Manning Up

Last week I posted an article to our private Facebook group for Agoge Fitness members. It carried the click-baity title: "Men Are Getting Weaker - Because We Are Not Raising Men" and went on to bemoan our current cultural inclination away from all things traditionally masculine (except beards; beards are cool), especially physical strength. I posted it to the group because I wanted to get a feel for our group’s cultural feeling toward things masculine as I have much to say on this subject. But first, a little background.

I was born a middle class, white boy in suburban Alabama in the early 1970s. I witnessed muscle cars, mullets worn without irony, cut off t-shirts, and teen-aged mustaches. I saw the rise of Arnold Schwarzenegger ​from bodybuilder to Barbarian to Terminator. I saw Tom Selleck, Charles Bronson, Clint Eastwood, Chuck Norris, and Sylvester Stallone all in their prime. Memories of my own dad include hours spent watching WWF champions like Hulk Hogan, Andre the Giant, The Iron Sheik, and the Junkyard Dog. In short, I was raised in an era of macho with no shortage of masculine stereotypes to look to and emulate.

In 1983, my mother left my father for another woman. Yes, you read that right. 1983. In Alabama.

My mother decided she was a lesbian​. She and Becky stayed together for 11 years. I matured through my adolescent years in a "Kate and Allie" household with two moms. Of course this was the 80s and being gay was not the mainstream, nay, cool thing it is now. Gay people feared for their jobs, their communities and their lives at this time. To the outside world, we were deep in the closet. We lived with a profound sense of paranoia that actually seems laughable today. I introduced Becky as my mom's roommate and people were more than willing, even eager, to accept that.

As the oldest son of two politically active feminist lesbians, I saw a world few men ever see. I attended secret planning meetings for reproductive rights, NOW conventions, rallies and marches. I often spent the Friday afternoons and Saturday mornings of my junior and senior years in high school escorting patients through the gauntlet of picket lines that surrounded our city’s two abortion clinics.

My mom and Becky, and many of the women I met through them, had difficult histories, especially when it came to men. The term "man-hating lesbian", applicable to many of them, was well warranted.

Through our entire adolescence, my brother and I were inundated with dinner table conversations about the evils of men and the wrongs of the patriarchy. To defray some of that anger, my brother and I would often joke, "Glad I'm not a man." Something we could say as boys, but it became increasingly difficult as we got older.

My dad was largely marginalized as we grew up. He was the asshole that had ruined my mother's life, prevented her from living her dreams​, and saddled her with the unfortunate task of raising two boys. I don’t think my mother hated us, we were just a burden she had to carry. I learned early on that she married my father only because she was pregnant with me, an odd thing to tell a child and a responsibility I still carry no matter how ridiculous.

As an adolescent,​ I was the prototype for our new "typical male." While by no means effeminate, I shied away from anything overtly masculine. I knew how to work with my hands but only because I was employed under a lesbian contractor as a teenager. My personal pursuits were more along the lines of Art Club and getting girls to like me for my deeply sensitive temperament.

My twenties were plagued with an existential crisis. Now that I was undeniably a man, what did that mean? How could I be a man and still avoid the being the asshole my upbringing insisted was inevitable?

I started by caving. I was the most easy-going guy you knew. Anything anybody wanted to do was cool with me. I was just there to go along and give support even if I thought what we were about to do was doomed to failure. I mollified myself with marijuana and stayed stoned throughout most of my twenties.

And then I got sober.

I got sober and realized I did have opinions and things did matter to me. I also started working out and began to embrace the gifts of my genetics and gender. I began to see that all things masculine were not so bad. That men do not universally suck. And that I did not have to apologize for how I was born.

I can appreciate the sentiments of the article I posted because I'm not caught up in the details. Masculine and Feminine are human qualities not necessarily tied to gender. I know feminine women who are very physically strong. I know masculine women who are not. Just as I know physically weak men who are very masculine and effeminate men ​who can bench a house.

What I bemoan in our culture is not the decline of men as a gender. If today's men want to be softer, weaker, and less physical I really have no problem with that, despite my chosen profession. Whatever rocks your boat, Bro. What I don’t like is the denigration of the Masculine​, period. Yes, I know that it has a history of behaving badly, but I think that’s not inherent in being masculine but inherent in the spoiling that comes with power, especially power that comes unearned. Watch as more women begin taking positions of power and authority you will begin to see abuses of power on par with what used to be solely the purview of men. (Yay, equality!) One could argue that you already see this in certain political careers and in the publicity surrounding sex scandals involving female school teachers and their students.

On the macro level, nuance is lost. When talking about society we’re all thumbs and can only paint in the broadest of strokes, so separating gender from a discussion on the merits of Masculine and Feminine qualities is all but impossible. But you know better. You know that the basic rules of decency and fairness apply across the board regardless of which side you find yourself on the masculine-feminine spectrum. These are the universals, summed up in the phrase “Don’t be an asshole”, that apply to everyone. This is what we have lost.

There was a time when men ruled the world. The most enlightened among them set standards and goals for behavior meant to inspire men to seek their own higher natures. Regardless of their success or lack of it, I think we should all take a lesson from those men and find how we can express our own highest nature, Masculine and Feminine.

To our perfect imperfection,


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  1. The problem lies in the very narrow perception of what is “masculine” or what is “feminine.” As a feminist, I’m also fighting for men to be the men they want to be, and not just the type of man that our culture has dictated is the “right” way to be masculine. And sorry, I laughed at your line, “There was a time when men ruled the world.” When did that stop being the truth? 😛

    • Thanks for reading, Tina.

      Don’t discount the advances your grandmothers and mothers have made. You live in and my daughters inherit a world very different from what they experienced. Yes, sexism still exists as does racism and religious intolerance and, quite frankly, I think they always will. We must have something to struggle against. It’s how we grow and get stronger. What has changed is that these types of assholery no longer enjoy the full sanction of society’s “this is how things are.” It makes it easier (by no means easy) to stand up to such injustices and express your own personal power and strength.

  2. Thanks Dave, this is very honest and insightful. I’ve struggled with this as well, despite a
    more traditional family structure. Men seemed cast into a role, one of dominance, ignorance and power. I rejected that while also eschewing much of what makes a man a man. It has been a hard fought battle to journey through stereotype and tradition to find my own path to a complete, satisfying position as a man.

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