A recent article from Yahoo celebrating the decline of “muscular, classically chiseled male models” for men who are thinner with sunken chests and “beautiful faces” made me squirm.
Call me old-fashioned, but I like men who look like men. I like men who act like men, walk like men, feel like men. I like the brawn, the scruff, the musty scent, the power they exude when muscles ripple. That doesn’t mean they all have to look like a body builder, but they need to be a man who exudes strength.
I’ll never forget when I was in high school in the eighties, and I studied abroad in Germany. Not to knock the German men, but I noticed how scrawny and frail most of the guys were. Even as a 17-year-old girl, I found something inherently unattractive about it.
At the end of the summer, when I gathered with other American students before heading home, I was struck by the muscular stature of the young men, and something about them made me feel a sense of relief, as if I were truly coming home where I was safe. I could finally breathe.
I was reminded of this recently when I went to visit my daughter at UNC Chapel Hill. I couldn’t help but notice how the men had changed since I attended college there years ago. So many looked skinny and soft.
“Where are all the real men? Where are the muscles?” I asked my daughter. Surprisingly, she knew exactly what I was commenting on. “They’re all athletes or they’re basic bros in the gym.”
Don’t get me wrong. I know there have always been scrawny guys among us. Nothing against them. But there is something more to this younger generation that was absent even among the less-developed men of days past. They’re not just smaller (because small guys can still be masculine). They’re girly, more feminized. They exude fragility. They remind me of some of the German guys I met back in the eighties.
As I read the article about the rise of girly men in fashion, I realized what it was about these men that made me feel so uncomfortable. It’s because they’re weak — and, yes, I know I’m going against the feminist code to say I’m comfortable with strong men. Women are supposed to find them threatening, a danger, a wild force to be tamed or caged. Right?
Wrong. As a woman who is already physically weak (comparatively), I appreciate a man’s strength for protection. No woman, no matter how strong she might be, compares to a man — a manly man, not a feminized ghost of a man. It is in men that women find physical reassurance and comfort, not in one another.
The Ya Ya Sisterhood won’t keep you safe when your life is threatened.
To be around strong men makes me feel at peace, alive, and more womanly. In light of their strength, I can celebrate my femininity. I can’t do that when I’m around weak men. When I’m surrounded by soft males, I am on guard. I’m unsettled. Life is fraught with struggles, even if they’re not always present. They’re there, stalking us beyond the perimeter. Without a strong man, we have no one to rely on — physically speaking.
Does that make me horribly weak as a person? Not at all. I’m a strong woman, but that strength only goes so far. It’s a woman’s strength. A man’s strength extends much further, wrapping around us like a protective barrier so we can live fully as women.
There are many books written today about manliness, about the rise of the “soft male,” and the shackling of the wild nature of men. That loss is caused by many factors, of course. There’s no single culprit. Technology has taken on many of the physical tasks men used to engage in, pushing men to express their masculinity in more intellectual ways. This is a strength in its own right, but it’s one women share. It doesn’t make men any different.
One of the primary differences between men and women is their strength. It’s not the only point of masculinity, but it is a big one. Women are not physically equal to men, and they never will be.
The comment at the end of the fashion article celebrating girly men in the fashion world is a boldface lie: “If men and woman are equal, then what does all that matter?”
They are NOT equal. Not when it comes to our strength or even our roles in the reproductive process. Men are, and should be, stronger. But they have become softer over time, partly due to technology, but also because of shifting social narratives that have devalued manliness.
Feminism is a huge factor, as it has reframed masculinity as a threat in and of itself. Women for decades have sought to suppress manliness. But I would also put the mainstreaming of a flamboyant, weak portrayal of homosexuality that is celebrated in pop culture and the fashion world. What used to be fringe has now become conventional. The soft male is one of them.
While some might think this is just awesome, it’s logically impossible to brand weakness as positive. To put it in the most basic terms, for the human species to survive, we need to be strong. For a society, a nation, a tribe, a clan, a family, to survive, we need to be strong. When the strongest among us become weak, we are collectively weak and vulnerable.
As a woman, I want a man to be strong. I celebrate his manliness, his power, his wildness. I don’t want him tamed. I don’t want him soft. I want him free to be a man, so I can be free to be a woman.