Masculinity is being attacked on a theoretical level, one where it barely manifests itself.
A few days ago I was reading an article about men’s workout clothing. Specifically how the market for high dollar designer gym gear had grown exponentially in the past several years. Nike, Under Armour, Lululemon, and GAP have all released men’s lines of fashion-conscious workout clothes and are apparently raking in the cash. There were many quotes surrounding how many men are now caring more about their appearance while they work out.
This got me thinking about the ways that traditional masculinity manifests itself versus femininity. Not to compare them, just the differing nature of the manifestations. Before I go any further, I should issue a disclaimer. Warning: generalizations ahead.
Now, anyway. When you think about ways in which the masculinity in a man manifests itself, it is almost always related directly to something he is doing, something based in the physical and practical. He has big muscles because he exercises. He wears rugged clothes because they keep him warm and dry while he’s doing stuff outdoors. He has guns (and cleans them, talks about them, shows them off, talks about them, and memorizes massive amounts info about them, ahem) because he likes hunting or just plain shooting. He eats massive amounts of food to fuel his activities. These are functional manifestations of male impulses.
Most of a man’s mental focus is on the actions themselves, less on the state of being. For instance, when a man likes to fish, it’s because he enjoys catching (and eating) fish, not because he has said to himself “I want to be a fisherman.” When he picks out camo for hunting, he thinks more about what will hide him from the prey than how it looks on him.
Females, on the other hand (remember: generalizations), are much more deliberate in the way they manifest femininity. They spend a ton of money on skin care products and makeup in order to achieve a certain look. They are much more detail-focused when buying clothes; specifically concerning how they look and — not unimportantly — how they feel when wearing them. When they decorate a room, they go to great lengths to create a look and feel for the space. This is how women tend to manifest femininity: with creative presentation in order to evoke a certain feeling in themselves and/or others.
Now it’s no secret that masculinity is under attack from the print, broadcast, and social media. Just google the phrase “traditional masculinity is dead” for pages and pages of examples. And in the age we live in, the attacks can be spread by any and everyone with the click of a button.
But if you look closely, you will see that the majority of the attacks are couched in the female paradigm that I generalized above. They assume that the masculinity they are attacking is “a look,” or style adopted. The same way that a female would choose a hairstyle because she thinks it’s cool. They seem to see masculinity as a theoretical idea to be adopted and deliberately acted upon.
The recent Gillette ad that caused so much controversy is a perfect example. Specious assumptions aside — the main visceral objection to the ad was that men would choose their razor based on the level of social morality exhibited by the brand. But if you think about it, this is exactly something a female would do. The popular Naked makeup line comes to mind, part of the appeal is that the parent company Urban Decay is said to be cruelty-free and does not do animal testing. (I have never until just now wondered how you test makeup on animals.)
A traditional masculine man choosing a razor probably starts with “how well does this shave my face” and ends with “how much does it cost.” So men are put on edge from the very beginning simply because the ad is couched in a format seems directly aimed at feminine consumers.
A frequently made point is that the people who think that there should be less traditional masculinity in society will change their mind if they need a firefighter, rig worker, snow plow driver, soldiers, etc. Right? You hate rednecks until your car breaks down and Bubba shows up with a bunch of tools in the back of his truck. This should be a legitimate counterpoint to the attacks, except that it is taking place on a completely different battlefield. When this is brought up, it is referencing the practical not the theoretical/lifestyle choice arena. You are comparing apples to oranges, and your counter-argument will fall on the deaf ears of someone who just wants to enjoy some virtue signaling.
Activism in the theoretical arena (for lack of a better term) has been gaining more and more power. Consider that Proctor and Gamble, a giant company whose only real concern is the bottom line, felt like releasing the Gillette ad would be a good move. Not because they thought that men would switch razors or even be better men, but because of the value of the social capital they would gain. Right now they have plenty of women defending the ad, they have a large number of men mocking any man who expressed outrage over the ad, and they are all over national news broadcasts. All publicity is good publicity so to speak.
The theoretical realm gains more influence simply because there are more men who treat masculinity as an idea. Just look at the existence of “Lumber Sexuals.” Their flannel shirts, full beards, and wool caps are choices made to create a “look,” not to protect them from the elements. And the fact that major brands like Nike and Under Armour are latching on to this trend is tangential evidence that more men are valuing this kind of thing.
Don’t get me wrong; there is nothing inherently wrong with choosing to be a lumber sexual or to wear workout gear from Lululemon (seriously they have some of the best lifting shorts). But let’s remember, when our masculinity (or the masculinity of those you care about) is under attack, we need to identify which battlefield we are fighting on. Is it the theoretical where emotions reign and virtue signaling is commonplace? Or is it the practical realm that truly affects how our masculinity manifests itself. And, above all, remember that the ones who are close to you still appreciate your masculinity when the phones are put down and the TV is turned off.