I’ve received so many e-mails, messages, and texts from men asking about my take on the commercial that was put out by a company called Bonobos called Evolve the Definition. In the commercial, you’ll hear from men who aren’t masculine talk about why we should redefine what masculinity in an attempt to make them feel more included. Look, a man can be masculine and/or a man can be feminine, neither of which necessarily make him more or less of a man. That’s because manliness and masculinity are not the same thing. Changing the definition of masculinity to make more men feel included does not make it right. Today, I’ll share with you why redefining masculinity is dangerous and how critical true masculinity is in society today.
MASCULINITY AND MANLINESS ARE NOT THE SAME THING
First, it’s important to understand the difference between being masculine and being a man. After all, women can display and exhibit masculine characteristics at times and men, on the other hand, can exhibit and display feminine characteristics at times. Masculinity in and of itself does not make you the man you’re capable of becoming. It’s a component of manliness but it’s not the only element.
I made the other day on Facebook and Instagram and talked about what masculinity is. I suggested that masculinity is courage, risk-taking, physical/mental/emotional strength, aggression, and the ability to do violence. There were those who wanted to argue with me about that and, specifically, took issue with masculinity as aggression and violence. They suggested that aggression and the ability to do violence are immature and how “real men don’t behave that way.”
Again, I come back to the fact that masculinity and manliness are different. Masculinity is the effect of our hormones and physiology of our brains. Hormones and our physiology account for our ability to be aggressive and violent. Manliness, on the other hand, is the ability to harness masculinity in a way that will produce effective outcomes for everybody involved (we’ll talk a little bit more about that here in a bit).
I am amazed at the level of confusion with regards to what it means to be a man and what it means to be a woman, what it means to be masculine and what it means to be feminine. It’s ridiculous. I don’t even understand why it’s controversial and why so many are working so hard to “evolve” the definition. Each of the virtues I listed above; courage, risk-taking, strength, aggression, and even violence are not inherently bad, evil, and/or wrong. In fact, all of those virtues, in certain scenarios are desirable traits in men.
The reason they are is that when the wolf comes knocking at the door, whether it’s a natural disaster, an emergency, a violent encounter with another individual, or a war, it’s the masculine virtues that serve us all well. If we’ve redefined masculinity and asked men not to be masculine, there will be no one to defend, protect against, and ward off the wolf. Obviously, that’s going to put us in a very compromising position. It’s always fascinating when I hear people talk about how bad men are and how toxic masculinity is yet nobody complains when men step up to do the work of men, when we’re stepping into natural disasters, when our police/fire departments are stepping into harm’s way in order to serve the people in their communities, or our warriors go to battle.
So, I say we worry less about evolving the definition like some of these organizations would have you do but that we reclaim what it means to be masculine.
Before we go any further, I need to explain a few things. It would be easy for me to talk about my opinions and beliefs about masculinity but that wouldn’t do it justice. Masculinity is about the science and facts, not my opinions and beliefs. In her book, The Male Brain, Louann Brizendine discusses the hormones and physiology of the brain that make us uniquely men. Let me break down a couple of excerpts from her book:
Medial Preoptic Area (MPOA): This is the area for sexual pursuit, found in the hypothalamus, and it is 2.5 times larger in the male. Men need it to start an erection.
Temporal Parietal Junction: The solution seeker, this “cognitive empathy” brain hub rallies the brain’s resources to solve distressing problems while taking into account the perspective of the other person or people involved. During interpersonal emotional exchanges, it’s more active in the male brain, comes on-line more quickly, and races towards a “fix-it-fast” solution.
Dorsal Premammillary Nucleus: The defend-your-turf area, it lies deep inside the hypothalamus and contains the circuitry for a male’s instinctive one-upsmanship, territorial defense, fear, and aggression. It’s larger in males than in females and contains special circuits to detect territorial challenges by other males, making men more sensitive to potential turf threats.
Amygdala: The alarm system for threats, fear, and danger. It drives emotional impulses. It gets fired up to fight by testosterone, vasopressin, and cortisol and is calmed by oxytocin. This area is larger in men than in women.
Now, we’ll cover two specific hormones, testosterone and vasopressin: Again, an excerpt from Dr. Brizendine’s book, The Male Brain:
Testosterone: Zeus. King of the male hormones, he is dominant, aggressive, and all-powerful. Focused and goal oriented, he feverishly builds all that is male, including the compulsion to outrank other males in the pecking order. He drives the masculine sweat glands to produce the come-hither smell of manhood – androstenedione. He activates the sex aggression circuits, and he’s single-minded in his dogged pursuit of his desired mate. Prized for his confidence and bravery, he can be a convincing seducer, but when he’s irritable, he can be the grouchiest of bears.
Vasopressin: The white knight. Vasopressin is the hormone of gallantry and monogamy, aggressively protecting and defending turf, mate, and children. Along with testosterone, he runs the male brain circuits and enhances masculinity.
Now, there are other hormones to take into account but these are the primary masculine hormones. The reason I share these excerpts is that you need to understand that is backed by science. This is not my opinion or something I’m simply passionate about. This is verifiable scientific data proven to describe what masculinity is. Again, we should not attempt to redefine it. It’s proven. It’s not controversial.
These characteristics are important in men because, if we’re faced with a natural disaster, war, or threat of any kind, we need to be able to ward off those threats in order to keep ourselves and others people protected. I don’t understand why there is this complete dismissal of masculinity. This seems to be pretty reasonable and understandable.
If you’re reading this as a man and feel like it doesn’t describe you, that’s OK. But that doesn’t mean that masculinity must mean something else. It means that you may not as masculine as the next guy. Take warriors, for example. Obviously, these are very masculine men who are likely to have higher levels of testosterone and vasopressin.
Just because you may not have these higher levels of masculine hormones or aren’t as quote “masculine,” you aren’t less of a man. Again, there is a difference between masculinity and manliness. Masculinity is the physiology of our brains and our bodies, and the hormones we shared earlier. Manliness is about harnessing the tools we do have – physiology, hormones, experience, beliefs, etc. – in order to produce the outcomes that we’re after. This is manliness.
Again, masculinity is not up for debate. It is not subject to interpretation. It simply means that masculinity is the hardwiring and physiology of who we are.
I know men who are more masculine. I know men who are more feminine. But as long as a man is doing what he needs to do, protecting, providing, and presiding over himself, his family, his business, his community, and the people that he has an obligation and responsibility for, I believe he is acting in a manly manner. Sometimes that’s going to require a healthy dose of masculinity and other times it’s going to require a healthy dose of femininity. Men use all the tools at his disposal.
Femininity is nurturing, compassion, empathy, kindness, and love. These are all things a man can exhibit as well. These virtues are not exclusive to women just as masculine virtues are not exclusive to men. And, there are times where men should tap into feminine energy and power.
When it comes to the relationship with my wife children, if I ran around as the aggressive, dominant, controlling figure 100% of the time, I wouldn’t be a great leader. I wouldn’t be a great father. I wouldn’t be a great husband. At times, tapping into more feminine virtues will produce the outcome I desire for myself and the people I care about. What is interesting is that the assault on masculinity is an assault on femininity as well.
I believe there is a goal to make men and women the exact same. News flash: we’re not the same and we shouldn’t be expected to be. We compliment each other. What I do compliments what my wife does. Where I’m strong she may not be as strong. Where she’s strong I may not be as strong. And through the use of both masculinity and femininity, we can raise a family, grow our business, create the experiences that we want, and do all of the wonderful things that this life has to offer. We do that in harmony. Men and women are not at odds with each other, we complement each other.
Gentlemen I know you don’t need my permission but I’m going to say it anyway: it’s okay to be a man. Much of society says it isn’t. They’re wrong. It is okay to be a man. In fact, it’s encouraged. It’s encouraged that you display courage, risk-taking, strength, aggression and even violence at times when the situation calls for it. It’s okay that women are women. We are not equal. We are not the same. We are of equal importance and worth but different nonetheless. Although the way we accomplish certain tasks may be unique, they complement each other.
Quite honestly, the call to redefine masculinity is pathetic and misguided, at best, and destructive and dangerous to our well-being and society, at worst.
With that said, I am countering the claim. Instead of “evolve the definition.” I suggest we reclaim the definition. I call for men to step more fully into what it means to be a man and that we learn how to utilize and harness the masculine virtues that make us men. When we do, we better society, our families, our businesses, our communities, and the outcomes that are desirable for ourselves and the people we have a responsibility for.