What’s your definition of “manly”?

Lewis Hine Power house mechanic working on ste...
Lewis Hine Power house mechanic working on steam pump. (1920) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Here’s an interesting post by one of my favorite bloggers, a fellow Torontonian named Josh Bowman, about his struggle to define “manly”:

There is something to be said for ‘Masculinity’ (with a capital ‘M’). It’s dirty, sweaty, tough, honest. As we enter another Hollywood blockbuster season, where tough leading men will formulaic-ly beat the crap out of aliens, monsters, and other assorted baddies, I can’t help but be reflective and a bit jealous. You see, I’m a young, white collar, politically liberal, pro-feminist, university educated man. I have sensitive skin, and work in theatre. I have lots of emotions, I joke around, and I suck at confrontation. I haven’t been in a physical fight since elementary school, really (I’ve been close from time to time, but I’ve cleverly and diplomatically avoided fighting for most of my life).

The thing is, I rightly or wrongly associate hyper-masculine men with all kinds of values and beliefs that I find politically and socially abhorrent: misogyny, homophobia, conservative politics (or no political beliefs at all), being mean jocks, and liking Nickleback. I’m also kind of afraid to get into a fight. I have no interest in being stabbed, shot, or beaten to a pulp over somebody stepping on my shoes or being rude on a streetcar. At its worst, I see hyper-masculinity leading to near psychopathic behaviour. Then again…

I’m often deeply jealous of those guys who seem so at ease with their identities as men…

I find his dichotomy interesting, if false.

Having done a lot of dating — I married for the first time at 37, then was single again for another four years after my divorce — I’ve closely observed the behavior of a fairly wide swath of men. The super macho guys in black leather with tats and callused hands were never my set. I go more for a guy with really good shoes, who wears (small, elegant) cufflinks and who can choose an excellent bottle of wine.

But, having said that, I did once, briefly, date a Serb who wore black leather trousers. Why, yes I did. “I vill be unfaithful,” he warned me. I laughed. He was right.

Then there was a veddy proper British television executive.  The boy with a handlebar mustache who spoke Russian. The 6’4″ would-be Olympic rower who sent me a bouquet of roses so enormous that when I opened my front door I couldn’t see the person holding them. The blue-eyed engineer working in Khartoum who whisked me off to Wales.

I’ve even met a real, working cowboy — a fantastic man named Bill, who in his 70s, strapped on his worn leather chaps and rode off across the Texas dirt each day. He taught his wife how to shoot a handgun, which saved her life the day she was alone and (seriously) a rabid bobcat leaped for her throat. That’s manly in my book! (I tell her amazing story in my first book, about women and guns.)

I bet every man I’ve met considers himself pretty manly. It’s not as though there’s some standard, objective measure…

So what is manly?

Is it a guy ready to bust his knuckles against someone’s cheek for me? Not necessarily, although a sense of protectiveness is, to me, extremely alluring. I’ve traveled the world alone and now appreciate any help I can get. I like a guy who knows what he wants and will fight hard to get and keep it — especially if it’s for a good cause, not just his latest car.

The qualities I find most appealing in a man are often the same I like best in women:

kindness, intelligence, curiosity, a great sense of humor, an insane work ethic, optimism, someone with clearly thought-through principles who sticks to them, loyal, discreet. Someone who’s just great company.

The quality I probably most admire in a man is integrity. I don’t care if he’s rich or powerful or handsome — if he can’t make and keep his promises, he’s a loser in my book.

How about you?

Ladies, what’s “manly” to you?

Gentlemen, do you face any of the confusion Josh does?

32 thoughts on “What’s your definition of “manly”?

  1. Ditto integrity. I admire ambition (when it’s tempered with perspective), intelligence, cleverness, willingness to try new things, open mindedness, loyalty, kindness, confidence, and a sense of humor.

    Props to you for giving a shout out to good men, they often don’t get the credit they deserve.

    1. The world is filled with good men, but I think the quieter ones are often overshadowed by the chest-thumpers. My husband is not someone who vaunts himself, but in his quiet way is someone who seems to leave a powerful impression on people and I love that combination. I admire a man who is deeply accomplished yet remains very modest.

  2. My husband is from Scotland, with all the confidence and bravado you’d expect from a Scot, and he’s a tall, physically strong guy. But it wasn’t until we had our daughter that I saw him at his most “manly”. The way he loves and cares for her, the way he wants to protect her and encourage her, and the way he found a new motivation to be his best for her all made me see him as a much more “manly” guy than I had before. It was a layer of his character that I hadn’t seen in that particular way, and his sensitivity to her needs (and to mine as a new mom) was, from my perspective, very masculine.

  3. Reliable, supportive, protective and, yes, with a strong work ethic. Many of the other qualities mentioned are certainly admirable, but these are the ones that I consider manly.

      1. It shouldn’t be. A strong work ethic doesn’t have to translate into earning capacity. By that definition, stay-at-home moms would be considered to have no work ethic at all.

        But I do agree that men have a hard time broadening their definitions, especially as society has tended, in the past, to take the narrower view.

  4. To be manly for me is to be able to do what is needed to keep the love of your life happy, help with the kids, not running from cooking and cleaning chores and be always there when needed. Know when to laugh or be sad when needed and mainly give the lady many hugs while telling her how you love her. What would manly mean without women?
    My humble definition. 🙂

  5. “Manly” makes me think of the old Irish Spring soap commercial, but my man might be more tall and lanky than big and brawny. For qualities most desired, I’d agree with you and with those above: integrity is paramount. Then: kindness and humor/dry wit. He would also be bright and creative, sensitive, tender but confident and strong (of mind, character, constitution). Also, It seems not so easy to find someone who is unselfish these days, especially amongst accomplished men who were driven and successful in getting where and what they wanted.
    ~ Lily

    1. You’re very right about the challenge of finding someone who is accomplished but willing and able to make room in their life for love and nurturing their partner. It’s not easy and it’s been an issue for me as well.

  6. I love the descriptions of the men you dated. I recently dated a Hungarian who told me that he would be unfaithful, but I didn’t laugh… And years ago, I dated an Athletic Director who brought me a huge bouquet of flowers and balloons for my birthday, so much he could hardly get through the door. It may have been the most romantic date I’ve ever experienced. I’m about to turn 36 and have never been married. We’ll see what 37 holds!

    Manly to me is someone who is charming and attractive with an entertaining quality. He can lead you through a dance or just through a room without even feeling his touch. He keeps his emotions to himself while he works a crowded room, but shows them to me privately. He’s proud that I’m with him and I’m confident whether in his presence or not.

    There’s more to it than that, but that’s what gets to me.

  7. as a writer (Not sure it’s condedered a “manly” occupation:) ) I can really understand Josh’s confusion.
    Still, as you wrote, I believe that the “new” definition of “manly” to most intellectual women is based on qualities such as honesty rather than physical qualities
    Very nice post!

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  9. Great post. Growing up in Australia we have our own definitions of manliness or (bloke-i-ness) with which to reference ourselves. Many of the stereotypes are covered in of the post. As a young man growing up (did I do that?) I never really related to the Aussie bloke: the footy-loving, sweaty beer swilling (though I do like beer 😉 ) blue tank topped sunburned bloke who had a big car and went bush. When I learned that our baby was a boy (well before he was born) I do admit to having thought “how am I going to teach him to be a man? I don’t know the first thing about it” But I do … just not the Aussie bloke one. I hope I’m teaching him by example to stand up for what ‘he’ believes in and be strong in love and life and in time I’ll teach him about choosing the right bottle of wine

    1. Thanks!

      It must be weird indeed to have so strong a stereotype to live up to…or ignore. This has made me think of posting on what it means to be “womanly”, which has plenty of material as well.

      I think a man, wherever he grows up, is someone who really understands his responsibilities to himself to others, to keep his word. And knowing how to choose a great wine is good! (My husband does….)

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  11. “There is something to be said for ‘Masculinity’ (with a capital ‘M’). It’s dirty, sweaty, tough, honest. As we enter another Hollywood blockbuster season, where tough leading men will formulaic-ly beat the crap out of aliens, monsters, and other assorted baddies, I can’t help but be reflective and a bit jealous. You see, I’m a young, white collar, politically liberal, pro-feminist, university educated man. I have sensitive skin, and work in theatre. I have lots of emotions”

    This man has it right. The stereotypical traits of manliness stated in this article are just that – stereotypical and they’re induced through the media. A man is someone that is able to carry himself with emotions and without patriarchy. Of course there is always a time and place for emotions, but it is extremely important to show those emotions. Displays of Emotions is a campaign aimed to promote showing emotions among men as bottling up emotions have mental and physical repercussions.

    Displays of Emotion

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