New book looks at masculinity in the age of Trump and our country’s problem with the ‘Real Man’
I was scrubbing the upstairs bathroom tub, listening to a track from the 1972 film adaptation of the Broadway musical “Cabaret” and thinking about masculinity.
What prompted this — the thoughts on masculinity, not the tub scrubbing or “Cabaret” listening — was a new book by comedian Michael Ian Black. It’s called “A Better Man,” and it tackles (please note the manly word choice) the subjects of men and “toxic masculinity” in an American moment when bullying, refusing to admit you’re wrong and putting on the airs of some idealized “tough guy” seem all the rage.
I’ll get to the substance of the book in a moment, but first, let’s return to the bathroom.
We clean the house each weekend, my wife and kids and me. I usually handle the upstairs, which allows me to listen to music and lose myself in clouds of Ajax and vacuum cleaner dust.
Growing up, my parents loved musicals, and “Cabaret” was a favorite. A song from that soundtrack came up on my playlist Sunday as I was cleaning.
In my head was the content of Black’s book, which is framed as a letter to his son as he prepares for college. The book delves into the unanswerable question of what it means to be a man and the absurd measures our culture has set up for gauging who is or isn’t manly.
Leaning over the tub, I paused my scouring a moment and wondered what listening to a show tune while cleaning the tub said about my manliness. And I realized I didn’t care.
A lyric in the song I was listening to — “Mein Herr,” which, conveniently, is German for “My Man” — put it nicely: “And though I used to care, I need the open air.”
I no longer care how anyone defines my man-ness. I haven’t cared for quite some time, in fact, and that, I argue, is how we should hope our children feel.
Other things I did Sunday included watching football, planting a tree in the backyard and oiling the garage door tracks. Are those more manly endeavors? Do they up my man-cred in some way that makes any difference to anyone on earth?