In the twenty-first century I believe we need a different sort of manhood, a “democratic manhood.” The manhood of the future cannot
be based on obsessive self-control, defensive exclusion, or frightened escape. We need a new definition of masculinity in this new century: a definition that is more about the character of men’s hearts and the depths of their souls than about the size of their biceps, wallets, or penises; a definition that is capable of embracing differences among men and enabling other men to feel secure and confident rather than marginalized and excluded; a definition that is capable of friendships based on more than common activities (what among toddlers is called “parallel play”) or even common consumer aesthetics; a definition that centers on standing up for justice and equality instead of running away from commitment and engagement.
We need men who truly embody traditional masculine virtues, such as strength, a sense of purpose, a commitment to act ethically regardless of the costs, controlled aggression, self-reliance, dependability, reliability, responsibility—men for whom these are not simply fashion accessories but come from a deeply interior place. But now these will be configured in new and responsive ways. We need men who are secure enough in their convictions to recognize a mistake, courageous enough to be compassionate, fiercely egalitarian, powerful enough to empower others, strong enough to acknowledge that real strength comes from holding others up rather than pushing them down and that real freedom is not to be found in the loneliness of the log cabin but in the daily compromises of life in a community.
Michael Kimmel is author or editor of numerous books including Guyland and Men’s Lives. His most recent book (with Michael Kaufman) is The Guy’s Guide to Feminism The passage above was adapted from his book Manhood in America, 2nd ed., page 254.)