You're Doing It Wrong: Manliness

How to Be a Man in Five Sorta-Simple Steps

I remember it like it was yesterday: The Bangles’ “Walk Like an Egyptian” came on TV, I saw those ladies rocking out and said, matter-of-factly and with all the conviction a 7-year-old can have, “Girls can’t play guitar.” My mom and sister set me straight very quickly, but it’s indicative of something in men that starts extremely young and then gets so ingrained that it winds up feeling like an objective truth by the time we’re adults. Some related issues have become pervasive topics recently, and it made me think not only of the Bangles incident but of the time I was strolling through the campgrounds of the Coachella music festival, noting the particularly high population of that certain type of alpha-fratboy that, while luckily posing no real problem in this particular instance, has an uncanny ability to ruin a good thing.

You know what I’m talking about: when an event that's highlighted by camaraderie and celebration turns into an excuse just to party hard, someone gets a little too drunk and throws a punch, then before you know it cops have flooded the premises and the reveling masses are reduced to an angry, drunken mob level. It’s not the people that ruin these things, mind you, it’s the mentality; that macho-alpha-caveman-douchebag mentality that is far too prevalent amongst the male population (myself included sometimes). And while I recognize that people of all genders, races, shapes, sizes and aromas are perfectly capable of screwing things up for the rest of us, it’s this distinctly machismo-based male tendency that rears its ugly head all-too-often when we use the phrase, “It was all going just fine until…”

For a lot of us, it seems the consensus definition of manliness falls roughly along these lines: you must be strong, able to suck it up when you’re suffering, compete and win at all times, take what belongs to you, never take no for an answer and always be right. The focus is always on strength. Physical inferiority of any type is a weakness. Emotional vulnerability is a weakness. Being different is a weakness. Just about everything is a weakness. But the sad irony is that this mindset is actually one of the weakest you can have. You’re too weak to let yourself be vulnerable. Too weak to take a good, hard look at yourself and give an honest assessment. Too weak to admit you’re wrong, to step up for someone who needs your help, to acknowledge that someone else is uncomfortable, to make the unpopular choice, to control yourself when you’re hungry, horny or angry. Too weak to be your best self.

Every male should be able to be a man, so physicality and posturing can’t be the true definition of masculine strength. With this in mind, and taking into account that I myself have fallen into the above description all too often, I thought of a few pointers to help guide those of my gender (again, myself included) on our way to legitimate manhood. But be sure to read the follow-up Q&A down below where I will answer some burning questions you will no doubt have for me.

Without further ado, how to be a man in five (sorta) simple steps:

1. Acknowledge a Feeling Other Than Anger

Let’s start small, fellas; I’m not asking you to suddenly become an expressive kaleidoscope of emotion here. But the history of manhood seems to consist largely of an on/off switch that toggles between a state of neutrality and one of blind rage. This is a problem, mainly because we men are complex human beings who feel a lot of different things over the full spectrum of emotions. We’ve programmed ourselves to suppress, ignore and deflect, but most of all we’ve conditioned ourselves to believe that we can understand and identify, on the fly, all the things that are making us tick at any given time. The result is that whenever we feel conflicted, confused or uncomfortable, our first instinct is to immediately feel pissed off about it.

So rather than defaulting to aggro-defensive mode, it’s time we stopped constantly trying to prove ourselves when challenged and started actually exploring our own thoughts, becoming self-aware and having a little more presence of mind. This allows us to find the root causes of problems, to experience more of what life has to offer and, god forbid, to actually be quite a bit more pleasant much of the time. Give yourself a little more credit rather than making all your thoughts black-or-white. No, this won’t turn us into emotional pussies, it will make us happier. You’re a pussy for not being able to do this. Deal with it.

Figure 1.1 - notice the throbbing neck veins of joy

Figure 1.1 - notice the throbbing neck veins of joy

2. Have Some Respect, for God’s Sake

(Note: not literally for God unless that’s your thing.) This is a rampant problem, particularly online. A real man should have the balls to treat others with respect. Hell, to treat life with respect rather than like it’s a giant party that exists solely to suck his dick. Let other people be who they are and embrace those differences until you realize how great they are. Be empathetic to the fact that there are other humans in the world with other needs and emotions and viewpoints. Oh, and this point is especially important when it comes to our treatment of women. This whole “rape culture” thing that is running rampant these days? Anyone who doesn’t believe it’s an incredibly deep problem is straight-up failing at life. I’ve personally not gotten laid many times in my life, yet it has never made rape seem like a pretty good idea or, even worse, the woman’s fault. I’m not saying we need to neuter our male instincts, just maybe take it down a notch or three when we’re clearly not wanted.

If we have more respect, it helps us be grateful and enjoy the good things we have without being obnoxious and ruining it for everyone else (which we do, a lot). And that makes us happier, again. Seeing a pattern here?

The first step toward having respect for others is to have respect for yourself. Take care of yourself, take non-arrogant pride in your appearance and talents and unique individuality. Embrace that, and suddenly you’re embracing everybody. Oh wait, what’s that you’ve got there? A few ounces of respect. Now where did that come from??

3. Take Some F#$%ing Responsibility

Jesus guys, why are we so bad at this? While you’re busy respecting the shit out of everybody, you should respect yourself so much that you start taking on the responsibility necessary for leading a productive life. No more passing the buck, no more avoidance (that same avoidance that spilled over into the rest of your life from Step #1), no more acting infallible. That’s for the weak, and you want to be strong and manly, right? This is the right kind of strong and manly. The one that somehow got lost in translation over generations of dickbags. Own up to your mistakes. Find what’s important and fight for it; don’t fight simply by reflex. If someone calls you out on something, first assume they might actually be right about something and take responsibility for yourself, for f#$%’s sake.

Oh, and "nice guys" of the world: you are not victims. Stop acting like you are. That attitude is what makes you unattractive, not the fact that you’re nice. It turns out girls actually do like nice guys, they just don’t like complete pansies. There’s a huge difference. Have some respect for yourself (Step #2) and take responsibility for your situation in life.

4. Be Strong Enough to Do the Hard Shit, but Understand what the Hard Shit Is in the First Place

I’m reasonably athletic and have played sports all my life, but I’m not a big guy and would never be mistaken for a jock. I would lose an arm wrestling match with the average American male. This potentially makes me less of a man by our traditional, strength-based definition. But what about the huge population of men in the world who are also physically less imposing? As I said before, all males can be men, so this can’t be the true metric. Men (and women for that matter) do need to be strong and able to take on the tough things in life, but they need to know what those tough things actually are.

By all means, lift weights and get physically strong if it makes you happy and healthy, but don’t confuse that with becoming more of a man. The old interpretation of manliness is the easy way out. All the steps I’m talking about here are the truly hard parts (haha, I said “hard parts”). This will prove yourself to so many more people and will earn you the respect of everyone who isn’t a complete twat.

Oh hey, this step is basically just about successfully accomplishing the first three steps. Isn’t this easy, guys?

5. Chill the F#$% Out: Life is Great

Have you noticed something while you’ve been sitting at your computer reading this, becoming more self-aware and pondering your place in the world? Life is f#$%ing awesome! There’s beauty everywhere. We are unbelievably privileged. It’s mind-blowingly miraculous that you even exist in the first place. This whole thing is amazing. Why are we all whining and complaining so much? Why do we all act so oppressed all the time? Sure, there are examples of real oppression in our lives, and we have the right to be outraged and stand up for ourselves. But by and large, every day is completely friggin’ awesome. So stop acting like everything is some sort of fiasco. If there is a minor inconvenience to your day, there’s not much to be concerned about. Don’t let it revert you into Cro-Magnon mode (Step #1). Only be outraged over things genuinely worth being outraged over.

Guess what? Things change. You can’t control other people’s actions. And everyone is just trying to do the same things as you: get through life, enjoy themselves and have freedom and equality. Let them have it, and let them do what they want. It has nothing to do with you so be fair, be open-minded and learn from any mistakes along the way. And above all, have a fantastic time while following the previous steps.

Q&A: Things You Might Be Thinking After Reading This

That’s a pretty nice ivory tower you’re sitting in. I’ll bet you think you’re better than everyone, huh?

Did I mention that I created these steps because they're things that I myself constantly fail at? I’m a repeat offender of poor manliness. This is a reminder for my own benefit as much as anyone else’s. But yes, this tower is luxurious and many elephants were poached to make it possible.

This is a huge generalization. There have been many great men throughout history, and I don’t fall into all these categories.

I agree, and I’m glad you don’t fit that mold. But for all the great men that have come before us, there are too many of us who haven’t learned from their example. If you actually don’t fall into any of the above categories, you wouldn’t be feeling defensive at all right now. And it’s hard to deny that society is rampant with bad—but fixable—examples.

I’m also not lamenting that humanity is degrading — my frustration actually stems from the fact that we’re living in what could, by many measures, be a largely enlightened generation. We’re more capable of greatness than ever, we just have to stop being complete cocks about it.

So what are you, some sort of feminist?

I guess, in the general definition of the term, I am. It’s not such a bad thing. It just means I think equality is important, and I’d complain about the same things that feminists do if I were a woman. I used to casually make chauvinistic jokes until I realized there were some real problems facing women everywhere and those jokes stood precariously on the ledge of reality. I still make inappropriate jokes, but I'm a lot more self-aware and careful about them.

But I hate feminists. They’re so annoying and I wish they’d go away!

Then you should really like this list, because the real kicker is this: if we all did these things, feminism would pretty much go away. That's not to say that women wouldn't be inspired and empowered by each other, it's that there’s no real need for outspoken, outraged feminism if they don’t feel oppressed and marginalized. Women could have the same sense of self-worth and appreciation that we do and we wouldn't have to hear about inequality it because it wouldn’t be an issue.

Chicks are awful to each other, too, bro.

Sometimes, yes, because sometimes humans are awful to each other. But the thing is, I’m not a chick. I can’t really say how they should act because I don’t know what it’s like to be one. I am, however, a dude. So I feel like I have some legit things to say about manning up. Let the women figure their shit out, this is an article for the fellas.

You’re just white-knighting.

Yes. Clearly I am “white-knighting.” Because I have a firm belief that blogging will get me laid. I have been blogging for many years, and I am confident that any moment now, a woman will come up to me and say, “I read your blog post about manliness. Please f#$% me now.” (By the way, the concept of white-knighting is fundamentally flawed, as it assumes most women are idiots and that disingenuously pandering to women’s rights helps you score, which it never has in the history of anything.)

Funny joke, but you’re still obviously just trying to get on women’s good side.

Actually, this is a blog post for men. It’s about being a man. There’s no part of this that is written for women. See two questions above this and refer to Step #1, stop being so defensive, stop deflecting your insecurity onto me, and stop being such a douchebag.

But I really like manly things!

That’s great! Me too. I drink beer and watch sports and think fast cars are cool and have no ability to decipher if shoes are “cute.” You can still do these “manly” things and be rugged and masculine, but it’s time to add a healthy dose of enlightenment to that.

This is way too much work, dude.

Actually, many women have been doing all these things for decades. So if you’ve made it this far and I’m still somehow needing to appeal to your throbbing machismo, I have to ask—are you really going to say you can’t do something a chick can do? What kind of man are you, anyway??