The concept of masculinity has taken a beating in recent times–often having the prefix “toxic” attached to it, as if the two words are synonymous–but is such disapprobation deserved? Is it true masculinity that’s being attacked, or a bogus “Straw Man” version? It’s not so easy to knock a real man down but, the truth is, a man with Tonic masculinity wouldn’t be a likely target to start with. Why? Because he delights all but the most bitter, prejudiced or malignant of society…and he himself is, in turn, a delightful human being.
A man with Tonic Masculinity has qualities of character and demeanor very different than the versions of pseudo-masculinity currently in the crosshairs.
Tonic masculinity–and in fact the very concept of a real man–comes down to one word: Love. A real man is predominantly motivated by it in everything he does. Even when he has to fight, a man does so out of love. “The true soldier fights not because he hates what is in front of him,” said G.K. Chesterton, “but because he loves what is behind him.”
Boston is one of my favorite classic rock bands, and I particularly like the words to this song:
What Does it Take to Be a Man
What does it take to be a man?
What does it take to see
It’s all heart and soul
A gentle hand
So easy to want and so hard to give
How can you be a man
‘Til you see beyond the life you live?
Oh, what does it take to be a man?
We can be blind, but a man tries to see
It takes tenderness
For a man to be what he can be
And what does it mean
If you’re weak or strong?
A gentle feelin’
can make it right or make it wrong
What does it take to be a man?
The will to give and not receive
The strength to say what you believe
The heart to feel what others feel inside
To see what they can see
A man is somethin’ that’s real
It’s not what you are
It’s what you can feel
It can’t be too late
To look through the hate and see
I know that’s what a man can be
To Be a Man lyrics © Universal Music Publishing Group, Songwriter: Tom Scholz, Boston
Notice the juxtaposition of gentleness and strength. An old book I once read called it “Steel and Velvet”; another book, given to me by a friend, spoke of the “Tender Warrior.” Neither too hard, nor too soft, and knowing how to balance both aspects of his manliness, a good man is capable both of tenderly holding a small child and fighting off anyone or anything that would try to do it harm. The gentle hand is loving and nurturing; the strong hand is moved by an urge to protect.
About 2,000 years ago, the Apostle Paul wrote a very famous passage defining Love–what it is and what it isn’t. Substituting the word “man” for “love” gives it an interesting twist:
A man is patient.
A man is kind
A man does not envy
He does not boast
He is not proud
A man does not dishonor others
He is not self-seeking
He is not easily angered
He keeps no record of wrongs
A man does not delight in evil but rejoices in the truth
He always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
Does this kind of masculinity sound “toxic”–like a H. Weinstein, M. Lauer, B. Clinton or any other “#MeToo” predator? Can fault be found in any of these qualities? Hardly.
Perhaps it’s intellectual laziness, or bias, to assume that the worst of men represent maleness, or masculinity, itself. They do not. At best, they are counterfeits with the practiced ability to portray themselves as real men. Such creatures are form without substance; they are straw men through and through–without a spine, or a heart or the ability to stand up to scrutiny. In truth, those who would prey on the weak, abuse women and children, bully and coerce are indeed “toxic,” but they certainly are not masculine.
Attack these straw men–they’ve got it coming. But don’t conflate them with real men. We are nothing like that.
Real men aren’t easy to attack, anyway, and we can take a hell of a lot that’s dished out at us. But that’s a topic for another blog, when we take a look at the steel behind the velvet.