What is Manliness?

what is manliness“You are not a man!” she shouted at me, and these words echoed through my ears. They stung because I liked her and her words carried a heavier impact. I was only 18 at the time; barely beginning to enter manhood. I had no clue how to define manliness, and neither did she, but in that moment her words did all the defining. 5 words, that was it, articulated my existence as a man. And I had just failed.

Like you there were times I heard these exact same words and it didn’t matter. It just rolled off my back, because in my mind I was superman. But this time it left its mark, because I was looking for validation. I was looking in the wrong place.

I believe all of us men deep down often wonder where we stand in the ranks of manliness. My father used to often say, “One day you’ll be a man and understand“. If we were to ask each other how to define manliness we’d probably casually throw out words like career, money, car, house, girlfriend, wife, education or fill in the blank. There are many lies of manhood where we think we’ll find our worth. It also evokes images of cowboys like Clint Eastwood and John Wayne. Or James Bond, William Wallace and The God Father. These were some of mine. What is it to be a man? What about character, values, morals and responsibility? Are these a pastime of manliness? Were they ever a part of it? What is manliness?

 “Few men have virtue to withstand the highest bidder.” ~George Washington

After a few days I brushed off the insult and went back to walking around like I was invincible. Advice was wise words for those who needed it. Thankfully that wasn’t me, or so I thought.

So What is Manliness?define manliness

By 22 I started to look back at all the fun I had but couldn’t show anything of worth to my name. I was asking myself the question, “What is Manliness?”. Sure I had traveled and seen the world. I did gain a multicultural perspective. I was smarter and living on my own for 4 years now. But I was greatly lacking in the most important traits that define manliness: responsibility and becoming a better man.

Manliness must be planted in a firm foundation of virtue.” Brett Mckay – Founder of The Art of Manliness

Unfortunately manliness is a lost art all over the world. Over Christmas I read an article that said one of the top 10 Christmas gift requests from children was wishing for a father. Has it really gotten that bad?! I recently watched Iron Man 3 and in my opinion Tony Stark is a narcissistic jerk and poor role model for boys and men. But we laugh like it’s all a joke while the state of manliness in our country is being destroyed. No one is asking, “What is manliness?” but are instead creating role models out of men who are still boys.

“After a certain age every man is responsible for his face” ~Albert Camus

A good friend of ours wrote an article for us called, “Manhood Not Guaranteed” and here’s an excerpt from it, “Manhood is not a guarantee. Becoming a man is not a right, it’s a choice. Or better yet, it’s a process. We don’t wake up one morning as a young teenage boy and enter into manhood just because we found a few stray hairs in unusual places. Manhood is not achieved through sleeping with women, graduating high school, finding a job, drinking beer, or killing animals. Manhood is not something that we achieve, but something we choose to pursue. And that pursuit starts with assuming responsibility.”

I was starting to get a clearer picture of manliness. It wasn’t how that girl had defined it and it wasn’t what I thought it was. At 22 it wasn’t too late. I needed help. I was manning up to my mistakes. I needed a mentor. I needed a mentor that could take on this big job. I didn’t know if such a mentor would come in the form of someone I knew or a TV persona. Maybe he’d be an author or a historical figure like Theodore Roosevelt. I just knew I needed some direction.

“Big jobs usually go to the men who prove their ability to outgrow small ones.” ~Theodore Roosevelt

You’ll be surprised where this mentor came from. It definitely surprised me! And the answer is that I’ve been fortunate to have had many mentors in the last decade. Each fulfilling a role for the time our paths crossed. Once it was a CEO who shared with me vision and commitment. Later it would be my Army Sergeant who excelled at the Army values of Loyalty, Duty, Respect, Selfless-service, Honor, Integrity and Personal Courage (LDRSHIP). When I finished my service a retired Sheriff demonstrated how volunteering and helping others was a manly role. When I became a Christ Follower many godly men stood with me to pass on advice from their experiences and man lessons learned. And throughout all these years there were friends who shared in the experience to define manliness in our own lives. Like a band of brothers!

If you were to Google “What is Manliness” you’d fine all sorts of answers. From character traits to physical strength. You could say they’re all right, to a certain degree. But how do we act that out in our daily life? Are there practical steps we can step out with?

Here’s what I’ve come to learn on how to define Manliness in my life

1)    Accept responsibility for my life
2)    Commit to becoming a better man. The Fearless Men Values: Humility, Courage, Integrity, Wisdom, Sacrifice, Honor and taking Responsibility.
3)    Let others help me. Manly men know when to be vulnerable and are unashamed by it.
4)    Never Give Up
5)    Be a Leader. Don’t just assume it, earn it.
6)    Create realistic goals
7)    Pay it Forward. Honor Others. Become a Mentor.
8)    Love Others as God Loves Us. Friends, Family, and Strangers.
9)    Have conviction and stand for what is right
10)  Know and Love God

The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy. ~Martin Luther King Jr.

Images by http://dribbble.com/shots/507060–122

What is Manliness to you? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.


  1. John,

    Very thought provoking article.

    I associate manliness with being a complete human being. To it also involves sharing your experiences and knowledge with others who can benefit from it. Young people just getting started in life almost always need a helping hand or a kind word.

    I’m glad to see you mention “paying it forward” on your list. I too am a believer in paying it forard.


    • Have you ever seen the movie Pay It Forward? I saw that around the same time that I was asking what Manliness really is, and it’s stuck with me. I’m also a big advocate of sharing knowledge, especially passing it on to those who will come behind us.

  2. Manhood, or being hu-MAN is foremost, and primarily, a Gift. An expression of immeasurable Love.

    Completely agree that Manliness is NOT: achieved through sleeping with women, graduating high school, finding a job, drinking beer, or killing animals. And more significantly – NOT anything that the media and most if not all, that is popular promotes.

    Manliness is choosing to be responsible for the gift, and the love, and everything that comes with it.

    • Maven, thanks for sharing. I’ve never heard manliness described that way and it certainly gets me thinking. I like how you described responsibility at the end.

  3. Great list John! Thank you for sharing this list and challenging us to step it up!

  4. Very interesting subject there. and here I am still reading all about being manly! But I agree with Maven, it’s about responsibility and being mature, not how many women you ‘ve slept with.

    • I also find myself continually reading up on this. I frequent the other men’s blogs and find this topic fascinating. We’re so saturated with the media and hollywood’s image of manliness that we have to search and seek out the truth.

  5. You mention ‘God’ couple of times. You are right we all need him always, and it’s very had to be manly when we judge things with our knowledge and wisdom.

    • You make a very important point! It’s God’s standard that we should measure our wisdom against, not bring His down to ours.

  6. I think our social perception of “manliness” has changed significantly over those years, as well. And I think it depends so much on the demographic (having lived in both the South and New York City).

    • I wonder if social perception circles around and eventually comes back to a previous perception. For example manliness = physical strength or growing a beard. Has this perception lasted forever or only now starting to come back?

  7. That reminds me of my mom – whenever we did something “weak”, she say “you’re like a girl”. (Yea, she’s the biggest tomboy out there). For me, being a man is like Teddy Roosevelt’s motto “Get action, do things!”

    • Mothers can definitely also have a stinging tongue. This is why it’s important to have Godly and manly father figures to help us grow up into men. Mothers can have good intentions but aren’t the sole validaters of manliness. That’s a good quote too and taking action is definitely one trait of manliness.

  8. I wanted to add to this list, and it is -Being a leader. By displaying leadership qualities you can influence others around you, including your children. Maybe you meant to include leadership under taking responsibility(#1 or 2), but I think it merits its own line. Another trait that is close to my heart is, -Standing on your own two feet financially, whether you are single or married with kids, it is a manly trait to not put financial strain on the family.

    • Thanks for sharing. I agree that “Leadership” should have it’s own line and will add it. When I wrote this I was thinking it fell under “Responsibilities” but can see how not everyone is inside my mind. ha! The financial one though would fall under “Responsibilities”. We are doing a ‘Become a Better Man’ series and one of the articles will be on finances. Maybe you can share some insight with us on that?

  9. Long time since the last post but still…my opinion on the subject

    Doing what you think is right, for the greater good and something that has to be done. Somebody (anybody) with a strong and firm mind willing to stand up and fight back for his beliefs.
    Irony – it could also be a woman.

Speak Your Mind