Why Brett McKay, Founder of 'The Art of Manliness', Is Reclaiming Modern Masculinity

We need to bring virtue back into the equation.
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Monica Gabriel Marshall
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We need to bring virtue back into the equation.
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Art Credit: Shannon Lee Miller

Brett McKay is the founder of The Art of Manliness blog. He and his wife, Kate McKay, work-full time on the site together. Be sure to subscribe to Verily Magazine to read Brett's article, Can Men and Women be "Just Friends"? in the upcoming June/July issue.

Q: What inspired you to start your wildly popular blog, The Art of Manliness?

A: I was tired of reading about how to get six-pack abs and how to hook-up with all the ladies. The popular magazines did not speak to me as a man. So I decided to provide the kind of content I myself always wanted to read. Once I started the blog, I found out that a lot of other men felt the same way. The response was pretty immediate, and traffic has grown exponentially since I started.

Q: What have you learned about being a man since starting The Art of Manliness?

A: My intention with the Art of Manliness is not to put myself out there as an expert on manliness, because I'm  not. If I want to learn more about manliness or how to acquire a certain attribute of manliness, I will research it, talk to people, try and apply it to my own life, and then I will share with others what I learned in the process.

I have also learned a lot of fun man skills like how to change the oil in my car, tie a bow-tie, shoot and clean a gun. But also about being a better husband and father.

Q: What about how to change a diaper?

A: That, I learned out of necessity after my son was born. But I did learn how to swaddle a baby. I am an awesome swaddler and am pretty proud of that skill. One unexpected thing I have learned about is the importance of rough housing with my kids. It actually has a lot of benefits for children—boys and girls. Now I know that sometimes I have to get down on the ground and body slam my baby—because its good for him!

Q: Do you think society has misconceptions about manliness?

A: I ask men about what it is to be a man and I get the kind of answers that you would expect: being aggressive, being macho, and being domineering. This is our modern American idea of masculinity. But if you were to ask the same question over a century ago, you would get answers that define manhood as being a person of virtue, having courage, having honor, and having resolve. I like that idea of manhood better than the more modern idea of manhood; it’s not hyper masculine as some would see it, but it’s about being a well-rounded person.

Q: Popular media, including such books as Hanna Rosin's The End of Men, tell us that men are on the decline. Do you think that traditional masculinity has failed men?

A: I don’t think traditional masculinity has failed men; I think part of the problem is that today’s man does not embrace traditional masculinity in the first place. This whole trope that the world is seeing the decline of men isn't anything new. You can go back 200 years and you will find this same kind of rhetoric. What’s interesting is that this question always recurs around the time of economic upheaval. This is because in modern, post-industrial-revolution America, so much of our manhood is tied up with economics.

The modern man believes that if you are not making lots of money or if you’re not successful, then you are not manly. We saw this in the late 19th century when the industrial revolution was at its peak. Manual-labor jobs traditionally held by men were being replaced with machines, so there was this question, “what is going to happen to men?” Now, we are again seeing a shift, from an industrial economy to an information economy where soft skills like communications are essential. This economic shift is also displacing jobs traditionally held by men, and the question repeats itself.

If you go back beyond the past two or three centuries, though, the idea of manhood was broader. Being a man meant being someone who contributed to the good of society in other ways beyond the economic. Being a man meant being a good father, a good husband; it meant being a productive member of society and not merely a consumer.

Q: So, it's not the end of men?

A: I think men will adapt as we have adapted before. Men will re-frame and separate our masculine identities from economic success. The idea of tying masculinity to economic success is never healthy. It sets men up for failure and can crush one's identity as a person—not just for men, but also for women. When one ties up his identity with economic achievement, he is bound to feel like a nobody when something goes wrong.

Q: Your article entitled "Stop Hanging Out with Women and Start Dating Them" is probably one of your most popular articles. Why has initiating relationships become difficult for men?

A: Men have become complacent with the ease that technology offers. Technology is more conducive to “hanging out,” and young women have gone along with it. I think a lot of women underestimate the power that they have to determine how they want to be wooed. If women expect more from men, then men will rise to the occasion.

(Photo credit: Shannon Lee Miller)