We need a new masculine archetype, Will Conley writes, and it has to be awesome.
Tough Guise is an hour-long documentary about the “tough guy” archetype in American culture. Released in 1999 by anti-sexism activist and social critic Jackson Katz, the documentary interleaves movie footage, news footage and archival photographs with editorial commentary by Katz himself.
Although its production values and illustrative examples are 13 years out of date, Tough Guise and its claims are far more relevant now than they were then. Geopolitical events in the intervening years have, I feel, given new life to the oppressive and destructive idea that men are cold, hard, unforgiving, destructive and deadly.
The phrase “tough guise” implies that the tough guy act is just that: an act. In real life, toughness is not necessarily masculine, and masculinity is not necessarily tough, but if you ask American culture, it will tell you the two are the practically synonyms. The Marlboro Man. The Terminator. Rambo. Real men. Gandhi? You pussy.
Faced with such an anemic definition of masculinity, many American men resort to this, the only model they can think of. They put on the “tough guise” as a way to feel like a man, and to get the rest of this all-too-human culture to acknowledge and honor their masculinity. According to Katz, this inexorable pursuit of formal recognition fans the flames of destructive and self-destructive behaviors such as beating up other men, beating up women, drinking themselves into oblivion, drunk driving, drunk crashing, and shooting up a high school lunch room.
And it’s not just “psychos” and “sickos” who do these things, Katz argues. We use such terms because we don’t want to face the fact that the man-as-violent-machine is built into our “normal” culture from the ground up, and it’s a miracle more men don’t snap.
The tough guise, Katz says, dictates that women must be physically objectified. Katz shows footage of the well-respected radio shock jock Howard Stern instructing women to strip and criticizing their bodies on the air. Katz points out that while pop culture seems to view Stern as a bold new voice of free expression, Stern’s objectification of women is actually just a draconian throwback. He’s not a revolutionary; he’s a reactionary.
Katz offers up a few positive images as well. He cites the crying scene from Good Will Hunting, and the scene from Juice in which the protagonist courageously gets out of a car that was destined for violent revenge.
He also discusses the ways in which Blacks, Latinos, and Asians wear the tough guise, claiming that its genealogy may be rooted in Italian mafia movies like The Godfather. He goes on to note that suburban white boys imitate urban “gangsta” culture in desperate pursuit of their own masculinity. His point is that this subject knows no ethnic bounds, but rather bounces around from culture to culture as each one looks elsewhere for instruction on being a man. Because it certainly can’t be found here, wherever here is.
Had Katz consulted me in writing Tough Guise, I would have suggested pumping in some politics. The tough guy archetype—which is just as beloved as the American flag, apple pie, percocets and repetitive club music—also helps both men and women justify the abuse of economic and military power. Real men—or women in roles associated with stereotypical masculinity—screw people out of their life savings and collapse the economy. Real men sit in a helicopter and rain death on that Iraqi family who are running for their lives. We ain’t got time to moralize. This is rugged individualism, pal. Life’s a bitch, it’s dog eat dog—and look at my adequate testicles.
I also would have devoted some time to offering some alternative definitions of masculinity, or what it means to be a real man. The real problem is that many men feel they have no identity as a man. They feel they have been neutered by modernity. They feel they must reclaim their genitals. It’s plain to see that the tough guise is not only destructive, but also entirely inadequate for lending a sense of self-actualization to a man.
“Learn how to cry” and “Don’t kill that guy” are a start, but they are hardly a convincing enough replacement for the dominant cultural stereotype. More, please.
Your current frequencies of understanding outweigh that which has been given for you to understand.
The current standard is the equivalent of an adolescent restricted to the diet of an infant.
The rapidly changing body would acquire dysfunctional and deformative symptoms and could not properly mature on a diet of apple sauce and crushed pears.
—Saul Williams, “Coded Language”
We need a whole new archetype, and it has to be awesome. So I leave it to you, readers. What is a real man? Give us something we can sink these manly teeth into.
—Photo Ian D/Flickr
The examples of bad tough guise refer to screamingly few men. But, in order to get a column out of the phenom, we need to accuse all except the few enlightened. IMO, a tough guy accepts the additional risk imposed on him by draconian ROEs and not only does not rain death on the Iraqi family, but stays exposed for that extra moment awaiting further information or clearance to make sure the target is legit. Guys have been getting killed and wounded due to that since, to my knowledge, Viet Nam. Thing is, we live in a cocoon, by era,… Read more »
Thanks Will and co for the stimulating article and discussion. We ‘Down Under’ fellas (I’m in Melbourne, Australia) are also grappling with the the need for a new breed of man to emerge and be recognized. As a full-time men’s health and parenting educator/consultant I have observed that men in general are moving away from being so one dimensional. There is a time to be tough AND a time to be tender. There are a whole range of seemingly opposite characteristics modern life requires of a man. I have listed these in the vision of Better Men Australia – you’ll… Read more »
Definitely. Glad to see Australia’s at it too.
Check it out, people:
Why should men abandon masculinity when women are fighting to embrace it to further their own ends? How much talk have we had about women not feeling equal to the masculine attributes of men or threatened by them? We should embrace being tough, masculine, and who we really are. Why do we need to spend our lives trying to become a feminist fantasy man instead of who we want to really be. If you are macho then be that, if you are sensitive then be that, it’s all up to you. As feminist say this is about having choices and… Read more »
Ed, in my opinion your point is perfectly valid. So I have an observation I would like to share with you and solicit your opinion on. But before I share it, I want to supply some context about my own opinions and some historical anecdotes. I’ll number my points because this is long-winded; I didn’t have time to make this shorter, as a man once said. 1. I do believe there is a tendency towards male subservience to females, and female dominance over males, among a certain contingent of the American population (I’m sticking with American culture in this context… Read more »
John Lennon on Fatherfood,Feminism,and Phony Tough Guy Posturing
What do you people think of the notion that many men (not the white, upper-middle class males who gather here) are forced into such masculine posturing in order to attract women? The implication is, of course, that women remain attracted to thugs, players and the like, not ‘nice guys’ or intellectuals.
I dig this too. Regarding fighting, my ideal is to be still like the surface of a pond, and to accept everything that comes my way, to subsume it, to win by accepting and redirecting, rather than meeting force with equal and directly opposite force. In other words, aikido is a pretty awesome martial art.
As I see it:
Real men have a sense of who they are, and are individual. For example: pop culture might tell them they have to prefer the color blue to the color pink, but if pink appeals to him, he won’t be afraid of it.
Real men do learn how to fight. They learn what it means to defend themselves and others, and to understand the outcome of fighting.
Real men care, show they care, and take action in favor of what they care about.
To me it’s not about being a “real” man but a good one, whatever that happens to mean to you. To me goodness has to do with the capacity to love. To love my wife, to love my kids, to love my friends. To love men I meet in my travels.
I dig, and I quoted part of your comment for my next article submission. Aside: Congrats on the movement you started here. Massive!
We do need tough guys. Tough used to mean what a man could withstand, the amount of punishment he could take without giving in, not what he could dish out. A tough guy doesn’t quit easily and doesn’t give up. A tough guy is self-sacrificing and sets the example; he doesn’t expect more of others than he’s willing to sacrifice himself. A tough guy stands up and doesn’t allow his life choices to be dictated by what’s currently popular. A tough guy is a leader, not a follower and crowd pleaser. A tough guy doesn’t look for a fight but… Read more »
I’d argue a bit about the leader part i know a lot of guys who just don’t lead well and even among the true leaders i know they know when to follow, sometimes being a tough guys means to know when to give the reigns to someone else. Other than that i agree with your statement completely.
I don’t disagree with our statement at all; not everyone has a leader-type personality. However, let me clarify what I mean/meant by “leader.”
A person can lead by example, saying not a word. It’s not a matter of telling others to follow you, or even telling them what to do; it’s a matter of doing what you know to be right, no matter what others do, especially when others are doing the wrong thing.
in that context i fully agree
I like this. thank you for posting.
Now that is tough.
Most people don’t define “tough” that way. In the video he asks several young men what tough is and their answers are the opposite of that. If you simply told them to be “tough” that would be damaging. Offering this new definition with a full explanation might help, if they believe you. However I think you really have to accept that a new word or set of words for these things might be necessary.
Maybe we can use “tough” to salvage it’self, what is tough, flying of the the handle and resorting to bullying violence and tantrums like a spoiled three year old, objectifying women, and minimalizing feeling? I am tough I know but not “tough Guise” tough, i’m honest to goodness tough, i’ve been homeless and survived, i moved my wife and children out when it was too unsafe for them to stay where we were living and stayed because i had to, i’ve taken it in the teeth for my family and walked away still able to be happy… in my opinion… Read more »
Being ‘tough’ cannot continue to be solely about the kind of punishment or suffering you can endure physically or emotionally. That is one kind of tough and will always be. However, being tough can also be about how caring and compassionate someone can be. Tough needs to be more encompassing. Sometimes it is tough to love, to care, to be engaged. Sometimes tough is not being able to take a punch in the face. If that seems confusing, try to see it from the standpoint of that man who is not physically tough. If he can’t take a punch, live… Read more »
the way i see it tough and strong are not the same thing, i know some incredibly strong people who aren’t tough, and i think there is a difference that is worthwhile in there. Every person should learn to be strong when they need to, but not everyone needs to learn to be tough… there is a price that comes with toughness as i see it and i’d rather most of the world doesn’t have to pay that price like i did. because it does come at the cost of something.. not exactly sure what but i can see it… Read more »
Tough does not need to change and every man does not need to get in touch with his emotional side. The stoic suffering is not a evil that needs to be stamped out. Women should stop asking men to be like women because they don’t like being the way men are. Men can be just fine burying their emotions and doing what needs to be done. They can take pride in that and accept the sacrifice was worth making for those who benefited from him doing so. That strength and sacrifice gives him a sense of purpose and keeps him… Read more »
the statement men can be just fine burying their emotions is a dangerous one, burying emotions is not good for you and with modern stessors added it’s just plain unhealthy, no one who knows me would consider me an approval seeking puppy, nor would i consider most of my friends that, we’re actually a pretty rugged bunch that includes military, police, and rescue team members, but all of us have learned that we can face and even occasionally talk about our feelings , we can also make the obligatory shit joke and talk about why breasts are awesome. men don’t… Read more »
Ed you and sadly too many others just don’t and will likely never get it!
I dig. I am seeing a problem here. I believe many men need to feel *recognized* by others as being tough, whether it be in a positive, neutral or negative sense. But part of the reality of being tough in the positive sense is that is that it sometimes involves doing something that no one will ever know about, and for which there will never be any recognition. That, I believe, is precisely what archetypes are for. They fulfill a human need that you can’t get fulfilled anywhere else. That is why we need a new archetype — one men… Read more »
The point that Will makes about many men feeling “neutered” by society is so dead-on, and its what makes the stereotypically tough guy image so irrelevant: sure, Rambo might be a God in a war-torn jungle (keep retro-actively winning the war for us, Sly!) but would you see him as an icon of masculinity if he was working in a cubicle, paying off a mortgage or raising a bunch of kids? The tough guy stereotype celebrates a type of “masculine” behaviour that is pretty irrelevant to 95% of what most men go through in their lives. It’s literally an unattainable… Read more »
Precisely, Leon. The new archetype must not and simply *cannot* — as in, it’s not possible by definition — be defined according to what a “real man” is *not.* It absolutely must be defined by what it *is.* You can tell someone not to think about monkeys, and they’ll think about monkeys. But if you tell them, “Hey, think about elephants,” they’ll stop thinking about monkeys.
I think you have the wrong idea of what a masculine strong tough man does. He works hard and goes about his life like everybody else but when it comes time to be tough he is ready to do it. It’s not always about a physical fight, it’s more about courage. There are plenty of tough women too, they are the kind who don’t waste time whining about men being this way or that but they would prefer they all be strong. If you don’t fit into the masculine norm it’s not a problem but don’t act like it does… Read more »
I think this article (http://www.pajiba.com/seriously_random_lists/5-tv-characters-that-prove-you-dont-have-to-be-manly-to-be-an-awesome-man.php) offers some great examples of guys that are not the hetero-normative hyper-masculine ‘tough guy’ but are still awesome men. To give you a quick idea of the list, it’s comprised of 5 male characters currently on TV – Community’s Troy Barnes, How I Met Your Mother’s Marshall Eriksen, Happy Ending’s Brad Williams, Up All Night’s Chris Brinkley, and Modern Family’s Phil Dunphy. This is not an exclusively white, upper class view of masculinity (although, it does tend toward middle-upper class). It is exclusively heterosexual but I think the critique is predominantly of heterosexual masculinity? I’m… Read more »
I dig these examples a lot. Maybe our culture is working towards a new standard. Right now there are multiple examples of “real men” or “good men.” It’s my hope that there will one day be a unified, monolithic, *positive* “real man” archetype to topple the current *negative* one. I believe the average human needs a single point of light to look at in order to be guided, rather than many points of light, but examples like the ones you linked to are going in the right direction. Maybe they’ll unite like Power Rangers or something. I’m babbling.
I can understand what you mean because for some reason, multiple options are often one too many options. There’s something to be said for the idea that different expressions of masculinity all equal “real men” and “good men” though. That aside, I don’t think it’s impossible to use the specifics of the linked list to generalize into one example of a “good man.” Comfortable with his sexuality, flexible role within his relationship, open to communication and discussion, expressive with his feelings and emotions, respectful and courteous. I think all of the men on that list display the traits listed there… Read more »