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What does it mean to be a man? What does it mean to be masculine? Do men need to be masculine? If the recent Gillette advertisement extolling men to “Shave their Toxic Masculinity” was good for anything besides a laugh at the people falling for another “woke” corporate marketing ploy, then it was bringing these questions to the forefront of my mind. I have written an article before about the first question above, and I think now is a good time to revisit the topic in light of this controversy through the framework of masculinity and manhood.
So what does it mean to be masculine? The answers to that question will probably vary in the detail, but there is a rough shape to what we classify as masculine. Generally, these are easily identifiable traits such as strength, courage, stoicism, aggression, independence, assertiveness and so on. Traditionally, societies have expected men to exhibit as many of these traits as possible in order to be considered a true man. Today, some of these traits are usually lopped in with the trendy concept of “toxic masculinity.”
I will freely admit I loathe that term. I despise it because masculinity is not toxic. The behaviors associated with toxic masculinity, typically presented as various forms of exclusion, aggression or violence, are the result of a lack of masculinity rather than the presence of a corrupted form. They are, to paraphrase Saint Thomas Aquinas, a result of effeminacy.
Now, effeminacy is about as controversial a concept as masculinity and femininity, but it is distinct from these two sets of traits and behaviors. In the context of this article, effeminacy does not mean feminine behaviors. Effeminacy, according to Aquinas’s Summa Theologica, is when a man forsakes the good of the future for the pleasures of the moment. Aquinas calls these men “soft” because they quickly yield to the difficulty and suffering of life. Instead of pursuing what is meaningful through the difficulty of life, effeminate men pursue what is expedient and pleasurable.
Going back to Gillette’s ad, there was one scene in particular that struck me as showcasing effeminacy as I have described. In what is obviously a high-level business meeting, the man standing at one end of the table discredits what his female colleague has said and begins the process of reiterating her idea in his own words so he can take credit. How is this man effeminate? He lacks the ability to see beyond his own ego and need for immediate affirmation from his colleagues. Instead of encouraging his counterpart or asking her to further explain her idea, he has to take over the situation to feel in control. In truth, he may believe he is actually a “masculine” man for doing so, but he is sacrificing the future potential of his colleague and his company for his need in the moment.
There are a large number of other examples in the ad that I could go to that showcase immediate-gratification effeminacy, but instead I want to move to where the ad succeeds in showing true masculinity. Near the end of the ad, a clip from the long-form video shows a father holding his young daughter up to the mirror, having her repeat the phrase, “I am strong.” This is an entirely heart-warming and applause-worthy example of masculinity.
The father is laying the foundations for his daughter to become a confident, courageous young woman. If I were to sum up what ideal masculinity looks like, it would be using that father’s example: acting as a leader, guardian and teacher. Society needs more men to act in that exact manner.
Truly, I have much more I could say about masculinity and how desperately we need it in society, but I only have so many words in this article. I will conclude with this: Our men and boys are right now in a time of crisis. Many people claim it is the fault of masculinity. I believe that masculinity is not the problem. It is the solution.
Colin Lang is a senior history and Philosophy, Politics and the Public double major. He is a staff writer for the Newswire from Westlake, Ohio.