Critic’s Corner: True Masculinity: A Critic’s Response


What does it mean to be a man?

As songs from “Mulan” (or the PDP) run through your head, I want to discuss an article recently published by The Gauntlet, a start-up publication on campus aimed at creating conversation.

Contributing writer Chuck Adams published an article, which can be found on Facebook, titled “Oppose the Sterile Masculinity of Bonobos.” In it, he critiques a video by men’s clothing brand Bonobos which talks about the definition of the word “masculine.”

In the article, Adams calls men to embrace traditional masculinity. Understanding masculinity in a true yet loving way is obviously something our culture is hungry for, and I’m glad Adams wanted to address this issue and generate conversation on campus.

The video, Adams says, “limits masculinity to being a good human.” His article then begs the question: what is true masculinity? While sincere and well-intended, his answer came up lacking in some ways. Let’s discuss what works about his approach, what doesn’t work and how we can challenge ourselves to continue thinking about this complex topic.

For starters, Adams challenges men to “start showing to yourself and those around you the respect that is deserved.” He says he doesn’t want to just be a good person for his future children, “but a good man. Gentle, yet strong. Loving, yet firm.” This points to the true definition of Christ-like masculinity.

Adams also offers ways masculinity is “separate and particular” from simply being a good person. He says it is “the ability to hold your own as a man: in defense, in conversation, in wit, in Faith. … a man who can display confidence and proficiency.”

At first these statements seem a bit vague, but conversation with a friend, Mark Smith, helped clarify Adams’s point. Smith said, “The way a man carries and presents himself is important. Therefore, it says a lot about a man in a conversation or social setting when he displays confidence in who he is and respectfully acknowledges those around him.” This is truly an important part of masculinity, one I’m glad Adams and Smith are addressing.

Adams obviously has many good points, and his article has sparked plenty of conversations on campus. However, masculinity is a tough issue to tackle, and Adams only used 350 words.

The main problem of the article is that Adams makes strong points without elaborating or clarifying what he means. This leads to confusion at key places, which detracts from his argument.

For example, Adams writes that in our culture, “men and women are casting out the stereotype – where both macho and manly are used synonymously.” This implies the culture’s attitude toward the stereotype is wrong; thus, the stereotype of macho equals manly is correct. But he does not explain what he means by macho (a word that typically comes with negative connotations) or why he wants a return to macho masculinity. Our culture desperately needs clarity, so we must have a real dedication to writing with clarity when approaching these topics.

Another issue is word choice. Adams writes that part of masculinity is “an inner aggression.” Perhaps Adams didn’t mean aggressive in a hostile sense, but the word has violent connotations and that must be recognized. Jesus didn’t say “blessed are the aggressive.”

Such complex topics deserve purposefulness and clarity in our word choices. Adams instead might have said that masculinity is taking initiative, committing to being intentional, being steadfast in one’s beliefs. All are positive things that ought to be cultivated.

So, in the interest of clarity, what is true masculinity?

He seems to come to the meat of his argument when he writes, “Cultivate the masculine spirit with your friends: play a game of pick-up football; get the boys together for cigars.” Okay, these might be activities many men enjoy, but what about men who want to pursue a true masculinity but don’t like football or giving themselves mouth cancer?

Thanks to more insight from Smith, I realized that Adams is really trying to encourage men to cultivate brotherhood, leadership and confidence together. This could have been a great place to dig deep into true masculinity, but giving cliché examples without explanation isn’t the way to do that.

Adams also calls out the men of Franciscan as “soft bodies … guys without backbones, who don’t know how to hold their own.” Honestly, is this because Franny guys aren’t masculine, or is it because they aren’t following Christ with their entire beings?

The most important thing Adams never touches on, the meat we’re hungry for, is that true masculinity should have Christ at its center. If you want to know what it is to be a good man, isn’t growing in virtue and pursuing Christ the best way to do that? Loving like Jesus, dying to self in order to serve others – shouldn’t this be the rock upon which masculinity is founded?

I admire Adams’ work to define the ways masculinity is “separate and particular,” but this is a complex topic that is difficult to handle well in a 350-word Gauntlet article. His intentions of searching for the truth are noble and worthwhile but should still be approached with careful thought. I challenge every reader to continue thinking about and discussing true masculinity and to find out what that means in the relentless pursuit of Christ.

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