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6 Manliness Myths

Note from Josh: I’m on the road for a few days in pursuit of glory. Nate from Practical Manliness is holding down the fort today. Please help him do a bit of mythbusting.

by Nate Desmond

In a world filled with frequent grammar mistakes and common vocabulary confusions, “manliness” is one of the most overwhelmingly misconstrued words.

Once a common term in everyday conversation, “manliness” is rarely used and still more rarely understood. “Now,” you might wonder, “is not the meaning of manliness simple?

After all, is it not simply the state of being a man?” Yes and no. While it is true that manliness is just the state of doing the things a man should do, the term has been expanded to carry other, incorrect, connotations. Here are the six common myths about manliness that I have noticed primarily.

Myth #1: Real Men Are Bodybuilders

In our modern society (and probably historically as well), strong men are generally looked up to and respected. However, contrary to popular opinion, bodybuilding is not always essential, or even useful, to manliness.

Although strength training does provide many manly benefits – such as discipline and increased ability, bodybuilding can be over-emphasized as a manly trait. If a man spends too much time working on exercise, he cannot help but spend too little time on some of the other – equally important – sections of life.

The keys to a manly life are moderation and balance, so, while bodybuilding can be important, it should not be allowed to take over a person’s life. Exercise should be a part of every man’s life, but it should not be practiced to the exclusion of the other parts.

Myth #2: Manly Men Are World-Saving Heroes

Another common misunderstanding centers on the uncommon: “Manliness is a trait of Superman-like people.” According to this idea of manliness, a man should always be rushing around saving the world or being the best at everything.

On the contrary, becoming the “ultimate” man does not necessarily require fighting alien invasions… or even being the best [insert your job title] in the history of the world. True manliness can be found just as easily in the unknown laboring man as it can be in the greatest businessman of the century.

Why? Because true manliness is simply the state of doing your duty to the best of your ability. If it is your duty to provide for your family by working an unpleasant job and leading an unsuccessful career, you can be manly by doing that. On the other hand, if it is your duty to save the world… enjoy!

Myth #3: Masculine Men Should Swear

Especially during the transition years from childhood to adulthood, swearing is often seen as a manly or “mature” activity. As men grow older, some continue the habit while others gradually stop. The manliness, and gentlemanliness, of swearing is a controversial topic today with many strong proponents on both sides.

This has been the same throughout history. George Washington, the Father of Our Country, wrote strongly about this issue: “The foolish and wicked practice of profane cursing and swearing is a vice so mean and low that every person of sense and character detests and despises it.” Though the morality of swearing will still be contested, it must be acknowledged that swearing is at least not necessary to true manliness.

Myth #4: Manly Men Are Drinkers

Like swearing, men who can drink heavily without becoming drunk often gain a certain respect for their unusual “strength”. In fact, heavy drinkers are often considered extra-manly. Drinking, however, is a dangerous habit that should not be considered manly for three reasons:

  1. Dangerous Consequences – Not only does drinking often lead to addiction and alcoholism, but it also causes dangerous health effects.
  2. Money Drain – Drinking is an expensive habit that takes money that could be better saved or invested.
  3. Bad Example – Even if you do not reap any bad consequences from drinking, your drinking will serve as a bad example to other men who quite possibly will become enslaved to alcohol.

Because of the many dangers and problems that come with drinking, it is a risky trap, not a manly habit.

Myth #5: Manly Men Are Popular

When we look at the many manly men who are respected and honored by all (George Washington, Robert E. Lee, etc.), it can be easily assumed that true manliness causes popularity.

However, that is not the case. As Aesop wisely explained in his Fable of The Donkey and The Man, pleasing everyone is an impossible endeavor. Besides, real men will have real convictions that will often clash with those of others. As Winston Churchill once said, “You have enemies? Good. That means you’ve stood up for something, sometime in your life.”

Although it is important to always debate issues with respect and kindness, it is impossible to avoid offending someone. Manliness is not a popularity contest.

Myth #6: Reading Is Unmanly

Just as people often unduly respect bodybuilders, they unduly disrespect intellectuals. Indeed the cultural picture of a weak, pale, sickly young man hunched over his books in a dimly-lit room certainly is not manly. However, as Josh is proving by combining strength and reading on this blog, intellectualism is not an effeminate activity.

Far from it, learning is an important part of the well-rounded man’s life. As with bodybuilding, reading and learning must be kept in balance with the other parts of a man’s life. The cultural stereotype of a weakly student is simply a result of an unbalanced life. In proper moderation, learning is a crucial aspect of masculinity.


As a result of these and other “manliness myths”, the epithet of manliness, once a high honor, has been degraded to the level of a rebuke. It is important that we stop the promulgation of these myths and return the ideas of masculinity to their rightful place. What myths have you noticed?

About the author:

Nate Desmond is the editor in chief of Practical Manliness, a blog with lots more of the type of stuff you just finished reading.

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Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Kira April 16, 2010, 1:05 am

    Not a big fan of the term … unless it’s used in jest 🙂

    I often use it to make fun of myself … but that’s about the extent of it.

  • Sid Savara April 16, 2010, 1:25 am

    Hey Josh and Nate!

    Haha I like the reading is unmanly one the best 😉

    Although to be fair, it is less difficult for me to look manly now that I have an ebook reader ;). I would probably look even cooler if I had an iPad =P

  • Amy Harrison April 16, 2010, 3:28 am

    Manliness might as well just be “I-am-liness”. Being happy with who you are and what you believe has to be the most manly or womanly thing out there. 🙂

  • Todd April 16, 2010, 6:31 am

    I think you nailed it on the head in the beginning of the post. It’s all about moderation. The “manly-men” figures in my life have had a little of each of these traits.

  • Heather April 16, 2010, 7:37 am


    The biggest one (and most damaging) that I’ve seen is the one about booze. There’s a reason the Irish Prohibitionists call it “Devil’s Vomit.” Smoking seems to be another one. Ones you may have forgotten (but I certainly can’t)–violence, gun fetishism, beatin’ on women. To me, these things do not make a man more masculine. They make him someone I’d run a million miles to get away from. This was a great post and I’m sending it to all my male friends. . . and even a few fiends! Thanks, man!

  • Joshua Black | The Underdog Millionaire April 16, 2010, 7:57 am

    I prefer the Manly Art of Knitting, which also happens to be a great book from the 60’s or 70’s.

    As a martial artist who really likes to lift weights, but who also knows how to knit and can’t seem to ever stop reading… I think it’s all in your mind.

    If a man feels like a man then that’s all that matters. You could be the most manly ballerina out there or the most manly beer keg tosser. As long as you feel good about YOU that’s really all that matters.

    -Joshua Black
    The Underdog Millionaire

    • Heather April 18, 2010, 7:32 am

      HOLY SHIT! Joshua Black, if I weren’t already in a little relationship situation, I would SO ask you to marry me! Men who knit are HOT!

  • Joy Tanksley April 16, 2010, 8:13 am

    “Manly” is just a funny word. Say it three times fast. It’s just weird.

    This was a fun post, Nate! I am ALL OVER busting myths that keep people from their essential selves.

    My husband doesn’t fit most stereotypes of manliness. And he is freakin’ AMAZING. Sensitive, brilliant, fit, talented, curious, quirky. He quilts, knits, cooks, reads, cries. He is passionate about music and art. He loves animals. Prefers good tea to beer, and yoga to weight training. Authentic. Confident. YUM!

    • Heather April 18, 2010, 7:33 am

      Does he have a twin brother, perhaps? Could we clone him, please? I’m just sayin’! 🙂

  • Srinivas Rao April 16, 2010, 8:34 am

    Hey Guys,

    Really enjoyed this. The idea of reading being unmanly is pretty funny and so is the idea of not drinking. It’s funny that people will buy so much into conventional ideas.

  • Ronna April 17, 2010, 12:46 pm

    Love this, Nate. And always looking for more of these men – or at least one!

    Aware that when I am at my truest “womanliness” (a word I’m not even remotely crazy about) I can spot the manifest-myths a mile away.

    Also aware that we both perpetuate and heal those myths all the time. For healthy and unhealthy reasons.

    Appreciate your honest and “manly” voice.

  • Heather April 18, 2010, 7:33 am

    Joy et. al.,

    No man is more Manley than Gerard Manley Hopkins! ;p

  • Asatar Bair April 22, 2010, 12:34 pm

    This is a beautiful essay written with conviction and concision. Well done.

  • Matthias May 10, 2010, 1:01 am

    Beards are clearly what make men manly.

    I upgraded from a goatee to a full (but close-cropped) beard two years ago and I never felt more manly.

    (Written with tongue firmly in hirsute cheek)

    • Josh Hanagarne May 10, 2010, 9:51 am

      I can’t grow a beard to save my life. I’ve tried and tried, but the goatee just isn’t there. the best I can do is kind of a “Wolverine lite” type look.

      • Matthias May 11, 2010, 4:03 am

        I think mutton chops are pretty manly! You should totally grow some.

  • Gary Finch May 25, 2010, 7:57 pm

    Nice article Josh, but why so threadbare? I can think of of thousands more myths, such as:
    Manly Men don’t sew, cook or iron
    Manly Men don’t have close male friends
    Manly Men chase after young girls
    Manly Men like porn,
    Manly Men like football…etc, etc,

    I won’t pass comment on the beards, except that they look good in movies about times past such as Braveheart (before the invension of rasors).

    • Josh Hanagarne May 25, 2010, 8:05 pm

      Gary, my good man, this post was written by my friend Nate Desmond. Add as many as you like!