One Way to Resurrect Manliness: Everyone, Dress Better!
Can men be men again? The short answer is no. And the reason is that we are not living in the same society that produced the archetype of the manly-man: sacrificing, responsible, honorable.
As Harvey Mansfield pointed out in his amazing 2006 book Manliness we are currently living in a thoroughly radical, unprecedented social experiment defined as the “gender-neutral society,” which is so different from the culture that preceded it that neither female nor male roles, characteristics, and values are the same as they were, say forty or fifty years ago.
How different are things today? Pay attention to this exchange about Manliness between feminist Naomi Wolf who interviewed Mansfield about his book and made no secret of the fact that she was driven “crazy” by much of what the author had to say.
Wolf: Men used to, when they courted women, try to establish that they would be good wage-earners and fathers. [Today,] they are no longer trying to establish that they can protect children. You write a lot about risking your life for an ideal but what would you say about that virtue of protecting the vulnerable?
Mansfield: It would be an advance to admit that women and children need protection.
Mansfield is dead right. Women are not supposed to need the protection, the wages, the care of a man anymore. It is supposed to be a two-way street. Women and men are supposed to earn for their families. Women and men are supposed to do the housework, cook, and take out the garbage. Mothers and fathers are supposed to take care of the kids, shuttle them to all their activities, tuck them in at night. Wives and husbands are supposed to (as a modified version of the old song might go) “bring home the bacon, fry it up in a pan and never-ever let you forget you’re a (wo)man.”
It took four decades, the Pill, Roe v. Wade, the ERA, and a whole host of other societal and legal changes to take place for us to get to this moment and if Mansfield is right that there are qualities unique to men that constitute a definition of manliness “that . . . inspires [the male sex] then that’s a real challenge to the gender-neutral society.”
We aren’t going to upend all this change–is it progress?–overnight. So what can we do? Well, how about starting with changing something easy and external to signify a change we want to make internally. The external change won’t make the internal change any easier but it is a first step.
Translation: dress better. And I say this to both women and men. The Wall Street Journal reported recently that some companies have instituted a fun little twist on the normal office uniform of casual attire by instituting “formal Fridays.” The story is cute and as more than one of the quoted employees makes clear, dressing with “grace” also comes with a pinch of irony.
How about cutting the irony? Don’t wait for Friday and just dress properly. Women, stop wearing flip flops, sweatpants, track-suits. Men, same thing, plus get rid of your white sweat socks unless you are working out. If you are going out on a date, if you are going to a movie, if you are going out of the house, at all, for any reason, dress nicely. Women, dress like women, not whores or tweens. Men, dress like manly men, not guys who just got their best-ever score in whatever flavor-of-the-month video game you’re into and couldn’t be bothered to change. And this goes for married adults as well, by the way. There is no reason to wear shorts and a polo shirt to a steak house when taking your wife and kids out for a nice dinner.
Perhaps if more men and women dressed the way they wanted to be perceived (strong, responsible, honorable) rather than the way they actually feel (insecure, unsure, childish), we might get somewhere toward a new understanding of gender roles. So, get yourself a wardrobe that expresses the man you want to be and then go out there and act the part.
Abby W. Schachter is a Pittsburgh-based journalist and blogger. Follow her on twitter.com/abbyschachter
Editor’s note: This piece is part of a symposium in which a variety of writers and thinkers weigh in on the question: “Can men be men again?” See earlier takes by Emily Esfahani Smith, Mark Judge, Ryan Duffy, Mark Tapson, R. J. Moeller, Ben Domenech, a second post by Emily Esfahani Smith, and Anthony Dent. All of the posts are compiled here.