- Healthy masculinity is when men flourish first for themselves, then for their families, posterity, and communities. Tweet This
- Some men embody healthy masculinity through extremes—the hero, the athlete, etc. Others embody it through the ordinary rhythms of life: establishing a trade, obtaining a household, building a family. Tweet This
- A man’s legacy is most often his family, his descendants, his community or tribe. He seeks to create this legacy, to build it up, and even to sacrifice himself for it at times. Tweet This
Editor’s Note: This week, the Family Studies blog is publishing a series of short essays addressing the meaning and purpose of healthy masculinity in today’s world. We asked contributors to consider the following questions as they explored this topic: what is healthy masculinity, can it exist in our culture today, what threatens it, and what should we be teaching young men about it?
Healthy masculinity is when men flourish first for themselves, then for their families, posterity, and communities. A man embodying healthy masculinity knows who he is. He is physically healthy and strong. He is pursuing and developing his skills and capabilities to make him more competent and able to take action. He has a sense of agency, drive, and desire to make his mark on the world, not just have the world make its mark on him. He is someone who exists in a world where it is realistically possible for him to develop his potential, fulfill his own ambitions, and leave a posterity and a legacy for the future.
There is no one-size-fits-all description of healthy masculinity (and thus a healthy man), but identity, actual health, development of potentialities, genuine accomplishment in the real world, and a legacy are the core.
Men embody this through many roles and archetypes. We can think of the explorer, the settler, the warrior, the scientist, the philosopher, the artist, the builder, the king, the priest, the monk, the trader, the craftsman, the father, etc.
Some men embody healthy masculinity through extremes—the hero, the world class athlete, the saint, someone on a quest for greatness or pursuing the audacious idea, a man facing the extreme trial or difficulty or even death, etc. But others embody it through the ordinary rhythms of life: establishing a trade, obtaining a household of one’s own, building a family, raising children to exceed his own accomplishments, or leaving an inheritance. Most men embody it as part of a group of other men, such as in a military unit or sporting team, but some do so in solitary pursuits, such as the hermit or lone genius. Most will have a family, but some will focus on an all-consuming pursuit.
Healthy masculinity understands the identity and legacy a man has inherited, and seeks to extend that, in turn, to engage in “praiseworthy competition with one’s ancestors,” as has been attributed to Tacitus. A man’s legacy is most often his family, his descendants, his community or tribe. He seeks to create this legacy, to build it up, and even to sacrifice himself for it at times. But while sacrifice for the sake of legacy is a part of healthy masculinity, it is not reducible to that. The man who simply blots out his own well-being, ambitions, and fulfillment for the sake others is not exhibiting a healthy masculinity.
How this plays out varies by time and place. In Ukraine today, that means men fighting to save their country. It will look quite different in contemporary America. But here, too, it is possible for 21st century American men to follow the path of healthy masculinity, even though today’s world is in many ways radically different from the past. Here’s how it might be embodied or pursued practically:
- Self-confidently be an American man, without being debilitated by attacks that call that identity or its value in question.
- Pursue health and fitness, such as by eating right, exercising, and avoiding drugs and excessive alcohol consumption.
- Develop skills and competence, which could involve starting simple by making minor home repairs or a more audacious move like learning a new language.
- Strive for greater degrees of excellence in what you do.
- Develop and pursue your own goals and ambitions in life, such as starting a business, having a home in the country, or revitalizing your hometown. Men do not need to apologize for having their own goals and things that are important to them.
- Find other men for friendship and common endeavors, a “band of brothers.”
- Pursue and build a family, understanding that the degree of difficulty is much harder today, so you have to be consciously working at it and understand how to mitigate risks like divorce.
- Actively train up your children to thrive in life, and help them build a life throughout their life, culminating with leaving them an inheritance.
- Invest in your community, such as by volunteering at a church, civic organization, or charity.
Not every healthy man will do each of these things, but there’s still plenty of room for men to develop healthy masculinity in America today, building a worthy life for themselves, their community, and their posterity.
Aaron M. Renn writes on men’s issues and American culture at aaronrenn.substack.com.
Editor's Note: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or views of the Institute for Family Studies.