Rants and Raves

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Sunday, March 16, 2008

Macho Musings

A comment on a recent column, referring to my “macho, sexist statements” started me thinking about our notions of manliness and what it is to be manly.

Thanks, “We find comfort among those who agree with us, growth among those who don’t,” (Frank A. Clark.)

Am I a macho sexist kind of guy? Depends on whom you ask.

What are my thoughts on “sexism”? Well, to begin with, I observe that there are two sexes. I further observe that they are different in certain fundamental characteristics, chief of which is that only one of them can bear children.

This, I submit, is a non-trivial difference, although an awful lot of trees died to make it seem so lately.

I also believe that differences in various abilities are distributed differently between the sexes, i.e. that if you graphed certain characteristics according to gender you would find different, but overlapping distributions.

That’s the kind of thinking that got Larry Summers run out of his position as president of Harvard. “Epurr si muove!” (probably not Galileo.)

Macho? Depends on what you mean.

Early in the Left ascendancy, “macho” became an insult. However “macho,” in its lands of origin, means manly behavior. In the US it has come to mean an over-the-top parody of manly behavior and admittedly, Latin macho can be pretty self-parodying. But at bottom our western notion of manliness is about is individual strength; strength of character, will and mind and is totally alien to the collectivist ideal of strength through weight of numbers.

The cognate in Italian is “omerta,” from “uomo” – man.

The so-called “code of silence” understanding of the word is simply the Sicilian interpretation of the idea of manliness (again, pretty self-parodying at times) – you don’t save yourself or gain advantage by ratting out your partners.

And there’s the rub. The idea of what constitutes manhood and manly behavior is different in different cultures. For example my wife, who is from Eastern Europe, quite unselfconsciously says “He’s a man!” as the highest of compliments.

Notice that American women don’t do that much anymore.

In macho cultures appearances are most important, and manliness is about what anthropologists call “display.”

In our culture, manliness is, or at least was, less about appearances and more about one’s character expressed in action – even when the action goes unobserved and uncredited.

Yet at bottom, manliness is everywhere first and foremost about toughness. The notion that you have to be tough enough to protect that which you love in a dangerous world, and tough enough to stand up to what that world is going to throw at you for having the courage to love.

Ayn Rand once described the goal of her writing as the portrayal of the ideal man. She had no use for the “sensitive man” ideal of contemporary feminism and described the essence of femininity as hero-worship. This is anathema to modern feminism.

And yet, she married a sweet and gentle man; the kind of guy who as a boy brought wounded birds home to heal.

Is there a contradiction here?

Perhaps not as much as you might think.

I’ll have more to say about this in the future, but for me the essence of manhood was defined by Raymond Chandler.

In his last and greatest adventure, Phillip Marlowe is parting with a woman who he is likely never going to see again, with some wistful regret on both their parts.

She asks, “How can a man who is so tough, be so gentle?”

He replies, “If I weren’t tough, I wouldn’t be alive. If I couldn’t be gentle, I wouldn’t deserve to be alive.”

For more of Chandler on manhood, see: http://www.en.utexas.edu/amlit/amlitprivate/scans/chandlerart.html


  • At 2:02 PM, Blogger Ted said…

    Thanks, Steve. I like Chandler's definition, but would temper it with Rand's, to wit:
    A man is the height of compassion to the inner circle (that which he loves, adores, is passionate about) and the height of courage against that which would oppose it.
    Where are such men when it comes to our Constitution and God-given rights?


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