The Iron-Sharpened Gentleman: An Interview With G. Andrew Meschter

Andrew Meschter is an Ivy Style reader who has just released a book on gentlemanly deportment for young men entitled “As Iron Sharpens Iron: An Adventure In Building Gentlemanly Character.” It began three years ago when, as Meschter puts it, “Two prep-school headmasters asked me to write a book about gentlemanly character for young men in the ‘knucklehead’ age range of 17-23.” Ivy Style caught up with the author to find out more about the book, his background, and his hope for the future of American gentlemen. — CC

* * *

IS: How did this book come about?

AM: A few years ago two prep-school headmasters asked me to write a book about gentlemanly character for young guys in high school and college. They approached me because they each read this other book I wrote about the First Troop Philadelphia City Cavalry, a Pennsylvania Army National Guard unit in which the members donate their drill pay in a tradition of gentlemanly service that dates back the unit’s founding in 1774. That book had a lot to say about Old Philadelphia and its gentleman ethos inherited from the days when Philly still belonged to the British Empire. This ethos had a funny combination of selfless service, thrift, and duty to others, combined with raucous behavior, cavalier style, and hatred of pretension. That quirky combo of high culture and down-to-earth humility summed up this idea of being a gentleman—not just on the outside with clothes and manners, but on the inside, with character. 

IS: What direction did they give you?

AM: They gave me no direction whatsoever. And I had no idea how to approach this new book. After three years of scratching my head, an editor in Colorado suggested I frame it as a personal memoir about how I learned about the gentlemanly idea as a kid growing up near Philadelphia, with subsequent experiences as a student in England, and then as a soldier on Army deployments in Iraq and Egypt, not to mention some romantic boy-girl mishaps along the way.

IS: What is the gist of your message for young “knuckleheads” at this point in time?

AM: It revolves around Rudyard Kipling’s poem “If…,” which is sort of a laundry list of traits to be a well balanced guy who can hold his own in any situation: “If you can walk with kings nor lose the common touch, If all men count with you, but none too much…” My book combines personal trial and error stories with academic knowledge I acquired as a graduate student in England about how the idea of the gentleman goes way back to the ancient Greeks, Israelites, medieval knights, American Founding Fathers, and British “public schools” (boarding schools) in the 19th century, on through the “preppy virtues” taught at American prep schools in the 20th century.

The main theme is a thing called “leveling upward,” coined by E. Digby Baltzell, the Philadelphian who also coined the term “WASP” back in the 1960s. It’s the idea that the best way to create equality among people is to inspire everyone to high standards, to “level upward” instead of trying to force people down to low common standards, or leveling downward. The phrase “As Iron Sharpens Iron” implies that people can only grow when they have healthy conflict with each other. A gentleman can disagree with people and still be friendly, a crucial trait these days when even blogs about clothing can get political. Ultimately, we can sum it up this way: “A gentleman seeks to be as strong and cultivated as possible while always putting others above himself—while doing so with style.”

IS: What advice do you give in the clothing chapter?

The clothing chapter is my favorite. After all, clothing often inspires guys to act like gentlemen. When you dress like a gent, you want to act the part. Your magnificent essay about the rise and fall of the Ivy League Look really inspired me because it added a sense of history to clothing. Just as soldiers wear uniforms for morale and cohesion, so do gentleman. A gentleman’s uniform is much more playful than a soldier’s, but it tends to adhere to collective standards passed down over the generations. In America, the Ivy League Look is the backbone of that uniform. If you see how uniforms develop, they tend to get more casual over time. Yesterday’s casual wear becomes tomorrow’s formalwear (such as tailcoats and business suits). But the spirit is always the same. Gentlemen always favor simple, proven, high-quality clothes that are well tailored. My interest in this hit me as a kid one day when I noticed how cool my dad’s Brooks Brothers pinpoint oxford shirts looked. They had this special sheen and drape that I inherently knew was special, even as a 16-year-old. 

Anyway, Britain has been the leader in this aesthetic since the age of Beau Brummel, and we have our own version of it through Brooks Brothers and Ben Silver and J Press. Ralph Lauren has been great with spicing it all up and keeping it relevant. (If you get too conservative, you might as well be Amish.) In Philadelphia, Ivy Style tends to be way more casual than it is in New York and DC, especially day wear, but we have much more formal clothing for evening events. Philly is probably like Vienna or Charleston with its evening wear formality—lots of occasions to wear white tie (tails) and black tie. 

The cool thing about the American gentleman’s uniform is that it is oddly egalitarian. Sure, it’s aristocratic and therefore elitist, but it’s an open elite. Anyone who wants to associate with American gentility is welcome to start dressing like a gentleman. Traditional clothing is so accessible, it’s so well made you can always buy things on eBay for a steal. And it’s all so simple. The basics never change. You get a pair of chinos and an oxford shirt from Brooks, keep a blazer handy with a necktie in the pocket and you can basically go anywhere. More than once I’ve worn such a rig while climbing onto the roof of a building on a late-night bet.

IS: What has the feedback like so far?

AM: Feedback so far has been very pleasant! Which is nice, because I agonized over how to make the book fun, informative, and breezy for my target audience of prep-school boys and college students.

IS: Did the project leave you more or less optimistic about the future of gentlemanly character?

AM: The project made me extremely optimistic about the idea of gentlemanly character, because the concept is so timeless. It appeals to deep yearnings in human nature. Who doesn’t want to live in a place where people use their talents to become their best selves, to serve others, and to look pretty good while pulling it off?

43 Comments on "The Iron-Sharpened Gentleman: An Interview With G. Andrew Meschter"

  1. Thank you for this. I’ll be purchasing a copy.

  2. Boop McSnoot | June 17, 2019 at 1:41 pm |

    “Leveling upward” – ah, yes, the theory that you can just tell everyone that their failures in life are due to their inability to teach a high standard, like, say, cleaning their room or wearing a tie, while ignoring larger institutional obstacles to social mobility. Equality of opportunity is the same old American conservative canard – if you don’t take advantage of that opportunity, it’s your fault, not ours. It’s too bad that so much writing on how to act and dress well is shot through with this kind of reactionary moralizing.

    After all, it’s easy to become a gentleman on the model of “medieval knights” when you’re a WASP yourself. Even Baltzell praised Arthur Ashe as a gentleman in his book on tennis in the 1990s – I wish Meschter had indicated some equivalent examples in this interview. As it stands, this book sounds like a parade of privilege reinforcing privilege in a closed circle of self-congratulation for having “good manners” – you know, like medieval knights.

    Baltzell’s hope for the WASP elite class was that they would, so to speak, recruit from below, “assimilating into its ranks capable individuals who were not to the manor born and transmitting to them its own sense of the responsibilities of political leadership” (Dennis Wrong, 1999). In his own lifetime, he saw the elite class’s failure to do so – and I don’t see that many young people outside of the prep school, WASP elite tradition will be galvanized into becoming “gentlemen” (or “gentleman,” as this post has it – I guess knights didn’t have great grammar) when the examples put forward by Meschter are “the ancient Greeks, Israelites, medieval knights, American Founding Fathers, and British ‘public schools’ (boarding schools) in the 19th century.” Sounds like a lot of preaching to the choir, and I’m sure it will have a receptive audience here at Ivy Style, the home of complaining about “gosh-darn kids these days” since 2008.

  3. Boop McSnoot | June 17, 2019 at 1:47 pm |

    And before commenters like Vern Trotter or Old School Tie start frothing at the mouth because I represent “liberals” or “snowflakes” or “the PC police,” take a moment to actually read what I wrote (and I’d remind you that you don’t know anything about me or my politics or background). My comment is not an indictment of the clothes, or the idea of WASPs or the elite – in fact, it’s a call to try to make all of that more appealing to more people, rather than sending it to its death in the same old reactionary social theories and restricted membership.

  4. Sartresky | June 17, 2019 at 3:18 pm |

    Enjoyed the post. Especially Andrew’s statement that disagreeing with people and still being friendly is “a crucial trait these days when even blogs about clothing can get political” — and bang on cue we receive the above pseudo intellectualizations.

    Anyway, I appreciate the idea that the American gentleman’s uniform is an “open elite.” I always saw that as the distinction between elitism and snobbery.

  5. Boop McSnoot | June 17, 2019 at 3:30 pm |

    By invoking Baltzell, he made it political himself. It’s certainly not like this site itself is innocent in that regard. If it’s a fact that even blogs about clothing can get political, it seems much better to look those politics in the face and understand them rather than just pretending they aren’t there.

    Not sure what was “pseudo” about my comments…?

  6. Charlottesville | June 17, 2019 at 3:58 pm |

    Hear hear! Mr. Meschter’s book sounds interesting. Civility and kindness are among the hallmarks of gentlemanly behavior, and aspiring to better behavior seems to me to be a good thing, even if none of us ever achieves it with any degree of perfection. I hope to keep trying. There are too few gentlemen about, but that has probably always been the case.

  7. Baltzell’s second book on the Protestant Establishment is revealing. With the passing of time, he adopted a curmudgeonly skepticism. I suspect he was, at heart, a Puritan with strong Quaker tendencies. An Episcopalian (because of the liturgy, of course) with leanings toward Calvin-drenched Presbyterianism.

    It’s funny–one strives to err on the side of hope, granting the benefit of the doubt. Case in point that’s close to the author’s home: oh the grief felt upon discovering that the (Philadelphia) Main Line isn’t the WASPy enclave it once was. Like every other upscale suburban community in America, it’s littered with all the signs that suggest wealth — new Audi’s, Ranger Rovers and BMW’s; Vineyard Vines gear; Nantucket (more likely, Avalon or Cape May) bumper stickers, Germantown Friends or Episcopal Academy decals, bit loafers, etc. But dig a bit– go beyond the surface. Materialism, boorishness, shallowness–all there. Cheever saw all this coming with mind-boggling prescience. A vapid wasteland of aspiration, outfitted in foreign made Topsiders, Ralph Lauren oxfords, and pink pants.

    Remove the High Church “P” from WASP and you’re left with aspirations toward a version of cheap preppiness that feeds on capital and more capital. Whether causal or correlative, the distance between Calvinist ethics and an old J. Press wardrobe is a short bridge.

  8. Boop McSnoot | June 17, 2019 at 5:58 pm |

    S.E. – excellent comment. I’d recommend you read the article I cited in my first comment, Dennis H. Wrong’s “Digby Baltzell: Sociologist and Critical Celebrant of the Upper Class.” I think you’d find a lot to support your thoughts on him there. Wrong knew Baltzell, and the piece looks at him honestly but generously.

  9. Thank you and I’ll take a look.

    And by “old” J. Press wardrobe, I mean really, really old.

  10. Ezra Cornell | June 17, 2019 at 9:19 pm |

    Interesting, though this would make Baltzell a Protestant schizophrenic. Recall that Puritans persecuted (unto death, no less) Quakers as heretics, so it would be hard to find a “a Puritan with strong Quaker tendencies.” (Quakers settled in Pennsylvania and not Massachusetts for a reason.) And of course Episcopalians/Anglicans are not Calvinists; in fact, you don’t have Puritanism except as a slow-boiling reaction against Queen Elizabeth’s Anglican settlement. Then while Puritans and Presbyterians shared a Calvinist theology, they quarrelled furiously over church hierarchy and congregational autonomy. I don’t know, then, where this would leave Baltzell as described.
    Just a thought.

  11. Philly Trad | June 18, 2019 at 12:08 am |

    When bit loafers entered the Main Line, we moved out.

  12. Dan Kristensen | June 18, 2019 at 1:51 am |

    Anybody who tries to turn louts into gentlemen deserves our respect.

  13. I’m really glad books like this are still written and published in this day and age. A pleasant surprise indeed!

  14. Mr. Meschter affirms two comments I’ve noted for years. First, men dressed like gentlemen are more apt to act like gentlemen. Second, keep a blazer with a tie in the pocket to dress up the khakis and OCBDs at a moment’s notice.

    Good advice. But, good dress and gentlemanly conduct is politically incorrect. These traits are viewed as racist,sexist,elitist, etc.


  15. Old School Tie | June 18, 2019 at 7:23 am |

    Actually, I was going to say that WASP was first used by Prof. Andrew Hacker, a famous detractor of mathematics among other things. The “W” originally stood for “wealthy” which, in my opinion is far more accurate and pertinent when considering the group. White Anglo-Saxon is tautological as a descriptor. Wealth plays a fundamental role in all of this and perhaps we should go back to using Hacker’s original terminology. And not a speck of foam anywhere….

  16. Great to see such thoughtful comments from yesterday’s interview with Ivy Style about my new book “As Iron Sharpens Iron!” Ladies and gentlemen shine the brightest when they respectfully disagree, and Ivy Style never fails to disappoint in that regard. I eagerly await more views from anyone who ventures to read this book, especially from those who can still remember what it was once like to be a college sophomore.

  17. whiskeydent | June 18, 2019 at 10:25 am |

    I have known gentlemen who have dirty nails and muddy boots at each day’s end. They might own a suit; maybe not. They are Latinos, African-Americans and Anglos. They live in barrios, ghettoes, far-off burbs, and small towns. Some have some really gnarly tattoos and scraggly hair. They have zero style, but lots of substance.

    They’re the kind of guys who volunteer to fight in our wars, drive their boats through floodwaters to save lives, or simply pull over to help strangers. They do the right thing when nobody’s watching and expect nothing for having done it.

    Make no mistake, they aren’t perfect. They sometimes drink too much beer or smoke too much weed. They’ve had a big screw-up or two. It’s a funny story they like to tell and a lesson well-learned.

    Believing everyone has flaws, they can’t stand those who look down on others and tell them how to live. They believe it would be arrogant for them to tell young men how to live, but they sure do show them the right way as Boy Scout leaders, little league coaches, and church elders.

    The good guys don’t live on the “main line” only. They’re everywhere. And, more often than not, they are the ones who are actually helping boys live a better kind of life and become the best kind of gentlemen.

  18. @whiskey

    Your comment made me think of the book “The Compleat Gentleman”; I interviewed the author here:

    He has some interesting stats about Titanic survivors by gender and class. In first class the number of men and women who susrvived was skewed female, as some men went down with the ship. In second class it was most marked; very few men survived.

    In third class, the number of men and women who survived was almost equal.

  19. Arrowsmith | June 18, 2019 at 11:05 am |

    I wouldn’t want to walk down the same street as slobs with really gnarly tattoos and scraggly hair.

  20. whiskeydent | June 18, 2019 at 11:13 am |

    I don’t enjoy their tats and hair much either, but I respect their good deeds. There is more to people than their clothes. You don’t have to look good to do good.

  21. whiskeydent | June 18, 2019 at 11:21 am |

    I will look at the story, but it largely makes sense. The middle class had it figured out.

    Did the location of a room affect the ability to escape? I assume not, but it would be interesting to know. Did the crew treat the classes equally? Kinda doubt it. I’d also like to know the raw numbers and the percentage of the total passengers in each class.

  22. whiskeydent | June 18, 2019 at 12:09 pm |

    I read the article. He has an interesting take. He seems to put physical courage as a big part of chivalry, though he acknowledges one need not to be ready to fight.

    I wonder about the utility of the term chivalry. It seems to be a perfection that can’t be reached, which he also acknowledges. However, becoming a gentleman –which I define as a man who routinely seeks to gracefully do right by others — seems to be more doable.

    And I agree the latest round of feminists are off-base. They seem more intent on vengeance and even superiority than equality. Saying all masculinity is toxic is a clever strategy to wage that war; it puts us immediately on the defensive and without a response that doesn’t sound like old school anti-feminism. Given the circles I run in, I encounter this a lot.

    For example, I detest how current feminists equate sexist language with sexual assault. In reality, words are not as damaging as violence. The former hurts feelings and the latter kills people. We have to find ways to dismiss that construct and engage on a higher level.

  23. Boop McSnoot | June 18, 2019 at 1:03 pm |

    @ whiskeydent – I’d just be curious to hear which “current feminists” you mean, and some specific examples of current feminism as a movement simply saying “all masculinity is toxic”? It’s a common trope in some circles to make these claims, but it’s rarely supported by specific evidence.

    I do agree with your statement “you don’t have to look good to do good.” The Duke of Windsor is a good illustration of the fallacy that chivalry, “good breeding,” and great style are not on their own indicators of morality.

  24. Boop McSnoot | June 18, 2019 at 3:36 pm |

    @ whiskeydent – Interestingly, the Teen Vogue piece is discussing the ways that standards of masculinity impact men themselves, and aims to help men – I don’t see that it’s using the idea of “toxic masculinity” as any kind of weapon against them in the way you described. Additionally, it seems to me that the article isn’t content with the broad brush of “toxic masculinity” or even just “masculinity,” using the linked report to very specifically define its terms. The closing quote seems to clearly discuss “harmful masculinity,” not all masculinity, and the entire article makes it clear that not simply being male is under indictment, but rather the ways specifically defined and examined behaviors could be based on harmful ideas of what it means to be a man, using statistics and research. I didn’t see any mentions of feminism in the article.

    The Truthout op-ed again only talks about “certain men,” and in a certain context – men of color who reach for toxic masculinity to reassert control in a society which otherwise defines them of it – and this article also takes pains to specifically define its terms, not simply throw them out as vague broad strokes. It defines “toxic masculinity” and is only discussing the term in the context of Native American men, rather than all men. The first speaker in the article, Dallas Goldtooth, is a man from this same community. Lindsay Compton does not address this issue from the perspective of “current feminism” but rather ancient Native American traditions and established culture in those communities. She explicitly rejects the “cancel culture” as well, saying that simply “banishing” toxic men is not the answer. The article is also not fully pro-MeToo, discussing the drawbacks of the movement in this community. Again, feminism is not mentioned in the article.

    Time for Tribune piece! Written by a man, this op-ed isn’t that great of an example, since it’s talking about a book exploring the concept of toxic masculinity. Davich doesn’t go all that deep into the idea, which maybe is a flaw in this piece, but then again, he provides the name of the book (written by a man) – did you check that out? Does it go into specifics about the idea? Either way, Davich does define his terms somewhat, describing examples of how men are often limited emotionally, and describing how they occur in his own life. Now, Sexton obviously has a political slant to his book, and you’re welcome to disagree with it, but that doesn’t invalidate the idea of toxic masculinity or mean that it’s being used to “wage war” on men – again, Sexton seems to be again not describing all men, but a segment of the population observed by Sexton, one whose behaviors fit his definition of toxic masculinity (which I’m willing to bet he explains in detail in the book). This piece is written by a man, and focuses on the way men can improve their emotional and mental health by breaking free of the limits society has placed on their ability to be open with each other. (Sexton uses the phrase “traditional masculinity,” and I think that’s a much better term, one which steers clear of the gut reaction to get defensive but instead gets into the real meat of the issue.) Again, feminism is not mentioned in the article.

    Last piece. Again, this is an opinion piece, and a pretty annoyingly-written one. I don’t like this author’s self-righteous tone any more than you probably do. But let’s put that aside and focus on what the article actually says:

    1. It quotes Streep as saying “we hurt our boys by calling something toxic masculinity. Women can be pretty fucking toxic … It’s toxic people…. We have our good angles and we have our bad ones… I think the labels are less helpful than what we’re trying to get to, which is a communication, direct, between human beings. We’re all on the boat together. We’ve got to make it work.”

    2. The article then says, “Streep clearly has no idea what “toxic masculinity” means. I shouldn’t have to say this, it should be obvious, but “toxic masculinity” doesn’t mean that men are toxic or that masculinity is de facto toxic. Rather, it means that extreme forms of traits traditionally associated with masculinity, like aggression and stoicism, are toxic. Rightwingers, however, like to pretend the phrase is an attack on men because it’s a quick way of derailing a conversation about rigid gender norms, and allows them to pretend that feminism is some sort of plot against men.”

    Whoops! Well, that’s your argument, isn’t it? It turns out despite this article’s annoying tone, it’s agreeing with the others we’ve looked at that “toxic masculinity” is not a blanket indictment of men, and to take Streep’s position is to miss the point – #NotAllMen is redundant, because that’s not the argument at all. The argument, as the other pieces you linked also say, is that certain aspects of traditional masculinity, especially when taken to extremes, and especially in certain concentrated groups (like Native Americans or a political base) can be extremely harmful, both to men and to women. The article also points out that while Streep is correct that women can also be toxic, the problem is actually the same – there is, according to this article, also “toxic femininity,” though it takes different forms than toxic masculinity. Because this is an op-ed, the author isn’t really bound to provide research or stats to back up her claim that “the big difference between toxic masculinity and toxic femininity” is that “the latter is a lot less deadly, a lot less dangerous,” but the pieces you link to do a better job of pointing us in that direction.

    All four of these pieces are from the first two pages of the Google result for “toxic masculinity.” It seems you could have dug a bit deeper to find your examples, and I’m not really sure you read them, since they don’t seem to match up very well with your argument about current feminism (whatever that is) and the term toxic masculinity as a “way to wage war.” For one thing, many of these pieces are focused on helping men, not hurting them, and many men are themselves quoted or even wrote the pieces supporting these initiatives.

    For more nuance and information on these ideas, I’d point you to these pieces:

    And finally, from the APA: “The possibility of negative effects of harmful masculinity occurs when negative masculine ideals are upheld. Primary gender role socialization aims to uphold patriarchal codes by requiring men to achieve dominant and aggressive behaviors. The concept of gender roles is not cast as a biological phenomenon, but rather a psychological and socially constructed set of ideas that are malleable to change.”

  25. Boop McSnoot | June 18, 2019 at 3:53 pm |

    @ whiskeydent – I’d also point you to the segment of this video starting at around 3:45 that discusses conservative definitions of “feminism” and toxic masculinity:

    I hope all of this helps. There’s so much vague misinformation and hearsay about “feminists” these days, especially on sites that traffic in the pseudoscience of people like Jordan Peterson, that I always try to nail down what people actually mean when they start talking about it, especially when they’re people I usually tend to agree with, like you.

  26. whiskeydent | June 18, 2019 at 4:40 pm |

    I’ve never thought that masculinity drove men to physically abuse women and children. I think the causes are moral weakness, self-loathing, and cowardice, three things that I don’t associate with masculinity (or chivalry or gentlemanliness).

    This distinction is important because I believe the violence will continue until more men are willing to stand up to the men who abuse women and children. To do so is going to take moral and maybe physical strength as well as courage, three of the pillars of masculinity in my view.

    So in the end, I think the toxic masculinity line is self-defeating. It certainly allows women to vent their very legitimate anger and frustration, but it doesn’t do a damn thing to deal with the problem. In fact, it might make things worse by alienating men who could be — and damn well should be — taking up the cause against abusers.

    This is a large, serious problem. In Travis County (Austin, Texas), domestic violence is the second most common offense behind drug possession. The numbers are similar nationally. It’s going to take some masculine men to do something about it.

  27. Boop McSnoot | June 18, 2019 at 5:14 pm |

    @ whiskeydent – “the toxic masculinity line is self-defeating. It certainly allows women to vent their very legitimate anger and frustration, but it doesn’t do a damn thing to deal with the problem. In fact, it might make things worse by alienating men who could be — and damn well should be — taking up the cause against abusers.” This isn’t true. It sounds like you have a restrictive definition of “masculinity” which prevents you from seeing how it could include moral weakness, self-loathing, and cowardice under certain circumstances. The masculinity which exists in, or is formed by, those circumstances is toxic masculinity. To combat that is as you say – to get away from those qualities and towards something which is not harmful to women or ourselves.

    As for domestic violence, the ways that traditional/toxic masculinity drives that violence are already indicated in the sources we’ve linked – I’d especially point you to the APA link. I hope in time you can absorb some of the points I laid out, and are laid out in both the articles you linked to me and those I linked to you in return, because when you can remove your own antipathy to a term which you disagree with, I bet you’ll find the actual substance of the discussion is one you already agree with, in essence. And you’ll find that there are many people – the same people you say aren’t doing anything about the problem – who are working to redefine masculinity to do exactly what you say here. I’d also point you again to the Good Men Project link I provided. (I’m starting to suspect you don’t read any of these before you comment, but that can’t be the case.)

  28. whiskeydent | June 18, 2019 at 5:27 pm |

    From Wikipdia:
    Masculinity (also called manhood or manliness) is a set of attributes, behaviors, and roles associated with boys and men. As a social construct, it is distinct from the definition of the male biological sex.[1][2] Standards of manliness or masculinity vary across different cultures and historical periods.[3] Both males and females can exhibit masculine traits and behavior.[4]
    Traits traditionally viewed as masculine in Western society include strength, courage, independence, leadership, violence, and assertiveness.[5][6][7][8] Machismo is a form of masculinity that emphasizes power and is often associated with a disregard for consequences and responsibility.

  29. Boop McSnoot | June 18, 2019 at 5:45 pm |

    Yes, I understood your point, and I didn’t say it was wrong in itself. What I said was, “It sounds like you have a restrictive definition of ‘masculinity’ which prevents you from seeing how it COULD INCLUDE moral weakness, self-loathing, and cowardice under CERTAIN circumstances.”

    Traits traditionally VIEWED as masculine certainly include the things you mentioned, but that doesn’t mean masculinity necessarily EXCLUDES other traits, especially because, as your quote says, masculinity varies across different cultures. I would also argue that those traits are often considered the ideal of masculinity, but that doesn’t mean the reality might be different- especially when you consider that about 50% of the US population alone is male – when you have that many men, it just makes sense not all of them will have the same ideal OR reality of masculinity.

    I’m trying to engage with your argument in good faith by spending time understanding it, and then trying to present my own in a way that I think meets your argument head on. I’m not really seeing you attempting to do the same with the points I’m presenting. It seems like you’re digging in further to your own position, which is too bad, because we’re actually saying almost exactly the same thing. But the more you dig into this as an issue of semantics – “toxic masculinity as a phrase is the problem, because it doesn’t line up with my own personal ideal of masculinity or the definition of masculinity I looked up on Wikipedia and then matched up with my own pre-existing idea of it” – the farther you’ll get from the actual substance of this discussion, which is only about the term insofar as the term refers to real ideas. I think I demonstrated that in the sources you provided, the term DOES refer to real ideas. Now, it’s your turn to engage with those ideas and decide whether or not you agree, not to put your fingers in your ears and close your eyes and keep stubbornly debating the semantics I already dealt with.

  30. “traditional/toxic masculinity….”

  31. Boop McSnoot | June 18, 2019 at 5:48 pm |

    ^ Do you have an actual contribution, or are you just going to take potshots from the sidelines? Well, I think I already know your position, so perhaps best to stay where you are.

    I realized I accidentally missed a word in my last comment – “that doesn’t mean the reality might be different” should be “that doesn’t mean the reality might not be different.” Unfortunately, there’s no edit capability.

  32. Vern Trotter | June 18, 2019 at 9:03 pm |

    In Andrew Roberts new biography of Winston Churchill, he quotes the great man as commenting to his wife in writing about the Titanic sinking: ” I am proud of our race ( the English and Americans) and it’s traditions.” Meaning women and children first. Another current commentator asks, “Would today’s women offer their places in the lifeboats to men?

    Sir Winston did not know then that the CEO of the White Star Line, the ship owner, J. Bruce Ismay, rushed to be first in one of the lifeboats. His reference was to others, the French, the Germans and in the past the Romans and Greeks, where a man placed himself above and as more important to continue living than at least his wife and daughter. That was toxic masculinity.

  33. Boop

    Your thinking too much.



  34. Trevor Jones | June 18, 2019 at 9:28 pm |

    Gentlemen! It’s 2019, we can put “equality” in the history books. Yes, we’re too far gone for that; the word we should be discussing is “equity”.
    Also, what a pity…the banter started out so civilly. Oh well.

  35. Boop McSnoot | June 18, 2019 at 9:39 pm |

    @ sacksuit – That line has never had much of a sting, especially coming from someone as consistently reactionary and thought-averse as your comments on this site have shown you to be. I’ll keep thinking, thanks, but you’re free to continue whatever it is you’re doing, though I’d recommend you check out Anti-intellectualism In American Life, by Richard Hofstadter. And learn the difference between “your” and “you’re” (a cheap shot, I know, but as long as you’re accusing me of thinking too much…).

    @ Vern – I fully agree with you that that was toxic masculinity, and would still be today. I obviously don’t speak for women, and the YouTube video I linked to whiskeydent above points out that, of course, “feminism” is an idea, not an entity, and has no platform that all feminists follow uniformly, but in that the basic aim of feminism is equality between the sexes, then yes, hopefully those who have that goal in mind would put their money where their mouths are. However, as many shipwrecks have shown, even those steeped in the traditions of traditional masculinity have had trouble with that when push comes to shove. Maybe they should just make lifeboats a bit bigger 😉

  36. Yes, that was careless of me. Thank you for the correction. Somehow I had a feeling that you would have a book to suggest that I read. I imagine your copy is dog earred and full of notes. Sheesh. Lighten up and have a good night.


  37. Boop McSnoot | June 18, 2019 at 10:12 pm |

    You know what? You’re right. Reading is for losers! You sure bested me in that match of wits, Will. It’s much better to live a life untroubled by intelligent thought. And here I am, gathering evidence and thinking critically about it, instead of just believing whatever I want to and “lightening up.” I guess I played myself!

    That kind of apathy and distrust of actual thought is how conspiracy theories flourish and authoritarian governments survive – on the shoulders of people who pride themselves on “not thinking too much.” Have a good night, indeed. And really, read the book – I think you’ll find that you make repeated appearances in it.

  38. Chris Hartingford | June 18, 2019 at 11:31 pm |

    Re: Toxic masculinity
    Ever hear of fraternities?

  39. Bearing the Weight of My Grandfathers’ Old Clothes

    In adopting outerwear worn by the men who came before him, Aram Mrjoian considers his childhood misperceptions of traditional masculinity.

  40. Boop,

    I looked up Richard Hofstadter this morning. Thank you so much for the laugh.

    Have a great day.


  41. The Earl of Iredell | June 21, 2019 at 12:38 pm |

    I bought a copy of “As Iron Shapes Iron” based on your review, Christian, without knowing really what to expect, as I had never heard of the author. I just finished reading it.

    This is an excellent, first-rate piece of work — well written and well thought out. Although I disagree with a few of the authors comments (very few, actually), the read was thoroughly enjoyable. But really, the audience for this book should be seen as far wider than “17-23 year old knuckleheads.” I am a little past 70 years old, and feel that the author’s message is beneficial for readers my age as well as for those younger and those much younger.

    Thanks for your excellent blog, and thanks especially for mentioning Mr. Meschter’s book.

  42. Sophia Perennis | July 5, 2021 at 11:15 am |

    Good grief. I do wonder whether the Boop fellow is not a troll parodying the insufferable progressive.

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