Summarizing Acculturated‘s Symposium on Manliness

I stumbled across the Acculturated web site a couple weeks ago and found their Symposium on Manliness to be an interesting read. They used a piece by Kay Hymowitz as a jumping off point:

Today, most men in their 20s hang out in a novel sort of limbo, a hybrid state of semi-hormonal adolescence and responsible self-reliance. This “pre-adulthood” has much to recommend it, especially for the college-educated. But it’s time to state what has become obvious to legions of frustrated young women: It doesn’t bring out the best in men….It’s no exaggeration to say that having large numbers of single young men and women living independently, while also having enough disposable income to avoid ever messing up their kitchens, is something entirely new in human experience. Yes, at other points in Western history young people have waited well into their 20s to marry, and yes, office girls and bachelor lawyers have been working and finding amusement in cities for more than a century. But their numbers and their money supply were always relatively small. Today’s pre-adults are a different matter. They are a major demographic event.
What also makes pre-adulthood something new is its radical reversal of the sexual hierarchy. Among pre-adults, women are the first sex. They graduate from college in greater numbers (among Americans ages 25 to 34, 34% of women now have a bachelor’s degree but just 27% of men), and they have higher GPAs. As most professors tell it, they also have more confidence and drive. These strengths carry women through their 20s, when they are more likely than men to be in grad school and making strides in the workplace. In a number of cities, they are even out-earning their brothers and boyfriends.
Still, for these women, one key question won’t go away: Where have the good men gone?

The character Ron Swanson (played by Nick Offerman) from Parks and Recreation is mentioned by R.J. Moeller. (Incidentally, Swanson is a character that has been embraced by libertarian/conservatives even though he is an obvious attempt to lampoon their beliefs. Two points: 1) Good humor always contains truth; 2) Surprise! We can laugh at ourselves.)


Moeller contrasts the fictional Swanson with some young hipster males of today:

…there are manly things. We just don’t seem to prize them anymore, and this is, in part, because they are not easy to obtain and require hard work to maintain.
Why does someone like Nick Offerman, the actor who portrays the beloved (and hilarious) Ron Swanson…stand out in such an intriguing and ironic way? Because he’s a man. Being a man is now “intriguing and ironic.”
I happened to catch a recent episode of The Nerdist podcast and the three uber-nerds who host the show (all post-thirty, unmarried dudes) were chatting with actor Jason Schwartzman (who has made a living playing the effeminate, hapless loser in multiple films) about how they were all fascinated by Nick Offerman and “just how manly and commanding he is in person.”
Even these four dainty dopes sitting around in Ms. Pac-Man t-shirts recognized he had something they didn’t–and they wanted whatever that was. Of course they didn’t want it badly enough to put down their light sabres and head to the lumber yard or Scottish caber toss competition with Mr. Offerman, but the fact remains that when confronted with traditional manliness, they were attracted to it. Yet the safety of their nerd-nest, the delusional world where weeping outside an Apple store when the stranger who invented your iPod dies, won out because they knew there’d be no judging from the legions of other man-boys running around these days.

Mark Judge picks up on the nerd theme to argue that we are raising too many specialists and not enough Renaissance men (and women) these days:


I happened to catch a recent episode of The Nerdist podcast and the three uber-nerds who host the show (all post-thirty, unmarried dudes) were chatting with actor Jason Schwartzman (who has made a living playing the effeminate, hapless loser in multiple films) about how they were all fascinated by Nick Offerman and “just how manly and commanding he is in person.”
Even these four dainty dopes sitting around in Ms. Pac-Man t-shirts recognized he had something they didn’t–and they wanted whatever that was. Of course they didn’t want it badly enough to put down their light sabres and head to the lumber yard or Scottish caber toss competition with Mr. Offerman, but the fact remains that when confronted with traditional manliness, they were attracted to it. Yet the safety of their nerd-nest, the delusional world where weeping outside an Apple store when the stranger who invented your iPod dies, won out because they knew there’d be no judging from the legions of other man-boys running around these days.

Mark Judge picks up on the nerd them to argue that we are raising too many specialists and not enough Renaissance men (and women) these days:

I believe the problem with the “pre-adulthood” phenomenon is that young men are no longer raised to be renaissance men. In a world that is increasingly secular and illiterate, they are taught to find their niche, hit it hard, and not worry about anything else. Thus, you have Big Bang Theory nerds who cannot name a single contemporary jazz artist; sports junkies who don’t know who John Paul II was; Bible thumpers who don’t own a single Beatles record; politicians who have never read a novel. These days no one tries to take on anything different for the simple pleasure of trying to improve themselves. They don’t stretch themselves.
This is why it gets tiresome when conservative critics keep circling back to the same scapegoats: Adam Sandler, Hollywood, toilet humor. They act as if these things are bad in and of themselves, when the problem is that they are not balanced out with anything more noble. I mean, Chaucer made fart jokes in The Canterbury Tales. But there were some other ideas in there as well. Also–and this is crucial–there was once a time when men kept ribald humor to their circle of male peers. There was just certain stuff you didn’t talk about in front of women. With the sexual revolution, those zones of healthy segregation began to collapse.
These days the problem isn’t as much pre-adulthood males as it is uncultured people–including women. When I was in high school at Georgetown Prep, a Jesuit school that prided itself on producing men who could both lay down a block and conjugate Latin, we had a term for well-rounded women: “cool chicks.” Yeah, she’s a cool chick. A cool chick would go to a baseball game with you, maybe liked a cool band, and also had a favorite museum and novel. They were cool because they weren’t just one thing–the Lena Dunham hipster, the scholarship-obsessed athlete, the Ally Sheedy Breakfast Club basket case. Do cool chicks exist anymore? Is there a Dianne Keaton of this generation?

Anthony Dent looks at the problems faced by such uncultured lower-middle class men:

For non-college-educated men…[t]he fundamental problem is structural…it’s the dearth of manufacturing jobs…that causes unemployment and, ultimately, the delay of marriage and the creation of healthy communities [and] these men watch television. These are not “the odyssey years” of competitive pressures and healthy experimentation in pre-adulthood described by David Brooks. A better name might be the Buckwild Years, after the MTV show that profiles the lives of six college-aged boys and girls in the backcountry of West Virginia.
In the show, the boys are perfect stereotypes for the lower-middle-class men of Fishtown in Charles Murray’s Coming Apart. Two of the boys, Joey and Tyler, started a lawn-mowing business during the summer to make some money. They quit before they even finish the first lawn. The majority of their time is spent muddin’ or re-enacting countrified Jackass-esque stunts. When Joey was in a relationship with one of the girls, Shae, he wouldn’t acknowledge her as his girlfriend just like Tyler, who hooked up with several girls, yet declined to call any of them his girlfriend. When Shae asked Joey for some level of commitment, he demurred preferring their status as “friends with benefits.” It’s only until Shain’s parents—the only parental figures in the show—tell Joey to man up and ask her out on a date that he relents and takes her out to dinner. As the dog days of summer come to a close, Shae is headed back to school and asks Joey what he’s going to do. He deflects the question with “I’m gonna do something,” but it’s clear he has no idea, the precise “decay of industriousness” that Murray has observed.
Hymowitz is rightly pessimistic about college-educated layabouts, but at least they have opportunities. If Buckwild and Charles Murray are any guides, lower-middle-class men will have a harder time becoming men again because manliness, at its core, is aggression with a telos.

Ben Domenech uses the example of the Patriots own Rob Gronkowski to argue that women are only reaping what they’ve sown:

Where have all the good men gone? The answer is: they have been snatched up, held onto, eradicated from the marketplace, because they are so few in number. And there will be fewer still, barring a backlash of some kind.
Feminism, properly understood, is not about the granting of power but rather its negation. We no longer teach girls that they control the future, even if men think they control the present, and in so doing concede to men power they once only thought they had–the power to muck about, do nothing, and still find a woman with relative ease later in life after the fun stops.
I remember the first time a woman swore at me, in Manhattan, for holding a door for her according to my Southern instincts, an indictment of old-fashioned manners in a compressed Bronx vowel. It was a jarring moment, and I have never forgotten it. I haven’t stopped holding doors open, but I’ve noticed others have. Men are all overgrown boys, after all (myself most definitely included)–it’s experience in life, the lessons we take from our mistakes and our triumphs, that makes us men. And if no lessons are taken, well, then you end up as Gronk, who has never wanted for female attention.


The dark side of feminism was creating a relationship environment that put relatively little if any qualifications on any man before you take him to bed, and even less after. If young men are ever going to stop treating women like objects and instead like creatures of value, then women have to stop behaving like objects and stop confusing a wicked strut with life-affirming power. That ship has long since sailed.

Emily Esfahani Smith responded to Domenech, explaining that everyone really has to be nicer!

At least part of what lies at the heart of the degeneration of manly behavior and the general breakdown in how men and women treat each other is, I maintain, selfishness, ego, and what results when those two things exist excessively in one person: a decline in compassion and empathy, or the ability to put yourself in another person’s shoes….Being a good person is an act in two parts. It involves treating others well, as Ben tried to do here, but it also involves gracefully accepting the kindness of others. This woman failed to gracefully accept Ben’s kind act because she thought Ben was being sexist. Was Ben being sexist? I’m sure if you asked Ben–or any other man who holds doors open for women–why he did it, he will say that he was trying to be kind and gentlemanly.
But instead of taking that kindness on its own terms, this woman imposed her own beliefs and ideology onto Ben, as she probably has done with countless other men. In doing so, she makes these men feel like unenlightened sexist brutes. Why? Because she just has to make her political point. The social and moral cost of her ideological position is attacking men like Ben and their kindness. If that doesn’t constitute selfish behavior, I don’t know what does.
I think women like her underestimate how profoundly damaging and hurtful behavior like that is for men–and I think women have a moral responsibility, not to mention a social one, to consider that it’s not always appropriate to wave the feminist flag….That said, I think that men have a moral responsibility too. I recently wrote an article in defense of chivalry for The Atlantic, challenging both men and women to higher standards of behavior. With the exception of a small handful of shrill ideologues, women (including many feminists) responded positively to my piece, which was a little bit surprising. But many men–too many men–did not. These men thought that women today did not deserve to be treated in a gentlemanly manner; they thought that women need to choose between accepting feminism or living in a culture where gentlemanly behavior is valued and encouraged; if women chose feminism, they should expect to be treated poorly….I find these responses to be rather disturbing. The incentive to treat women–or anyone, for that matter–well is obvious. It’s the right thing to do. The moral systems from the major world religions, especially Christianity, are clear on this point. Even if you are not treated well by another person, you have a moral duty to be kind to them. Women, who for physical reasons tend to be more vulnerable than men, merit special treatment in special circumstances, regardless–by the way–of their views on feminism.
So who is to blame for the cultural breakdown? We all are.

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mangeek
mangeek
8 years ago

As much as I take a ‘libertine’ approach to the social stuff, I’ve observed a big shift in the behavior of mean since my own childhood. I’m not sure if it matters, but there’s a BIG difference between mean my own age (30) and those who are only a few years younger. I think a big reason is that high-speed internet really became commonplace right as my group came-of-age, and all of the sudden, every young male had access to endless terabytes of tantalizing ‘gonzo’ porn video.
Combine that with the fearmongering over HIV/AIDS when we grew up, and you have an aversion to real physical contact with women. (I say ‘fear-mongering’ because HIV isn’t a big enough problem to worry about in the developed world, outside of certain demographic groups)
Basically, men don’t have to ‘grow up’ to get what their biology tells them to seek out anymore; they’re free from their hormones, able to live in a greatly extended adolescence that can extend into their late 30s.

Dan
Dan
8 years ago

There is a lot here – too much to cover in one comment or even ten. I’ll make a few observations: Primal social dynamics are in play in many of life’s social interactions and more than most people realize. Much of everday social behavior conforms to basic patterns of primate hierarchy and interaction. We have “alphas” who exert their status over others through dominant verbal and non-verbal behavior, and “betas” who are socially subordinate to them to various degrees. Tony Soprano’s character is your stereotypical alpha male – Steve Jobs is another, illustrating that it’s not just a physical phenomenon. The Big Bang Theory nerds are hyper-stereotypical examples of beta males – or possibly even omega males, they are so far removed from “the game.” Of course they all get hot girlfriends because it’s escapist television, but we all realize the ridiculousness of that outcome in the real world. The most crude and obvious form of dominance is abuse – a commonly lamented and often effective method (e.g., bar jocks) – but it can come in much more benevolent and sophisticated forms. Dale Carnegie’s work, for example, focuses on using control and social manipulation to resolve conflicts and achieve mutually beneficial outcomes. Use of space (proxemics), use of time (chronemics), dress, body language, verbal communication, exhibition of power and confidence – all of these are facets of alpha status signaling, or what the above articles characterize as “manly” behavior. The sexist classification is a mistake in my view. My female office director shows up late to meetings (because she CAN), uses most of the time talking, networks effectively, sets others’ priorities – all typical alpha behaviors. I argue that it’s not a matter of what one does as much as how one does it. It’s not whether somebody plays video… Read more »

Marc
Marc
8 years ago

Mangeek – I see that too. Technology has let to no-complications instant gratification, a sort of short-temperedness and belief that everything should really be easy or that hurdles should be set really low. There is another discussion floating out there about the members of this generation (both men and women) being confronted with the real world vice the “you’re all winners” environment they were raised in.
Dan – Interesting points and I think your argument aligns with the concept of the “Renaissance man” brought up by one of the contributors (I forget which). In short, real, modern men can like Jackass and Metropolitan and The Avengers and Downton Abbey.

Mike
Mike
8 years ago

Many good thoughts, but where do we go from here? Are we ever going to grow from a culture of laziness if we strive for equal outcomes vice equal opportunity?
We know what motivates most young men. Take a trip to Newport some summer night. Women dressed nicely, men less so. Why do women put up with this obvious disrespect? Why do they put up with boyfriends without jobs–and abuse, in some cases, from them? Do they not understand that they control the dance– that if they set standards men would eventually rise to meet them? These men, caught up in a Peter-pan world will never change unless it gets uncomfortable.
Right now, the lack of discrimination by many women and the lack of personal responsibility required by our “progressive” masters don’t bode well for positive change.

Warrington Faust
Warrington Faust
8 years ago

I am unable to intellectualize the problem, but I know I am disturbed when adult men part with an admonition to “stay safe”. Can you imagine this from the “heroes” of another generation. Would John Wayne, or Clint Eastwood, mouth “stay safe”?
RE: Ron Swanson I notice he is manly enough to “go buying” as opposed to “going shopping”.

Warrington Faust
Warrington Faust
8 years ago

I am unable to intellectualize the problem, but I know I am disturbed when adult men part with an admonition to “stay safe”. Can you imagine this from the “heroes” of another generation. Would John Wayne, or Clint Eastwood, mouth “stay safe”?
RE: Ron Swanson I notice he is manly enough to “go buying” as opposed to “going shopping”.

Justin Katz
Justin Katz (@justin)
8 years ago

I think it’s a mistake to equate manliness with alphaness. Much of chivalry and honor codes is (or was) a way both to systematize the competition for top-dog and to give everybody on the scale an opportunity to answer such instincts for themselves.
Obnoxiousness (late because I can be) isn’t manliness, except in the effeminate liberal cliche.

Dan
Dan
8 years ago

“Manliness” can mean different things to different people, but the hegemonic masculinity archetype that constitutes most of that concept is heavily based in primate-group biology. I don’t think it’s possible for a man to be both socially subservient and “manly” in any meaningful sense of that word. So it’s at least in substantial part about social dominance.
I’m not sure how much experience you have operating within large organizational structures. Almost invariably, the higher up the individual is on the food chain, the longer they keep you waiting, the more time they spend talking in meetings, the more impatient they are, and the more they reschedule their appointments on you willy nilly, etc. It’s offensive to the extent that being reminded of one’s subordinate position is an ego-bruising experience. The behavior loses its obnoxiousness when you understand that it’s simple status signaling as engrained in our biology as the hunger or sex drives, and it presents a number of opportunities for those who know how to capitalize upon them.
I think your point about chivalry supports my argument. There is no denying that “gentlemanly” behavior is – or at least was – largely about control. The man pays the bills, opens doors, etc. because he is dominant over the female and competitor males. Observe what happens when the beta male attempts some chivalry of his own by covering the meal:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AXY6fQUDr3o
The less masculine approach would have been to politely decline or even accept the gift as a kind gesture.

Justin Katz
Justin Katz (@justin)
8 years ago

I think your use of the phrase “socially subservient” speaks directly to differences that make you a libertarian and me a social conservative with libertarian leanings. I see a higher truth and a higher calling in the suggestion that “he who would be first must be last”; others see a cynical subversion of the natural order.
Note especially the corporate behavior that you extrapolate from the “late because I can be” phrase. It is obnoxious, ultimately counterproductive, and, in its way, gratuitously wicked to leverage a position for the purpose of ego bruising. I don’t find that manly at all, but petty and brutish.
Upper managers have more responsibilities, and as a matter of corporate assets, their time is more valuable. Dollar for dollar, if you have to wait 45 minutes for your five minutes of their time, it can still be a net plus, depending what they were doing that made them late.
Gentlemanly behavior like holding a door shouldn’t be a statement of dominance, but a habitual practice, almost a ritual, intended to overcome the animalistic urge to topple those whom we can.

mangeek
mangeek
8 years ago

It’s a common theme on social networking sites that men (boys?) in the current generation are rewarded with sex for ‘doing chores’ like vacuuming, laundry, and dishes.
http://www.reddit.com/r/pics/comments/17lyql/the_mating_call_of_men_of_my_generation/
The success of women in education and the workplace, combined with the decline in ‘manly’ jobs like construction has led to a proliferation in ‘house-husbands’. Most of the house-husbands I know complain about the lack of intimacy at home. Most women admit to wanting a man who is ‘gentlemanly but dominant’, but their partners can’t ever achieve that if they’re relegated to day-care, cleaning, cooking, and dishes.

Warrington Faust
Warrington Faust
8 years ago

I think there is too much confusion here between “manly”, “alpha males”, “dominence”, etc.
Much has been made of “Late because they can”. At best, this is “status seeking”. There is nothing manly about being unable to manage your time. An apology for delaying matters is not “unmanly”.
We have all had meetings, interviews, where there was 5 minutes of shuffling papers before time was found for us, or we were “noticed” sitting there. This does not strike me as “manly”. I see insecurity asserting itself. Being “dominate” by brute force does not succeed for long.
Not sure what I think of chivalry (medieval history is closely tied to the political beliefs of the historian), but “manners” are never out of place.

Max D
Max D
8 years ago

The question remains, “Are you still master of your domain?”
-Seinfeld
youtube.com/watch?v=oi68hPMinAI

Dan
Dan
8 years ago

Revisiting the closing point of my first post, I don’t think it’s so much a matter of being rude or being courteous, or whether the individual provides a customary apology or not. Any of the above can be performed in a dominant or subordinate manner depending on context. The key element is who is bending to whom in the situation. Tony Soprano may apologize for showing up late, but the important point is that he showed up late and nothing will be done about it. If he does choose to apologize, the nicety is offered entirely on his terms because he wields the power. Similarly, if he shows up on time, it’s because he decided to, not because it was required of him. The signaling is important because it puts everyone else on notice of the hierarchy that is in place. If there is a substantial difference between what is considered “manly” and what is considered “dominant,” I can’t discern what it is.

Marc
Marc
8 years ago

Dan, it appears you’ve taken the discussion into the realm of Power dynamics, which is understandable given the sub-text of feminism, etc. that lay at the heart of the discussion. I guess, as so often happens, the discussion becomes one caught up in defining terminology instead of the root issue. However, my impression was that the term “manliness” as it was being used here had much more to do with being a gentleman (and whether one wants to throw chivalry in or not as a corollary), not being self-centered (including if your at the top of the “power dynamic” pyramid) and just generally sucking it up and stop being such, well, weenies, really. That doesn’t mean forsake emotions and all that, just stop being so thin-skinned, self-absorbed and high maintenance. And accept that you have to work for the baubles you think you’re owed!

Justin Katz
Justin Katz (@justin)
8 years ago

Following up on Marc’s redirect… and offering the observation that a society modeled after Tony Soprano is probably not advisable, this side of the Middle Ages, I want to expand a bit on the dinner scenario, now that I’ve watched Dan’s clip.
Subservience and who pays for dinner is separate from manliness. There are manlier ways the boyfriend could have gone about his intention. Indeed, it wasn’t very manly to sneak off and secretly pay the bill, nor to sulk around outside the restaurant afterwards.
Similarly, there are manly and gentlemanly ways to acknowledge that somebody else is running the show. It doesn’t all have to be about the fight for the top of the pyramid.

Warrington Faust
Warrington Faust
8 years ago

“Subservience and who pays for dinner is separate from manliness.”
The seemingly simple rule I have always abided by is “the one that invites, pays”. Don’t see the difficulty.

David S
David S
8 years ago

If you judge yourself and your manhood by TV shows, or social media standards, or the old religion standards, you do not get it. And there is little hope for you.

riborn
riborn
8 years ago

What an interesting post and comments! One in particular caught my attention: “If there is a substantial difference between what is considered “manly” and what is considered “dominant,” I can’t discern what it is.” Manliness is strength, but strength is not dominance. Manliness is courage, good moral character and ethics, kindness, a charitable heart, and humility. Honor, truth telling, standing up for what is right, standing up for and protecting the vulnerable and weak, and being willing to stand up and fight for all of those things is manly. Living by a moral code, whether the ten commandments or simply “do unto others as you would have them do unto you” is manly. Sadly for our culture and the future, the denigration of the traditional family has left many young men and women at sea as to what constitutes manliness. What was once taught by fathers to their sons AND daughters has been lost in the culture of divorce, single mothers, weekend fatherhood, sexual promiscuity, baby-daddys, ‘everyone’s a winner’, and lack of personal responsibility. Those cultural changes have resulted in a younger generation that is morally, ethically and spiritually weaker and therefore much easier to manipulate. Men have no idea what their role is, and women haven’t a clue what to choose in a mate, they are either just ‘giving it away to anyone who wants it’, or choosing a mate with the notion that they can raise children on their own, after all, there’s the government to provide. What the women of the 60s and 70s wanted was equal opportunity. Women wanted to be counted for all of the qualities that manliness encompasses, and to be able to demonstrate those qualities in jobs and professions and arenas previously off limits to them. At some point the feminist movement was… Read more »

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