We Need to Redefine What We Mean When We Say 'Manly'

Apparently, all the chest-waxing, makeup and facials have the folks at the New York Times feeling worried, and a headline today anxiously asks, "Are Modern Men Manly Enough?" Oh no! Let's completely ignore the War on Women and the wage gap and steaming pile of injustices that women face everyday. Won't someone think of the men?

Joel Stein is thinking of the men. Joel Stein thinks that men need to "rediscover the Don Draper within." Joel Stein writes: "No matter how many hoodied nerds become masters of the virtual universe, without manliness we're going to die as a species. Because being a nerd will never get you any action." Of course, Joel Stein, nerd, is married and has a kid, so clearly this is untrue. And ladies love nerds! Love them. Michael Cera and Jonah Hill and Seth Cohen and all the dudes at Comic Con. Loved.

Are we really supposed to be pining for a Don Draper era man? We might love his swagger, and the skinny ties, and the bar in the office, but basically, we know that we're idealizing a retro/'50s man who might have been able to fix your leaky sink, true, but meanwhile, a lot of those guys were also cheaters who spanked their wives and hit their kids and killed animals for fun. These are not the qualities most modern women are looking for in a mate or even fellow human being.

Comedian Loni Love also weighs in against the modern man, with a backlash to metrosexuality, writing: "There was a time when men cared only about catching athlete's foot. Now some men are in the bathroom longer than most women." Yeah, we've heard that one before. But what a man does in his grooming time is his business, and while I may not be a fan of the waxed Jersey Shore brow, attention to detail and concern for appearance can be manly. Manly icon Marlon Brando didn't emerge from the womb with that leather jacket and those precise sideburns. Style takes time. A man who can pull himself together is still a man.

Natasha Scripture explains that for her, manly means rugged, strong, potent:

The kind of guy who can build you a log cabin on a whim with his own bare, callused hands; who can lift you up with one enveloping arm while the other steers the lawn mower; who can shamelessly peel the meat off a sparerib with his maxillary lateral incisors, like some sort of ravenous primate.

It makes sense, truly, there's sex appeal there, but many modern women would gladly swap the tenderness and intelligence that the modern man has to offer make up for the brutish aggression that used to accompany our old construct of "manly."

Although the Times invited eight voices into the Room for Debate column to discuss whether modern men are manly enough, one of the best arguments comes from a reader, "hohill."

Something that has been lost is the whole concept of being a gentleman. Sure, ladies still go first but how about we not text during dinner, talk over one another, wear sweatpants to places that aren't the gym, grow those awful looking goatees and soul patches, wear ball caps freaking everywhere, wear clothes more suited to a sixteen year old, wear clothes emblazoned with corporate logos (Old Navy, Gap, Nike, Under Armor, etc.), and generally act like bros. Be a man. A gentleman.

Exactly! I know so many grown women who consider The Beast from Disney's Beauty and the Beast to be a dream man: Strong, fierce, rugged on the outside, but gentle, interested in books, kind to birds on the inside. Belle civilized him, and just as we as humans have grown and evolved — what we expect from men (and women) has to change as well. Do we still expect women to be weak, helpless, delicate? No. Do we still equate the word "womanly" with fragile? No. So why should we expect men to be strong? Why should "manly" mean bulging with muscles?

We Need to Redefine What We Mean When We Say 'Manly'

We've got to let go of dated, hurtful preconceptions. The story at left — seen in the new Star magazine — equating strength with masculinity and shaming women for not looking weak and powerless — is just as ridiculous as this entire "Are Men Manly Enough" debate. (Also, what the fuck happened in this country that we once worshipped Rosie the Riveter and now we're supposed to think Hilary Swank is too ripped?)

We need to accept that there's a new concept of manly. Marty Beckerman points out,

Old-school macho posturing has caused a lot of problems over the years, from domestic abuse to reckless warfare to catastrophic greed. Perhaps it's the start of a beautiful evolution that mellow modern men – chastened from a long recession and two longer wars – progressively cook for our girlfriends and wives, unthinkable during the era of rigid gender roles. Because who are we kidding? Katniss Everdeen, the teenage heroine of "The Hunger Games," is more manly than any of us.

Yeah, no, he lost me at the end, too. The word he's looking for to describe Katniss is not "manly." Strength — inner and outer — is not the sole dominion of man. Animator and cartoonist Kelly Turnbull comes closest to the true, modern definition of "manly," one that works for all men, be they nerd or Don Draper or hulking brute:

Manliness as I understand it constitutes a calm confidence in one's own masculinity, not to be confused with the histrionic bravado of macho grandstanding.

Are Modern Men Manly Enough? [New York Times]

Image viaYuri Arcurs/Shutterstock.