In an ongoing effort to improve my health, I’ve started taking more care in my cleaning and grooming habits. Attracted by their whimsical marketing, I started a “soapscription” at Dr. Squatch and now have six bars of soap made from all-natural ingredients. I also ordered some products to take better care of my beard (I had long fallen out of the habit of daily applications of oil and balm). I grew to be a particular fan of Grave Before Shave when trying to maintain my facial hair before, so I turned back to them in my latest efforts to have a soft beard that my wife actually wants to touch. I’ve also got some solid cologne on the way from Duke Cannon. I haven’t worn cologne in years, so this will be a welcome change.
Of course, I’m well aware that all three of my sources are marketed specifically for men, using stereotypical cisgender heterosexual male imagery. I’m not fooled into thinking that using Bay Rum scented soap (it smells fantastic, by the way) and “Naval Supremacy” cologne will turn me into a barrel-chested sea captain. And I’m aware that by buying these brands, I’m sending the message that this type of marketing works, and telling me I’ll be more attractive to women and feel “like a man” will make me buy a product.
But we live in a capitalist society, and this type of marketing is inescapable. So I’ll try to balance out whatever social harm I’m doing by contributing to this ever-hungry animal by actually displaying the non-superficial qualities of masculinity in my everyday life.
Which begs the question: what are those qualities?
According to websites such as The Art of Manliness, those qualities are honor, hard-work, a sense of classical style, physical fitness, and the possession of the same types of skills one tends to learn as a Boy Scout or survivalist enthusiast. According to the more hostile places online, such as The Return of Kings (which I refuse to link to), those qualities are a dominating and aggressive personality, sexual conquest, and–dare I say–the triumph of the will.
Traits like honesty, dedication, and the possession of practical skills are all good traits to have, but what makes them masculine? The only answer is tradition. For much of human history, especially in the memory of the oldest among us, men were caretakers and women were homemakers. Men did things with their hands, earned money, paid bills, and made decisions. Women raised children, cleaned house, cooked, and sewed. There were two easily identifiable genders and thus two easily identifiable gender roles.
But there are no longer two easily identifiable genders. We’ve come to realize that gender exists on a spectrum, and most people are no longer pigeon-holed into being either a man or a woman based on what traits they possess and what role they fulfill in their household. Our understanding of biological sex is even more complex than it once was, so there’s not even a suitable peg of indisputable science to hang these conventions on.
So, what makes a man? The answers are beyond skill sets and social roles. The answers are more broad and subjective. The qualities of a “good man,” however, are still simple. A good man: pays his debts, keeps his promises, works toward social justice and the greater good, is an active and contributing part of his household, is respectful to others regardless of their social standing, expresses himself open and honestly while minimizing the damage his words could cause, cultivates healthy and enriching habits and hobbies, has an appreciation for both practical and aesthetic experiences, is intellectually curious, is willing to admit fault and accept accountability, and does not hesitate to constantly re-examine his beliefs and values in light of new knowledge.
It’s almost as if that which makes a man makes a person.
Adjust your pronouns accordingly.