“To be a good man is to struggle every day.” So says my good male friend “Tex.”
Earlier in my life, I might have responded (thinking about the struggles of my own sex such as pregnancy, childbirth, the aptly named “curse,” lower status, household drudgery, learned helplessness, and endless restrictions), “You think you struggle? You ain’t seen nothin’!”
For sure, both sexes and all genders have their burdens. And none should go flaunting the superiority of their sufferings over others’. Ultimately, we’re all in this difficult sentient-mammalian life together. Dividing into hostile camps based on who can claim the most dramatic victimhood is destructive.
But as women have gained power, status, and public forums, and as I’ve gained better understanding how masculine biology rubs uncomfortably against modern society, I see Tex’s point.
Had the option been available to me when I was an adolescent, I’d have been among the first to line up to be changed into a boy, whatever it took. Now, you couldn’t get me to transform for a billion bucks — and not just because the process is so flawed, forced, and fraught with physical and psychic dangers.
“To be a good man is to struggle every day.”
What is a good man, though? And why is it so difficult to be or become one?
According to Tex, a good man is “… Trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient (with caveats, below), cheerful, brave, thrifty, and reverent.”
Oh, wait, that’s the Boy Scout law. And indeed, Tex went all the way through Eagle rank and tried to live up to all that for a long, long time. Now, many years later he’s still most of the above. He’s also frighteningly smart, tremendously protective, generous, a clever problem solver, a strong leader, thoughtful toward women, a fount of integrity, and many other good things. Among those good things, he’s a fellow freedom Outlaw.
I didn’t know him when he was an Eagle Scout. I probably wouldn’t have liked him. I was one of those dark-natured kids who scoffed at the imposed wholesomeness and paramilitary structure of Scouts. I looked at those imperfect beings and thought all their stated ideals were not only boring but hypocritical. Nobody was that good.
Tex counters, “Scouting did a lot to develop my career and values, and to teach me leadership. Those ideals are a high bar. Part of the struggle of being a man is living up to those standards.”
Tex thinks he does fairly well and I concur. I also now better understand why boys might need the outdoorsy challenges, quasi-military structure, and hugely positive messaging Scouts once provided.
I’m going to hand the next portion of this blog entry over to Tex directly:
I figured out a long time ago that the overwhelming majority of laws, both government, church, and social laws, were pure BS and served only to control and preserve the status quo for those in power. I also figured out (you helped!) that the system is irretrievably broken and trying to change unjust and unfair laws is a fool’s game. So I obey my own sense of what is right and just, and comply with manmade laws only to the extent that they match my own (rare in practice), or to avoid being caught. As an Outlaw, I enjoy thumbing my nose at most laws and break some of them just for the pleasure of doing so.
Being brave is something that all men should do. It is an admirable trait in a woman but expected in a man. Being brave does not mean never experiencing fear. Fear is a survival trait, your mind’s way of warning you that there is real danger. Bravery means facing that fear and doing what is right, what is needed to protect your woman, family, friends, community, and yourself.
Men are expected to be stoic while women are encouraged to display their emotions. Men need alone time where they can let their guard down, feel afraid and inadequate, before they “man up” and step back into the ring we call life.
Men are expected to do not only the scary things, but the dirty jobs. When my sister-in-law’s dog was run over by a train, her husband was the one to pick up the pieces. He didn’t enjoy that at all, but there really was never any question about who got that chore. The same thing happens on a smaller scale when men are expected to kill spiders or mice. Some men are afraid of spiders and snakes too, but they don’t dare show that.
Men are naturally competitive. Again, so are plenty of women, but it is normal, expected, and encouraged in men, and demanded of those men who don’t feel particularly competitive. This puts a lot of pressure on a lot of men. I get off fairly easy on this because I’m smarter than most men. I don’t care if they can beat me in golf or basketball, I know darn well that I can outthink them, learn faster, process quicker, get to the conclusion first, see things that they do not. I’m plenty competitive but since mine is expressed in my intellect I can sidestep the athletic and physical pressures most men feel.
In some of your finest essays, the series on Sustainable Freedom, you were brave enough, and writer enough, to use the word man despite the essays applying to all free men and women. Those are also high standards, and free people everywhere must struggle a bit to live up to them all the time.
For most of human history, testosterone-driven male traits were not only valued, they stood between small communities and outsized dangers, and later between nascent nations and annihilation by outside forces.
These days, understandably (yet to our overall detriment), it’s acceptable, even fashionable, to decry and attempt to diminish the very traits that once saved us from extinction. What use are physical strength, greater muscle mass, sexual aggression, bravery, or a dispassionate mindset in a society where safety and security are taken for granted and things like equality and compassion are valued over valor, responsibility, and fortitude? What do you need dangerous men for when benign government will provide for everyone’s needs?
Back in the day when the old male-dominant order was breaking down and second-wave feminism was rising, I recall a Ms magazine writer blithely dismissing men’s protective instincts with a quip: “Men say they want to protect us. But what do they want to protect us against? Other men!”
It made sense to me at the time. But now I see all the gaps in her “logic” and her unfairness in making no distinction between good men and predatory ones. Also, her witticism oozes a complete lack of understanding of the fact that evolution and biology are always with us.
Back to Tex, specifically addressing the daily struggles:
There is a sexist part to the struggle, using that in the non-pejorative sense of the word. Most men are bigger and stronger than most women. When men play, whether with other men or with their pets, they tend to play rough. Most women don’t like rough play (of course some like it very much in the right settings) and there is an element of the daily struggle to keep oneself under tight control, aware of not only your surroundings but where all of your body parts are and where they will be lest you bump someone. This gets stronger when dealing with women; a pleasantly firm handshake for another man can cause pain and even bruising in many women. When a man does play with women or children, he has to pull every punch, soften every throw, ease up and slow down. Often he needs to deliberately drop his guard to let the playmate score some point or other. It’s harder than it sounds when your instinct is to protect and be fierce. Being a gentleman means being a gentle man.
Then there is the protective instinct we’ve discussed so often …. Part of that struggle is living life in a sort of condition yellow, never really letting one’s guard down until we are behind closed and locked doors. It also entails constant alertness and being ready to jump from gentle to ferocious at a moment’s notice. I think that is pretty much a male thing, although mothers certainly feel that for their children ….
I don’t struggle with wanting to strike at other men. Sure, sometimes I meet an asshole who desperately deserves being thumped. But that is rare, and I mastered that aspect of my temper long ago. That’s yet another part of the struggle of being a good man. We do have a natural tendency toward aggression, even violent aggression; but it’s part of our job to channel it, to do something productive with it.
There comes a sad day in most men’s life when they realize they can beat up their father. Boys naturally adore their fathers and view them as strong and powerful. Too many boys and girls are abused by weak men …. But even a below-average man who isn’t a coward and a monster will be idolized by his sons. I think that fateful day when a boy realizes that he is now a man and equal to or stronger than his father is a uniquely male experience, with no analog that I know of in women’s lives.
There are the sexual struggles, too. Men often have intrusive sexual thoughts. Pretty much all men experience them; they are stronger and/or more frequent in some men, but at least during puberty everyone has them.
They can come out of nowhere. I think I’ve described to you sitting at my desk, banging away writing or doing a calculation, and having a sexual thought. I’ve learned to let it happen, play it out for 10-30 seconds or so, then let it go and get back to work. Curiously, it doesn’t bring me out of flow the way a telephone call or interruption by someone will.
Of course thoughts also come when stimulated, and in a lot of men the range of things that can trigger sexual thoughts and images is pretty broad. I love looking at women, pretty much all women. If they are truly obese or horribly starved that is a turn-off. But I will give a quick glance to pretty much any woman I encounter, even one I know and have seen many times before …. I never tire of it. Part of the struggle is being a gentleman while still enjoying those brief glances.
But for a man, sexual thoughts can also come from shapes and curves that are only vaguely reminiscent of women. A well-formed peach invariably produces a mental image. So can tree branches, plants, things swaying in the wind, cloud patterns, shadows.
Human males evolved to enjoy looking at breasts. Desmond Morris in The Naked Ape hypothesized that as humans began to walk erect, they lost the ape’s sexual signaling mechanism of a direct, eye-level gaze at female buttocks. Many or most female apes signal that they are receptive to sexual advances by swelling or reddening of the buttocks. So human females developed the largest breasts of any ape (or pretty much any mammal) and human males evolved to look at them as part of determining if she might be receptive to sex.
Human females are fairly unique in that they can be receptive at any time, whereas most mammals and other animals have strictly defined periods where mating can take place. So human men have to look at an array of subtle cues. The struggle is again to be a gentleman and not stare. But looking at breasts, for instance, is instinctual, even with women whose intellects we respect.
BTW, Morris also points out that human males have a very large penis compared to any other ape. The penis of a chimpanzee is a mere spike in comparison. The actual length necessary for procreation is only an inch or so. The fact that human males have big sex organs shows that human females have also evolved to look for certain visual cues.
A good man, a gentle man, whether his sexual images are driven by external stimuli or arise from within, never has thoughts of rape or other violence toward women …. But there are plenty of women who have been taught to believe that all men are would-be rapists, and that our occasional overlong-glances and gaffes are preludes to violence.
Violent rapes have fallen dramatically in recent times. On the other hand, we now hear a lot about date rape. Some date rape is certainly just that, rape. But at least sometimes it is a young man and a young woman who are giving and receiving conflicting signals and don’t know how to communicate more openly ….
The struggle grows much more acute when women don’t understand male sexuality. Modern American society has gone completely bonkers about this. We’re in an era of neo-Victorianism; Victorian women were taught that good women only had sex to please their husbands and have babies, while women now are taught that good women only have sex to please themselves or have babies. A man whose needs are different than theirs is considered a pig or a potential rapist, not a normal, healthy male formed by a different biological imperative.
Tex also referred me to courtesan and freedomista blogger Maggie McNeill, who sums up male/female sexual differences quite nicely in this essay. So I’ll leave that part of the topic there.
Tex continues, discussing the unique struggle contemporary boys and young men have, along the way to growing into good men.
That brings up another part of the struggle in modern society. The notion of toxic masculinity defines being a male something that is poisonous and harmful. We’re drugging some horrible fraction of boys in school for the crime of being boys — restless, curious, disobedient, physical, and active — and telling every man that he is bad because he is a man.
I am confident enough and strong enough to shrug off these attacks. But I must admit that it grows tiresome …. Men with less confidence and less testosterone, and young men who have been socialized and brainwashed to believe that all men are just defective women have it much harder.
When a man is belittled and humiliated, his testosterone levels fall along with his confidence and energy. I’m quite certain this is part of the reason for the continuing decline in T levels and sperm counts. At this rate most American men will be unable to procreate within a generation. Already a sizeable fraction of pregnancies require clinical assistance, and that fraction has been growing for some time. Given the enthusiasm of most newlyweds, this can’t be chalked up to the machinations of the medical-big pharma complex.
Another struggle: Men tend to be interested in things, machines, while women are interested in people. Many women experience frustration and more when their man doesn’t remember the names of her friends, or the nature of her relationships, or the dynamics. We’ll listen. I can listen very carefully and I’ve learned to put my full attention into listening to my woman talk about her friends. But it doesn’t naturally stick the way my understanding or discovery of some aspect of a machine does. That kind of learning is nearly effortless, while learning about other people second-hand is as hard for me as learning French (the only Bs I got in high school were in French, and I WORKED for those.)
One last point. Men are expected to be strong and stoic. I touched on this early in this ramble. But men get hurt feelings too. We get lonely, afraid. We get hit by girls or women and dare not hit back. This leaves many men without the emotional tools needed to even recognize when they need help, much less ask for it. Admitting that you have any kind of serious problem feels like weakness. Asking for help feels unmanly.
Tex’s answers to my questions focus on the daily struggle to be a good man (which is what I asked him to do). In retrospect, I see that makes him seem bitter, which in fact I know him not particularly to be.
When I ask him to focus more specifically on what it means to be a good man, he refers me straight back to my own long-ago essay, “Sustainable Freedom and the Quality of a Free Man,” which is now difficult to find online.
I’ll reprint it here shortly. You can find it here,
I asked another friend the same questions — What does being a good man mean and is it a struggle to become and be one?
This second friend (call him Justice) is someone I perceive as being very different than Tex. Justice is certainly no Boy Scount! On the contrary, you might picture (as I first did) a biker dude with a law-breaking history. To his amusement, it turned out that he and Tex had amazingly similar beginnings, but took wildly divergent paths.
His answer accentuates the positives, but has a surprising lot in common with Tex’s perceptions of manhood. Justice says:
To my mind, a good man is one who truly and deeply understands himself, and is still able to put the best long term interests of his area of influence ahead of his immediate and short term satisfaction. It’s finding that invisible line between protective and controlling, and not crossing it. It’s knowing the depths to which you are able to delve, and never letting them manifest unnecessarily or in anger at those in your AOI, while convincing them of their safety and security in your company.
And yeah, its a damn struggle every single day.
A good man is able to deal on equal terms with other good men because they share a certain unwritten moral and ethical code. I don’t know that young men can truly be good men. I think it takes crossing the line between protection and control, from love to lust, of being a bad man, before one can become a good one. Those who do become good recognize the invisible lines the moment they cross them, but only when they accept the impacts and consequences as a growth experience do the become good men. Many never have the realization.
Some of it is the classic concept of a good man providing for his family, protecting them, going to soccer and calling it being part of their lives, etc. But that’s only to a degree, because that guy lives on a cul de sac in the suburbs, drives a mini van or never sees mud and gravel in his SUV and deprives himself much of experience and excitement of life in order to maintain his standard of good. He’ll teach his children by the book to be good and proper citizens like himself. And he’ll be the perfect Milquetoast good man.
But I’m not that kind of man and I didn’t raise my kids to be conforming members of society, I raised them to be free thinkers who set their own path. As they read in Heinlein, they obey the laws they find tolerable and ignore the ones they find disagreeable. I taught them to defend themselves so they can stand up for what they believe in. They know inside their dad could be absolutely vicious if need be, but have never heard me raise my voice or had me raise my hand to them. Neither ever had a curfew, but understood that I better not get a call at 3 am to pick them up at the po po shop. And I never did.
Then Justice concludes with a great example of a good man raising great children:
I consider myself a good man for imparting the knowledge I did to the next generation. Much of it was things other parents didn’t teach. When my daughter Serena* and a friend were 16 and got pulled over one afternoon, the police asked to search her car and she declined. When the cops said they would call their parents and tell us they were uncooperative her friend flipped out that her parents would kill her. Serena called and said “Dad, the cops want to talk to you because I wouldn’t let them search my car.” Needless to say her friend’s parents wouldn’t let them be friends anymore. Her dad was a good man by the Milquetoast standard, but not so much by mine. (Btw, the friend went on to be the youngest store then district then regional manager ever for a major retail chain.)
Yep, that about says it all.
Part V will probably either be about raising boys to become good men or a “where do we go from here?” overview. I’ll find out shortly before you do.
* Name changed for privacy.
Wow! Good write up. And thanks to Tex for sharing!
I learned a lot in the Boy Scouts, but leadership was probably the best and biggest lesson.
Another good one. Thanks.
Great post. Scouting was a positive experience for me as well. I believe that much of what boys learn in scouting is still best taught in a male only environment and I am disappointed that the national leadership changed that in the name of money and political correctness. Trust me, I’m still involved as a leader and those were the reasons, especially the first one.
Wow, this is a subject I have reflexively avoided for so long it’s virtually an instinct by now, if only because any honest thing I could add to it would be a complaint. Suffice to say I have been condemned for displaying male emotions and also for cultivating male stoicism. In the battle of the sexes I painfully learned that the name of the game is “you lose.” It’s not the only reason I’m a hermit: It’s definitely the reason I’m a celibate.
I grew up in Scouting, an Eagle. I still apply the lessons learned. (Claire, you left “clean” out of the Scout Law. 😉 )
Back in Troop 221 there were three of us who ran together, Mike, Michael and me. Mike didn’t have a father. In later years I heard his mother credit my father and Michael’s dad with Mike becoming a good citizen, husband and father. Big segments of American culture today simply don’t have fathers, either biological or substitute.
At this rate most American men will be unable to procreate within a generation. Already a sizeable fraction of pregnancies require clinical assistance, and that fraction has been growing for some time.
OTOH I know from working with survivors that a lot of female fertility issues are related to early and sometime dysfunctional sexual experience. Both sides are getting hurt.
Given the enthusiasm of most newlyweds, this can’t be chalked up to the machinations of the medical-big pharma complex.
Except a lot of those enthusiastic newlyweds are waiting for years to actually have children, often past prime childbearing age.
On another blog the question was raised about how women first becoming mothers at 35 instead of 20 would impact society. My answer was it raised the age of first becoming a grandparent from 40 to 70, and a great-grandparent from 60 to 105. That’s a big thinning of family resources.
I have grandkids now, and they remind me how uncivilized young children are. Sometimes I wish they could stay that way.
I think this is shaping up to be, arguably, the best series I have yet encountered from you, Claire. And that is some rarefied air to begin with. 🙂
Dang, it’s nice just to be able to hear people speak plainly, isn’t it?
Thanks for writing all of these Claire. I have been out wandering the webways a bit and have become not a little discouraged about being a man in a society where virtually everything I was taught and had exemplified to me being completely torn apart and thrown to the winds.
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