Reclaiming the Gentleman in the Era of Toxic Masculinity


Speaking confidentially, it’s not an easy time to be a guy, lately. After millennia as the top dog in the gender business, males are facing a bit of a reckoning. No longer the primary breadwinners, the hunters in the hunter-gatherer tribe, the muscular ones in the “lift heavy objects” versus “care and nurture” dynamic, men have been trying to figure out what it means to be “a man” when much of what made us necessary to women (physical strength, spur-of-the-moment bravery,  our near complete control of the banking/legal/governmental/business elements of society) are slowly becoming less and less relevant.

Some men have suggested we return to an older style of behavior, like the 1950s, an era of many modern conveniences but where men still called the shots. Women need to remember their traditional place in society and in relationships. “We are KINGS!” They shout from lonely apartments into internet chatrooms and gaming platforms. 

Others have suggested that we need to give up these archaic gender roles all-together and learn to see all people as equals. Gender roles are outmoded and our future selves will all wear unitards and CK One perfume.

Some others say, however, that not all traditional male behaviors are bad, and that it would be a mistake to think that centuries of gender roles will disappear overnight. We can bring the best of the past, they say, and adapt it for a modern world.  One such source is the Art of Manliness, a website run by Brett and Kate McKay, which has become one of the more interesting sites for men since 2008. Trying to break the tradition of men’s publications focused on “sex, sports cars, and getting six-pack abs“, AoM is far more focused on character, integrity and what it takes to not be just  a “man”, but a “good man”. 

This week I decided to check out their McKays book The Art of Manliness: Classic Skills and Manners for the Modern Man. Broken up into sections like “the Friend”, “the Father”, “the Hero” and “the Outdoorsman”, the book follows a format like modern classics like “The Worst Case Scenario Survival Handbook” with short instructional vignettes that include “Shave Like Your Grandpa”, "Deliver a Baby in a Pinch", "Navigate Without a Compass", and "Exude Magnetic Charisma".  

SHOULD YOU READ THIS BOOK? As you might imagine, this book, like He's Just Not That Into You or The Anarchist Cookbook, has a pre-supposed audience. However, as advice books go, the focus seems to be being a decent person first and well-dress guy second. You can imagine your grandfather or Jimmy Stewart reading much of it with a small smile of approval before adjusting his hat, checking his tie, holding the door for a lady, before exiting to go fight some Nazis.