virtues being neither a soldier or blue collar.

        At the time of the movie he displays a lot of what would then be considered feminine attributes but they are never portrayed as weaknesses.

        • FlipYrWhig says:

          Part of the point of the movie IMHO is that he never has a chance to do Heroic Man Stuff (remember the running bit at the beginning about how he wants to be an explorer; it’s Harry who gets to be the war hero, too), and he regrets those lost opportunities intensely, but he’s managed to make a life around other principles than those — and the principles that are his anchor are things like generosity and equity and self-sacrifice and the common good, which he learns, the hard way of course, are better than other kinds of fulfillment-slash-gratification.

      • calling all toasters says:

        Atticus Finch.

    • Rob says:

      It also shows he has no idea how to watch code movies. The idea that sexual conquest was not a huge part of those films is hysterical.

      Of course they also killed scores of people, but not in an in your face sort of way. And they were mostly killing the right kind of people.

  35. KmCO says:

    Indeed, the popular performance of masculinity is perhaps the worst disease afflicting our society. Its posture is bravado, but its underlying cause is desperate fear, and that fear leads to truly dark places (see mass shootings, for exhibit A).

  36. KmCO says:

    Douthat really wants to come out and argue that, as a man, he should be granted special privileges and rights that are gawd-ordained, but he doesn’t have the courage to do that. Instead, he hems, haws, and produces columns full of poorly chosen words that dance around his belief in genital-based inequality. On some level he knows that his position is indefensible, but he’s schooled enough in ultramontane theology and politics to still cling to it.

  37. jake the anti-soshal soshalist says:

    #87 McClintock.

    As far as movies that John Wayne played in, I can reccomend Stagecoach, Rio Bravo, and that is just about it

  38. N__B says:

    “Traditional” masculinity: … odious

    Boys have to be taught to clean properly when they get to puberty.

  39. […] Which apparently is totally different). In other news— •An interesting discussion of masculinity at LGM. Among other points, I’m inclined to agree that one reason you can’t consciously […]

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