Thoughts About Being a Man

(Photo by Sandra Damiana Buskirk, 2011)

What does it mean to be a man?

We live in a confusing time in a confusing world. Is it any wonder, then, that so many of us search the rubble of old notions for clues about who we are and what sorts of people we should be?

Sadly, all too many of us seem bent on creating more rubble (figurative and real) in the course of that search. This is especially true in the realm of masculinity. While both men and women have soundly rejected the SNAG (“Sensitive New Age Guy“) attempts of the late-’70s/ early-2000s, our world still needs strong, vital masculine behavior.

The old “slash-n-burn” bully boy routine clearly doesn’t work. That legacy has deforested half the world, poisoned our environment, ushered in wars that have killed over 150 MILLION people since the year 1900(*), and sparked extinction-level events unseen since the end of the dinosaur era… all in slightly over a century. It may destroy us yet. All too many people are determined to live out some mad poetry scribbled down millennia ago, insisting – as we kill every living thing on earth – that their Big Daddy War God had this in mind all along. The deranged glamor queen of the gun-waving masses thinks that a war with Iran “will toughen (us) up,” even as she demands compassion for her own offspring. 2009 Republican candidate Harley D Brown “scream(s) like an F-15 fighter” that “since just one of our subs packs enough Fire Power to level a continent” we should “use our HEAVY EQUIPMENT” just to prove how tough we are. (Yes, the phallic metaphors fly thick and fast on Harley’s website.) Meanwhile, recent advertising campaigns demand that men in doubt should “Wear the(ir) pants” ordump their hot wives off for rape or worse rather than surrender their badass tires.


(Manhood: You’re Doing it Wrong.) 

Now, yes – men should be strong. That’s the cornerstone of masculine identity, a quality demanded not only by boys’ clubs, women or society overall, but by life as a male member of most species. “Strength,” however, has lots of connotations, all too many of which are bound to domination. Profound misunderstandings of “the way things are” – often brought about by a disconnection from the natural world(**) – equate “strength” with “subjugation.” The “Law of the Jungle” is evoked by people who don’t understand how jungles actually work. If Nature behaved like man behaves, gangs of elephants would have trampled every other ground-dwelling species on three continents (probably starting with us), and prides of lions would have eaten their way through every living thing in Africa… and then promptly starved to death. Clearly, the ability to kill shit just because you can does not define “strength” under Nature’s way.

So what does?

Here’s what 46 years of being a man, exploring masculine and feminine spirituality, and enduring (and enjoying) my own masculinity suggest:


(Photo by Vixy Dockery, 2009)

– Responsibility: Owning your shit, and dealing with it in ways that preferably do not stir up more shit.

– Accountability: Being man enough to say, “Yeah, i did such-and-such” – for good and ill – and accept the consequences (again, both good and ill) of doing it.

– Balance: Knowing where to step, and how to compensate when you step wrong.

– Perspective: Looking out so you don’t step in shit to begin with… and realizing that you inevitably will.

– Wisdom: Learning from the previous experiences.

– Courage: Not the lack of fear (which is insane), but the ability to move past fear when need be.

– Confidence: Knowing your worth – not the things you take from others, but the things you earn within yourself.

– Vulnerability: The ability to touch, feel and share… and yet survive to prosper from it.

– Protectiveness: The defense of those who cannot presently defend themselves… because you’re occasionally one of them, too.

– Restraint: Because dogs do NOT actually eat dogs unless something’s seriously wrong with them.

– Compromise: Understanding that it’s not All About You(TM) comma dammit.

– Flexibility: Because if the previous sentiment is not obvious already, Life will see to it that it becomes so.

– Generosity: Not indulgence (or self-indulgence) but a willingness to share, be shared with, and say “yes.”

– Boundaries: Giving, getting and creating structure through the ability and willingness to say “no.(***)”

– Love: Affectionate reverence for the world that is, not a fantasy of what it must look like before you can affectionately revere it.

– Respect: Both given to others and earned through one’s actions.

– Passion: Acting as though life is not a spectator sport. It is only when you choose to watch rather than to do.

– Resilience: Because, as the Tao Te Ching says, “neither heaven nor earth is humane.”

– Compassion: Because it falls to us to be humane in its place.

(Photo by Antonios Rave-N Galatis, 2011)

Note that “strength” is not exclusive to males. Nor, for that matter, are things like vulnerability, flexibility, passion or perspective exclusive to females. The divide between “manly” and “feminine” traits is a false dichotomy, nurtured by rivals, merchants, governments and religions that exploit our doubts to provide their profits. Women, gay men, men who – through lack of physical or emotionally vitality – fall short of athletic perfection… these people, too, can be strong. Yes, strength is the cornerstone of masculinity, but it’s not defined by raw might, genitalia, or the place you park said genitalia at night.

A “real man” is not a burly brawling homo-hating subjugator of wimminfolk, but a strong, courageous human being who takes on Life head-on… not to beat it, but to make the most of it. He is strong not because he pounds everything around him down, but because he rises above the limits of mortality, even as he knows that he is mortal.

Masculinity is not sold over a counter, injected in a vein, put on leg-by-leg or earned through shooting at people. It’s learned through experience, nurtured through activity, and honed through contemplation of one’s place in the world – a place which is neither as vast as we might like it to be nor as small as we fear it really is.

Masculinity is not a fast car or a barroom brawl. It’s a quest through Life for Love. In the sense that it’s a “holy war,” that war is fought within one’s self – to save what is holy from the damnation of our own fears. Masculinity grows from the fertile soil of Self, Soul and Culture, ideally becoming the Tree of Life – nurturing, sheltering, seeding, growing – in the world around us.

Let us be the trees, not the axes that fell them.

Let us be the forest, not the fire that consumes it all.

When we chop trees down, may we built homes from the remains.

When we make ashes, may we grow new life from the old.

What is it, now, to be a man?

It’s the strength to do what must be done, the vision to avoid doing it badly, the confidence to understand your worth, and the reverence to appreciate it all.


copyright(c) 2011 Satyros Phil Brucato

Please feel free to re-post or circulate, with proper attribution. 



* – For folks doing the math, that works out to roughly half the population of a small modern city (or 50,000 times the people killed on 9/11) killed per year (or 410,960 people killed per day) for 100 years.

** – Ever notice how many of the “war hawks” and “real men” of Church and State are flabby, overfed boys clinging desperately to ideals of manhood they themselves never meet? Gee, I wonder why…

*** – As Sandi quoted me the other night (from a book, the title of which I cannot recall): “The ability to say yes is based on the freedom to say no.”

About Satyr

Award-winning fantasy author, game-designer, and all 'round creative malcontent. Creator of a whole bunch of stuff, most notably the series Mage: The Ascension, Deliria: Faerie Tales for a New Millennium, and Powerchords: Music, Magic & Urban Fantasy. Lives in Seattle. Hates shoes. Loves cats. Dances a lot.
This entry was posted in Politics & Society, Spirituality & Reflection and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

14 Responses to Thoughts About Being a Man

  1. So, what about this is “how to be a man” rather than “how to be a human being”? (Mind you, I tend to think the latter vastly more important than the former, and that it generally deserves pride of place.)

  2. Jeff Blanks says:

    It’s the way that everything is structured around the idea that “strength is the cornerstone of masculine identity”. Mostly, it strikes me as a way of reaching out to men who need a new model that leaves their sense of masculinity secure (for those who need such a thing, and there appear to be lots of those lately). I’m not really the kind of man that Phil’s writing for, but I seem to be a minority these days. The Sensitive New Age Guy wasn’t rejected on his own as much as he was rejected partly as a product of this insecurity–an insecurity that’s been enthusiastically inculcated by Reactionary Forces with lots of money and media bandwidth ever since the SNAG’s heyday–and partly as a matter of simple fashion. The SNAG may also be doing it wrong, but at least he’s moving in the right direction; unfortunately, no one seems to have been able to frame the matter in those terms all this time. What’s worthwhile, if done wrong, is worth correcting and doing right.

  3. Jeff Blanks says:

    Oh, one more thing: 150,000,000 / 100 years = 1.5 million per year / 365 days = 4,109.59 per day. Your decimal is off by two places. (Still much more than bad enough, though.)

  4. Angela says:

    As a Maiden I was taught that strength did not come from gender, but from self. As a Mother, I instructed all my offspring that strength did not come from gender but from self. As a Crone, I am realizing that there are not nearly enough Wisemen to help our young to self realization. Thank you Satyros for being one of those Wisemen.

  5. Pingback: Men need to decide if they want to stand up and be allies | Thracian Exodus

  6. Satyr says:

    Thank you, Angela.

  7. Satyr says:

    And thank you also, Thracian Exodus.

  8. Pingback: Pagan Men and Patriarchy | Not All Who Wander Are Lost

  9. If you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend checking out “The Art of Manliness” ( It has a lot of very valuable, thoughtful writing on what it means to be a man, and how to be a good man, or a great man. There is occasional hand-wringing about the sorry state of the world today with regard to gender roles, but is overall very worth reading. One of the things they often mention on that site is that they talk about “being a man” in contrast to “being a boy”, not in contrast to “being a woman”. It is about excelling as a human being, just from a male perspective.

    Anyway, they did a series of articles where they discussed what they felt were the five most essential things to developing a healthy masculine identity. It is hard to summarize what the articles covered, but the basic list is this:
    * Legacy – Make a positive contribution to the world. Raise your children well. Create things of lasting value. Connect with your ancestors. Take a long-term perspective.
    * Providing – Take an active role in getting done what needs to get done, Be a leader with a clear vision of your goal and develop the skills that get you there.
    * Physicality – Be physically active, as a way of experiencing your body and developing the skills and capabilities of your physical body.
    * Nature – Spend time outdoors, experiencing the natural world, rather than exclusively experiencing the world of human creation.
    * Challenge – If life does not provide you with challenges that truly test the limits of your ability, seek out those challenges, and work your ass off to succeed.

  10. HowԀy! Ɗo you use Twitter?I’Ԁ like to follow you if tat wwould be ok.
    I’m abɑolutely enjoying your blog andd look forward to new posts.

  11. Does your blog have a contact page? I’m having trouble locating
    it but, I’d like to shoot you an email. I’ve
    got some ideas for your blog you might be interested in hearing.
    Either way, great blog and I look forward to seeing it expand over time.

  12. I’m not that much of a online reader to be honest but your blogs
    really nice, keep it up! I’ll go ahead and bookmark
    your website to come back later. Cheers

  13. This is an ongoing conversation everyone must stand in. I get the impression that this is aimed at men, in part, because men get shortchanged in their education about experiencing who they are, to perpetuate selling this snake oil to young people who think they’re getting the good deal. I can’t say this is was the side of it you were looking at, Satyr, but that is a side of it I see.

    I would add “Gentleness” as a measure of manliness.

    “Bull***t,” your audience say?
    Mythbust it with them.


    “Mind a toddler for, oh, four hours should probably do it, and really play with them. Let them use you as a jungle-gym or whatever. Then think about what you didn’t let them do.
    “You probably wouldn’t let them play with your phone. Certainly you wouldn’t let them start calling people or help them do that.
    “You probably wouldn’t let them poke at your face, either. Odds are you’ve had to deal with them flailing around by now, so you know to be careful they don’t hit you in the nads, bro.
    “Now, do you trust these kids to do something delicate? You know, like work on Baby or whatever you call your favorite most-precious tool or toy? Would you trust them to stitch you up if you had no one else to help you?
    “No. Those are all pretty clearly bad ideas.
    “But *why* are they bad ideas? Because they’ll mess it up.
    “But *why* will they mess it up? How can you tell? Well, because they’re indelicate; they can’t handle doing delicate or complex things like fixing a car or working a microwave or treating my baseball collection with the respect it deserves.
    “But *why* are kids ‘indelicate’ or whatever?
    “Because they aren’t grown up yet. The more you grow up, the more powerful you are, because you can be gentler.
    “Therefore, gentleness shows off how powerful you really are. So if men are powerful, they must also be gentle. Like Superman in a world of cardboard.”

    And then you hold your audience, basically, while they process this and realize how they have hurt people trying to prove they were strong, when all the while what they needed to do to prove that was be gentle.

    Cool blog, btw. I like your works. 😀

  14. Pingback: Silence or Violence: Logan, Suicide, and the Culture of Masculine Silence | Satyros Phil Brucato

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s