What Is A Man?

The idea of who is and isn’t a man may well be one of the greatest challenges facing the males of the human species.  These days, real men can be anything.  A real man supposedly cries at kitten videos and is a kind, gentle soul who wouldn’t hurt a fly or something.

Photo courtesy of andriuXphoto
Photo courtesy of andriuXphoto

Oddly enough, traditionally masculine activities are often portrayed as being the purview of guys who aren’t real men but want to pretend.  Hunting, shooting, fighting, etc are all constantly being described as the playground of either those trying to overcompensate for something or as having some kind of homoerotic subtext that no one actually involved in the activity can sense.

The reality is that being a man isn’t as simple as society as a whole would have you believe.

In days gone by, being a man was a title that young boys would aspire to.  They would spend their time dreaming of when they when they were men.  However, being a man held specific connotations.

While doing research on this subject, I came upon the work of Jack Donovan.  In particular, his book The Way of Men.

Donovan provides a framework for who and what is a man.  What he doesn’t do is try to warp that framework around his or anyone else’s morals, but instead lets that framework stand on its own.

I’ll admit it, I was a bit uncomfortable when I first read about the book.  I’d just finished one book that tried to be about masculinity but was instead something far less, and my gut was telling me The Way of Men would be more of the same.

My gut was wrong.

Donovan gives four virtues of men.  Not good men, necessarily, but men.  They are honorstrengthcourage, and mastery.

The only quibble I have with these is semantics, really.  Mastery is incredibly hard to define, especially from the outside.  Instead, I prefer to use the term competence, which the lay person can identify easily enough.

Both terms mean skills that are beneficial to the tribe–Donovan talks a lot about “tribe”, and it’s understandable if you read the book–and that can raise a man’s status within the tribe.

Donovan calls these tactical virtues, and I think of them as core virtues.  They’re the core of being a man.  Without them, without internalizing them and making them a driving force in your life, you will not live up to the status of man.  It’s what he calls “being good at being a man.”

The reality is that as much as people might want to pretend that being a man is simple, it’s not.  It never was.

Anyone can’t be a man.  They can be male, but not men.  They can be guys, but not men.

Being a man requires more.

A man should be honorable He should have a sense of ethics and he should live by it like he expects to be judged by it.  He will be.

A man should be strong.  If you’re not–and I’m lacking here myself–you need to get strong because you will also be judged by it by other men and many women looking for strong mates.

A man should be courageous.  Bravery is what men do to protect their families and communities.  Men are also judged by this by other men and many women.

A man should be competent.  A man should have skills he can do well that bring benefit to his tribe or community.  This increases a man’s standing in the tribe.

Do those four things and you will be a man.  Failure to do them will result in you just being a guy.

So how do those play into the Roles of Men?  That’s simple.  These are the traits that allow men to fulfill those roles.  Plain and simple.  You need those virtues, and you need them badly.

Don’t be who you are, be who you are meant to be.


Author: Tom

Tom is a husband, father, novelist, opinion writer, and former Navy Corpsman currently living in Georgia. He's also someone who has lost almost 60 pounds in a safe, sustainable way, so he knows what he's talking about.

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