Tessa Schlesinger developed an interest in human behaviour and ethics while studying anthropology at the University of South Africa in 1975.
Man vs Mouse or Wimp vs What?
What makes a man a man? To some, this is an important question. Some consider it in terms of an alpha male vs a beta male. Supposedly, the alpha is dominant and gives the orders while beta is the weakling and carries out the orders. Some would consider the alpha male to be nothing more than a Neanderthal man dragging his acquiescent woman by the hair to the dinner table, while others would see a beta man as someone who would run away in battle and leave his compatriots to die.
With the rise of feminism, traditional masculinity has fallen by the wayside, and many who adhered to the old-school definition of what it means to be a man have lost their identity.
To arrive at an answer, one first has to understand the question. After all, if it was simply a matter of gender, then a quick check on the biological parts of the body would easily determine whether the person was man or woman.
The real question comprises five issues in total. They are whether the man has courage, strength, capability, is a leader of others, and is attractive to women.
Types of Courage
There are all types of courage. There is moral courage, soldier courage, leadership courage, and emotional courage. Someone who has the courage of their convictions would stand up in the face of strong opposition regardless of any negative consequences – even if it meant death. Someone who had the courage of a soldier would ride into enemy fire, even if the price was their life. Someone who had the courage of a leader would carry out what they thought was the right thing to do, even if it cost them their leadership position. And someone who had emotional courage would do the right thing even if, as a consequence it cost them in terms of unhappiness.
It is not easy to spot if someone has courage or not. It’s an inner quality – not an outer one. Carrying a gun, being ready for a fist-fight, etc. are not indicators of whether someone is courageous or not. The softest, teeniest man may be a bastion of courage while a giant with the musculature of a Mr. Universe might be nothing more than someone who relies on his size.
Only observing someone over a period of time can determine whether they are courageous or not.
Physical Strength vs Strength of Character
There is physical strength and there is strength of character. Physical strength is much admired. Strength of character has gone out of fashion.
Some men are born with superior physical strength, and while this might have made one a leader of men in Neanderthal times, in modern times, this is the quality least likely to make one an effective leader. The question is whether physical strength makes one a man.
Physical strength certainly makes one strong, but it does not add anything to the character.
Strength of character, while virtually unheard of in the 21st century, is what separates the men from the boys.
It is about living a life according to a code of honour, putting the good of others above one’s own good, and about never cheating, lying (being fundamentally dishonest) or stealing for any reason whatsoever. It is about surrendering leadership when one has not delivered.
Nelson Mandela was always a man with strength of character. On two occasions that I know of, he displayed the courage of his convictions.
When he took on the mantle of leadership, the black population wanted to take over the homes of the white people. Mandela declined and said that was not going to happen. It took courage to say no to his own people.
Again, during the Truth and Reconciliation process, it was discovered that the ANC was as guilty of unethical doing as the White Nationalists had been. The ANC, who were in power, wanted to be absolved. Nelson Mandela said no – that both parties would be treated the same.
Strength of character is about doing the right thing in the face of opposition, even if it costs dearly.
Many quiet men evince this type of strength.
A Man of Character
Capability: The Ability to Do Something or Ensure It Gets Done
Some things are easy to do; others not so easy. We can all more or less manage to wash dishes. Few of us, however, can ensnare a snake.
Some are highly capable of working out the answer to a mathematical equation while others are more adept at reading a sundial. Still others can nurse a child to health while others can drive a train. People have different capabilities, and whether people admire a capability or not is determined on how difficult and how relevant that capability is.
Whether a capability contributes to what is regarded as a man appears to be related to those who consider the traditional pursuits of primitive man to be relevant.
Leadership is a genetic predisposition. In twin studies, those twins that have been separated at birth from their parents and from each other, have shown that leadership is not learnt in the home. It is a set of characteristics that are innate.
People can be put into the office of leadership. It doesn’t particularly mean that they are leaders or that they show leadership qualities.
In the mammal kingdom, one in twenty have the brain chemistry of a leader. What this means is that they are less disposed to the influences of alcohol and other physiological, mental, and emotional stressors.
There are fewer leaders than followers, and they are born. Ergo, it is not something that was earned – rather it is the luck of the birth lottery.
Does it make one man more of a man than another?
There have been many who have outstanding characteristics but they are not necessarily leaders of men.
Attractiveness to Women
Some are more attractive than others to the opposite sex. The biggest single factor is good looks. These, again, are the luck of the birth lottery.
Secondary attractors can be status (again, this is generally the outcome of the birth lottery), education, amount of money, agreeableness, etc.
Does being super attractive to the opposite sex contribute to one's status as a 'man?" No doubt, it does. But is it a valid assessment? Is a human less because he wasn't lucky in the birth lottery?
A New Definition of What It Means to be a Man (Or a Woman)
I think the only two measurement of the worth of a man are whether he has a) courage and b) strength of character, and those two measurements apply to all people. In other words, they do not just apply to men, but to women as well.
In a Neanderthal world, perhaps being the best horseback rider, a crafty knife-fighter, or being a successful hunter of dangerous animals might have merited points, but in the 21st century being a real man (or woman) those attributes won't get one far.
In the same way that certain characteristics of manliness are now outdated, so certain aspects of leadership pertain more to primitive times than they do today.
A primitive leader might well have needed the sort of courage needed by a soldier in war. However, in the 21st century, a leader needs to have intelligence, knowledge, and wisdom. Those attributes are essential as we live in a time of great change and many threats to the continuation of our species.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2017 Tessa Schlesinger
Dale Anderson from The High Seas on July 23, 2019:
This was interesting to hear from your point of view. Thanks for sharing with us all.
Dabby Lyric on December 26, 2017:
Awesome Hub and I totally agree with your stance here!
There's no one-size-fits-all defenition of Manhood. The same can be said about us women. However, you nailed the basic characteristics of what makes a man-a man!
Sexiness is not mutually exclusive to Manliness.
Sherry Haynes on December 23, 2017:
I agree you and above comments. Very well put into words.
Kari Poulsen from Ohio on December 19, 2017:
I couldn't agree with you more! Strength of character and courage in the face of adversity make a man. Men (and women) who are physically attractive or wealthy or powerful, may become ugly in our eyes when we know their character. Thanks for putting this in words!
threekeys on December 16, 2017:
I enjoyed your article Tess.
The cult of masculinity is still alive yet I feel we are overdue in both men and women for a new definition of how to act(masculinity) in the 21st century.
I, like you Tess, think a needed and attractive way foward for the expression of masculinity, is to be a thinking person who uses both his/her knowledge and understanding of the past to the present and future.
For example, the application of the futurist thinking mind of Elon Musk; and the soft coolness of Jimmy Kwik.