Masculinity is intrinsically relational rather than isolationist
Many of the community organizations that were extremely prevalent in the 1980's have diminished greatly. However, their missions and structures may be a good starting point to revitalize community cohesiveness, and support purposeful relationships among men.
Churches have attempted to fill this gap. Unfortunately, there is an intrinsic divisiveness within religious belief systems.
I love the framing of "relational masculinity," and your longer piece in Comment has also prompted me to, rather tardily, buy and begin reading your recent book on boys and men. Many others have spoken or written about this to me lately—Kim Stanley Robinson, Grayson Perry, and Sophie Strand are just a few that come immediately to mind, but this phrase is new to me, and very helpful. I'll dig through the bibliography in the book—and, I'd love to hear the origin story directly.
As for the crisis of "masculinity" -- what you said about that Pew survey you cited pretty much says it all: "What was shocking was that most people—four out of five—thought the term “masculine” was negative when applied to men." I couldn't agree more that it's up to us to shift this, and I'm here trying to do my part, which is why I've been sharing my memoir in progress here on Substack
...along with pieces like
No, It Is Not a Struggle to Find Good Male Role Models https://bowendwelle.substack.com/p/there-is-no-struggle-to-find-good
We Need Wild Fathers
and How "love" often leaves out the Truth
As a Baby Boomer male, who has raised two grown sons, who is the son of a war trauma survivor, I fully agree with what you are saying. My dad worked hard and I inherited his work ethic. My Dad did what was necessary around the house (my mom worked too) and did seem to worry about traditional gender roles and fortunately I learned that too. He was handy and did his own repairs, and apparently, I got that as well. Unfortunately, he learned not to trust the world or the environment around him, so he always would “go it alone.” Unfortunately, I learned that too. Nurturing, coaching, and emotional connection were not his thing, so I had to figure things out on my own. I started working when I was 15 where I apprenticed under a gentleman who taught me my trade at the time and who taught me about life. At that time in my life, I could have gone completely off the rails, but my mentor helped me stay the course. I was thankful to have a mentor in my life and as a result, later in life, I joined a non-profit organization that provided housing for young men aging out of foster care. I did everything with the guys, drivers ed road time, school track meets, and just hanging out with them. These are guys who had no male role model at all. COVID ended the program. I said all that to say I would do it again if the opportunity presented itself. Those were some of the most rewarding years of my life. My chance to be “a villager.”
I can relate to this article 24/7 from life experience!
Data is where it’s at today and we need data.
In analysis of the overlapping Bell Curves of men and women where so much is in common and there are also differences that create a polarity that with scientific beauty is responsible for attracting males and females together.
I like when Richard dares to speak of the differences here.
But I do not believe masculinity is learned. I know it scientifically as a set of inborn instincts and I see it just play out in front of me in my 8 yr old son - who insists on challenging me to a fight in the yard, wants me to tackle him then he hits me with the flailing arms of a chimpanzee in the wild.
Over his mother’s protests.
And even so he loves it and laughs as he continues and clearly feels alive for doing so.
The feeling of being alive using those unique, masculine instincts is masculinity.
We need data but we need models too and it seems we have forgotten their value for a time in the glitz and glare of data.
Character is what’s learned over time and development. The mother and father each have a different style of instruction and for different tasks and games perhaps influenced by those very different instinctual styles and task preferences.
Character virtues are not instincts and instincts are not character virtues. They both are, along with the emotions, core elements that compose our personhood.
And females have equivalent character virtue and character growth potential to that of men.
Still my little boy runs to me and punches me playfully and doesn’t do that to his mother. He has learned that that is disturbing to her but learning doesn’t make the instinct to do it to me go away.
He needs both parents but my value in this game is, according to researcher Warren Farrell and others, to teach him boundaries and limits through physicality, in rough and tumble play.
Here is this joy of father and son in seemingly pointless physicality to the eyes of many others.
There is both data to analyze and a model of masculinity to explain - that what only appears to be pointless does so because it comes from unconscious instincts specific to those physically engaging in it.
Just as in any other animal species.
Instincts aren’t learned. They’re unconscious. But the unconscious can be pondered upon and instincts guided and explained as they naturally get expressed.
Fathers have similarly done so in every culture of the world, throughout history, spontaneously, when their little boys challenge them to a fight just for the joy of doing so.
I appreciate "the need to tread carefully" and yet I also see a need to start suiting up and doing cultural battle. For too long, masculinity has been defined by archaic stereotypes and modern fantasists: Jordan Peterson, Andrew Tate, etc. We need some counterpoints, and soon. They can be flawed - everyone is. But we need models and spokespeople and braggarts and even warriors to compete with vile ideas and boxed-in masculinity. If not you - and that's fine - then who?
On the point of MGTOW, etc...
"What this means is that Men Going Their Own Way, or MGTOWs, are the least masculine men of all. A man who lives in glorious isolation providing only for himself is not masculine at all. It the guy who is generative—of love, resources, time, energy—who is the manly one."
Please be aware that many men did not initially choose to live in "glorious isolation". Many are unrecognised victims of domestic abuse, victims of false allegations and divorced men who are victims of a highly biased court system including parental alienation. Often they are making the best of an horrendous situation not of their own making and who have been hurt sufficiently to not want to go through this process again and again.
In this respect they could be commended for being the "least masculine" of men as at least they are not conforming to male stereotypes where men cannot admit to being hurt.
As you say, Mr Reeves, you usually avoid the "cultural" side of these issues in favour of the data-driven approach. This may be a wise choice as, given that you know the facts behind these issues, you show an astonishing lack of compassion and empathy .
"overweighting differences blurs the personhood of each individual, which should always come before any group membership"
This was the most important sentence for me. I've been thinking about this question quite a bit, and every time I find a masculine model with distinctive qualities, I always would also appreciate them in a woman.
Which kinda led me to the conclusion that being a better man is just being a better person overall. Some people, men or women, will develop this or that quality, but I'm not sure any of them are this distinctively masculine or feminine, honestly. Maybe in the way they're expressed ? And even then, I'm not sure.
What do you think would be specifically masculine ?
Great essay! I originally encountered it being read by the default Substack text to speech bot; rather I should say butchered.
I did a quick and dirty (no pre or post production) narration of the essay here: https://youtu.be/lKu8g3khtgY
Your work deserves more than a robot narrating it Richard! Please let me know if I can support somehow.
I will turn 80 this year and remember well growing up with the Lone Ranger, first on radio, then on T.V. He was the first of my cowboy role models. But the realities of men's pain and suffering soon came home to me when my father took an overdose of sleeping pills and was committed to Camarillo State Mental Hospital. I grew up wondering what happened to my father, when it would happen to me, and how I would prevent it from happening to other men and their families.
Years later, when I was mid-life myself, and feeling the fear, stress, and depression that plagued my father, I found my father's journals written just weeks before his final act of despair and his final entry. "A hundred failures, an endless number of failures, until now, my confidence, my hope, my belief in myself, has run completely out. Middle aged, I stand and gaze ahead, numb, confused, and desperately worried. Yes, on a Sunday morning in June, my hope and life stream are both running desperately low, so low, so stagnant, that I hold my breath in fear, believing that the dark blank curtain is about to descend."
I have dedicated my life to helping men and their families, and so appreciate your work, Richard, for bringing a clear, compassionate, and powerful voice for healing.
It took me a long time to understand my father's pain, overcome my own fear that I would be pulled under with him, and find a way to tell our own story so that others could know they are not alone. In My Distant Dad: Healing the Family Father Wound, I offer our collective wisdom.
Thanks, Jed Diamond, founder, MenAlive.com
Thanks Richard. I laughed out loud at the “almost every role played by Kevin Costner” line. I’ve been enjoying your recent work. We met briefly at a “think tank clash” hosted by Rory Bremner in London around 2010. We were debating “character versus social networks” which was strange, but you might remember me as the chess guy (I am Grandmaster and former British champion), and you made a (good) joke about it at the time. In light of the post above and your current interests, I think you might enjoy the following post on what chess taught me about the differences between men and women: https://jonathanrowson.substack.com/p/what-chess-taught-me-about-the-differences
I think MGTOW’s are ok with mr. Reeves et al saying that they aren’t men. Mr. Reeves et al are most welcome to be society’s real men.
This was a great piece.
I love this. In my experience, more and more men seem to be struggling to maintain meaningful friendship and connection and feel horribly lonely. I talk to guys who tell me they don't have a single close friend. It seems to be a crisis and I don't know how to fix it. I suspect that guys might need more structure to form bonds (organizations, sports, games, etc) and I worry about the loss of those structures.
So is femininity!