What Makes a Man?

Hey folks, time to talk a bit about Masculinity.

(I know, I know. Why haven’t I finished the series on Argument yet? Well, too many reasons to go into here, but soon, my friends, soon…)

So, I was driving for work, listening to the radio, and I heard this story on NPR.

I recommend you listen to it; it’s only about 5 minutes long, and worth the time.

But for those of you in a hurry, the TL;DR –

The University of Texas at Austin was having a thing where they were investigating masculinity. It got all kinds of attention from the right-wing media. Maybe some of you saw it? Lots of blowhards talking about UT at Austin treating masculinity as a mental health issue.

Turns out, that’s not remotely the case. I know – SHOCKER!

But the story is interesting for more than that. It’s interesting for what the university was trying to do.

It looks like, from a glance at actual reporting, that the university was trying to come at the problem of campus sexual assault and harassment from a completely new angle, one that seeks to come to some kind of detente with the current disagreement over what it means to be masculine.

I could be paraphrasing that poorly, so, seriously, go listen to the article yourself.

This post, strangely isn’t about the article, per se.

(I know, that’s a lot of backstory to get to my main point. Don’t worry, there’s still a  bit more to come.)

What struck me, beyond the bald-faced straw man arguments (a logical fallacy we’ll delve deep into in a forthcoming post) posed by the right wing media, was the commentary some of the students at the actual university provided for the story.

A lot of it had to do with expanding the scope of what is considered “masculine” in order to not feel judged or excluded.

I have a problem with this for two reasons:

1. No man should feel less of a man because of what anyone else says “manly” is supposed to be. STOP THAT! STOP IT RIGHT NOW!

If you’re a male who thinks this way, please stop trying to live up to someone else’s standards. You’re really not required to. And have you considered that the person whose standards you’re trying to live up to might be a psychotic fucktard? Because you should really consider that. You’re you, the only you out there. Please remember that. We’ve got enough of them. We need a YOU. Why would you rob us of that?


2. It’s a horrible category error.

Ok, I’m going to get a bit analytical here. So, if you’ve only absorbed number 1 on this list, I won’t be offended if you give up here and go find something more interesting to do.

But please, stay. I’m really nothing without you. 😉

What do I mean by category error?

(Yes, technically it is a bit of philosophy jargon, but – happily – it actually means pretty much what you think it means: something has been placed in a category in which it does not belong, leading to a misunderstanding of the facts. That’s what you thought it meant, right? Good, glad we’re on the same page.)

So, there are two categories getting co-mingled here: Descriptive and Prescriptive.

Descriptive is, lucky for us, just what it sounds like: it is a description of the traits of a thing.

Prescriptive is a directive to be a certain way or meet a certain standard.

Descriptive is a statement about how things are, prescriptive is a statement about how things should be.

My position is that the term “masculine” is descriptive rather than prescriptive.

From listening to the article, it became apparent that there was an unexamined initial assumption, by pretty much everyone involved, that masculine was a prescriptive term, meant to lay out what it means to be a man.

This is wrong.

To know why we just have to look at the term masculine for itself. What is it?

Simply, and without copy and pasting dictionary definitions, the term refers to a constellation of traits we tend to associate predominantly with males of the species.

I probably don’t need to go into the list of traits. You’ve likely got a reasonable representation of what the term means – broadly – in your head already.

What I want to point out is that the list, how ever it is composed in your head, is not a checklist or a “to be” list. And that’s where most people make the error.

They take something that is descriptive and make it into a thing that is prescriptive.

The fact that we delineate traits we associate with males does not actually translate into a list of traits males should be. They are two separate endeavors.

The list of traits we consider “masculine” exist as the extreme end of a spectrum. The other extreme end being “feminine”. Those two words are descriptors of the opposite poles of one wholeness, one continuity of being. They are meant to bracket the description of the spectrum, not monopolize it.

One may have traits that exist all along the spectrum, or one may move along it through the course of one’s life. Your experience is your own. It can only be inexpertly described from the outside, it can not be told what it should be. What it should be, for a uniquely individual experience, is an absurd notion, because, how would they know? Shit, how would you know? Anyways.

So, my conclusion is that it is unnecessary, and likely absurd, to try to redefine, or expand the concept of what masculinity is. It already exists as a pretty good descriptor of a thing.

What we need to do is stop using it as a measuring stick for being a man.

We need to stop using it as a check list.

Masculinity is not the doorman at the velvet rope of manhood.

There are many ways to be a man, of which “masculine” is just one mode.

It’s just a description, not necessarily a goal to be achieved.

Time to treat it accordingly.


(And no, I’m not even going to try to define what being a man is here. It will take too long to even get straight in my own head, and too long to type out. Best to save that for a day when I’m more cranky and hungover, because it’s way more fun that way.)


Until next time…








About tessarnold2

I'm a writer, and someone generally crazy enough to think other people will be interested in his deranged thoughts. Author of the 3rd Eye Detective Novels. You can also find me on Twitter @tessrants
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1 Response to What Makes a Man?

  1. sarah says:

    You’re the Man!!! Lol

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