Manhood has been facing a decades-long identity crisis that has led
to therapeutic group-hugging and inspired soul-searching on what it
means to be a man in today’s world. With an unfortunate lack of
appropriate male role-models, contemporary masculinity is too often
defined by little more than obsession with conformity. Let’s face it, a
large number of college-educated adult males are walking cartoon
characters, slavishly mimicking media images of dress and behavior –
and a good number of them can’t plunge a toilet or change a tire.
We have, for example, Metrosexual Man, Grunge Man, Neanderthal Man,
and Pumped-Up Man, among others. The first two caricatures of real men
are hypo-masculine while the latter two are hyper-masculine.
Each cartoon man (hey, don’t forget I’m talking about real people
here) is rooted in a particular media image of the day – passing fads
that can sometimes be difficult to keep up with, which is one reason
why some men “reinvent” or “reconstruct” themselves every so often in
keeping with what they think women — and the better part of enlightened
society — would like to see.
Is it superficial? Well, yes. Let’s take a look.
I doubt there are many left out there who aren’t blue in the face
from hearing about the “metrosexual,” a pretentious label milled so
successfully by Madison Avenue. It describes that hopelessly
self-absorbed, feminine-acting lad who is irritated by traditional male
roles. He is supposedly “caring” (about himself) and open-minded; he’s
sensitive, in touch with his soft and emotional feminine side, and
willing to manicure his appearance to show it.
Yet, it is instructive to note that while the metrosexual is largely
defined by the vanity products he consumes, there is something deeper
here. He is almost apologetic for being born a man. But why mess about
with this kind of gender redundancy? Let’s face it, in ordinary
circumstances men really can’t compete with women at acting, thinking,
and feeling womanly.
Speaking of acting womanly, Grunge Man is running neck-and-neck with
the metro in the feminine department. The only difference is, again,
superficial – literally. Whereas the metro is well-groomed and
dandyish, Grunge Man is a carefully sculpted slob. His hair is
sufficiently disheveled (just so), giving him the look of a college
student who just climbed out of bed after a rough night at the pub. His
clothes look slept in (and may well be), his socks are dirty, and he
always has three-days growth on his chin. Invariably he has an electric
guitar sitting in the corner of his bedroom, though he doesn’t know how
If you’ve been keeping up with the fashion mags, you’ll know there’s
been a bit of a backlash against the grunge and metro stereotypes. It’s
nice that some guys don’t want to be bullied by advertisers into
investing in mousse and botox. Unfortunately, the popular backlash is
grounded in the ludicrously mistaken idea that there’s a choice only
between being a grunting couch potato caveman and a hyper-sensitive
Forgetting the wise words of Zsa Zsa Gabor –“Macho does not prove mucho”
–Pumped-Up Man feels he ought to re-engage with his macho side. So he
pumps iron (okay, so far), starts shaving his chest, takes protein and
vitamin supplements (or steroids), and starts reading articles about
how best to burn fat while building muscle. Getting carried a bit too
far, he starts working hard only to achieve paper-thin skin. In the
end, he finds he’s little more than a muscular metro.
“Working out” is too much work for Neanderthal Man; he reacts
instead by turning to smash-mouth sexism, selfishness, and a general
disposition to irresponsibility, all with a confident swagger perfected
in front of his bedroom mirror. (Strangely, this appeals to some women.)
Lost, however, in the contemporary search for meaningful modern
manhood are the virtues of traditional masculinity. There is, of
course, the possibility of a return to traditional male values without
having to embrace the worst of stereotypical male attributes that have
accreted since the Industrial Revolution. Too many men are adolescents
in a grown-up body. Physically they may be men, but emotionally,
mentally, and spiritually, no.
The old Jesuit saying, “a man for others,” is a great starting
point. Men need to embrace responsibility, hard work, leadership, and
particularly the virtue of fortitude. On top of all that, he must be
willing to make sacrifices when the need arises, which will be quite
By the same token, women—for their part—must demand that men be
willing to accept leadership roles. They must look for evidence of the
Christian virtues, especially indications that the man can act bravely
in everyday life, asserting himself when duty calls – in the family, in
the parish, in the community.
Both sexes would also do well to keep in mind that men don’t gossip
and natter on like clucking hens and they don’t whine like kids who
didn’t get candy after dinner.
Hey, man, you don’t need to know how to swallow a sword or land a
jumbo jet, but do learn to plunge a toilet and how to change a tire. At
all times, be a “man for others,” and women, settle for nothing less
than a hardworking, God-loving bloke with an adequate sense of humor.