A QUESTION OF MANLINESS; A'Menaissance'is Sweeping America as Men Reassert Traditional Masculine Virtues like Courage, Emotional Restraint and Providing for Their families.But MARTIN NEWLAND Argues That in Feminist, Welfare State Britain, It'll Never Catch On

Article excerpt


THERE is, apparently, a resurgence of manliness in America. Superman has returned to the big screen and unshaven, testosterone-charged film stars such as Colin Farrell no longer look socially marginalised.

The A To Z Of Manliness, a compendium of tips on such matters as how to punch properly, is number two on the New York Times bestseller list, while a rash of academic books on the importance of real men have added fuel to the fire.

The Boston Globe recently summed up the phenomenon: 'We're in the middle of a Menaissance.' Years of feminism, which insists on the absolute interchangeability of the traditional roles of man and woman, are giving way to a reassertion of the male attribute of machismo, it is claimed.

The metrosexual, that urbanised, sensitive, emotionally and physically androgynous model of 21st-century manhood, is dead. All hail the modern caveman.

But wait a minute. Before we even ask what kind of man modern women really want, how exactly are we defining manliness? My dictionary lists 'courage, valour and energy' as key characteristics of the manly man. But by that measure, my wife, who has gone through the horror of childbirth and who runs a family of six, is more of a man than me.

Nor can we equate Superman with Colin Farrell as fellow icons of the new American manliness.

Superman is discreet about his gifts, he is modest, he wears a suit when not saving the world (when he opts for the kiss curl and tights). Mr Farrell is an indiscreet wildman. Manliness should not be confused with machismo.

I will give you an example. Years ago, I was on the family ranch in Argentina with my uncle, leaning on a fence, the other side of which stood a huge Brahman bull. The bull was in a tetchy mood because his testicles were dragging along the floor and had become infected.

My uncle, with a twinkle in his eye, handed a spray can of disinfectant to his foreman, a strutting, mustachioed gaucho, and asked him to apply it to the infected area.

A look of horror flitted across the foreman's eyes, but then he thrust out his chin, squared his shoulders and, before my uncle could stop him, jumped the fence and sprayed the bull before walking away nonchalantly.

'Que macho (what a man),' I exclaimed.

'That wasn't macho,' said my uncle.

'That was stupid. A real man would have told me to f*** off.' Machismo gets you stabbed in bars 'for looking at my bird', or flattened by the 10:15 to Euston during a drunken game of chicken with your mates.

Manliness is not braggadocio. It is stoicism, self-respect, decisiveness, assertiveness.

Of course, advocates of the Menaissance may argue that we shouldn't be too concerned about what kind of a man women want these days. Isn't that, they would say, the way we arrived at simpering metrosexuals desperate to please their other halves?

And yet it's instructive to consider that a woman's understanding of manliness tends to be very different from a man's.

MY WIFE and daughter are fixated by the American drama Lost, in which a group of people stranded on a remote island after a plane crash battle to stay alive against sinister forces. They frequently confer on which male characters are the sexiest, and in doing so make the perfect distinction between machismo and manliness.

The men they say they would fall in love with are not the washboard-stomached firebrands, but rather the ones most able to protect them and provide for them in those inhospitable surroundings.

These characters are possessed of a calm stoicism, and a desire to look after the weakest first.

This judgment by my wife and daughter does not indicate fluffy submissiveness, but cool pragmatism.

Their heroes are not to be found blubbing on a football pitch like half the England team, or taking part in the orchestrated grieving that has become an integral part of British national life. …