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Local Column

Olson: Manhood is not out of style

What does manhood mean today? That was the question posed by an Associated Press story that appeared in Thursday’s Daily Chronicle.

One response might be that if you have to ask, you’ll never know.

But the story went ahead with asking anyway. One of its sources – possibly the genesis for the story, or at least a person who asked the question earlier, was writer and non-man Ann Friedman. The story quoted a piece by Friedman titled "What Does Manhood Mean in 2013?" online at, in which she writes:  

"Ultimately, confusion about modern masculinity is a good thing: It means we're working past the outmoded definition."

Since when is manhood a concept that is out of style? I guess Friedman means the 1950s “Leave It to Beaver” version of manhood, in which the man earns money to support the family, then comes home and reads the afternoon paper and smokes his pipe in the living room while his wife fixes dinner.

Personally, I think it’s too bad for families that both parents often are forced to work outside the home even if one of them would rather stay home with their children. But do changing times that mean the definition of manhood is outdated? Are men really confused?

No, most of us aren’t confused, thanks. We just don’t lobby for ourselves all that much because its not necessary.

As a consequence, when an NFL Draft prospect announces he’s gay and people share bigoted views, the term “man’s man” becomes a negative descriptor. An NFL locker room is apparently a “man’s man” kind of place which would never accept a gay player.

Gives you the feeling that people think of a “man’s man” as an intolerant caveman, someone we’d be better off without. Think again, social justice crusader.

A “man’s man” is a cool guy. He’s a guy you want around.

A man’s man can catch and clean a fish. He can change a tire and he won’t complain if his clothes and hands get dirty. He can build and fix things, whether it’s the middle of summer or the dead of winter. You can borrow his Sawzall.

If he's on a date, a man’s man buys dinner. If he's married, he's faithful to his wife. He takes out the trash. He watches football, drinks beer, knows off-color jokes. He knows when to keep his mouth shut. He doesn't whine.

He might not have seen Jimmy Kimmel and Adam Carolla’s TV comedy show “The Man Show,” but if you showed it to him, he’d be amused. Call him a “metrosexual” and he would not be.

Or maybe none of that stuff applies. What’s it to ya? A man’s man does not need to seek your approval or conform to a definition some columnist thought up.

Can a man stay home and take care of his kids while his wife goes out to work? Sure. He can be a nurse, he can teach school, he can be … the most interesting man in the world.

As Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart once said about obscenity – something with which a man’s man might be familiar – in the case of manhood, you know it when you see it. Or when you don’t.

No, manhood hasn’t gone away, and there’s no reason for men to have to feel bad about thinking what we think and feeling the way we do – even if we don’t share those feelings that often.

As John Wayne, one of the greatest examples of a “man’s man” ever, said in the 1949 film “She Wore a Yellow Ribbon,” “Never apologize. It’s a sign of weakness.”

Unless you have to apologize, of course. Like to your wife, or your mom, or your boss. Then it’s probably a good idea.

Of course, women can do most or all of the same things that men can. That’s great for society. People shouldn’t be told they can’t do something they enjoy and are good at just because of their gender; too bad for the Taliban if they don’t agree.

A man, after all, doesn’t feel threatened by women, or gay NFL players or movies about gay cowboys. The smart ones even realize when they can learn something from them.

Also, at least 70 percent of us wish we didn’t have to turn the lights off in the basement every night. Seriously, there’s nothing to be afraid of down there.

Eric Olson is editor of the Daily Chronicle. Reach him at 815-756-4841 ext. 2257, email, or follow him on Twitter @DC_Editor.

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