Once again, we have to talk about masculinity

Credit:    Kaboompics

Credit: Kaboompics

If you're in any way connected to society, you will certainly have heard about the recent #metoo campaign. The campaign was absolutely fascinating and, I will admit, one that I did not expect to be so educational (to me at least). The fact that TIME Magazine then chose "The Silence Breakers" that sparked this campaign as Person of The Year really drove it home for me; this movement truly was one that we'll look back on in the future with great fascination.

But this blog post is not about (my opinions of) the #metoo campaign. More than enough articles have already been written about this topic so I don't think I have a particularly unique perspective to add to the mix. However, I do think that this is the opportune time to, yet again, talk about this thing we call masculinity. In this blog post I will discuss a few TED Talks about this topic and add some of my personal insights to them.

Be A Man

In his 2013 TedxBaltimore talk, Joe Ehrmann broke down masculinity into two simple elements: the value of your relationships and your commitment to a cause. Regarding the first point, there's no better way to understand this than to take an excerpt from the talk:

You know what the questions [are that] you ask at the end of your life? They’re not about awards or achievements or applause or what you accumulated.

They’re all questions of relationships.

What kind of husband were you? What kind of father were you? What kind of partner; what kind of son; what kind of friend? Who did I love and who did I allow to love me?
— Joe Ehrmann; "Be A Man" (minute 9:40)

The second element is very closely linked to the first point and is one that I particularly like: your commitment to a cause. Another excerpt:

Again if you’re on your deathbed today, about to die tomorrow, wanted to measure what kind of man you were... you want to be able to look back over life and know that you made a difference. You left some kind of mark – some kind of imprint – that you were here.

ALL of us want to leave some kind of legacy behind. Legacies are always built around two things: they’re always built around relationships and, the second thing, they’re always built around some kind of commitment to a cause.

Every one of us has a responsibility to give back and it’s a challenge of every man, every woman, to identify their own unique cause in life and how they’re going to make a difference in this world.
— Joe Ehrmann; "Be A Man" (Minute 11:20)

I've talked before about three easy ways to save the world so this point about a commitment to a cause – or, as Ehrmann said, leaving a legacy after you die – really resonated with me. It's about standing for something greater than yourself and being the better man, which is also connected to this never-ending mystery that is finding your passion. What do you want to be remembered for? What legacy did you leave? Whose life did you improve or change? What did you stand for?

Once you break this big, scary concept of masculinity down into these two simple elements, it suddenly seems a lot less daunting and confusing (which is indeed why I chose to highlight Ehrmann's talk in the first place). If there's one thing that nearly all men around the world can agree on is that, in this day and age, it's more confusing than ever to understand what the heck it means to be a man. Thankfully, this TED talk brings a lot of clarity and, most of all, simplicity to this controversial concept. All you need to do is adhere to these two simple rules and you'll have made massive strides to being the best and truest man you could ever be.

Even if you’re not interested in the content, I suggest just listening to this talk to listen to Ehrmann’s incredibly commanding voice. He is one of those people that has such authority and power in his voice that you simply must listen to him regardless of the content of his speech.

Athletic Ability

There was another fascinating part of this talk that I think is important to stress in this discussion, namely when he described the three most damaging words that we can ever tell our young boys, three words that set our boys up for failure as they become older, and three words that have perhaps single-handedly created this horrible mess we find ourselves in regarding masculinity:

Be. A. Man.

Although he breaks this down into the three myths of masculinity, I want to focus on only the first one because it has affected me the strongest in my personal life: athletic ability. I played football (soccer) on a recreational level for a good 10 years or so and have followed the professional game for longer than that. From these joint experiences  particularly from watching the professional game  I can't believe it took me so long to realize Ehrmann's point. Society absolutely glorifies physical and athletic prowess; the bigger and stronger you are, the greater and more elevated your social status becomes. 

Coincidentally, this is one of the reasons that I chose football instead of other sports because I felt that it is/was one where you can succeed even if you're the little guy. It also seem that, with regards to men's sports, the hyper-machismo displays of physique that most professionals show are not only worryingly prevalent, but also don't exactly alleviate the problem. What do young adolescent boys (often, but not always) see when they watch sports? Perfectly chiseled and super ripped bodies that most of us don't/never will have.

What happens with those boys that have athletic interests and abilities... those boys are elevated on that playground. They’re given a little more value, a little more worth, they’re even ascribed a little more masculinity.

And what I wanna say to that is [that it’s] an absolute lie.
— Joe Ehrmann; "Be A Man (Minute 3:40)


I've talked about this before already, so I won't spend too much time on this subtopic. I came across this article about the association (not causation!) between the age at which a male first sees pornography and certain sexist attitudes later in life. A team of researchers from the University of Nebraska found from a survey that the younger the first viewing of pornography occurred, the more likely it is that the guy wants power over women. Curiously, the older the first viewing, the more likely he is to be sexually promiscuous.

Too many boys/men learn about masculinity (with regards to sex) from pornography because nobody teaches them about it formally. Schools rarely teach them and few parents have regular talks with their children about sex/pornography. The consequences of this are terrifying and far-reaching and, as this article suggests, won't get any better if we don't do take action soon.

All that we do, all that we are, begins and ends with ourselves.
— Arno; Assassin's Creed Unity

So what?

You're probably asking yourself: "So what the heck is masculinity then?" It's a question that I will decline to answer because I feel like it goes above my pay-grade. If you're looking for a good source on the topic then look no further than what is certainly the best, most honest, and most sincere resource on all things masculinity at The Art of Manliness

My best contribution to this is that we can only achieve a useful definition of masculinity by removing all the stereotypically destructive and damaging beliefs we have about it – the relentless pursuit of women, the need to show off your body, the belief that men don't show emotions – instead of adding new beliefs or ideas to the mix.

Why does all of this matter then? Glad you asked. If we don't question our existing beliefs about masculinity, we will perpetuate the most damaging aspects of it in the way we raise our children, nephews, grandsons, and all the other boys in our society. If that's the case, I'm afraid that this won't be the last #metoo campaign of our lifetimes.


I am fully aware that this is a discussion that will inevitably upset a lot of people. In his 2013 TEDx Talk, Ryan McKelley lamented that people complain that we're going to "wussie-fy or sissy-fy our (American) boys and men" by having this discussion. To this point, I want to close with something that Merlin Mann once so brilliantly said, in the hope that it will spur all of us to continue this discussion and fix this problem for the good of all of us.

So look, a) there are things that happen in the world, c) there are ways that you feel, and then b) there’s something that happened in between that caused the things that happened in the world to make you feel that way. Learn to take ownership of b) so that you become a person who starts to be more aware of the actual evidence for why you feel the way you do.
— Merlin Mann in Back to Work (Episode 153; minute 59 onwards)

See you, Space Cowboy.