But a recent book on the subject of 'manliness' - from a most unlikely source - a college professor who teaches at... Harvard... does an excellent job of defining what makes men... manly. The writer also observes that quality of manliness is not restricted to men.
And I wholeheartedly agree.
As someone who attends countless meetings seven days - and nights - a week - and who works with endless government, tranditional non-profits, non-traditional NGO's and business organizations - as often as not - I find it is the women who are willing to take the bull by the horns and not the men.
Circumstances have forced me - alas - to live in a cowboy-free world.
Harvard professor examines the concept of 'manliness'
During a debate over California's budget in 2004, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R-Calif.) famously derided his opponents as "girlie-men." Harvey Mansfield would have approved.
Indeed, Mansfield would be deeply impressed with a body-builder-turned-politician using such gendered language, the decline of which is but one of many laments in his new book titled, you guessed it, Manliness.
So, what is manliness? Mansfield, a professor of government at Harvard University and a translator of many works of political theory, gives plenty of examples. President Harry Truman, with his maxim "the buck stops here," earned himself a place in the club; so did Humphrey Bogart, who, as Rick in Casablanca, "was confident and cynical - cool before 'cool' was invented." The actions of the courageous police and firefighters in New York City on Sept. 11 were manly; and Margaret Thatcher, the former British prime minister, was undoubtedly manly in Mansfield's estimation.
"Manliness seeks and welcomes drama and prefers times of war, conflict, and risk," he writes in definition. "Manliness brings change or restores order at moments when routine is not enough, when the plan fails, when the whole idea of rational control by modern science develops leaks." In short, manliness is "the next to last resort, before resignation and prayer."
Mansfield is clear about why he wrote such a deliberately controversial book. His target is the emerging ethos advocating a gender-neutral society in which one's sex matters as a little as possible.
Mansfield believes that as a consequence, this society will not adequately provide citizens their rights, their duties, and their place. Since manliness is anathema to a gender-neutral society, those advocating the latter must try to eliminate it.
Not so fast, says manliness. Manliness, though predominately found in males, is not a gender-specific virtue. And regardless of the sex in which it resides, Mansfield asserts this virtue as essential to a healthy society, for it offers "confidence in the face of risk and trouble from those who love risk too much."
Throughout the book, Mansfield serves up examples of those who are manly and those who don't make the cut. Actors John Wayne and Clint Eastwood are manly, but Alan Alda and "pretty boys like Leonardo DiCaprio" are not. Oval Office manliness was found in Theodore Roosevelt, but not in Jimmy Carter.
Despite the frequent mention of manly personages, Mansfield contends that his claim is not to provide criteria for judging who is manly, since "most people know that already."
But "they don't know how to judge what is manly. What do manly men do for us? Are they more trouble then they are worth?"
Given the title, Mansfield's answers to these questions are unsurprising.
Manly men promote virtue and daring in society, and while he will concede that excesses can occur, on balance they are not more trouble than they are worth.
Mansfield's slim but substantial volume makes for an interesting read, but is probably not for the easily offended.
He is deliberately trying to provoke controversy, and some of his barbs seem gratuitously offensive. Some readers may be tempted to throw the book down at times.
But if they stick with it, they may find themselves nodding in agreement.
Who knows - maybe by the time you put the book down, you'll be inspired to be "manly." Use power tools.
Crack open a beer and watch a football game. And whatever you do, don't ask for directions.