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No one really knows how January 12th became the holiday known as the “Feast of Fabulous Wild Men,” or even how one is meant to celebrate it. It’s not a concept that holds up to scrutiny, since no two people’s concepts of “fabulous” or “wild” (or even “man”) are likely to align, but if this is the day for meditating on the condition of masculinity, we might as well round up our panel of experts.
The following quotes come from a wealth of various perspectives on what a man is, ought to be, or could be under various circumstances. It’s important to remember that masculinity is not a quality owned or defined by men — it’s just one they’ve had more freedom to explore, and to perform. That freedom, when granted too easily, can also become a prison. As philosopher Pierre Bourdieu wrote: “Male domination is so rooted in our collective unconscious that we no longer even see it.”
Only once we begin to see it — and address it — can we truly celebrate maleness without reinforcing its dominion. Now that would be fabulous!
Margaret Atwood, Wilderness Tips, 1991
“Roughing it builds a boy’s character, but only certain kinds of roughing it.”
bell hooks, We Real Cool: Black Men and Masculinity, 2003
“Once upon a time black male ‘cool’ was defined by the ways in which black men confronted hardships of life without allowing their spirits to be ravaged. They took the pain of it and used it alchemically to turn the pain into gold. That burning process required high heat. Black male cool was defined by the ability to withstand the heat and remain centered. It was defined by black male willingness to confront reality, to face the truth, and bear it not by adopting a false pose of cool while feeding on fantasy; not by black male denial or by assuming a ‘poor me’ victim identity. It was defined by individual black males daring to self-define rather than be defined by others.”
Betty Friedan, as quoted in The Christian Science Monitor, 1974
“Men weren’t really the enemy — they were fellow victims suffering from an outmoded masculine mystique that made them feel unnecessarily inadequate when there were no bears to kill.”
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, We Should All Be Feminists, 2014
“But by far the worst thing we do to males — by making them feel they have to be hard — is that we leave them with very fragile egos. The harder a man feels compelled to be, the weaker his ego is.”
Toni Morrison, A Mercy, 2008
“What a man leaves behind is what a man is.”
William Gibson, Spook Country, 2007
“The windows of army surplus stores constituted hymns to male powerlessness.”
Anaïs Nin, In Favor of the Sensitive Man and Other Essays, 1976
“There is a resemblance between men and women, not a contrast. When a man begins to recognize his feeling, the two unite. When men accept the sensitive side of themselves, they come alive.”
Michelle Tea, Black Wave, 2015
“To be a butch girl in high school, to be better at masculinity than all the men around you, and then to be punished for it!”
Orson Welles, My Lunches with Orson, 2013
“Every man who is any kind of artist has a great deal of female in him. I act and give of myself as a man, but I register and receive with the soul of a woman. The only really good artists are feminine. I can’t admit the existence of an artist whose dominant personality is masculine.”