Essays on Technology and Culture

Adulthood and “Manliness”

Though I’m a man, I can’t say I’m a fan of the push towards some modern idealized sense of “manliness.” Part of this is that “manliness” often both a parody of itself and a new form of consumerism. What irks me most about the new masculinity movement, however, s the prominent undercurrent of regression that flows just under its surface. For every article about how to properly dress and shave, how to take up manly hobbies, or learn to be a better father or husband, there’s a forum posting about wanting women to take up equally “traditional” roles as homemaker and sex object, being afraid of gays and transmen, or espousing political views just to the right of the John Birch Society.

Far be it for me to throw the baby out with the bathwater. There’s still a lot of good, practical advice on places like The Art of Manliness, and the most public of these manliness guides tend to keep the seedier aspects of the movement quiet. I’m sure there’s plenty of people, even a majority, who are looking back to traditional manhood for answers of how to handle the modern era without getting sucked up in the regressive aspects, but those regressive ones are the turd in the punchbowl. This is a large part of the reason why I’m more interest in defining myself not as a “man,” but as an adult.

Adulthood is learning how to be in the world and of the world, to take care of yourself and those close to you, and to deal with adversity in constructive ways. It’s about both self-reliance, and knowing when you’re in over your head and to ask for help. Its learning how to accept uncertainty. You can find a lot of stuff about this on manliness websites and communities, but these aren’t concepts that are exclusive to any gender. They’re what we should have learned in school, or from our parents. Maybe we were taught them, but we didn’t listen. It’s certainly not an excuse to hurt others, and act like we’re the rulers of the world simply because we have a Y chromosome.

Adulthood isn’t something you can fake by buying nice shoes, putting on a pocket square, and getting your hair cut by a fancy barber for $50. That’s half the problem. This may be why those great resources for being an adult often get wrapped up in some larger, more marketable concept that can be used to sell swag. Productivity stuff often falls into the same trap.

Few of the positive aspects of the manliness movement, if there is such a thing, are inherently masculine. Self-reliance, faith, responsibility, building healthy relationships—romantic and otherwise—are not just for men, nor have they ever been. Adulthood as a concept isn’t wound up in as much nonsense over gender, chromosomes, and what hangs (or doesn’t) between your thighs. Signifiers of gender are meaningless when it comes to defining the kind of person we want to be. Your fitness as a mate, as a parent, as an employee or businessperson, as an artist or craftsperson, none of these come from biological sex or socially defined gender. Tying up these things in gender only makes it harder for people who don’t fit those narrow molds. I’d rather be inclusive in how I choose to better myself. The more people we let in, the more support we all get.