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What Defines a Man

by Alex John |

Stereotypes are the result of simplicity. It’s just easier to put things into neat little boxes that can be easily arranged on a shelf. But if the past few years have taught us anything, it’s that life isn’t always so simple.

That even applies to the question of what defines a man. Decades ago, the answer was simple: men don’t cry, men suck it up, men tough it out. It was about strength and authority. It was the strong, silent scotch-drinking Don Draper. It was Clint Eastwood riding on the high prairie with guns blazing.

But all that strength and testosterone came at a cost. That neat little box didn’t have much room for empathy or acceptance of others who were different, and the world grew tired of it. And because pendulums tend to swing like sledgehammers, a backlash towards masculinity ensued that’s prevalent today.

Trying to answer the question of what defines a man in 2020 can lead to Tyler-Durden-of-Fight-Club, split-personality confusion. So, where does that leave us now?

For starters, let’s take an axe to the box that housed those old stereotypes and start anew. The answer doesn’t have to be an either-or. You can be gay or straight; an introvert or an extrovert. You can be many things and be a man.

The Three Elements of a Man

Instead, let’s get back to the basics when it comes to defining a man. A man protects and cares for his family and his tribe. In other words, a man accepts responsibility and doesn’t run away from it. It may be romantic to portray a man as a lone wolf, but the truth is there’s no such thing. Like the wolf, we are pack animals and there is no survival without caring for the entire pack. And a man strives to strike the right balance between caring for oneself and for others. You can’t take care of others if you don’t care for yourself but not to the point of selfishness.

A man is courageous. But we’re not talking only of the courage fitting of yesteryear stereotypes. We’re talking about the courage to do what’s right. The courage to be empathetic. The courage to be yourself.

It takes real courage to do any of those three, because none of those things are accomplished by taking the path of least resistance. Think of the courage displayed by Mahatma Gandhi or Martin Luther King Jr. Think of the courage it takes for a young man to tell his family who he really is or what he believes in. Yes, it takes courage to run into a burning building. But it also takes courage to do what’s right and be true to yourself.

A man takes action. In other words, your actions are more important than what you say. A man just doesn’t say they have empathy or the courage to do what’s right: They show it at every opportunity. A man just doesn’t talk about their dreams: They go after it.

But that really sums up what a man really is, doesn't it? It’s not about what you are. It’s about what you do. Ready to dress the part? 

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