“Real Men are Gentlemen” – The Rhetoric of Normative Epistimology

There is a phrase or idea that I’ve seen popping up lately which I find interesting.  The phrase is something like ‘real men are good people’.  Now, I’ve mostly been seeing these kind of phrases on those somewhat silly internet lists that I waste my time reading on Facebook.  Things like the following: pictures of real men, Traits of Real Men, etc.  I’d be surprised if you haven’t seen something of the sort before.  However, the concept does permeate beyond the internet.  For example, Obama uttered similar sentiment somewhat recently

I get hung up on words.  It’s a regular part of my humor.  Even if I know what someone means, I will often joke about what they actually said.  In this particular case, I’m pretty sure what the authors mean is something like ‘these are good things to do’.  What they’ve actually said though is something quite different – they’ve made a normative definition of what it means to ‘be a man’.

The clear cut dichotomy of ‘man’ and ‘woman’ is something that I perceive as under review in liberal society at large.  For example, one of the recent (post 1970 according to this article) conceptual moves  has been to divide sex and gender.  Though there are almost certainly some clear and articulate thinkers who have written on the topic, I would not say that anything I’ve encountered so far has made it clear to me how all of this cashes out (on any side).  I’ve bought the notion that even defining sex can is fuzzier then most would think (and almost certainly the dichotomy is one with very shallow metaphysical roots).  When it comes to how sex and gender relate to each other, I’m honestly quite lost.  I’m somewhat inclined to think that the moralizing of the concept of man (I’m guessing most people mean the word in both the sexual and gender identity sense) comes out of similar confusion in others.  Then again, I don’t think that this moralized definition of man fits well with the common project of defining gender.  I’m inclined to say that the whole thing is really just playing with language – real just means good.  The authors are clearly not claiming that people who lack their list of traits are women or intersex individuals.  However, the authors are clearly not making universal moral prescriptions.  I would liken their idea to something like an Aristotelian telos.  They are describing how a man should act, but they are not actually providing much insight into the nature of man.

As a political move, however, the phrase is very interesting.  It is a kind of linguistic annihilation which makes those who fail at being a man into nothing.

Let me know what you think,


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