The Right’s Definition of Manhood Is Toxic

by | May 2, 2022 | Opinions & Commentary

Photo by sakkmesterke, iStockPhoto

The Right’s Definition of Manhood Is Toxic

by | May 2, 2022 | Opinions & Commentary

Photo by sakkmesterke, iStockPhoto

For a long time now, the “boys will be boys” apologists on the Right use their boardrooms and their pulpit and their platforms to tell us that this is what manhood is.

Ever since Donald Trump was recorded saying vile, sickening things about women (and his supporters and surrogates were quickly forced to rationalize and defend it all in order to still align with him), Conservative men have tried to tell the world what real men are.

They’ve since made it a nearly daily endeavor to define masculinity for the rest of us. The likes of Tucker Carlson and Matt Walsh and Madison Cawthorn have told us what makes a man: how we all really think about and treat women, the way we talk about them when we’re all together hanging out in the locker room, the stuff we’ve done around and to women—what constitutes a real, normal, red-blooded, ordinary dude.

We’ve been told that all men treat women as objects, that we all boast of our sexual exploits with relative strangers, that we’ve all been inappropriately aggressive in pursuing affection, that we all have referred to women’s genitalia in social settings (and if we haven’t done those things, well that’s somehow a sign of our weakness).

For a long time now, the “boys will be boys” apologists on the Right use their boardrooms and their pulpit and their platforms to tell us that this is what men are—but we’re men who are not willing to do that because we believe manhood should be a higher aspiration than that.

This is a manifesto for good men.

We are brothers, husbands, friends, fathers, co-workers, and neighbors living life alongside women we respect as equal to ourselves, so much so that we are not intimidate or threatened by their strength or leadership or attractiveness or success.

We partner with them in raising children, in caring for homes, in doing work, in doing ministry, in creating and building and learning and growing.

We don’t gather with other men and boast of the things we’ve done or would do to a woman; as if this gives us some elevated social status, as if these things have any inherent value, as if they are a badge of honor—as if these things validate us.

We don’t need the cheap validation of other insecure men in order to feel more confident in our masculinity,

We don’t use the locker room to devolve into some vile, ignorant caricature that supposedly represents who we really are. We change our clothes and get on with our days.

Men like us understand what consent is and we know that we don’t get to define it for a woman; that her body is not our jurisdiction or our property (which is why we believe that women have autonomy over their bodies, both practically and legally).

We aren’t predators believing we can have anything simply because we desire it.

We aren’t opportunists looking to leverage power or position to take advantage of a woman for our pleasure or vanity.

We aren’t crass, vulgar, braggarts trying to measure our virility or strength by the explicit nature of the words we say in the company of other guys.

We aren’t barely evolved cavemen still dragging our knuckles on the ground and pulling women around the by the hair.

Defining what a “real man” is has always been problematic and fraught with difficulty, but if Conservatives are so fixated on doing so, then I imagine a real man is a man trying to be a better human being: more wise, more informed, more compassionate, more loving, more open.

I suppose being a real man, means striving not to express ourselves in a way that doesn’t incite fear or take away security or discard dignity or do damage or breach autonomy or have unfair advantage.

I guess it means seeking to be decent, honorable, gentle men with the women we share the planet with— whether we’re married to them or live with them, whether we work with them or for them, whether we serve or study alongside them.

It means deferring to someone else’s chosen gender identity and sense of self and not having the arrogance to determine that for them: that we respect their ability to know their bodies better than we do and by allowing them to define themselves.

Being a real man means we don’t see kindness and compassion and warmth as liabilities to our manhood but as confirmation of it.

So Donald Trump and all his defenders on the Right (even those who may be women) can say whatever they like and we will kindly but firmly call B.S.

They can use the Bible or dusty gender stereotypes or antiquated media tropes to lower the bar all the way to the floor and they can consent to all manner of ugliness in the name of manhood—and we will resist it.

We will not be categorized by the worst and lowest of us. We will demand better and higher for ourselves and for other men.

We will teach our children what manhood really looks like, and how it responds on street corners and at house parties and in locker rooms and behind closed doors.

We will not be satisfied with a definition of men that allows for violence or misogyny or the dehumanizing of anyone—or one that mistakes empathy for weakness.

We’ve come a long way since the cave and we don’t ever intend on going back.

Republished with permission from

John Pavlovitz

John Pavlovitz

John Pavlovitz is a writer, pastor, and activist from Wake Forest, North Carolina. A 25-year veteran in the trenches of local church ministry, John is committed to equality, diversity, and justice—both inside and outside faith communities. When not actively working for a more compassionate planet, John enjoys spending time with his family, exercising, cooking, and having time in nature. He is the author of A Bigger Table, Hope and Other Superpowers, Low, and Stuff That Needs to Be Said.

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