Dudes who complain that “manliness” and “masculinity” are going away are usually douchebags. Typically it’s guys complaining that they can’t get away with as much sexual harassment and degrading jokes as they could back in the “good old days.” So what they seem to be missing isn’t a time when “men could be men,” but rather a time when men could safely be assholes.
But they’re also not wrong. There are some staples of “manliness” that are absolutely going bye-bye, never to return. I don’t know how soon (people who write about future trends are not in fact claiming to be time-traveling wizards), but they are going away. I’m talking about things like …
#5. Car Culture
When I was 16, I had this poster on my wall:
I didn’t realize there was a car for the first two weeks.
I actually don’t know if it was that exact one, but it heavily featured a Lamborghini Countach and butts. And I don’t know if it’s readily apparent to people who aren’t experts in dissecting symbolic imagery, but that poster subtly suggests a connection between automobiles and sex. So at age 16 I knew only one thing: If you didn’t have a car, no woman would ever touch your dick. Where I was from, that was both the age at which you could get a driver’s license and the age at which you could legally hold a part-time job. The only reason to get a job was to get your own car, and it sure as hell wasn’t so I could help Mom with the grocery shopping.
And even though there are presumably an equal number of male and female drivers in America, car culture — the love of cars, and the worshiping of them — was always about manliness. Race car drivers are male, mechanics are male, and car ads portray females as merely one of the accessories that come with a nice one. I don’t know exactly why our means of transportation was always seen as a male-dominated thing (it was the same when we were getting around on horses, right?), but it’s so ingrained that we don’t even question it.
The front bumper is circumcised.
But Soon …
It would have been unthinkable when I was a teen, but the hot new trend among kids these days is to not bother getting a driver’s license at all. Back in my day, around 90 percent of 18-year-olds had a driver’s license; now it’s down to 70 percent and falling rapidly. There’s a bunch of reasons for this, part of which is simply that more people live in cities now, where life is actually more difficult with a flame-painted El Camino than without one. But these are just the early rumblings before the collapse.
The world has simply changed — the entry fee for being a cool, sexually active male no longer includes owning a badass muscle car that guzzles gasoline and belches exhaust with a roar that can wake the neighbors. Even if they get a car, they’re probably not getting that car. Thanks to global warming, the era of gasoline is simply ending — more than half of the new cars will be electric or hybrids by 2040, and while there are certainly hybrid cars that are worthy of having bikini-flossed butts draped over the hood …
… the next trend will hit soon after: Cars that drive themselves. The era of driving your own car will be over by 2050. It doesn’t matter how much you like driving or how important your Trans Am pussy magnet is to your masculine identity — there are 1.24 million car accident deaths a year worldwide, and car accidents in the U.S. alone costs us an astounding $300 billion a year. Society is simply sick of bearing those costs when the technology exists to make them go away.
And at that point, everything that made cars appealing as a form of mechanized penis augmentation — the power, the sound, the adrenaline rush — will be gone. And some day in 2063 a kid will sit down and watch an old movie called The Fast and the Furious and he’ll either wistfully long for those days when males ran on a mix of testosterone and gasoline, or he’ll think it’s the most ridiculous, bombastic shit he’s ever seen in his life.
#4. Red Meat
When a bunch of manly type dudes (or dudes who like to portray themselves as such) came up with the masculine alternative to Valentine’s Day, what did they call it? Steak and Blowjob Day. And when Carl’s Jr. advertises its huge hamburgers, it knows who to target with their ads:
And once again, despite the fact that I assume women eat meat just as often as males do, in our culture beef is man’s food. Probably because it combines several popular masculine pursuits in one: fire, murder, and dying early.
Hell, in the West, our symbol of masculinity for the last 200 years has been the cowboy, the guy in charge of riding around on horses and guarding our beef.
But Soon …
It’s simple math.
It takes about 50 times more resources to grow grain, feed it to a cow, and then eat the cow than it does to just feed the grain to a human (for example, it takes about 100,000 liters of water to get 1 kilogram of beef, versus about 2,000 liters to get 1 kilogram of soybeans or rice). You lose 90 percent of the calories that grow from the ground if you pass them through a cow first. And don’t shoot the messenger here — I’m no vegetarian. I’ve eaten so much meat that my body is practically made of the stuff. But if you saw somebody routinely take one bite of their food and then toss the rest in the trash, you’d think they were an asshole (“Dude, there’s starving people in the world!”). Well, that’s what you’re doing when you insist on converting your food into steak just to make it taste better. You’re throwing 90 percent of it away, in the form of cow shit.
But then we have global warming — this is almost never brought up as one of the causes, but the reality is that somewhere between 15 and 20 percent of carbon emissions come from meat production, and beef is by far the worst offender. As the above-linked article mentions, beef produces “twice the emissions of pork, four times as much as chicken, and 13 times that of vegetable protein such as beans, lentils, and tofu.” Oh, look, there’s the “T” word. Quick, go to a steak place, find a masculine-looking dude, and suggest that he eat tofu instead. I will bet you a thousand dollars he’ll reply something to the effect of “What, you think I’m gay?” See, because society has told him that Beef = Bro.
“Honey, can you knock this other shit off my plate? It’s touching my beef.”
So while worldwide this trend is still going in the other direction as developing nations are getting their first taste of beef (consumption in China is skyrocketing), in the U.S. you can already see the curve going the other way — we’ve been eating less meat for a decade now.
Some of that is for health reasons, and that’s another element of it — where you see lots of red meat, you also see lots of heart disease, and along with that comes hundreds of billions in health care costs. And just as with the car accident statistics I mentioned above, that’s where it really starts to matter — these things tend to stick around in the culture right up until there’s more money in opposing them than supporting them. At that point, they’ll go to work making it socially unacceptable, like how you can watch old movies now and think it’s weird to see everyone smoking indoors.
Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images Sport/Getty Images
A lot of you don’t know this about me, but I actually would have wound up playing in the NFL if it wasn’t for a knee injury I suffered my sophomore year of high school, and the fact that I wasn’t good at playing football at all.
Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images Sport/Getty Images
Other than size, muscle, and race, I was exactly like Vernon Davis.
And it’s too bad, because not only is football the most popular sport in the U.S. 30 years running, it’s the ultimate man’s game. Winning involves not just strength and speed, but brutality and intimidation. The goal is absolutely to hurt the other team. That’s why we speak of the game in war metaphors (bombs, blitzes, trenches).
It’s no coincidence that there has never been an openly gay pro football player — when a top college player recently came out, an unnamed NFL executive put it bluntly: “I don’t think football is ready … at this point in time it’s still a man’s-man game.” Now let’s go out there and wrestle around in our spandex pants and buttless underwear!
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images Sport/Getty Images
“… and Sexy Rexy takes another hard shot from behind. The Packers have been pounding him all day. It’s gonna be hard for him to concentrate with that D in his face.”
But Soon …
Even if you’re not a big sports fan, you may have seen headlines about the NFL’s concussion issue. To briefly summarize, science recently discovered that playing football tends to lead to long-term neurological damage, which triggered a massive lawsuit by ex-players that’s still being litigated.
So, the NFL has taken all sorts of steps toward supposedly making the game safer (such as the revolutionary practice of telling a player to stop playing if he gets hit so hard that his brain stops working), but ultimately this is not a sport that can be made safe, not in its current form. The helmets they wear don’t do shit to protect the brain, and they never will. As long as the game features 250-pound men slamming into each other at top speed, playing it will result in brain damage and other horrific long-term health effects. You can’t fight physics.
John Leyba/Denver Post/Getty Images
They had to take away the playbook after Peyton tried to finger paint a new play in.
Now, when you bring this up around fans, they point out that these guys are being paid millions of dollars and virtually all of them would take the cash even if they knew the risks (as evidenced by the fact that they’re still playing).
And that’s absolutely true.
But the soil from which the NFL money tree grows is high school football, and the vast majority of players start their playing careers at age 14 or younger. And that, friends, is where football is destined to die — at the roots. Teenagers suffer as many as 3.8 million brain injuries a year from playing various sports, with football accounting for far more than any other. And the damage the kids suffer is permanent.
Goodshoot RF/Goodshoot/Getty Images
“Look at him, just staring blankly, unaware of anything.”
“Uh, the one that played football is in the other room.”
So it’s one thing for the multibillion-dollar pro football empire to fend off liability lawsuits. The moment that shit gets directed toward high schools and colleges, it’ll be much easier for the vast majority of them to just shut it down. Remember, while football is big profit for the NFL and large colleges, it’s a massive money loser for public schools. Like many cultural institutions, the foundation is much more fragile than it appears.
It’s not that football will suddenly vanish overnight, but it’s not like our tastes in sports are set in stone, either — 70 years ago the “big three” American sports were boxing, horse racing, and baseball. Among those, boxing is the one you should look to for a parallel. Football is destined to follow its slide for the exact same reason: We simply reached a point when parents decided they didn’t want their kids to grow up to be boxers.
Damn it, society, how many times are we going to ask our males to surrender their masculinity just so they can have working brains?
#2. War Heroes
Luke Sharrett/Getty Images News/Getty Images
I’m talking about real war heroes here — you can still get famous by fighting a war in a movie, and you probably always will. But we used to treat real-life soldiers like pro athletes — World War I hero Alvin York returned to the states a superstar thanks to a blockbuster movie made about him (Sergeant York, starring Gary Cooper) that grossed $400 million in the U.S., adjusted for inflation. The real guy — not just the actor playing him — could go to public appearances and draw huge crowds and sign autographs.
His mustache had its own fan club and radio serial.
And that’s been the story for as long as anyone remembers — George Washington had no experience with politics whatsoever when America made him its first president. All it took was him winning a war for him to become a media darling and international celebrity. Courage, strength, and lethal combat skills instantly meant you were qualified for anything. What else in society matters, other than those distinctly manly traits?
But Soon …
This has already gone so much out of style that I worry some of you don’t even know what I’m talking about. For instance, in my teenage years the war hero was General “Stormin'” Norman Schwarzkopf. He was the general of the U.S. Army invasion force during the first Gulf War and came home a pop culture superstar, greeted with a massive ticker tape parade …
Timothy A. Clary/AFP/Getty Images
Consolidated News Pictures/Archive Photos/Getty Images
… a blitz of media appearances, and constant pleas to run for president. For those of you born too late to remember that, does that seem like ancient history to you? I mean, I know George Washington was from another time, but President Eisenhower had never run for political office in his life, either; he went right from five-star general to president. Can you imagine that happening today?
Don’t get me wrong — we still hold parades and still buy bumper stickers boasting that we love our troops. And we still make war movies about real-life soldiers, the most recent being Lone Survivor, the Mark Wahlberg movie about a real-life Navy SEAL mission in Afghanistan. But that makes millions for Mark Wahlberg, not the real-life hero he was playing. Would you even know the real guy if you saw him?
Chelsea Lauren/WireImage/Getty Images
“Nailed it!” -casting director
Obviously these heroes were always the result of aggressive propaganda campaigns, and it’s not like the military has stopped trying. During the war in Afghanistan, the military found a ready-made hero in Pat Tillman — an NFL player who, months after the 9/11 attacks, was celebrated for giving up a multimillion-dollar salary to enlist in the Army. Two years later, we got the news that Tillman had been killed by Taliban forces, the military announcing he had died while charging up a hill, courageously defending his comrades and laying down his own life to save them. They awarded him a Silver Star for his bravery.
Then, five weeks later, it came out that he had in fact been accidentally shot by his own men during a botched operation. Well, so much for that.
Now look at SEAL Team 6, the guys who carried out the Osama bin Laden raid. Their operation went perfectly, they took out the greatest villain of the last half century, and they got an Academy Award-winning movie made about them. So … do you know any of their names? The guy who did the shooting is leaving the Navy with nothing, not even health insurance. Others have cashed in by writing books, but it’s not like you’d know their faces if they walked down the street.
Obviously, one reason the war hero market has dried up is that the wars themselves aren’t popular — we’ve had exactly one popular war in the last 70 years. But also the way wars are fought is changing, as proven by the fact that most of the dozens of other al-Qaida leaders we’ve killed over the years have been taken out by drones. And just like that, the 5,000-year reign of the soldier as the apex of manhood comes quietly to an end. Incidentally, it was at exactly this moment that the military decided they might as well start allowing women in combat. Gee, thanks.
Don’t misunderstand me here: As long as there are assholes, and as long as those assholes are bigger and stronger than other people, there will be bullies. But the thing that is going away (and that has already gone away in many respects) is the institutional approval of bullying. We’ve mentioned on the site before how 1980s comedies always portrayed bully characters …
… who not only routinely commit acts of assault against the underdog main characters, but actually repeatedly try to kill them.
And each time there’s a very weird element to these movies that hopefully doesn’t make sense to kids today: The bullied kid never tells an authority figure. Well, having grown up in the ’80s, I can tell you why: The authority figures (teachers, parents, etc.) back then thought bullying was beneficial. They openly encouraged it and, in several first-hand experiences in my life, openly participated.
“If you know of a better way to teach this algebra class I’d like to hear it.”
It was just implicit back then that the harassment of the weird or awkward kids was simply a necessary part of the maturation process, along with friendships, cliques, and dating. And when the occasional nerd or weird effeminate kid killed himself as a result, well, that was just a tragic but unavoidable side effect of growing up. The phrase I heard over and over again was “boys will be boys,” and the message to abuser and victim both couldn’t have been clearer: Masculinity means using your strength to inflict pain on those weaker, and failing to stand up to bullying — or to do some bullying of your own — meant you had not yet become a man. Cruelty is masculine, and masculinity is cruel. The more you have of one, the more you have of the other.
But Soon …
The movement to actually do something about bullying is the second-most dramatic social change of my lifetime (the other being the acceptance of LGBT people — two issues that obviously have a huge amount of overlap). If you look at anti-bullying/hazing laws for each state in the U.S., you notice one similarity across almost all of them: They’re really fucking recent.
And here we see a connection to football again — another NFL story that you non-fans probably have heard something about is the Richie Incognito bullying incident. Basically, he’s a player who allegedly harassed a teammate into quitting the sport, and then the victim took it public. The NFL has taken action because, like the hugely profitable business it is, it can’t stand this kind of bad publicity. And now cue all of the commentators complaining that this is a sign of the sad feminization of the NFL. Again, the bullying among masculine males isn’t seen as an unavoidable evil, but a necessary good.
Ron Elkman/Getty Images Sport/Getty Images
“He’s not the douchebag we deserve, but he’s the one that we need right now.”
This idea that society has decided that bullying is actually a bad thing regardless of context is so new that I can’t even imagine a world without it. The systemic acceptance of it as a form of enforcing conformity goes back to … the origin of the species, I think? Half of the fucking guys you pass on the street base their entire adult personality around the bullying they endured as teenagers. If you don’t know what I mean, give this post by Mike Krahulik from Penny Arcade a read, and also take a moment to appreciate that by not knowing what I mean, you’ve already won life’s lottery.
Shit, if we males can’t establish our manhood via the inflicting of physical pain and humiliation, how the hell are we going to do it? By actually accomplishing things? Most of us wouldn’t even know where to start.
Note: I realize that female bullying also exists, but I think the societal acceptance of bullying has always been a male thing. In other words, male bullies were the captain of the football team and destined to become CEOs, because bullying was seen as a key feature of their masculinity. Society doesn’t treat a female bully as the feminine ideal.