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April 14th, 2010
10:00 AM ET

A movement to bring back the 'man's man'

By Bob Ruff and Carol Costello

(CNN) – Where have all the real men gone? You know, confident, take charge guys like Rough Rider and former President Teddy Roosevelt, or the manly character Jack Bauer from “24”?

Brett McKay, who has made a career out of teaching men to act like men, has a Web site that teaches a new generation of men how to do things that their fathers and grandfathers took for granted.

“Hot to Tie a Tie." “How to Buy a Used Car.” “How to Get a Drink at a Busy Bar.”

But the problem, says McKay, runs deeper than not knowing how to do things. He says more and more boys grow up fatherless, “so they don’t have that male presence.” He also says that most men have “lost some of the traditional rights of passage,” such as serving in the military or getting married in your early 20’s.

“You have this kind of period from adolescence through their 20s and early 30s where men aren’t really sure, am I a man yet? And you can ask a lot of men … and a lot of them will tell you, I still feel the same way as I was at 17-years-old.”

Exhibit one: the television show “Entourage,” where actors play men approaching thirty, yet live their lives as though they’re living in a frat house.

Rutgers professor of anthropology Lionel Tiger is part of a small group of professors who support a new academic discipline: Male Studies. It explores the biology behind masculinity—and was born out of concern that our culture is “feminizing boys.”

One of Tiger’s observations: so many boys are being given drugs such as Ritalin to “make them less active, more physically complaint, less likely to bounce around the room.”

Tiger also notes that fewer men than women are attending college—and that those men who don’t are facing a job market where traditional blue collar jobs that require muscle are disappearing forever from a changing American economy. What will happen to them?

There are some cultural signs that some men are paying attention to all of this. The popular television show “Mad Men” features men from the early 1960’s who know how to dress well and succeed at work. Both Banana Republic and Brooks Brothers says guys are “into” the “Mad Men” look. Both clothing chains are promoting and selling suits and ties from that era.

Whether it’s the recession or not, men do seem to be dressing more formally at work. But will wearing retro clothes and the study of “Maleness” encourage more young men to attend college or get jobs?

Filed under: Living
soundoff (36 Responses)
  1. Will

    Real men are still here, don't worry your fluffy little heads about it. This soft world you take for granted each day, with phones & internet & heat & A/C & food & housing & transportation, would disappear in a heartbeat if we weren't. Did you think for a minute that women or girlie men provide these things? Maybe you should get off the internet for a while and walk around town... open your eyes... who do you see at 6am... who do you see all dirty and sweaty eating lunch... who do you see when you cry for help? Think it's easy, huh?

    April 18, 2010 at 5:07 pm |
  2. Chris

    Being gay I find it ironic that we are now more masculine than straight guys these days. Cmon you guys, enough with the facials and eyebrow tweezing.

    April 16, 2010 at 4:01 pm |
  3. Gene

    Lionel Tiger once said, "Anatomy may not be destiny, but it's sure as hell good statistical probability."

    April 16, 2010 at 3:27 pm |
  4. Kelly P

    All these arguments that men need to act more like men are ridiculous.

    Showing compassion or sensitivity as a man is not shameful.

    Being assertive and honest are good qualities for both men and women to have.

    If more females are going to college now it is because they have worked hard for it and want to pursue their education, not because there is some nefarious "feminist" agenda to hold males back.

    I can fix plumbing issues around my house and change the oil in my car and I'm not a man.

    I don't agree that "being a man" means you know how to fix stuff and avoid doing things like cooking or cleaning you place because that's "women's work."

    Men who think this way are simply looking for women to replace their mothers and tirelessly self-sacrifice and clean up after them.

    A lot of women want to have careers too and share the responsibilites of raising children and keeping house with their partners.

    Anyone who is afraid of this or can't handle the idea of equality is bound to feel like their "manliness" is in danger.

    In reality, it's just a threat to their pride and to their need to feel more powerful, dominant and in control.

    Bless their hearts.

    April 16, 2010 at 2:50 pm |
  5. MSH

    We cannot achieve equality by playing favorites. I see evidence of reverse discrimination all over TV and movies now, but rather than blow it off, I point it out to people now.

    When I was enrolled in a TV program at college, I created a piece called "Comedy/Tragedy" – a man sits next to a woman on a bench and says hello. The woman proceeds to hit, insult, and otherwise attack the man, basically beating him to a pulp.

    In the next scene, I reversed the roles; all dialogue and action was identical, only the roles were reversed. The man hit, insulted, and otherwise attacked the woman.

    When I showed it to my class, the women in the class were infuriated; the men largely sat passively. Only my professor got the point, and asked the class if they noticed that everything about the two scenes was identical save for the genders playing the roles. This didn't matter to the women, although later they acknowledged the point.

    Equality, huh? Don't bother watching TV or movies to see valid examples....

    April 16, 2010 at 12:58 pm |
  6. David Perry

    This only confirms my idea that "male women" is as destructive as I thought. Either gender has the right to be however they wish, but the idea of intentionally ramming boys (or men) into a preconceived mold as to how they should act is as ludicrous as doing the same thing to girls (or women). An intelligent, take-charge, in-your-face, dominant (not "domineering") man is not sexist. If a man calls out a woman for a perfectly legitimate reason, it also is not sexist. And personally, as a gay man, if I wanted a woman, I'd be straight.

    April 16, 2010 at 10:52 am |
  7. Katsky

    There's nothing wrong with teaching boys that bullying and cruelty are wrong and that women need to be respected as equals in the world. That isn't feminizing... that's just raising a boy who isn't a sociopath. As to finding them disruptive... well they can be. My daughter is much the same way – it isn't purely a gender thing. Some boys are quiet and well-behaved and some girls are raucous. The truth is that the educational model we have – where we expect 30 children to sit quietly and learn from the lecture of 1 teacher – is not a good one. They need the opportunity to talk and work in groups and be raucous sometimes. If you want something better, you have to be willing to pay for it, though... better supplies, more teachers per student and more research and training on what works with kids.

    April 16, 2010 at 10:49 am |
  8. GLH, old school and proud of it

    I don't believe the roles men and women had back in the 50's and 60's was all that wrong, especially for that day and age. T.V. shows like "Leave it to Beaver" , and "Father knows Best", have been criticized as not actually being indicative of middle class families back then, well my father who was a WW2 veteran, says that is was alot more indicative than is given credit for. I believe men can and should still exhibit being a man with manners being cordial,....etc., without being degrading or oppressing to women. Creating more opportunity and status for women can be done without trying to change men, and making men look as though we can't tie our shoes or that we are now subordinate. I believe in equal pay and opportunity, but I don't believe in affirmative action, or diversity, by how it is used, which means quotas. It doesn't matter how many women or minorities, or white males for that matter you have in the workforce, many or few, just hire the best person for the job. It is o.k. to lift up the roles that women play, but not to make men look as though they are on the bottom of the food chain.Have you noticed in today's world how many movies have women in them where they are just kicking the crap out of every man that comes along? If this is done to promote the self-esteem of girls and women to show that not only can they do everything a man can do but even better, that is a bad approach. My wife has a niece that started college last year, and because of sexual predators, becoming susceptible because of partying,...etc., her parents laid down some guidelines for her to follow when on and around campus for safety, and they told us that their daughter told them not to worry because she believes she can handle "any man that gives her trouble". That is not the message we should promote in the real world. Period. It is not natural for men to be "touchy feely", overly emotional, so sensitive that they get their feelings hurt...etc. As I said in an earlier comment, men and women are naturally different, physically and emotionally, and this should be celebrated not criticized and/or changed. Trying to overlap their roles doesn't work very well.

    April 16, 2010 at 9:20 am |
  9. Bob

    I get very tired of seeing men portrayed in TV commercials as the idiots and must have the woman around to fix the trouble he causes. Yes, In the 50's the roles were reversed and that was just as wrong. A balence would be nice. I am disabled and retired and because I can't do the things I once could I had to deal with the change in my role in society. I took me several years to come to grips with that but once I did I felt better. I have never felt like I wasn't a man.

    April 16, 2010 at 3:56 am |
  10. LEB

    Men not getting married in their early 20s is a problem? Women shouldn't get married in their early 20s, either. People who marry 25 and younger have a much higher divorce rate than those who wait until at least the mid-late 20s, and you don't have to think to hard to figure out why. When both men and women wait until the early 30s, the likelihood of divorce is less than 20% for men, and less than 15% for women. When the rate of first marriages ending in divorce is over 40% overall, these facts should not be ignored.

    Also, our society is not "feminized." It's become HUMANIZED. In the macho world of the 1950's, neither women nor minorities had much in the way of rights. Now both women and minorities have rights, and it's less of an advantage to be a white male these days (though it's still statistically preferable when it comes to social privilege). This is no coincidence. Human cultures were hyper-masculinized for millenia, and if you need proof, just pick up the average history book. You'll see lost of famous men in there. If a woman is in there, she's usually doing something womanish. After all, what's the notable first wave feminist Susan B. Anthony best known for? SEWING SOMETHING!

    Some cultures still are hyper-masculinized. And big surprise, they're largely war torn and poor. Besides, a REAL man doesn't need to go out of his way to prove his manliness. A REAL man just is who is he is, and is content that way, regardless of what anyone else says. From what I've seen, it takes most people until they're 25-30 to gain that kind of comfort in who they are as individuals, and in that, gender is irrelevant.

    April 15, 2010 at 8:39 pm |
  11. Batman

    It is up to us as men, to define who we are for ourselves. Women don't understand us any better than we understand them and they need to realize that we face the same struggle to survive that they do. It,s really not a Liberal vs.Conservative thing and if your getting your queues from television, you need to get out more. The average East Indian doesn't have the standard of living of the average American, good luck on your math test.

    April 15, 2010 at 5:12 pm |
  12. Wandering Critic

    Rick S., if that's your definition of a man, what do you call someone who can fix a flat, fix a car, fix a radio, fix a computer, clean out a drain, rewire a house, and baste a turkey, and who does what needs doing, whose word is their bond, and who expects the same from you, and whose hand shake is a contract ... but who happens to have an XX chromosome configuration instead of XY?

    I think maybe there needs to be less focus on being a man, which is an an act of random chance, and more on being a mensch, which is an act of will, achieveable by anyone but achieved by very few.

    April 15, 2010 at 4:29 pm |
  13. Johnny Hancock

    Rick S....

    I couldn't have said it better.

    April 15, 2010 at 3:40 pm |
  14. Rob

    Male and female biological characteristics–sex– are natural. We are assigned our sex at birth. We can't change that. Biological sex is different than gender.

    However, our gender, which differs from our sex, is not assigned by birth, and is learned culturally from parents, peers, mentors, and so forth.

    As with most things human, our gender is a mixture of nature and nurture, birth and culture. Very few people could ever "teach themselves" to be masculine or feminine (as defined cuturally) without someone to model these behaviors on.

    April 15, 2010 at 3:20 pm |
  15. jyl

    I chuckled at the comment that mentioned an 85% female workplace where non-feminine ideas are not accepted. Sounds like 95% of other workplaces in reverse! I don't think either gender should be made to feel uncomfortable or out of place, but women have been experiencing this disparity for decades and still do – to a greater extent.

    April 15, 2010 at 2:44 pm |
  16. Christine Smith

    Honor manly men. Honor feminine girls. But don't step on girlie men or butchy women as a means to attain that honor and we'll be just fine.

    April 15, 2010 at 12:43 pm |
  17. froggy

    About time! The wake of the 60's removed most male/female stereotypes and gave us equality, more sensitive males and more powerful females. Feminism has often gone too far, but in backlash to the long role of female subjugation. It has as well, often left men in fear. But it has also left us with people having no self-expectations and no maps to follow, for their adulthood. Of course, the sensitive metrosexual male is fine, but there is no longer a visible template for heterosexual men who don't wish to be such. So males who would at one time, have been man's men, often get stuck in their college rut ballcaps and shorts with no idea of how to progress into an adult identity. Females primarily see the celebrity-driven templates of an overt and aggressive sexuality on which to pattern their own adulthoods and fail to develop beyond 'tart' as well.

    Heterosexual women in my own studies made since the equal rights movement, have unsurprisingly, often come to a late realization that they don't wish a partner who is too much like themselves. One woman I have seen for 8 years put it this way: "Yes, I like that he cleans house, that's how it should be. But I get so angry inside when I can't respect him because Im stronger than he is.'

    Current fashion and the tv show are just reflecting what women are often these days RE-discovering something they lost in the fire...that the sexiest thing about a man, will always be his spine.

    April 15, 2010 at 12:29 pm |
  18. Michael Wong

    Anyone who actually takes a course in "how to be a real man" is not a real man. The same goes for all of these pitiful whiners complaining about "misandry". The REAL problem with modern men is not Ritalin or hostile schools; schools cracked down on "typical male" behaviour 30 years ago too. The real problem is all of this ridiculous whining.

    If you're a man who whines constantly about how "real men" are discriminated against in our society, congratulations: you're acting like a baby. Grow up, and TAKE what life offers instead of whining that nobody will give it to you.

    April 15, 2010 at 11:45 am |
  19. Laura

    Although I do understand the issue here, I come at it from a different standpoint. I believe that it is not merely an issue of masculinity versus femininity. There are a plethora of other factors involved. Social and family environment, for instance, plays a role in one's development. Thus, I agree when the article states that many men are growing up fatherless and are void of any male presence. However, it is not a gender issue; this goes much deeper.

    April 15, 2010 at 10:26 am |
  20. Tim

    Ah yes, a deluge of comments from poor set upon men who feel that feminism has victimized them. They cry about what has been done and point their finger at the mean feminists. Laughable, truly. Maybe men should spend less time worrying about the big bad feminists and spend more time promoting a notion of maleness that includes acting like an adult rather than a whining baby.

    The American male by and large can barely take care of himself, can't cook for himself and can't understand his own feelings because our culture allows it, encourages it. We need to stop looking for evolutionary cop outs: "My genes made me do it, the testosterone made me to it, my brain chemistry made me do it!" and take responsibility for becoming full citizens: emotionally, socially and intellectually. American males need to stop being children and start acting like adults more than they need to embrace some 50's notion of maleness.

    April 15, 2010 at 9:00 am |
  21. HenryJay

    Man means mind in Sanskrit. I don't think there should be any limiting beliefs as to how a man should be. I do think that we are already complete unto ourselves except for sexually. We (for the most part) have either male organs or female. I think both sexes would be better off living separately and responsibly. Then if there is a need to live together, you will have two responsible people involved.
    I do just fine without a female partner and I live well. Men can be taught as children to do the same. I am a stand for the resurgence of higher education for men and women in the US. What are people thinking to let education go be the wayside. You can bet that India is not at all like this. The average East Indian can run circles around an American in math and physics. This is a much more important issue than buying some manufactures "man clothes"

    April 15, 2010 at 8:31 am |
  22. JCW

    Rick S., well said.

    April 15, 2010 at 8:01 am |
  23. Rick S.

    Too right!

    As for 'Beaver' (odd name that) stating that "neither masculinity nor femininity exists" is totally incorrect and biologically unsound thinking. I am a man and therefore masculine by definition, my wife is a woman and therefore feminine by definition. There are actual physical differences between the two sexes (maybe more if you count trans, and gays). I am a conservative, I am a father, I am a son, I am an American, and yes I am a man. I can fix a flat, fix a car, fix a radio, fix a computer, clean out a drain, rewire a house, and yes I can baste a turkey. I also do laundry and clean floors and I know my way around a table saw.

    A mans man does what needs doing, his word is his bond, and he expects the same from you a hand shake is his contract. The cut of your clothes don't make you a man your actions do. How you treat others (respect for women, children, your peers, and your elders) makes you a man, not the size of your... wallet.

    A mans man doesn't hold out his hand expecting someone else to provide for him and his family he gets out there and does it himself. A mans man isn't respected because he has the biggest posse or carry the biggest gun, or has killed the most. He is respected because he respects others, has honor and integrity, and takes care of his family.

    April 15, 2010 at 7:39 am |

    It's about time that this issue was addressed. I see too many "sensitive" men out there who do not have the take-charge attitude that should come naturally and is inherent. You hit it right on the head about the fact that there are more and more boys who grow up fatherless without any role models to look up to, accept their mothers (bless their hearts).

    We need to bring back the "man's man!"

    April 15, 2010 at 6:22 am |
  25. Gary Klein

    The "Mad Men look" is just that – a look, a facade. What men need is an understanding of how to be authentic and show that authenticity through masculinity. That doesn't necessarily mean being able to fix the car or tie a tie.

    It means that men are comfortable with who they are, act and speak with integrity, and accept accountability for any agreements not met. When men behave that way we will see a return to the "manly man".

    Authenticity, integrity, and accountability can be expressions of masculinity by any man... straight, gay or even transgendered. What matters most is how the man integrates a value system into his life.

    April 14, 2010 at 6:06 pm |
  26. John316

    Many conservatives feel the "feminization factor" is code for being gay or becoming gay, which it is not. Sexual orientation has nothing to do with masculinity or femininity. Those are stereotypes carried over from the cold war and religious brainwashing, which seems to be in high gear these days. Having served in the military and the son of a Marine Corps Colonel, I'm guessing some in the military think that its gay members will be able to become fully feminized , probably in full drag, if "don't ask – don't tell is reversed .Do they really think that is why these men joined the military. Remember Iran says it has no homosexuals, but the Middle East is afraid of the "feminization of its men". Wonder what that means...maybe they should enforce the study of maleness and wear thin far as the question at the end of the article, I think many young men have come to realize that just having a college education no longer guarantees you a great job with great pay....a real "skill" might.....

    April 14, 2010 at 5:57 pm |
  27. anthony

    This anthropology professor is not getting to the heart of the problem. If he would teach from The Myth of Male Power, then he would see that the whole Patriarchy concept is a big lie to trash always has been. The world is matriarchal. Men run around providing for and protecting women because women won't have anything to do with men who do not behave like worker bees and slaves for women's well being.

    April 14, 2010 at 2:57 pm |
  28. DON

    This issue can be traced to the 'pathologizing' of the male personality. It starts in elementary school, active boys (and lets face it boys are ACTIVE) are perceived as disruptive, violent and dangerous unless controlled. They don't sit quietly, they don't speak softly, they're BOYS!!! Boys are loud, bouncing, raucous and rambunctious creatures with large amounts of energy to dissipate. Demanding that they behave as girls do is a self-defeating proposition. Long a supporter of coed public education, I have been moving away from that position in light of the dramatic decline in male college admissions, towards a segregated single-sex system.

    April 14, 2010 at 2:50 pm |
  29. Bubba

    There's a difference between "act like a man" and "act like your cranky old granpa." And if Tiger, what a time to have that name in his field, doesn't know "compliant" from "complaint," I reject his entire argument.

    April 14, 2010 at 2:30 pm |
  30. Keith S.

    I think it about time we men return to lives of manly men and if I didn't have a mani/pedi appointment this week I'd start today. Now if you'll excuse me, I have to finish plucking my eyebrows.

    April 14, 2010 at 1:18 pm |
  31. John Q Public

    I don't recall ever seeing anything that actively feminized boys.. I do see a lot of people that shouldn't have ever had kids, with children and drugging them up because they can't parent....

    April 14, 2010 at 1:16 pm |
  32. Beaver

    Masculinity is not real. If anyone has done their research, neither masculinity nor femininity exists. It is solely a result of gender roles. The definition of masculinity is "not feminine," and vice versa for femininity. So it is every "man's" struggle to be "not feminine" and every "woman's" struggle to be "not masculine." Bottom line: The Ritalin theory is ridiculous and this old-timey masculinity thing can die right along with conservatism. I'm sure some of you enlightened folks will see the correlation on your own.

    April 14, 2010 at 1:06 pm |
  33. rohara

    I am offended by CNN's interpretation of the Male Studies initiative. To suggest that it is as one dimensional as the "Mad Men" show, something that I refute as being extremely misandric, is nothing more than anti male bigotry.
    The study of men and their position in society is sorely needed in academia. Feminist ideology has taken over academia as well as all public discourse about all things gender related including reproductive rights, intimate violence (half of which is initiated by women says the CDC), parenting rights and educational access to name but a very few. Men are at a distinct disadvantage in all of these areas of life and it is certainly not a good thing.
    It is time that we discuss and study the importance of aspects of male agency such as:
    -Fatherhood, which has been denied so many men through divorce court, abortion and the legal ability of women to exclude the fathers of their children from their lives with relative impunity.
    -Legal protection for men in all kinds of criminal and civil proceedings such as domestic violence, rape, and sexual harassment cases in which men are essentially denied due process of law and the presumption of innocence.
    -Male sexual agency, the war against which has been going on for decades now.
    We have to have an academic discipline as well as an overall social movement to address this HUGE problem. Feminism is a hate movement that has gained control of our schools, our government, and our media. Men, for the good of all, must stand up and make their voices heard as men and protect their interests as fathers for the good of their families and as citizens for the sake of all. This has been a long time coming and I support it whole heartedly and encourage both men and women alike to support it as well.

    April 14, 2010 at 11:45 am |
  34. Mitchell

    This can't be politically correct. The liberals with the help of the media have spent many many years and a lot of money creating "girlie men" and conditioning the country that this is the way men should be. Real men have a mind of their own and are not just mindless sheep.....this just can't be politically correct.

    April 14, 2010 at 10:37 am |
  35. Alan

    Thank you, Dr. Tiger. I am in this 20ish generation that you refer to. It is very clear to me, and has been made so directly and indirectly since middle school, that masculinity has no place in school and is generally not something to aspire to. Even in my workplace right now, which is ironically about 85% female, I find that perfectly rational but non-feminine ideas are not taken kindly.

    From Ritalin being used to quiet rowdy boys young boys, even down to the makeup of sitcom casts, society appears to be allergic to smart professional men. I love the show "Mad Men" for a lot of reasons, but another show I love is the Cosby Show. Cosby's character was a strong father figure without being bruesque. Now, contrast that with nearly every sitcom today: there is a male father figure, who seems to have a well-paying job, yet apparently cannot tie his own shoes without stumbling over his fingers and is otherwise helpless without his wife.

    I know it's a different time now, and you can't emulate a TV show like "Mad Men" truly; after all, the premise of the show is that Don Draper is a womanizer. But, there is no reason why masculinity should be deprecated in modern times.

    April 14, 2010 at 10:29 am |