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No, It Is Not a Struggle to Find Good Male Role Models
It’s time we got our heads screwed on straight about the so-called ”patriarchy.”
I’m tired of people saying that there’s a “struggle to find male role models,” or that we’re somehow still stuck with just two ways of seeing men—either the over-macho post-war (and now highly disgruntled) “breadwinner,” or the under-sexed, unsexy, and largely undesired post-feminist ’sensitive man.’
I mean, first of all, what about the ice-bath dunking, non chest-thumping, post-vegan, California-sober man of the 2020’s? The outdoorsy, thoughtful, and very alive-looking dudes that I run into as I make my way around my world certainly don’t fit into either of those obsolete stereotypes—so why do some people continue to refer to them as the “only” models for masculinity?
Part of the issue here is an all-too-common technique of many online writers to treat a topic as important enough to report on, simply because it once had some truth—in the past. This kind of weak writing often gets the likes because it sounds familiar enough in the echo chamber upon cursory reading—often of just the headline—but lacks deeper originality, and, at the end of the day, just isn’t very interesting.
More broadly, writing and thinking based on ideas—however true (or not)—of the past fails us all in a larger way by serving to further perpetuate those obsolete ideas, rather than put forward better thinking. I’d argue that it’s most often the case that by the time we are able to look back at something like the “alpha” and “beta” male, or first- and second-wave models of masculinity, something new is not just out there on the horizon, but has already begun to enter the actual, day-to-day cultural zeitgeist. We do ourselves no favors by standing between the mirrors of the past while the sun is rising elsewhere.
Contrary to sensationalist pandering that may give the appearance of, but fails to actually serve the cause of advancing masculinity, there is no lack of role models for a new and better masculinity. Rather than continually decry how the “digital audience capture dynamics skew so many to the extremes,” (I mean, who gives a fuck—and, complaining is always boring anyhow, and, tell me something I don’t already know) or replaying retread criticisms of those extremes (which are no longer current anyhow), we should be actively discussing the many, varied, and quite present examples of new masculinity that are all around us.
Let’s not fool ourselves that we are making a difference by commenting, yet again, on someone else’s comment about something that we wish were different. It’s our duty as writers to show that what might still seem to some like just a perhaps-possible future is in fact already in the present, and just waiting to be brought into the light.
Before I cite some examples, I have to clear something up about “the patriarchy,” because, like “gentrification,” the big P is often cited as some nefarious force that is also somehow so nebulous as to escape any sensible definition. We have to go deeper than to blindly refer to patriarchy only as the source of “outdated versions” of masculinity, because the reason which patriarchy is the culprit and the source of those outdated models is so deeply misunderstood.
Most of us still live with the received idea that “the patriarchy” was some sort of ancient conspiracy designed from on high to oppress women and to elevate men. Despite this pervasive, simplistic—and impossible— gloss, a veritable army of celebrated and widely varied feminist writers including bell hooks, Robert Jensen, Gerda Lerner, Warren Farrell, Grayson Perry, Justin Baldoni, Traver Boehm, Frank Pittman, and Liz Plank prove the case that the word “patriarchy” is best understood as a backwards-looking descriptor of a broad cultural thread that defies simplistic encapsulation, as opposed to some sort of top-down initiative that is somehow the cause of the phenomenon being described.
The color blue is not blue because it is blue. “Blue” is how we describe the phenomenon that we choose to call blue. To the extent that we ended up with a culture of what might or not not fairly be described to as “patriarchy,” patriarchy cannot also be the cause for that same thing, and to say so is untrue. Many of the same authors I mentioned above have suggested that, rather than continue to use the heavily overloaded p-word, we should just say “the establishment” or even, as I usually do, just “our culture.”
Even more importantly, while the central force that spins the wheel of patriarchy is, indeed, oppression (or control, or domination, or ownership)—it is the oppression of men just as much as of women that feeds the machine. Women are diminished and men are diminished. Femininity is diminished—and masculinity is diminished. Patriarchy oppresses, period—and not because it was created or run by “men,” as if male human animals are helplessly oppressive. Overall, I agree with my friend Kim Stanley Robinson’s argument as articulated in the podcast interview that we did a little while back that, whether we’re talking about culture, technology, or the environment, “It's not a smart thing we've done now, but on the other hand, a lot of that happened by accident. …You try to understand the world. You try to get more control over it. You try to create more comfort, more pleasure. You do these things out of positive motivations. …then the side effects, or the negative effects of doing good things hit. And sometimes they can be overwhelming and all of the good that we've done can collapse under the side effects of the bad. Now, at that point, you do have a choice to make and it's a moral choice.” Basically, we were all doing our best at the time, we got what we got as we went along, and rather than spend more time lamenting the past, we’d be better served by working what’s next.
I won’t bother to defend myself here against the ridiculous, cheap and all-too-easily-hashtagged #criticism sometimes put forward (most often by men fearful of not being progressive enough in their masculinity) that by calling out this truth, I am somehow changing the subject from, or diminishing the extent to which whatever-patriarchy-is-shorthand-for has oppressed women. Simply: no. As world renowned two-footed walker and indefatigable explorer of the ordinaryfamously quipped when he summited the perhaps not-quite-equally-famous Clingmans Dome, only to realize that while he had in fact reached the highest point in the state of Tennessee, at 6,643 feet, that point was really…not all that high, and, as evidenced by its very own name, Clingmans Dome isn’t even deserving of the vaunted Mt. prefix: .
Or was it his arch-nemesis? I mean, you can’t deny that, indeed, . Oy, these men, they all look the same. I can’t quite remember which, but… Both. Are. So. True. You know what I’m talking about !
Patriarchy oppresses all of us because the central mechanism of patriarchy is power—that is, power over others—and patriarchy is indiscriminate in how it expresses itself in power relationships. Even while women live with the reality of the parts of patriarchy that do specifically oppress women, men live with the reality that initiation into patriarchal masculinity “requires losing ones authentic voice,” “…the sacrifice of relationship in order to have ‘relationships,’” and the acceptance of lifelong competition with all other men in a “paradigm that creates unnoticed consent to a hierarchy of power”—all of which are contrary to connection, and to freedom—and therefore aligned with anxiety and depression.
Our culture oppresses—and depresses—one another. That’s why so many men are unhappy. We created a world that is trying to kill us.
It’s time we got our heads screwed on straight about this patriarchy thing. We have to remember that our culture was not constructed by some other people to oppress us. As with almost every case where we’re tempted to say that “they” did something (and therefore how we didn’t), in most cases there is no they. It was some prior version of we that, over the centuries, created what eventually resulted in the culture that we live in—which, of course, is constantly evolving. We built it, and we can—and are—changing it. Culture is the ongoing external expression of the collective unconscious, and so it is constantly changing, mostly without our conscious effort.
On to the present reality, and the plethora of positive male role models available to anyone who bothers to look around in any direction whatsoever, really. To begin with, I want to say that all of the men that I’m close with in my own life are examples of what a man can and should be, and I’m going to name them here to call out their individual, collective, and unique essence: Desmond Wheatley and his son Oliver, John Yelding-Sloan, Peter Carnochan and his son Bodhi, Michael Lipson, Michael “Roddy” McDowell, Adam Gayner, Anton Haramis and his son Nicholas, Anthony David Adams, Skip Taylor, Kit Steven,, , , , , Noah Rainey, Christo Johnson, Nate Scott, Chris Gramly, Ant Chavez, Chris Ryan, Peter Mayer, Ben Anderson, Eric Ams, Steve Bodner, Zach Backas, Kenyon Phillips, and Hitch McDermid—just to name a few.
None of these men are stereotypical sportswatching dudebros, backslapping, oblivious beerhounds, superficial idiots, fools, narcissists, or oppressors—and nor are they weaklings, soyboys, sheep, “beta” men, or even really civilians of any sort at all. I know not one loser, zero, failure to launch, 4chan troll, or basement-dwelling incel. Not one—not because they don’t exist—I know that they do, and there are good reasons why so many men are terminally unhappy, but that’s not the point here. I don’t know any because, like most other people, especially women, I find it more interesting to spend time with open- and positive-minded people—and there are plenty of good men to surround and ally myself with.
Plenty of good men. So many, in fact, that I meet more all the time, and while I once would have been surprised to meet a good man—not necessarily because they were more rare, but because I had not yet discovered the deep value of close homosocial relationships—I am no longer surprised to meet men that I like, trust, love and respect.
I challenge anyone who claims not to know any good men: how well do you know the men in your life?
None of these men that I know are dicks…despite the fact that yes, they do all have one—and even like to use them!
Think of yourself, and your own male friends.
Especially if you’re going around saying or thinking that “I cannot tell you how hard it is to find a male role model who balances sense, spirit, strength, and heart”—ask yourself: in your own life, who are the men that you would hold up as examples—and, if you don’t know any, why not? If you do, why are you not holding them up? How do you rate yourself as a role model? Lead yourself first, and then others.I don’t mean to pick on you, but I disagreed enough with your recent piece from on “The Struggle to Find Male Role Models” that I felt compelled to provide a counterpoint.
For a few examples of men who are actively speaking, writing, and leading others by way of the diverse masculinities that they embody, I would point you to:
Fernando Desouches, for his pioneering work to reposition masculinity with brands, author of Of Boys and Men.
Jayson Gaddis, founder of the Relationship School.and his fantastic , author of Sex at Dawn and host of ’s writing
Tim Corcoran, founder of Headwaters Outdoor School.
I’d also point toand her podcast, which often speaks with depth and fairness to these issues.
and finally, groups like EVRYMAN and many others that are explicitly designed to provide community for men, and the opportunity for men to practice with each other.
These men and many others clearly map a “third way,” for men, a new model for masculinity that transcends the long-dead “Marlboro Man” and the Sensitive New Age Nice Guy, both of which are obsolete embodiments of what Grayson Perry calls “Default Man.” More than anything else, this third wave is showing that being a man can be “whatever you want it to be,” and that there are a “plurality of masculinities” available as models to men, as opposed to any one path to blindly follow.
I’m not much of a pop-culture expert, but of course there are plenty of men in the public eye who manage to incorporate macho and sensitive, strong and emotional, thinking and feeling, providing and protecting and collaborating and communicating—consider Ewan MacGregor, Brad Pitt, Ed Norton, Harrison Ford’s Indiana Jones and Han Solo characters—even the fucking Fonz for gawdsake—the uber-cool, macho dude in the leather jacket who made out with both of the Tuscadero sisters (Leather and Pinky—perhaps even at once!), was often found deep in introspective conversation with Mr C., tender tears in his soft, dark eyes.
It’s an insult to ourselves, our brothers, fathers, and sons to say that it’s actually a struggle to find good male role models. Whatever words we speak or write are our invocations, and it behooves us to pay attention to what we call in. So as not to be complicit in our own undoing, we should not hesitate to use strong language to refute backwards-looking noise, and instead put forward a clear signal about where we, as men, are leading ourselves and each other. Let’s stop pretending that we don’t know which direction we should be heading in. We do, we are, and more of us need to speak up about it.
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Mens Writing Group on Substack
I host a monthly group for men on Substack writing memoir, autofiction, personal essay and other first-person informed work—which, I suppose, could include just about anything, including fiction.
This group already includes several strong writersas well as myself.
Participation is by request and invitation. If you’re interested in joining us, please complete this questionnaire.
The Will To Change, bell hooks
The End of Patriarchy, Robert Jensen
The Creation of Patriarchy, Gerda Lerner
The Myth Of Male Power, Warren Farrell
The Flowering Wand: Rewilding the Sacred Masculine, Sophie Strand
The Descent of Man, Grayson Perry
Man Uncivilized, Traver Boehm
Man Enough, Frank Pittman
For The Love of Men, Liz Plank
The High Sierra: A Love Story, Kim Stanley Robinson
Questions for you
What makes a man a good man—and how is that different from a good person?
Who is someone you look to and hold up as a model of positive masculinity?
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