Essay Review: Paul Theroux's "Being a Man"

According to Theroux, the concept of manhood is to “be stupid, be unfeeling, obedient, soldierly, and stop thinking” (233). In defining manhood in such a negative light, he makes us probe into the question of what should a man should strive to be if he is not to strive to be manly, but he fails to clearly define any of the words that he uses in his definition. We have our opinions of what is stupid, unfeeling, obedient, soldierly, and to be a person who stops thinking, but he never elaborates on what he means by those words.

His thesis for this essay is that manliness is not a healthy goal for a man because it is “emotionally damaging and socially harmful.” His support is very weak because he never really expounds on why that is so. The closest he got to laying a framework for the flawed results caused by our society's idea of manliness is when he says that it “denies men the natural friendship of women” (234). He makes a list on how sports is a “recipe for creating bad marriages, social misfits, moral degenerates, sadists, latent rapists and us plain louts”; however, he fails to explain how sports causes those outcomes. It seems that his belief that manliness is harmful is so ingrained in his thinking and should be self-evident to anyone once the idea is mentioned that he does not need to explain how it is emotionally damaging and socially harmful.

Instead he begins to self-probe on how that mindset personally frustrates him. He spends almost a third of his essay dealing with authors who are more accepted because they have exhibited signs of manliness and laments how it is difficult to not adhere to society's idea of manliness and be accepted as a writer. This is likely a frustration to his feeling that he is not being accepted as much as those “manly” writers which he blames on his non-compliance to society's standards of manliness.

This essay provides more of an emotional hoorah to people that already believe that our society's stance on what it takes to be a man should change rather than laying out a good argument for why that is necessary or how it should be done. Despite the inadequacy of the essay to prove its point, it still brings up questions that we should carefully consider. Does who we raise our boys and girls to become damage them or harm society? What would be a better alternative? How would we go about raising children in that better alternative? How can we change an ingrained societal norm such as our expectations for men and women?

Theroux, Paul. “Being a Man.” The Norton Reader. 11th edn. Ed. Linda Peterson & John C. Brereton. New York: Norton, 2004. 233-35.