Why I don’t rely on an academic version of manhood.

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I’m not an academic. I almost was, and couldn’t stand it. To each their own, but there’s a particular fault in the academic handling of most topics. It centers around intellectual fads with a shelf-life outlasting their validity, around specialized vocabulary where English works fine, and around obscure references designed to suggest only SOME people should be having a given conversation.

It bores me, and I won’t do it. I CAN do it. I choose not to. I’ve read Max Weber, Hannah Arendt, Thorsten Veblen, Wittgenstein, Adam Smith, Plato and Aristotle, Durkheim, Foucault, Habermas, Ayn Rand and Camille Paglia (which academics widely despise), C. Wright Mills, WEB DuBois, De Tocqueville, Luttwak, and a rack of cultural critics. I probably have NOT read anyone’s pet social scientist any more than my studies of religion, history, economics, and culture has meant I’ve read everything in those fields.

I’d rather throw cinder blocks off a construction site and chew the fat with a guy over a beer. It’ll tell me everything I need to know about the man. But, I’ll put it out there this once, with NO bibliography and just a couple of terms from philosophy or the social sciences. Academics, prepare to be appalled at the complete disregard for an academic writing style, the omission of sources, and the absent references to any research studies. The thought of all that… I just threw up a little in my mouth. Anyway, here goes…

There are ideas of manhood that aren’t fads—that last.

There are shared concepts of masculinity that transcend specific eras, ethnicities, and nationalities that also leave room for abundant variation, innovation and creativity. When we combine concepts like duty, honor, diligence, respect, loyalty, and resilience, we’re attempting to say what kind of men we wish to be and what kind of company we wish to keep in the community of men. In its most elevated form, manhood is a body of aspirations that are not exclusively the property of men, but certainly represent a consensus on what men wish for the world and ourselves.

The most resilient ideas are broad and freeing, not narrow and limiting.

Any authentic model of manhood, to be consistent, has to permit simultaneously a rich affiliation with that concept and the full expression of an individual’s personality. One tree, many branches. Manhood, in the traditional sense, is recognizable without needing to being constrained by narrow definitions. There might be 31 flavors of manhood, and any of us may prefer one or the other variety, but if we turn that variety into a template for everyone, we’re cutting off the trunk of the tree for the sake of one of the branches.

Effective ideas of manhood are antidotes to fringe behavior.

In the absence of a discussion of manhood predicated on a reasonable consensus on what it means to be manly, men are being peeled off by dysfunctional ideologies and are hunkering down into narrower and narrower subcultures that confuse manhood with a superficial and exaggerated set of trappings (e.g. real men wear camouflage and Hawaiian shirts and have a derogatory vocabulary for women and anything that doesn’t meet the ‘standard’). Each of these pathetic movements promises that “authentic manhood” will be preserved, defended, and protected. Except, authentic manhood is entirely incompatible with a culture of fear and panic. Manhood isn’t a defensive position. A mountain need not cower in a hailstorm. 

Criticism has mounted (practically speaking) a prohibition on discussion.

Manhood is NOT under assault. It is unassailable. It has endured for millennia. What’s under assault is men being able to effectively discuss what it means to be a man—and the community such a discussion nourishes. When someone suggests we can’t have a legitimate conversation about “manhood” and “masculinity” without offering a concise definition that effectively excludes women, or that any acknowledgment that manly values (honor, resilience, hard work) can also be attributed to women means there can be no actual basis for identifying ourselves as distinctly men, they are inviting us to divide into polarized camps.

The resultant vacuum creates an opportunity for sociopaths.

The horns of the false dilemma that have left us wanting more are: [alternative 1] become men who deny ourselves and don’t admit identifying as men; [alternative 2] react to that proposition as ‘angry’ men, electing to despise women generally and despise men that don’t fit a narrow template in a bid to preserve our ‘identity”.

The opportunists who are capitalizing on the vacuum formed between these untenable alternatives gleefully offer us a bugaboo of shrill women who are critical of masculinity in toto. Certainly, there exist such people, but in reality, the misogynists and misandrists are the fringes. Most people aren’t like that. Or they propose that men who have diluted the standard are making choices for the rest of us. In reality, no such eidolon is ‘coming for us’. Most of us are just trying to find our way and live our lives, and we empower the fringe only by feeding the assumptions that let it coalesce in the first place. There’s an enormous center where men and women can be distinct in some manner they individually choose and corporately intuit and also come together in mutual regard and respect.

Academic dogmas have not resolved this issue.

Critical theory has failed to help men find a shared model for masculinity. Academia’s fetish for deconstruction and the progressive affaire du coeur with Marxist ideology have muddied the waters. They assert that the absence of conflict is evidence of revisionism and that all human struggle can be envisioned, not as the struggle to jointly improve our lot, but as a conflict between subgroups fighting to preserve their identities.

Insisting on that dialectic of theoretical opposites is a waste of intellect because that kind of thinking cannot produce a positive community of peers but can only excrete a culture of suspicion and polarization. The sad state of affairs is that critical theory has become so attached, albeit subtly, to what would otherwise be a valuable liberal education, that, to the average person, it forms an unaccountable absolute—an unquestioned premise. Ironically, those premises (lack of conflict is evidence of conflict; all conflict is existential) dilute the potential for clarity and undermine the effectiveness of genuine critical conversations.

In particular, academic fads worsen the situation.

Conflict theory, in particular, foments a polarized culture of opposites which it presumes underlies all instances of culture. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy that, to the pseudo-intellectual, is mistaken for proving its substance. In short, conflict theory produces the conflict. When someone brings up “manhood” or “masculinity”. the person influenced by conflict theory says, “Define those things as opposed to womanhood or femininity.” We don’t accept the ground of the question. We are not men “as opposed to” women. Manhood isn’t simply non-womanhood, and it’s possible and even necessary to authentic manhood to respect and appreciate women as distinct but not opposite—and certainly as individuals to the degree they exemplify whatever values we hold. All of that goes for other men who don’t match our template for manhood. There is some broad consensus model, but it’s an open system, not the closed one presumed by rigid academic cults like conflict theory.

The result is ‘identity’ becomes the hill many have chosen to die on.

Perhaps identity, the way its presented to us now, was invented to sell more advertising. We’re broken down into every conceivable niche interest and subgroup on the scale of big-data to make us easy to target for everything from virility supplements to financial products. We can buy ads on Facebook that target Joe in Miami. Joe in Miami’s “demographic”: 40-something gerontophiliacs who like dramas featuring strong female leads, identify as free-will true-believing Nazarites of the Second Coming and routinely purchase dental and astrology-related products via the internet. You’ve got every gender, ethnicity, orientation, religious denomination, and ideological fetish forming a clan. And those clans are largely lonely, embittered, and often go to war. Manhearted is specifically rejecting making manhood an IDENTITY appliance, while also refusing to treat it as an optional accessory.

Not everything is an identity. We all have our own personalities. Our personalities are WHO we are. The rest is just WHAT we are or HOW we behave. Confusing, person, behavior, and nature is the bane of our joyous congress as free people. And as men, we need to resist that being undermined. “Any man who judges by the group is a pea-wit. You take men one at a time.” – Sgt. ‘Buster’ Kilrain (Kevin Conway).


I prefer to engage in conversations with other men that aren’t predicated primarily on academic categories of thought and frail cultural fads. I don’t abandon academia because it has no value. Sure, it has a purpose. I have acquired a significant tool cabinet from academia, even if I don’t wear the ‘suit’. Likewise, I don’t reject cultural fads, because they’re all bad, but simply because I’m on a quest for the timeless, the same as I am in my wardrobe. It’s about setting limits on the pursuit of the merely temporal and engaging in a highly selective curation of skills and tools that enable a man to have the relationships he wants and improve the ones he has.  I’m not going to rush out and buy this year’s cut of slacks (is it extra skinny man capris this year?), the latest width in necktie, collar, or lapel. I don’t buy a tan Carhartt hat just because everyone else is. It’s the same with ideas.

Today’s man chooses whatever is current. The man of the future (read: the man with longevity and resilience, that stands the test of time) chooses what is timeless. The neighborhood pub is timeless. Men sharing a love of fishing or ale or working outside, men admiring honor, duty, decency, reserve—are engaged in something timeless. The guys marching in the streets in camo and Hawaiian shirts are the “men” of ‘today’. The conspiracy theorists (who Umberto Ecco observes are actually creating the conspiracy they’re afraid of), who are forming ‘cells’ to resist some presumed “fem’ takeover” that threatens their frail masculinity—those are fad men. Confidence, courage, and other traits associated traditionally with manhood (not to the exclusion of anyone else) are predicated on the knowledge, personally held, that one is touching the timeless and unassailable.

Therefore I’ve elected to approach the subject of masculinity from a decidedly non-academic starting place.

Asher Black

Asher is a fabulist, maximist, humorist, and raconteur. By day, he works with companies to find and tell their story effectively. By night, he is a human bonfire.

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