I’ve heard masculinity is under attack. That’s not true. I don’t feel threatened at all.
Nearly 30 years ago I compiled a list of statements that I thought defined what it means to be a man worthy of respect, including—and especially—self-respect. I review the list from time to time. After three decades, I haven’t changed a thing about it.
A man stands on his own.
A man stands by his friends.
A man listens if he wants to be heard.
A man follows his dreams.
To be a man is precisely to be responsible.
What saves a man is to take a step.
None of these statements is an original idea. I compiled my list from two sources. The first four items come from an article I read about Kevin Costner in Time or Newsweek sometime around 1990. The other two come from the writings of Antoine de St. Exupéry. That’s it—two sources, six characteristics. These statements resonate with me and have served me well. Taken together, they define masculine role models I have admired and have seen others admire: my father; male relatives and in-laws; close friends’ fathers; friends at all stages of my life; and a good many leaders for whom I have worked. Men like the ones I have in mind are not under attack, nor are the memories of those who are gone.
It may be useful to note what my six statements do not describe. They do not describe men who dismiss the voices of women, of anyone who lacks power or authority, or the feelings of others. They do not describe men who take from others, whether for personal gain or for physical or emotional gratification. They do not describe men who evade responsibility for their past actions or their future decisions. They do not describe men who avoid opportunities to act. Finally, the six elements of my list include no reference to strength, aggression, athleticism, judgment, style, or who a person should love.
Not one of the characteristics I see as essential to masculinity is under attack on any front. On the contrary, the sentiments behind the essential characteristics of manhood I noted are on the ascendancy at a time when exploitation, abuse of power, boorish conduct, self-aggrandizement, evasion, lies, and disrespect for difference experience long-overdue frontal assaults. Good riddance to the hegemony of males who employed those tactics and gave men a bad name. Without them—even in spite of them—masculinity remains alive and well. In fact, it thrives.
This essay originally appeared on Facebook January 16, 2019.