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.