How can a man embody manliness after three waves of feminism? (Part 1)

First wave feminism, beginning in the late nineteenth century, called into question the idea that women were especially well-suited for running household affairs and thus were ill-suited to taking an active part in the affairs of the city.

  • Hence, the shift effected: from private anonymity to public visibility.

Around the 1960s during the Vietnam Era, second wave feminism comes into being. Those without voice and without recognition of the manifold nature of sexuality were able to draw attention to forms of discrimination and oppression.

  • Hence, the shift effected: from voicelessness to voice.

In the past thirty years, third wave feminism has testified to the exploitation of women in the developing world, not least those former colonial subjects living in the aftermath of colonial rule.

  • Hence, the shift effected: from powerlessness to a sense of power.

No reasonable person would deny the importance of these three waves of feminism for women living in the past or for those seeking to lead full lives into the present. What has yet to be considered, however, is what effects these three waves have had on men’s ability to exhibit the mean of manliness without being regarded as perpetrators or wimps.


It seems to me that two modern male figures dominant the social scene: the Brawny Man and the Sensitive Man. The Brawny Man, who came to prominence during the early 90s and who remains on college campuses and in gyms today, has overfed his physical part. He is concerned with getting bigger and bigger, with ineffectually growing stronger and stronger, and he spends his leisure time seeking pleasure, showing off, and watching sports.

His counterpart is the Sensitive Man. This character has strange predilections for esoteric art and music, has skinny legs and skinny arms, a round  tummy, and a concave chest. He lacks physical strength and spends most of his time being sensitive, ironic, and wanting to be an artist in the art world, a musician in the indie music scene, or a scholar in the academy. He is a cowardly wuss.

The Brawny Man is too hypertrophic, uncouth, incapable of compassion, and prone to angry outbursts; the Sensitive Man is too weak and overindulgent to be of much good. Neither figure embodies manliness, and both are unharmonious within and without.

Tomorrow, I aim to show how the discussion of guardians from Book III of Plato’s Republic provides a beautiful sketch of the kind of man who has properly cultivated his ‘spirited part’–his thumos–to the point where it has become stretched and cultured yet not softened and removed. This sort of man is physically strong without being aggressive or intimating; cultured without being a dandy; courageous without being hot-headed; well-spoken without being too nice with his distinctions; and temperate without being an ascetic. He is thus admired by men and women both and worthy of love and of being loved.