A generation ago, Bruce Feirstein published “Real Men Don’t Eat Quiche,” his tongue-in-cheek look at the habits and attitudes that marked the stereotypical macho man of the 1980s. The book was on The New York Times Best Seller list for 55 weeks. Incidentally, neither did real men back then drink light beer or change diapers. They did, however, wear red-and-black flannel shirts and eat thick, ribeye steaks.
Now, research professor Brene Brown of the University of Houston, who has authored five No. 1 New York Times bestsellers and spent much of the last decade studying shame and vulnerability, finds that most men in the 21st century haven’t changed much. In interviews and focus groups, Brown found that the attributes most associated with masculinity these days are: 1. Winning; 2. Emotional control; 3. Risk-taking; 4. Violence; 5. Dominance; 6. Playboy; 7. Self-reliance; 8. Primacy of work; 9. Power over women; 10. Disdain for homosexuality; and 11. Pursuit of status.
Brown asserts that men still are conditioned to feel shame if they don’t “stop feeling, start earning, put everyone in their place and climb their way to the top or die trying.” All 11 rules, she contends, come down to one: “Men, don’t ever come off as weaklings.”
But, we all are, in fact, weaklings. I have known well a greatly-gifted man in his 30s who was struck down and killed by an inoperable brain tumor, a successful woman in her 40s with two young girls who was hit head-on by a drunk driver and paralyzed for life and a university president in his 60s who was reduced by a massive stroke to almost total dependence for 16 years.
Don’t get to feeling high and mighty if you’ve been spared such fates. Be grateful and humble. It certainly could have been otherwise.