As a good rule of thumb: style guides for men usually suck.
Pretentious, overwritten and typically penned by smug hipsters, most guys can safely disregard the advice given by manuals instructing guys how to dress and act in public.
The New York Times’s recently-published “27 Ways to Be a Modern Man” may represent the nadir of the genre. No, it doesn’t sink to the depths because of awful fashion tips. It’s due to the “principles” the author advocates.
Most of the NYT’s 27 lines of advice aren’t that egregious. However, there are a few with some questionable implications and two that are downright awful.
25. The modern man has no use for a gun. He doesn’t own one, and he never will.
26. The modern man cries. He cries often.
The entire Eastern Seaboard can hear Teddy Roosevelt rolling in his grave at those two suggestions.
These two lines would make perfect sense if the whole piece was about how to be a more “sensitive” man. But the guide tries to combine traditional notions of confident masculinity with new notions promoting a softer manhood.
For example, the modern man, according to The Times, is supposed to sleep on the side of the bed closer to the door so that if “an intruder gets in, he will try to fight him off, so that his wife has a chance to escape.”
But how will this modern man fight off any intruder if he sworn off weapons of self-defense and renounced his inner capacity for violence? Will he hope to ward off the robber with tears and hugs? And why does a man who’s supposed to be a defender have “no use” for a weapon that can help him greatly in that task?
So far, the article has generated a lot of negative buzz. Most of it has been from the right as conservatives have relentlessly mocked the Times advise for men to cry more and abhor firearms. But some liberals were also weirded out by the guide’s mixed message on masculinity.
Slate senior editor Gabriel Roth wrote that the contradictory list left him so confused that he wondered if it was a spoof. Roth noted that guide veered too wildly between the “men are still Neanderthals” trope and the men have become feminized trope. In the end, the writer can’t think of what to make of it, even he though he implies he likes the advice for men to engage in more emotional self-disclosure.
Regardless of particular reader impressions, it appears the piece was intended to make the 21st century sensitive male archetype, well, more manly. The near-universal befuddlement is a natural result of this antithetical goal.
The ideal man in NYT’s style guide tries to be a provider, a protector, a cleaner, a fashion polymath, and a romantic. But all he really amounts to is a crying servant who wants to play the little spoon when he’s feeling vulnerable. (The spoon advice comes in at number 20 on the list.)
There’s no way anyone can hope a man can be an adequate protector if his main concerns include giving shoe advice to his wife and making sure everyone in the house has fully-charged phones. The fact that this archetype would detest the idea of owning a tool for self-defense indicates that he isn’t really that concerned with his role as protector.
He’s more enamored with being the new sensitive man of a Huffington Post listicle, than a nonsensical hybrid.
Most of those gentle man listicles never contain prescriptions for sleeping on the side of the bed closest to potential attack. That’s because they’ve already ditched all notions of traditional masculinity in favor of sobbing and exorcising aggression. All the old ideas on what makes a man have no room in a society that prizes passive-aggression and cordons off machismo.
The underlying notion behind all these redefinitions of masculinity is that it allows men to be themselves and earn genuine respect from women. In reality, it forces men to change their very nature in order to fit the tastes of the urban middle class. Guns are icky and are reserved only for backwoods rubes who have never watched an episode of “Girls” before. Crying is good because it shows you’re “comfortable” with your status as a man, even though we still like to ridicule any man who cries publicly — like John Boehner.
The fact that society still laughs at men crying in public indicates that deep down, we still view it as weak and unmanly. Additionally, to come to the stage where you accept the onus of looking unmanly indicates you’ve scuttled all the aggression you’d needed to defend your family from an attack.
Most of all, this modern man is not going to get any respect from women. Following the Times’s recommendations is a sure-fire way of ensuring every woman puts you in the friend-zone instead of letting you have the side of the bed closer to the door.
In order for any man to be confident in himself, he has to know that his behavior and actions will earn him respect. The “Modern Man” may earn golf claps for being so progressive, but he will never be respected.
Even after he puts all the dishes away for his platonic lady friend.