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On Manhood: Some Dominant (Wrong) Models

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of
AP Photo/Carlos Osorio, File

In the contemporary Western world, the concept of Manhood has fallen upon hard times.

It would appear that young males generally, and, in particular, young white males (who have been relentlessly bombarded all of their lives with the message that they are “the cancer” of humanity, to paraphrase Susan Sontag), are in a real jam. 

Males can’t be expected to evolve into men when the only ideal types of Manhood supplied by their culture are limited to “The Toxic,” “The Tough Guy,” and “The Intellectual.” 

The Toxic 

“Toxic masculinity” is a toxic fiction invented by Feminist ideologues in their ongoing campaign to achieve both political domination and, thus, the fundamental transformation of Western civilization into something that promises to be unrecognizable to itself.  There are indeed challenges facing the concept of Manhood.  But Feminist activists and their fellow travelers on the political left substitute for sober analysis a question-begging, a sophomoric term designed for a place on a bumper sticker or a t-shirt. 

The Toxic, I suppose, is a model of Manhood according to which any and all exhibitions on the part of males of those characteristics that are thought to be traditionally associated with men are rejected.  Yet they are not rejected for being “unmanly.”  The Toxic, you see, regards the very idea of the unmanly as itself the function of Toxic Masculinity, for the latter is, in effect, nothing more or less than an unequivocal repudiation of the very notion of manliness itself.

“Toxic Masculinity,” in other words, is meaningless by reason of redundancy: Masculinity is intrinsically toxic, toxic by definition.  

The Toxic is not opposed to unmanliness.  It affirms anti-manliness.  

It does not affirm femininity. It opposes masculinity. 

As such, it is no option at all for any male embarked upon his quest to become a man.

It is, in essence, a model of, not Manhood, but Anti-Manhood.

The Tough Guy

This model of manhood, despite its appeal, is fundamentally wrongheaded.  

The Tough Guy is a type that encompasses a variety of tokens: John Wayne, Rocky Balboa, John Rambo, and Tony Soprano are any number of pop-cultural characters that in one way or another embody it.  

Weight-lifters; football players; wrestlers; boxers; martial artists; construction workers; bouncers; law enforcement officers; and soldiers are invariably associated with the archetype of The Tough Guy.  But so too are gangsters, street brawlers, and maybe terrorists thought to express it. 

Though there are numerous exceptions at the individual level, considered as a type, The Tough Guy is not noted for his intellectual acuity.  In fact, he isn’t even particularly wise—an intellectual deficiency that accounts for his penchant for confusing the vice of recklessness with the virtue of courage. 

Nor is gentlemanliness, comprised as it is of the ideas of politeness, education, chivalry, and respect for social propriety, an attribute of The Tough Guy. 

For the aforementioned reasons, The Tough Guy is an inadequate conception of manhood, for it provides a fragmented picture that, in alienating the physicality of men from their intellectuality, their bodies from their minds, has a disintegrating effect on their characters. 

The Tough Guy type denies men opportunities to realize all of their potentialities as men.  It prevents them, in other words, from becoming whole, full, thus, real men. 

The Intellectual

The Intellectual, it is crucial to realize, doesn’t refer to just academics and/or scholars.  Actors, playwrights, artists, writers, journalists, political commentators, and teachers are among those that embody this ideal.  

Within this framework, The Intellectual is virtually synonymous with “The Nerd” or “The Bookworm.”  

If John Wayne could be said to be the epitome of The Tough Guy, then Woody Allen, perhaps, could be that of The Intellectual.

Here, it is assumed that an intellectual orientation in a man is incompatible with physical prowess.

This model of Manhood is essentially the mirror image of The Tough Guy.  As such, it suffers from the same basic defect, the same mind-body dualism that undermines the integrity—the oneness or wholeness—of the man by precluding from the start his self-actualization as a man.


The Toxic, The Tough Guy, and The Intellectual—these are the three dominant types of Manhood in contemporary Western cultures.  Since the first is actually an Anti-Man type, it’s not a genuine model of Manhood at all.  

This leaves but The Tough Guy and The Intellectual—neither of which is adequate. Both, inasmuch as they rely upon a mind-body dualism that, as such, splits man in half, encourages the production of incomplete men, Half-Men, as it were. 

Does all of this mean, then, that there is to be found no sustainable normative models to which males can turn for guidance so as to become men?

The answer, thankfully, is a resounding, unequivocal no.

But it is to history that we must turn to unearth this model, an ideal of manhood that appears in cultures all over the world—not just within the West.  

It is the model of the Warrior.  

It’s not uncommon to encounter this type being characterized by some contemporary commentators as “the Warrior-Scholar.”  This nomenclature, though, while accurate as far as it goes, is nevertheless tautological, for it was always understood that warriors were scholars. 

Before the ideal of manhood became broken into pieces, it was understood that a true man, a real man, would possess both intellectual and martial excellence. The Warrior represented the highest type of man.  

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