While many books have been written on how men can be more sensitive and get in touch with their feminine side few if any have tried to define what it means to be a man. After decades of feminist theories about how men should behave Jack Donovans writings on masculinity are refreshingly unapologetic. His latest book, The Way of Men, was released in March and is now available both digitally and in paperback
What is the new book about?
The Way of Men is an answer, and a question. It’s my attempt to figure out what masculinity really is—unburdened of culture and morality—in greater depth and detail than I ever have. It addresses a lot of feminist, MRA, and men’s movement attempts to answer the question “what is masculinity?” At the same time, there is a running discussion about this “end of men” trend in the media. I wonder if, knowing what masculinity is, it even has a place in the future people want to create, and I ask the question, if so–then what? Do men help build a future where they are merely helpful inseminators?
Why write this particular book now? Or was this book part of the logical progression of your writings?
I always tell people that I write a book when I have to make a long argument that I want to be able to refer to later in shorthand. I have the most fun writing short essays, but a book is a good way to formalize your thoughts, so you don’t have to bore your readers with repetitive, elementary explanations of your worldview. Now I can write about “the gang” or “the tactical virtues of Strength, Courage, Mastery, and Honor” without having to explain what I mean all the time. I can just say: “read the book.”
Understanding masculinity has been a project I have been working on for years, and everything I’ve been writing and doing has been some kind of preparation or background work for this book. But I was very aware that I needed to get it out soon. The Way of Men wasn’t something I had my whole life to write. What I have to say about masculinity applies to men right now, to problems that are happening right now, to changes that are occurring in the world right now. I’ve been blogging and commenting around “the manosphere” for a while, and there has been a growing interest in evolutionary psychology and in understanding masculinity. Guys are trying to figure out how men fit into our confusing, unstable, post-feminist world.
Most of the “official” voices on the topic are feminists who want men to be something that they are not, and don’t really even want to be. I wanted to be a voice saying what I think a lot of men are thinking. Men are being served a shit sandwich and the smiling powers that be are telling them: “it’s good for you, just try it.”
In the The Way of Men you said that “Together men can create smaller, tighter, more localized communities.” Can you expand on that?
Most men get lost in a world where we are all interchangeable units of labor. Our lives become less meaningful and more disposable.
It’s popular now to say that the “1%” make all of the decisions. That’s probably always been the case. What is missing is accountability. Globalism erases local accountability.
It’s socially acceptable to sell out your neighbors, because we’re all supposed to be “citizens of the world.” Men are supposed to be glad that some village in Indonesia raised its standard of living, even as the standard of living in their own hometown decreases. We’re told that it’s just “better” that way. Globalism absolves the 1% of any responsibility to the men around them. Men who should be called traitors can claim to be doing God’s work as they fill their pockets.
The best response to government corruption is not to demand more government oversight. That’s really absurd if you think about it. The best response is to acknowledge that the social contract has been broken and cut the government and the corporations out of the loop. You can’t accomplish that with a protest. You have to start building independent networks of support. Start bartering. Become less dependent on a broken system. Create what John Robb is calling “resilient communities.” Decide who your friends are and worry about how they are doing, and not how the guy in Indonesia is doing. Let his own people worry about him.
Humans are tribal. We can’t worry about the whole world. Committing ourselves to the idea that we are “world citizens” makes us easy pawns. You can’t complain about your job being outsourced or your wages being undercut by illegal aliens if you believe you are part of “one world tribe.”
Would you say that men form tribes that are hierarchical in nature?
Yes. Even when men try to be “egalitarian,” leaders and followers emerge quickly. If you get any group of men together, they will work out a dominance structure of some kind. Those hierarchies will be apparent, but they aren’t always explicit or formal. It doesn’t matter whether you are talking about nerds or athletes or hippies.
Although you are a young man and not of advanced years to look back and reflect, how would you say the definition of what is considered masculine has changed over the years? What do you think are the driving factors behind such changes?
I don’t know that I’m that young. I’m 37. I graduated from High School in 1993. I’ve seen a lot of cycles repeat, and I’ve seen a lot of things change in almost twenty years.
Superficial details change from time to time and from place to place. On any given day, there are thousands of technological, economic, and cultural factors influencing our ideas about masculinity. A lot of memes from movies and books and advertisements that really have nothing to do with masculinity influence us and attach themselves to our idea of what a man is supposed to be.
Men wear what I’d call skirts or dresses in some cultures. Working men say that men who have never done demanding physical work are soft and unmanly. Gestures, cultural references, and ways of speaking that reference something profoundly masculine in one culture may be read as unmanly by men from another culture, because they are missing the back-story and the context.
An example that came to mind is something I read about cockney rhyming slang. I read once that ginger beer became a slang for “queer” at some point. (I’m not sure if this is current). Ginger beer itself has nothing to do with masculinity one way or the other, but the rhyme and the association with effeminate homosexuals pull it into that culture’s big picture of masculinity. An American who didn’t know that and ordered a ginger beer to see what it tasted like wouldn’t have any of that background. It’s just beer with an odd flavor in it. American beer snobs love inventive beers. I tried some beer without hops that tasted a bit like tea the other day. I ordered it for the name of the brewing company—Gilgamesh—which is a very manly reference. On the other hand, there is still a class of men in America who regard anything more interesting than Budweiser as a bit fancy, yuppyish, and suspicious. Someone could write a book about beer and masculinity, but beer itself is just a drink and it doesn’t tell us anything particularly profound about a timeless, universal idea of manliness.
These confusing cultural and class differences are exploited by those who ideologically object to a unifying theory of masculinity, as well as a unifying theory of human nature. They look at the differences between the ideas men have about masculinity and call those different ideas “masculinities,” with no masculinity being more valid or natural than any other. That is, unless it’s a “masculinity” that serves their ideology. In that case, it’s “the right kind of masculinity.”
A few days ago, I had some guy try to tell me how “real men” behave, His ideas were all derived from received feminist gender theory. He was trying to goad me, saying that real men don’t have to prove their masculinity, that real men don’t posture, that real men don’t worry about the masculinity of other men. When has this ever been true? When have the majority of men in any culture been this kind of “real man?” His “real man” was completely invented.
The Way of Men is about the root ideas about masculinity that have endured. Tribesmen in loincloths and average suburban teenagers in shopping malls are going to share some sense that strength and courage are related to masculinity. If you look at the cultures where that hasn’t been the case, you’re probably talking about subcultures—like a religious order or pampered aristocrats. Clever guys always give examples like noblemen who wore a lot of lace and frills and powder…but many of these same men also dueled to defend their honor.
“Strength in the strictest sense is the muscular ability to exert pressure.” In this age of multi-national companies that exert massive strength and control of a different sort over governments and people, physical strength doesn’t apply. Are these men in suits of a different gang?
I think a lot of people would like to believe that “the men in suits are all in cahoots,” but I don’t think that is as true as it once was. While there are certainly men who associate for mutual benefit in the “1%,” there are also a lot of women. To really have a gang, you have to have a sense of mutual dependence and brotherhood. I think most of these guys are self-interested, and would happily fuck over their friends if they could afford to—if they could get away with it.
The whole idea of the globalist corporate world is anti-brotherhood, despite the cute slogans of old fraternities. Men are interchangeable, CEOs come and go, employees come and go, no man is fully committed to any team. Every man is in it for himself, from the top dog to the guy who mows the grass. Tribalism is a wrench in the globalist machine whenever it pops up, unless it can be exploited for profit, as is the case with sports teams.
Also, it’s too easy to abstract the idea of strength to the point where you are really talking about something else. Queens and fey princes and frail bankers have always wielded power, but simply wielding power isn’t really the same as masculinity. If it were, Hillary Clinton and Justin Bieber would be manlier than most of the guys I know. That’s pretty distorted. Masculine strength isn’t lying on a couch eating grapes and saying “off with his head.” That’s not the kind of “strength” men respect or look for in each other.
Do you feel there is a lack of positive ‘masculine’ role models in the media?
It depends what you mean by positive, and by masculine—and what kind of media we’re talking about. All mainstream media is influenced by political correctness to some degree, and almost everything is packed with messages that Hollywood liberals want people to see and hear. For instance, I just saw the new Avengers movie, and there is this one completely unnecessary, ham-handed scene where a Holocaust survivor refuses to kneel to a Norse god. I was the loud guy in the theater saying “Oh Jesus fucking Christ, really?”
However, the majority of blockbuster action films feature strong, heroic men performing daring acts to save innocent people, so I have a hard time seeing that as “negative.” Feminists—and the United Nations, apparently—consider any association of violence with masculinity to be “negative.” But that’s woman-think. Men see a man wielding great power for good, and that’s a positive form of masculinity that men have sung songs and written books about for all of human history.
Two of the most talked about shows in America are The Walking Dead and Game of Thrones.The Walking Dead is about as primal as it gets— The Walking Dead comic actually influenced my thinking while writing The Way of Men. It’s about a gang of men with their families doing whatever it takes to protect them and survive—making a lot of hard, realistic choices. Game of Thrones skewers masculine honor, but at the same time, manages to ennoble it. The characters who win aren’t necessarily the characters who men want to be like. The winners are smarmy liars and schemers most of the time—quite true to life—but they make the doomed men of honor seem that much more admirable.
There are truly negative examples in mainstream sitcoms and in advertising, especially in anything marketed to women or families. The dad is always a moron, and the magic token minority is somehow always a better person than the average guy, and it’s always the woman who really knows what’s going on. It’s trashy and nakedly political, but how much can your really expect from sitcoms anyway?
Newspapers and magazines are becoming less and less relevant. Most mainstream commentary on masculinity is written by a very small group of people. Most of them live or have lived in New York City or Los Angeles. They went to the same schools and share the same basic worldview. I have a Google News filter set for the word “masculinity” and I rarely see anything from major sources like The Atlantic, The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, or Newsweek that doesn’t read like dusty 1970s boilerplate. I elaborated on that a little more in No Man’s Land, which is free and can be read online.
Would you explain what the term ‘deficient masculinity’ means?
If you accept my thesis that masculinity is a cluster of tactical virtues that follow from heritable qualities that men have on average more than women—like strength or tolerance for risk—then it makes sense that these qualities are going to vary from individual to individual like every other heritable quality. Just as some people are short and others are tall, some men are going to be stronger than others. Some men are going to be more daring. Some men are going to be smarter. If masculinity is a cluster of qualities, some men aren’t going to be as good at being men as other men. Men have always had to accept this reality. It’s a fact of life. It’s not fair, but life isn’t fair.
My dad was born in 1954 and he was diagnosed with polio as a baby. The vaccine came out in 1955. Talk about getting served a shit sandwich. He spent his childhood in leg braces and managed to learn to walk without them—even though they said he never would. But he could never run. He didn’t ask the world to redefine running so he could call himself a runner. You just work with what you have and deal with the reality that not everyone is dealt the same cards. I think my dad influenced my thinking a lot in that way.
Most people look at someone writing about masculinity, and if he says that some men are manlier than others, they assume he is placing himself at the top of the scale. That’s not why I write about masculinity. I’m an average to slightly above-average guy according to just about any metric you can name. I’m no superman. The Way of Men is my attempt to work out this masculinity issue without kidding myself or trying to find a way that I was better than everyone else. Masculinity is what it is. Just because some men are manlier than others doesn’t mean that men who are less manly aren’t real men.
Part of being a man is dealing with reality and being able to say “that guy is just better at that than I will ever be.” You don’t want to limit yourself unnecessarily, and it doesn’t mean that you should give up trying to be better.
In The Way of Men, I made a distinction between deficient masculinity and flamboyant dishonor. Men who just aren’t as good at being men as their peers may have face some challenges, but if they have honor and value the estimation of other men, they’ll do the best they can.
Flamboyantly dishonorable men reject the way that men evaluate each other and try to rewrite the rules in their own favor. It’s the kid who sucks at sports (or something else) and gets picked on, then decides that sports are for jerks anyway, then caricatures and mocks the guys who play sports. It’s more than just “being who you are.” It’s ressentiment.
That seems to be the way people want to deal with things now. If you’re different or have a problem, you demand that the majority of people who aren’t like you change the way they talk or think so that you don’t feel bad. In First World countries, it seems like we are all rewarded for acting like spoiled children. It makes sense to some degree, because spoiled children can never be self-sufficient.
What do you think are the driving the forces behind these ‘official’ voices who want men to be something that they are not? And to what end?
I still feel like some kind of hippy when I say this, but the answer is globalist capitalism.
Unrestrained, borderless capitalism makes short-term laborers and consumers of us all. It’s more efficient if we are interchangeable and non-threatening. Organized groups of bonded men with a distinct tribal identity are and always have been a threat to those with established interests. Skilled, armed men are more of a potential threat to any system of control than men who are more concerned with fashion and celebrity gossip. Men who are passive, weak, and dependent make better consumers than men who want to be active, strong, and independent.
Markets follow the money. Women make the majority of purchasing decisions, so more and more things are designed and marketed with the tastes of women in mind.
Some men want to blame feminists for everything, but in reality, feminists are just useful idiots for bureaucrats and the corporations they are in bed with.
I don’t see this as some kind of conspiracy hatched around a marble table by men with monocles and canes. I favor explanations where people act to serve what they believe to be their short-term interests. That’s the way global capitalism works. Businesses live quarter-to-quarter following the short-term money and spin or rationalize whatever they had to do to get it.
There is a lot of rage directed at global capitalism right now. Specifically, I’m talking about the Occupy movement. The problem is that the “occupiers” tend to advocate a leftist social agenda that actually makes global capitalism more viable.
If you look at right-wing nationalist movements, most of them want to shut out foreign influences. They want to take care of their own first. How they define “their own” may be a stumbling block for a lot of people, but you can’t deny that if groups of people drew a harder line between “us” and “them,” it would really foul up the capitalist system. It would be like an octopus trying to reach into a bunch of open clam shells that suddenly snapped shut. The whole “one world tribe” idea makes it easier for the octopus to drain us and get fat. The world is an open buffet, and corporations can become so large that they wield more power than nations. Tribalism is the only way I see to starve the beast.
The situation reminds me of Yukio Mishima’s famous debate with socialist students. He was sympathetic to them, and he admired their passion, but he knew that what they were fighting for was soulless and would ultimately lead to the deterioration of Japan and Japanese culture. He said, “We have the same cards on the table, but I have a joker – the Emperor.” For Mishima, the Emperor was the ultimate symbol of the heritage and the soul of the Japanese people.
I feel much the same way about Occupy. I’m mad at greedy global corporations and “banksters,” too. But breaking down tribal identities and social boundaries, making people more interchangeable by advocating multiculturalism and feminism, plays right into the game of global corporations who want us to be happy that we’re all “one tribe” when they close the factories in our towns, bankrupt our nations, outsource our jobs, and import cheap labor. If the Occupiers were demanding things like closed borders, protectionist economic policies, or a massive reduction of federal power and a return of power to smaller independent tribal states, I’d go buy a damned tent. The solutions they want all seem likely, at least in the long term, to give greater power to the very governments that they believe to be corrupt and beholden to big business. They seem to want bloated governments to solve the problem, but bloated governments are the problem. The solution is to undermine the system, not empower it.
Interview conducted via email by Paddy