A term coined by John Stoltenberg
to describe what seems to be a common pattern of behavior
among human beings who were raised to become "men
." Much of his book, The End of Manhood
, is an exploration of this concept, and a sort of dissection of its components, and how it affects males
who play into what (I think it's fair to say) he feels is a "trap" that most males find difficult to escape
Where the Manhood Act Comes from, Maybe
"All humans who grow up to be a man are raised to pass tests of loyalty to manhood
. These tests can be routine ones; these tests can be episodically treacherous. However great or small, these tests
have one thing in common: they cancel out some loyalty to selfhood
that the human being
might have felt before."
"This many have happened to you in one of the most common tests of your loyalty: when you are confronted by another man who intimidates or scares you."
- You learned to fear other men very early, when you were a child. So did he. You both had to figure out how to be more threatening than threatened.
- What you are getting from him now—in this edgy encounter—is how he's acting like a man so you won't suspect it's all just an act for him.
- One of the main reasons you're frightened is that his behavior makes you feel he suspects that you haven't got your manhood act together as well as he has.
- He seems to be testing you, challenging you, passing a judgement on your manhood. He wants you to be afraid of his manhood because then he won't have to be afraid of yours.
- Though he is trying not to be afraid of your manhood, he is trying to stop feeling another fear as well: his fear you'll find out that he's just acting at manhood himself.
- He is trying to confuse you into thinking that he is his manhood act. He does not want you to suspect he isn't who he seems.
- You do not want him to suspect that you are not who you seem either. You may in fact be afraid and ashamed that your manhood act is inadequate, or even bogus, especially compared with his.
- He can succeed at making you think that he is his manhood act only if you believe that you can be yours too.
- For him to succeed, it doesn't really matter whether he is better at his manhood act than you. It only really matters whether you both agree that the manhood act is important—and whether you both believe that if you don't have a convincing manhood act, you don't have a life.
- If, however, you personally don't believe that the manhood act is important at all—if you don't pretend to be yours, if you don't pretend to be synonymous with your manhood act, and if in fact you honestly don't care how he or anyone else judges your manhood act because your manhood act is nowhere near who you are or would like to be—then you are in a position of inner strength. You already know this game is not worth playing. You already know that you have a life—an authentic selfhood—that is not your manhood act. So you cannot be so easily frightened by someone else's.
"No one growing up to be a man gets taught how to think that fast
—or with that much self-possession—in such a confrontation
. No one growing up to be a man learns to read and comprehend what's going on in terms that will help stabilize oneself, center oneself, remind oneself completely that one can remain loyal to human selfhood—one does not have
to fall for such intimidating tests of manhood
. Quite the contrary, almost everyone growing up to be a man learns to respond to such loyalty test
s as if by "reflex
" — spontaneously, "involuntarily," without thinking at all. And what happens next? Generally, someone challenged to pass the test of loyalty to manhood tries to do so by acting like a man
in response. Immediately, that's when actual human reflexes mix in with the manhood act, and the combination is potent: it can lead to certain combustion
The End of Manhood pp. 1-3.