What makes a man in the modern world? Some say it was easier in the good old days, and it was: when the rampaging psychopaths tore through your village raping and killing, you were a man if they merely killed you (and you were lucky). Those nostalgic for the days of random murder fancy that they’d have been one of the warrior Vikings. But if you’re not reading this from a special prison with a leather strap between your teeth, you do not have what it takes to be a reaver. The ability to just start killing people is not rewarded in modern society.
Instead, let’s look at the qualities society does consider manly:
Strength stopped being the big manly thing the instant we invented forklifts. Actually, it stopped around the time we worked out levers.
This doesn’t eliminate the benefits of working out. Keeping your body ticking over is vital in all kinds of literal ways, and the dedication and focus applied to working out are among the manliest skills it’s possible to possess.
But being able to body-slam a camel simply isn’t as impressive as it once was. Nowadays your body can get you dates because other people like the look of it, not because it can beat them. And we work out to live longer because we’re not going to die of the plague before hitting thirty.
There’s a crucial difference between defending yourself and starting a fight. Action movies aside, the man who can avoid a fight with a few well-placed words (or a well-timed exit) is much more impressive than the one who allows random thugs to try to kill him for a while, no matter how often he gets away with it.
The mathematics of beating people up has changed. In the caveman days, if you could flatten over 50% of the people you met, you had an above average life. But pretty much everything we’ve invented since, from “big sticks” all the way up to “the legal system,” has reduced the advantage of bulging muscles. Nowadays you need to be able to beat 99% of the species before anyone gives a damn. And even then all we do is stick you in a cage with the other 1% and watch.
So what makes someone a man? The evolutionary answer: a large love truncheon!
Which has to be the weirdest measure of manhood possible, despite being literally manhood. The stereotypical rules of being a manly man are difficult: you’re meant to be proud of a big dick, but you’re not meant to spend your time thinking about big dicks. It’s like trying to not think of a pink elephant, when you could pull out your pockets, open your fly, and pretend to be one.
The penis is not prepared for existential questioning. It is not a philosophical instrument. It doesn’t “think, therefore it is,” it just is, it is, it is, it is very hard to ignore. Especially when it’s very hard to ignore. It doesn’t ask why it’s here because it knows exactly why it’s here, it wants to know WHEN.
Among other men it’s the opposite of the Emperor’s New Clothes: you’re meant to be very proud of it, but you’re not naked in front of them, and even if you are they pretend they can’t see anything. Even though studies show that feelings of size and shame have nothing to do with actual endowment.
Much of this might leave you thinking that there’s no real physical requirement for manliness at all, to which we say: exactly! Modern manliness is much more impressive than mere muscle mass. It’s how we choose to approach the world. A 2008 survey asked over 27,000 men from eight countries around the world what true manliness meant to them, and the top answer with over 30% of first place answers was “Being seen as a man of honor.” This was followed by “being in control of your own life” (27%), and “having the respect of your friends” (13%). Meaning 70% of the manliness survey adds up to “Don’t be a dick.” Little things like sex life, success with women, and physical attractiveness limped in with 4% or less. Over 23,000 of the respondents were average men, and 4,000 more adding a dash of unexpected extra manliness, because they were suffering from erectile dysfunction.
Think about that: these are men saying “Yeah, it doesn’t work, but you’re damn right I’ll tell you what manliness really is, and if you don’t like it I’ll find a way to screw you anyway.”
The conclusion? Modern balls can be testicular, ovarian, or absent entirely. True manliness means being able to get things done, and doing the right ones.
Luke taught you the real meaning of manliness with The Most Ridiculously Manly Men’s Names in Use Right Now