Today’s world is faced with a vortex of identity associations and attributions; am I manly, womanly, cisgendered, or something else entirely? The art of manliness is not in any way antiquated, but has continued to evolve contextually along with the growth and development of society.
Do I consider myself manly? I don’t know, but I don’t really spend a lot of time dwelling on it and I consider that, in itself, a manly quality. “To be a man, you must be swift as a coursing river,” and all that jazz.
Let’s dwell for a bit.
Dwelling Point #1: Men in Antiquity
Some of the earliest ideals of manliness may be represented by one of antiquity’s greatest philosophers; as once denoted by Socrates, “It is a disgrace to grow old through sheer carelessness before seeing what manner of man you may become by developing your bodily strength and beauty to their highest limit.” This homocentric ideal is based on the most basic phenotypic characteristics. Men should be specimens of might and virility, expressed by their captivating physical characteristics. In a hunter and gatherer or agrarian society, this would be your Hero Archetype.One could argue that men didn’t have very much time to consider the deeper aspects of masculinity while they were busy defending their territory, food sources, and families.
In the waning years of the Agricultural Age, one could argue that we saw oral history’s (Tall-Tale) archetypal death of the antiquarian ideal man. John Henry, strong and physically capable of chopping his way through a mountain, was the greatest railroad worker that had ever been. That is, until along came the steam engine made by a more clever individual, which proved the downfall of the great specimen of agrarian masculinity.
Dwelling Point #2: Enter the Mind
It would seem that at some point in social development, when dangers of starvation and direct physical harm become more distant to the day-to-day struggle, the ideals of manliness redirect toward the masculine faculties of the mind. Once expressed by the Great Roman Marcus Aurilius, “To be moved by anger is not manly, but courtesy and kindness, as they are more agreeable to human nature, so also are they more manly; and he who possesses these qualities possesses strength, nerves and courage, and not the man who is subject to fits of rage and discontent. The nearer one’s mind is to freedom from anger, the nearer it is to strength, and as pain is a characteristic of weakness, so also is anger. For he who yields to pain and he who yields to anger, both are wounded and both submit.”
Aurelius’ words serve as a bridge between the physical and mental definitions of masculinity likening pain, as a characteristic of corporeal weakness, to anger, which both symbolize a wounded and submitted state. This where my definition of “being a man” and “being a wise man” merge; it’s not that men are devoid of weaknesses, but that they are aware of their weaknesses and the affect of external forces on their selves.
A commonly quoted Chinese proverb reads, Cōngmíng de rén zuò chū zìjǐ de juédìng, hé wúzhī de rén zūnxún zhōngguó de gōngzhòng yúlùn, “A wise man makes his own decisions, an ignorant man follows public opinion.” Let’s deconstruct the first word of this quotation: Cōngmíng, styled Kongming in the Wade-Giles system of Romanization, was the common name of a great man of the Warring States period San Guo, Zhuge Liang. Kongming exhibited an incredible mental prowess through his aptitude for battlefield strategy, and wisdom in court affairs. In Mulan’s definition of a man, this might be, “mysterious as the dark side of the moon.” The Hanyu word “cōngmíng” literally means intelligent, placing great emphasis on one’s mental faculty. In Chinese society, teacher’s often reference this great man when describing the top students of their various grade levels.
Dwelling #3: Manliness in Today’s World
In today’s world we have more comforts, securities, and time than we’ve ever had before. The internet has given us an unprecedented connectedness and a platform for discussion of any and every quality a mind can construct. Masculinity in today’s world, in my humble opinion, is what supersedes all of the different discourses of its definition. Manliness is intrinsically that which is, was, and always will be. It is a constant, balanced, and stable force. It is in its own right wise and capable, accountable and respectful. Is it impossible for a woman to embody these characteristics of “manliness?” I don’t think so. Along with the transformation of gender roles, masculinity has adapted to a new social context, like water: shapeless, formless. As Bruce Lee once said, “When you pour water in a cup, it becomes the cup. When you pour water in a bottle, it becomes the bottle. When you pour water in a teapot, it becomes the teapot. Water can drip and it can crash.” This is the art of manliness.
In the past decade, gender roles and identities have gone through their own renaissance, which has made some cast aside the idea of manliness in modern culture. How can manliness exist in a culture where gender roles are more fluid and based on equity than in most any culture found in antiquity? Should not “manliness” be replaced with the word “humanness?”
I believe that the answer lies in the manly qualities of acceptance and adaptability that maintain their value regardless of social change Reference again the words of Aurelius and the Chinese proverb. If we were to only accept the antiquarian concept of physical prowess, then it would completely diminish the ability of a man who has remained strong and constant in mind as their physical bodies have eroded due to illness or injury. Tell me, who would honestly look at a Marine injured in service, but who continues to contribute to their family as a father, or to a quadriplegic who leads in groundbreaking scientific discovery despite their physical condition as less than manly? This is the root of manliness in today’s world.
What’s your take on what you just read? Comment below or write a response and submit to us your own point of view or reaction here at the red box, below, which links to our submissions portal.
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