Masculinity Movies featured on MSNBC.com

posted by Eivind on June 22, 2010, at 11:13 pm

Masculinity Movies, now featured on MSNBC.com

About a week ago, writer Michael Ventre contacted me because he was preparing an article for MSNBC.com on the buffing of male actors in Hollywood. He had found my site by punching in "Masculinity" and "Movies" into Google, for which I appear to be number one in most cases.

I explained to Michael that I was somewhat more interested in and knowledgeable about what I called "inner masculinity" than the "outer masculinity" which I believed his story was about, but explained that I would be more than willing to help him.

So he sent me these two questions:

Do you believe audiences expect their heroes in movies these days to possess a certain kind of physique, and if so, do you think they equate that kind of body with true masculinity?

To which I answered: Yes, I certainly think we have all learned to equate a certain kind of physique with true masculinity. But I see this as being less about our cultural conditioning and more about an evolutionary imprint based in our interest in passing on our genes. On a primal level, Man lives to breed. And if a man is to breed and get strong and healthy children, he requires a healthy and beautiful mate. Life wants to give rise to more life. This impulse is built into the universe. And although mankind has moved on since that time, this drive to procreate is still enormously powerful. It is probably the most powerful impulse that we know.

Daniel Craig as James Bond. Modern day alpha man

Back in the old days, before civilization as we know it arose, men were the hunters and the guardians of the family and the tribe. Since the role of technology was marginal back then, the man who possessed the best physique, the most able body, was the best man for a woman to be with, for he could protect her better than the weaker man, and thus she could carry forward children under relative safety. It was an era that belonged to the alpha man.

It is because of our need to breed that we like our heroes to be alpha  men. It is what makes him a hero, to defeat the obstacles and achieve the goal in service of his family, his country and mankind. And although masculine power these days is not only measured in physique, but also in things such as mental capacity and good communication skills, a good physique only further enhances his masculinity. In short, the physique that allowed men to hunt and protect the women and children in the old days is still equated with true masculinity today.

and...

If you could, would you mind giving me your own short, personal definition of masculinity, and then tell me whether you believe having these overly buffed actors in movie roles adds to your definition, or are the muscles simply a Hollywood facade?

And to this I answered: Good question! I want to answer it by describing three stages of masculinity. The first stage of masculinity is characterized by strength, vitality, integrity to your word, power and the protection of those close to you. It is the level of the alpha man of old days. Then there is a second stage of masculinity, which is emerging all over our Western culture these days. Masculinity on this stage can, generally speaking, be characterized by a desire for justice and equality, integrity to your values and service for the greater good (mankind). This level of masculinity is softer, more sensitive and emotional. It is more in tune with the Feminine. In that way, it is a progression towards greater wholeness, but the problem with it is that men at this stage can lose their power, and their ability to do the work that calls them, to the process of trying to be liked and accepted. But then there is a third stage of masculine development. It is characterized, roughly speaking, by presence, enormous power combined with tremendous humility, an appreciation for all life, and integrity to love itself.

This third stage masculinity is completely unknown to our culture. We only know of the first two. We think a man is either a powerful macho dude or a nice and soft, but somewhat domesticated modern man.

Thanks to postmodernism, feminism and the gender liberation movement, we have relativized the genders to the point that they mean nothing at all. And we applaud the good that must come of this. But what we don't know is that this is causing tremendous suffering for modern men and women. And since we don't realize there is a third stage to evolve into, we can but look to the first stage. So to feel some juice in our modern, domesticated lives, we look to the movies to remind us that there is such a thing as passion and living life on the edge, qualities we left behind when we stepped out of stage 1, and which we don't realize wait for us at stage 3 in much more fulfilling and wholesome forms.

So there is certainly room for buffing male actors in my definition of masculinity, but it's a very primitive form of masculinity if taken on its own. It is pop culture masculinity. Easy to get because there are bulging muscles. But in my opinion, Hollywood is at its best when it manages to portray this more mature masculinity I'm talking about.

Just look at Russell Crowe. There is huge presence to him and his characters. When you look at him, you can't help but be present to a quality of stillness. And that quality brings us into the moment. This is one of the characteristics of mature masculinity. Crowe portrays noble and powerful characters with great believability. General Maximus of Gladiator fame is a character with a strong physique, but he more importantly has presence, endless love for his family and is dedicated to the greater good: Spiritual life and the wellbeing of the people. That, in my opinion,is true masculinity.

Moving from outer masculinity to inner masculinity

If you read his article Welcome to the era of the buffed actor, you will see that it is indeed largely about outer masculinity (although, I must admit, the discipline and focus that personal trainer Mike Torchia demands of his "victims" is also very much representative of an inner masculinity). And he did a fine job considering the subject matter. And in the context of that, I'm featured as the expert on man's need to breed. I'm slightly amused by this, because I don't really know that much about evolutionary biology. I know little enough not to know whether my quote is even within the realms of what people call evolutionary biology.

It doesn't matter. I was happy to see that my answer to question #1 provided an alternative view on a subject matter which could too easily be reduced to mere pop culture, when it is in fact hugely important in a larger socio-cultural context. And although I think Michael's article is interesting, I'm even more interested in what the trend he observes stems from. I believe the reason is that our world is starving for mature masculinity, but since we don't know what that is, the best we can do is to make actors - torchbearers of the archetypes for which we long - look ripped.

I'm very grateful to Michael Ventre for reaching out and featuring my site, providing me with a timely and much appreciated traffic boost. Although I'm hopeful that next time, MSNBC.com will request a slightly different article from him - one in which he looks at what makes a man masculine from the inside out - and not from the outside in.

I think we are ready for that.

That said, I'd rather have a trimmed body than the alternative. Outer masculinity definitely does have its uses 🙂

Read previous post:
The No Woman Diet is over – what now?

On Wednesday June 16, my six week No Woman Diet came to an end. It's been a pretty crazy experience...

Close