Masculinity…the word can lift or crush a man’s confidence. Either you have it or you don’t.
Nah, it’s more complicated than that. Really, it is.
Guys, what do you really know about masculinity? Can you define it? The simplest definition is as follows: “a set of qualities, characteristics or roles generally considered typical of, or appropriate to, a man.” Thanks Wikipedia for that enlightening definition, but the word is terribly flexible, changing its meaning every couple of years, like some linguistic chameleon.
Earlier in the 20th Century, for instance, there was the Hemingway definition of a man. In his words, “But man is not made for defeat. A man can be destroyed but not defeated.” That is a very uplifting idea of man. No matter what challenge you put in front of him, man will find a way to persevere, even if it results in his death. Death before dishonor, eh? While a fatalistic approach to manliness, it is still – in a strange way – hopeful. Hemingway, however, focuses more so on physical challenges: war, boxing, fistfights, bull fighting and so forth. These things will never defeat a real man, but they can destroy him.
Much of the 20th Century can be summed up in one word: violence. There was war and, sadly, much death. Men had to rise to the challenge. There was no other choice, lest they be squashed by the times. Righteous testosterone flowed through the national consciousness like cheap beer at a frat party. Fast forward to today and it’s clear that testosterone doesn’t flow as freely as it once did. It’s stifled. Men must live out their testosterone dreams vicariously now, by watching football and MMA or, God forbid, playing fantasy football, itself a strange yet unavoidable phenomenon. Then there are video games, games like Halo, Modern Warfare and Assassin’s Creed, where men put on digital masks and “become” heroes or, in some cases, villains. In today’s world, Hemingway-like masculinity seems to be relegated to the digital sphere, the make-believe.
Hemingway’s quote, if applied today, would read, “But man is not made for destruction. A man can be defeated but not destroyed.” Most, if not all, men are defeated on a day-to-day basis. The average man is, for lack of a better term, neutered. He is unemployed, underemployed or making no money at all. The wallet and back account is lacking testosterone. Additionally, the family unit has changed dramatically since Hemingway’s day. The idea of fatherhood has sunk to a new low. Men are partly to blame, as some of us are deadbeat dads, having no sense of responsibility and no shred of dignity. Culturally – movies and TV – dads are usually portrayed as buffoons. Defeated financially and culturally, abandoned by jobs and family, men flee to that digital sphere and the make-believe in order to swim in that testosterone, whatever’s left of it. No “war” can salvage this lost testosterone.
Hemingway would shake his head in shame were he to witness the American male. How can men regain that lost testosterone? Has America failed us? Or have we failed America? Perhaps we need to redefine what it means to be a man, come up with new definitions for masculinity, because society isn’t doing it for us. What do you think?
Post by Geoff LaPlace