On Masculinity

What is masculinity?  This is a question men have been trying to answer since the dawn of time.  One would think that after thousands of years of analysis, there would be a satisfying answer.  Yet, just as philosophy has not yet been completed, so too it seems that masculinity will never be categorized in a fashion to everyone’s liking.

One of the big reasons that the part of the internet known as “The Manosphere” even exists is because so many men nowadays lack the guidance previous generations received as to how to be a man.  As such, different definitions have been worked out.  Roosh would argue that it mostly comes down to how many women you can sleep with.  Brett McKay thinks it has a lot to do with living up to your specific culture’s norms about what constitutes manliness.  Jack Donovan proclaims the idea that masculinity is all about being a high-value member of a tribal gang.

I’ll throw my hat into the ring.

The way I see it, masculinity is composed of four categories.  What we know as masculinity can be seen as a four-legged stool, with each of these categories being one leg.  Undercut one of them, and the structure becomes incredibly unsteady.  Cut out two, and the whole thing collapses.  With that in mind…

Hard Masculinity: Hard masculinity is, quite simply, the ability and willingness to employ physical force.  The most overt example of this would be delivering a violent beatdown in a fight.  However, this category extends beyond violence.  Being a star athlete is a less extreme expression of this component of masculinity.

Hard masculinity is the component of masculinity that you find feminists complaining about.  It is that primal, violent animal inside of all men that when awakened is capable of great and terrible things.  It is Achilles slaughtering Hector before the walls of Troy, MMA fighters pounding each other in the ring, or even just an ordinary individual setting a new PR in the weight room.

This is why many recommend martial arts and weightlifting as ways to become more masculine.  Both work together nicely to increase your ability to become a physical threat.  They make you dangerous, which is a consequence of increasing one’s hard masculinity.

Note that hard masculinity is not just the capability to use force, but the willingness to do so.  Someone big and strong but afraid of getting hurt does not possess the same capacity for hard masculinity as a lightweight boxer who does not fear pain.

Soft Masculinity:  Soft masculinity is the ability to control yourself and others.  Can’t stop eating food you know to be bad for you?  That’s a lack of soft masculinity coming into play.  Soft masculinity is, in a nutshell, control.

It is from that this control of the self that several manly virtues such as courage, honor, and self-discipline are derived.  It is from the control of others that charisma and dominance come into play.  If bashing someone’s head in represents hard masculinity, having people who will do it for you is soft masculinity.  If the gladiator in the arena embodies hard masculinity, the Emperor who ordered the gladiators to fight represents soft masculinity.

If you see a man crying or displaying excess emotion, and tell him to “man up” or “act like a man“,  this is the component of masculinity you are calling upon.

The interplay between hard and soft masculinity is nuanced.  At times, they complement each other, like when grinding out the last few reps in a painful set of deadlifts when you’d rather go home and drink beer.  Other times, however, they may be at odds.  Kicking someone’s ass in a bar fight because you felt they insulted you is a great example of hard masculinity, and an utter failure of soft masculinity.

Soft masculinity without hard masculinity leads to pacifism and aestheticism.  Hard masculinity without soft masculinity leads to thuggery and barbarism.  A man needs both, for one without the other is nearly useless.

Soft masculinity can be thought of as control, discipline, and dominance.

Low Masculinity: Low masculinity represents the ability to take care of yourself and satisfy primal urges.  In the modern world, this means having enough self-reliance to be able to go out and make enough money to have your own place and provide for yourself, as well as having the social skills to be able to convince women (or men, if that’s your thing) to have sex with you.

The reason why moving in with your parents after college is considered unmanly is because it’s a declaration that you still lack enough self-reliance to be able to live on your own.  This is also part of the reason why so many men find it emasculating to be fired from their job (the other part has to do with high masculinity, which is expounded upon below).

Like it or not, a man capable of getting laid has a greater capacity for low masculinity than one who is not, all other things being equal.  In this regard, men who advocate ones “notch count” as a measure of masculinity are half-right about a small piece of a bigger picture.  They’re not wrong per se, they’re just missing a lot.

Skills like being able to change a tire and live off the land are considered masculine because they directly increase a man’s ability to take care of himself.

High Masculinity: If low masculinity is the ability to satisfy your primal needs, then high masculinity is the pursuit of a higher purpose.  This could be as down-to-earth as taking care of a family and children, or something more akin to conquering a huge empire.  Just as a boat without any means of propulsion is really just a large buoy, a man without a higher purpose to strive for can never be described as a “real man”.

The second reason why it is considered emasculating for a man to lose his job is because it interferes with his ability to provide for his family.

The archetype of high masculinity without low masculinity is the starving artist, making beautiful music or divine paintings but forever being a dependent on others.  Think Vincent Van Gogh, although annoying hipsters living off trust funds often fall into this category as well.  Low masculinity without high masculinity is the realm of the hedonist.  The so-called “schism” in the Manosphere is just the debate over whether high masculinity or low masculinity is a more valid measure of a man.

Granted, the labelling of these terms as “high” and “low” would normally imply a moral judgement.  This is not, however, the case here.  Just like with hard masculinity and soft masculinity, you need both high masculinity and low masculinity to truly be “manly”.

The takeaway message one needs to realize here is that many if the ideas that people subscribe to as to what composes masculinity are incomplete, and are part of a larger whole.  The pieces need to be balanced in order for the whole to be complete.





If anyone of these is lacking or dysfunctional in some way, then masculinity begins to wither.

Given that this is a fairly brief summary of my thoughts on the matter, it would seem prudent to examine each piece of the puzzle in more depth in future posts.  Look for that in the coming weeks.



11 thoughts on “On Masculinity

  1. Bryce Laliberte 08/21/2013 / 7:17 PM

    I haven’t really given much thought to this, but I think your paradigm is very helpful, especially comparing the issue of masculinity to philosophy, e.g. an essentially unfinished work. It seems the essence of masculinity is endless self-improvement, always seeking to achieve, to accomplish, to gain fame (of a kind) and fortune (of a kind). Masculinity is defined by ambition and toil.

    • Legionnaire 08/21/2013 / 9:50 PM

      Masculinity is fundamentally a philosophical concept with roots in biology and culture, which I why I believe the comparison is justified. The common theme among the most credible interpretations though, is that you have to work at it continuously. That’s a position I fully support.

  2. Conan 08/21/2013 / 8:14 PM

    Willpower is the essence of manhood.

    • Legionnaire 08/21/2013 / 9:51 PM

      I would categorize that as “Soft Masculinity” as willpower is an expression of control over the self.

  3. Wald 08/22/2013 / 1:20 AM

    I like this explanation – though perhaps you could give different names for hard and soft masculinity. The semantic is of no importance to me – but important for the presentation of this line of thought to others.

    Might I make suggestions:

    1. External versus Internal Masculinity
    2. Physical versus Mental ”
    3. Brunt versus Finesse “

  4. Boar 08/22/2013 / 1:31 PM

    Your definitions are good, but I think Donovan’s vision of masculinity is the end word. Not that we need to blindly follow anyone, but manosphere lacks foundations, and Donovan’s The Way of Men should be one of the pillars on which it stands. I don’t think there’s a need to come up with yet another alternative definition of masculinity. I’ll go even further and say that your concepts correspond to Donovan’s tactical virtues:

    Hard masculinity= strength
    Soft masculinity=courage
    High masculinity=mastery
    low masculinity=honor

    It’s ok to come up with new concepts and ruminate about things, but in my opinion, Donovan has already said everything that needed to be said.

    • Legionnaire 08/22/2013 / 4:48 PM

      I can see how you might fall under that impression, but with the exception of hard masculinity being equivalent with strength, I’d say it’s off-base. Courage is merely a part of soft masculinity, mastery is a tool to achieve high masculinity, and honor has nothing to do with low masculinity.

  5. Gruesome 08/22/2013 / 4:30 PM

    A true man is strong, healthy, happy and free.

  6. House Perspicacity 09/06/2013 / 12:49 AM

    Your headed in the right direction but we feel that your trying to fit a circular peg into a square hole by making ‘masculinity’ so comprehensive. Example: If High Masculinity is the pursuit of a higher purpose, what the hell is high femininity? Lack of such pursuit? Doesn’t sound right. Lets keep in mind that masculinity and femininity are a dichotomy, so attributes on one side must have an appropriate reflection on the other. To call what is essentially self-actualization ‘high masculine’ doesn’t give us a lot of defining options when we look at the other side of the table, high femininity.

    We would think of masculinity as akin to the Greek Fire element: Flaming, expressive, enlightening, destructive, dry. Within this context we find that your explanation of masculinity fits appropriately. Men are ‘fiery’ and ‘expressive’, expanding by nature, and masculine traits such the use of force, overcoming obstacles, and self reliance reflect this dynamic. The improper expression of these traits leads to rampant violence and destruction, leading to the other key virtues of man: Discipline and self control.

    Heraclitus, the Weeping Philosopher, considered fire the nobler part of the soul. We should take it to heart and become more fiery yet, by extension extending and enhancing our masculinity.

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