December 23rd, 2010 // 4:00 am @ Oliver DeMille
I wrote in an earlier review of several recent articles and books on “the end of men.” Such writings sparked a lot of discussion on the national scene, mostly among women.
Men, it seems, aren’t paying much attention to such things. Where men do take exception to the predictions and statistics about man’s falling value to society, it has mostly come in the tone of irony.
For example, Colin McEnroe slaps back in the September 2010 issue of Men’s Health with arguments like:
“But listen up, ladies: The buttons on that remote aren’t going to push themselves.”
“They would miss us, right? There would be subtle repercussions. For example…jar opening, wasp-nest nuking, rodeo riding…knife fights in malls…”
“Women are still free to seek our elimination, of course, but my advice is to keep a small number of us—300 or 400—in some kind of zoo, for breeding purposes. Like albino alligators, we may play roles in the ecosystem that even we cannot see.”
And Jeff Wilser says the top seven man rules are:
- Tip well;
- You only recognize primary colors;
- Know how to give a compliment;
- Never say “blossom”;
- Keep an empty urinal between you and the next guy;
- Pack two pairs of shoes or fewer;
- and Outperform the GPS.
Male joking aside, the man’s role is in serious question—among men and women. The use of humor often highlights the fact that this topic is definitely on the docket in the American dialog.
The New Man Rules
A few things are clear. During this post-economic-meltdown era, certain things are in, like brown dress shoes, a little facial hair, leather bands on watches, v-neck sweaters, cuff links, and sneakers that are simple and cool.
“Women may not take note of the hours you log working out, but they will notice if you wear sneakers outside the gym,” one column assures us. The Prohibition-era look (recession, but not yet depression) and early sixties fashions are in — a rebellious comment against the Establishment.
But the serious advice to men is worth noting: “Optimal living isn’t about saving time. It’s about seizing control over the ways you spend it.” Get more done by getting out of bed as soon as you wake up, take real vacations to reboot, and “buy a trip, not a toy.”
Men are also told that “The New Rules for Men” include standing for something that matters, unplugging from electronics when it’s time to do important things, customizing many of the things you buy in life to fit your real needs and wants, and accepting that you can’t control everything.
“Standing for something” was the title of a book by Gordon B. Hinckley promoting, among other things, being a real man by being a truly good person, husband and father.
The “ideal of unplugging” was taught in the seventies by John Naisbitt in the bestselling Megatrends; he called it “High Tech, High Touch.”
“Customizing” was predicted in the 1990s as a major growing trend in our times by business guru Harry S. Dent, and the promotion of “accepting that which we cannot change” (and taking positive action to change those things we can and should) are as old as the Cicero, Cato, Aurelius and the Stoics. But bringing them all together for our time in history is, I think, quite profound.
It seems that while some women commentators are noting the popular ascendance of women and relative decline of man’s power, others are quick to point out that the equality of women is still a major unfulfilled challenge for feminism.
And where some men are ignoring or brushing off the trend with humor, at least one significant thing is happening among men: A lot of them are talking about what it means to be a man, how to be a real man, and what being a good man is all about. That’s not a revolution or a reform, it’s an internal renaissance among men.
This trend started (mainly among religious groups and authors) in the nineties, but it is taking on an increasingly mainstream tone.
For example, Philip Zimbardo of Stanford and John Boyd of Google teach in The Time Paradox that men who want to keep up with the coming future take more risks, remain goal-oriented, have strong impulse control, and take time to enjoy the present more often. Sounds almost Biblical. Or Shakespearean.
Boys 2 Men
Men are telling each other to be good. Somehow, in some way, the Great Recession moved a lot of men away from the playboy values of the roaring nineties toward more grown-up ideals.
Current advice to men includes: Eat better, drink more water, add fruits and vegetables to most of your meals, listen to more relaxing music, stop smoking, get more sleep, and so on.
This sort of advice has been served up for a long time, and there is a lot of the play-while-you’re-single commentary still, but some things have a newer ring: Work out more often in chores like “chopping and splitting wood,” “planting trees,” and “operating a floor sander,” eat more eggplant and also kale.
Also: Read more often in the deepest books, express more gratitude to your significant other, go out on more dates with her instead of just hanging out, give more service to your charity.
Make your own fate. In a political discussion, turn things to solutions instead of attacking sides. Spend less at restaurants and cook for her more often. Clear and clean the dishes.
Turn off all electronic devices at least 30 minutes before bed to increase the quality of your sleep. Be yourself, and better yourself.
Do wild things that make you feel like a man, and do them smart. Start a business. Increase your education. Take long hikes (customize and make your own trail mix).
“What a fairy-tale, romantic version of a man,” my 18-year-old daughter said when she read this. “Where did that list come from?”
When I told her it was mostly from one issue of Men’s Health, she was shocked. “That’s sooooo cool!” she exclaimed.
“I know, right?”
Be strong, innovative and reliable—these are some of the main messages men are now sending to men. And many women seem to agree. Where teen heart-throbs such as the unshaven young Leonardo DiCaprio used to be the choice for sexiest man alive, the top three right now are 47-year-old Johnny Depp, 42-year-old Hugh Jackman, and 36-year-old Christian Bale.
C.S. Lewis once wrote an article titled Men Without Chests to argue that we need more leaders who stand up for the good and against the bad, even when it is unpopular or difficult.
Decades later, The Weekly Standard published an article called “Men Without Chest Hair,” noting that then-teenager Leonardo DiCaprio had become the new male icon.
Today the grown-up, and very-non-teenage-looking, 36-year-old DiCaprio is still high on the list of “sexiest man alive.”
Teenage-looking men, like Zac Efron or Twilight’s Robert Pattinson, are rarely listed. Only five of them are in the top fifty, and even most of these look like they’re trying to appear older.
The most popular drama on television, according to Emmy voters, is Mad Men, which features middle-age men as its “handsome” leads. A headline in the woman’s magazine Glamour reads: “From silly boys…to ‘mad men.’”
I don’t know if the age of man is over or not, but the world can only benefit if more men work to become better. Not as a government program, mind you, but as a self-led-personal-improvement stimulus.
As corporate keynote speaker Bill Perkins suggested, there are times when real men need to break each of these six rules:
- Never get in a fight;
- Never risk it all;
- Never give up;
- Never ask for help;
- Never lose your cool;
- Never look stupid.
There are things worth fighting for, times to take more risk, habits and behaviors each of us should give up, times we really should ask for help, situations that require our full energy and passion, and experiences where humility and being willing to look stupid are exactly the right thing. Done correctly, all of these are characteristics of strength. There are many others.
I think maybe we’ve reached a point where the concern is a lot less about the differences between men and women than simply this: How can I be a better person?
We can wait for government, society, another institution, the experts, some great artist or something else to help us reconcile the male/female debate and bridge the gap between the various schools of thought on how men and women should be.
Or, finally, we can just get to work on truly improving ourselves. In this particular case, we all need to say “I” a lot more than “we.”
- I am improving the way I spend my evenings
- I am reading more things that matter
- I am spending more truly quality time with my kids
- I am doing more just because it is fun
- I am eating better
- I am taking long walks with my grandchildren
- I am making my work a real mission to improve the world
- I am smiling, laughing and relaxing a lot more
- I am finding so many fun ways of serving my wife
- I am helping build things that really make a positive difference
- I am working hard to…
- I am changing the way I used to…
- I am serving others in such great ways by…
- I am improving myself so much by…
- I am loving my new focus on…
- I am…
Regardless of the experts, what each of us does in our personal life is the key to the future. (And are there really any true experts on being a real man, husband and father—except, perhaps, great men, husbands and fathers—and, of course, your wife.)
There are so many things we can do, as men, right now to become better and to improve the world. We can do so much that is fun, that requires strength, that makes us feel truly alive. We can add so much meaning to the world.
Whatever the experts say, I believe we are living in the beginning of a renaissance of manhood. If not, it is time to start one.
He is the co-author of the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and USA Today bestseller LeaderShift, and author of A Thomas Jefferson Education: Teaching a Generation of Leaders for the 21st Century, and The Coming Aristocracy: Education & the Future of Freedom.
Oliver is dedicated to promoting freedom through leadership education. He and his wife Rachel are raising their eight children in Cedar City, Utah.