Tonic Masculinity Series
How far we have fallen.
Western society has embraced the antithesis of true manhood, encouraging males to be easily offended, embrace dependency, and identify with their weaknesses rather than overcoming them. It has attacked masculinity and manliness as something dangerous, harmful, and toxic.
A March 12, 2021 article in Psychology Today by Silva Neves encourages readers to “confront the roots of ‘toxic masculinity.’” He attributes this “toxicity” to a “strict set of rules that prescribe what being a man should be.” Neves then conjures up a banal list of “man rules”—which are absolute myths—seemingly out of thin air, without explaining how he came up with them.
1. Myth: A man should suffer physical and emotional pain in silence.
Are whining and complaining better options, regardless of gender? Authentic men do talk about their challenges, and—depending on personality—many share their feelings to various degrees. But they don’t dwell on them. Being men, we pick ourselves up and seek a solution, knowing that ultimately only we can face it and allow it to transform us. We turn pain to power, growing stronger from adversity. That’s healthy.
“Bless you prison, bless you for being in my life,” wrote Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, in The Gulag Archipelago. “For there, lying upon the rotting prison straw, I came to realize that the object of life is not prosperity as we are made to believe, but the maturity of the human soul.”
Whenever my sons fell off a bike and skinned their knee, I’d hug them, check to make sure they weren’t seriously injured, and then tell them, “Get back on the bike, son.” This is a quality that they will need for life. When you lose a job, take a break to catch your breath, and then find a new one. If you get a leg blown off serving overseas, mourn, heal, and then learn to walk with an artificial leg. Get back into life.
Because life can be hard, a man seeks to become harder than it…life requires strength training.
- A man shouldn’t seek warmth, comfort, or tenderness.
A man can and will enjoy these things. But he doesn’t “seek” them. He is more likely to seek challenges, opportunities to grow, and ways to get stronger. It’s easy to enjoy warmth, comfort, and tenderness, but life requires strength training. Because life can be hard, a man seeks to become harder than it so he will prevail against whatever it throws his way.
2. Myth: A man should only have the emotions of bravery and anger. Any other emotions are weaknesses. Weakness is unacceptable.
This parody hardly merits a response. It would be insulting if it weren’t so dumb. I know exactly zero men like this. Weakness isn’t “unacceptable,” but it’s certainly not a virtue. What many men consider unacceptable is embracing weakness, or turning away from challenges that can make us stronger. As I told my sons, “it’s okay to feel discouraged or sad; it’s not okay to stay there!”
Every society needs strong men to protect and defend against evil men.
Because evil exists in the world, there will always be predators willing to exploit weakness to prey on the weak. For this reason, among a multitude of others, every society needs strong men to protect and defend against evil men. (It’s not that women can’t join in this protection, but men are physiologically stronger, as biologically male swimmer Lia Thomas is currently demonstrating by helping destroy women’s sports.)
Riley Gaines Barker knows what actual “toxic” pseudo-masculinity looks like; she competed against it. She also understands the value of strong men and fathers. (See video, below)
3. Myth: A man shouldn’t depend on anyone. Asking for help is also weak.
Self-reliance is a core principle upon which this country was founded. But that doesn’t mean we don’t ask for help; men do it all the time. It’s healthy to know you can depend on others to help when you’ve done all you can. But relying on others to do what we can do ourselves conditions a man to become dependent on others…and that’s not healthy. I taught my sons to try and figure things out for themselves before asking for help—this is an innate trait of men as they famously don’t like to ask for directions! Life presents many occasions when help is not available—like getting a flat tire on a lonely road or finding oneself lost in the woods—self-reliance is a virtue.
Theodore Roosevelt overcame respiratory illness and an atrophied body, largely thanks to the support and encouragement of his father. Young Teddy needed his father’s help, but he did not depend on Theodore Sr. to be strong for him. His father didn’t put him through hours of counseling, but he spent time with his son and taught him to be a man of strength. Theodore Sr. didn’t attempt to take all life’s obstacles out of Teddy’s way, he taught his son to overcome them.
Theodore went on to say things that have inspired generations of men like, “We do not admire the man of timid peace. We admire the man who embodies victorious effort; the man who never wrongs his neighbor, who is prompt to help a friend, but who has those virile qualities necessary to win in the stern strife of actual life.”
4. Myth: A man should always want to win, whether in sports, work, relationships, or sex.
Well, we certainly don’t want to lose! Men don’t play not to lose; we play to win, but we also know the importance of sportsmanship and losing with grace—that’s why we shake hands with the opposing team post-game. We know our biggest opponent is ourselves and if we’ve given it our very best effort, we can live with “you can’t win them all.” What we cannot accept is losing because we didn’t give our best effort to win. The great Vince Lombardi said, “I firmly believe that any man’s finest hour, the greatest fulfillment of all that he holds dear, is that moment when he has worked his heart out in a good cause and lies exhausted on the field of battle—victorious.”
Competition is essential to our survival.
Life requires winning when it matters—against illness, the elements, adversarial people, economic hardship, our own laziness—competition is essential to our survival.
In the 2006 movie, Rocky Balboa, Rocky responds to his son complaining that, “living with you hasn’t been easy…I start to get a little ahead, to get a little something for myself, and then this happens…”
Rocky doesn’t respond by giving his son some chamomile tea, calling his therapist, and driving him to his safe space; he gives him an epic dad-style motivational speech:
Let me tell you something you already know. The world ain’t all sunshine and rainbows. It’s a very mean and nasty place and I don’t care how tough you are it will beat you to your knees and keep you there permanently if you let it. You, me, or nobody is gonna hit as hard as life. But it ain’t about how hard ya hit. It’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward. How much you can take and keep moving forward. That’s how winning is done! Now if you know what you’re worth then go out and get what you’re worth. But ya gotta be willing to take the hits, and not pointing fingers saying you ain’t where you wanna be because of him, or her, or anybody! Cowards do that and that ain’t you! You’re better than that! I’m always gonna love you no matter what. No matter what happens. You’re my son and you’re my blood. You’re the best thing in my life. But until you start believing in yourself, ya ain’t gonna have a life.
Multiple cultures across time have celebrated the strength of men. Challenge, hardship, and pain were viewed as necessary catalysts to grow a boy into a man—and men were expected to become tough. For millennia, men have been celebrated as protectors and providers.
“Grandfather impressed upon me that every struggle, whether won or lost, strengthens us for the next to come,” as James Kaywaykla dictated to Eve Ball in her fascinating book, In the Days of Victorio: Recollections of a Warm Springs Apache. “It is not good for people to have an easy life. They become weak, and inefficient when they cease to struggle.”
Founding Father and Virginia’s first Governor Patrick Henry said, “Adversity toughens manhood, and the characteristic of the good or the great man is not that he has been exempt from the evils of life, but that he has surmounted them.”
Real masculinity isn’t toxic, and it certainly isn’t the ridiculous one-dimensional straw man the Left beats like a cheap piñata from Walmart. Men are multifaceted. Yes, real men are tough, willing to take the hits; we are able to endure suffering and hardship because that’s what life often demands. But that strength and the ability to overcome suffering also help us become compassionate, chivalrous, and caring. It makes us excellent fathers, coaches, husbands, and lovers.
What is truly toxic is a weak, dependent man with no aspirations or initiative, adding little to the world except criticism of the strong…and in this case, a poorly written little parody of manhood in Psychology Today that offers nothing of value and that no one should take seriously.
Kelly Walker is a father of five, author of Guidebook for a Son: Words of Wisdom for the Making of a Man, and Host of the FreedomTalk series, Fathering in a World Gone Mad.