Positive Masculinity: What It Is & How to Tap Into It

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "No More Mr. Nice Guy" by Robert Glover. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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What is positive masculinity? How can you embody positive masculine traits?

Dr. Robert Glover argues that due to parental relationships and some major societal shifts in the 20th century, some men grew up believing masculinity was inherently bad—but tapping into positive masculinity can lead to improved confidence and self-sufficiency.

Here’s what Glover has to say about positive masculinity.

Positive Masculinity, Explained

According to Glover, when men repress their masculinity, they deny a core part of themselves and their potential power. 

According to Glover, whether inside or outside of the home, boys struggle to find male role models—including in our current public education system. Glover claims that throughout the 20th century, schools saw an increase in female teachers. At the time of NMMNG’s publication, 15% of American elementary school teachers were male, meaning more often than not, impressionable boys tend to be surrounded by mostly women. Glover says boys become accustomed to seeking women’s approval during these early school years.

(Shortform note: As of 2018, the number of male elementary school teachers in America has dropped to 11%. But the shift to a women-dominated education system didn’t begin in the 20th century as Glover implies (although the number of female teachers did continue to grow at that time). In fact, the trend began as far back as the mid-19th century when the American public school system began. Just a few decades after its inception, more than half the teachers in America were women. Education being seen as “women’s work” is one of the reasons teaching remains an underappreciated and underpaid position, which in turn drives men away from the profession.)

To Glover, masculinity is self-sufficiency. Positive masculine traits support the survival of the individual, family, and community, such as determination, strength, bravery, honesty, and passion. However, he also believes masculinity includes harmful traits like aggression, ferocity, and cruelty. The above destructive traits cause a fear of masculinity. But while repressing this “dark side,” Glover says they bury their positive masculinity as well, which makes them: insecure, cowardly, unambitious, and lifeless.

Another Take on Positive Masculinity

The author of The Superior Man David Deida doesn’t simply discuss masculinity, but masculine energy. According to him, we all have the capacity for masculine and feminine energy. He breaks these energies into two simple categories: those who ravish (masculine) and those who desire to be ravished (feminine). Deida believes it’s up to you to decide which energy you align most with. That being said, he specifies that The Way of the Superior Man is intended for men who align with the masculine.

Deida stresses the importance of the polar attraction between the masculine and the feminine, so he further defines both energies through what they can give the other. He sees the following as masculine “gifts” to the opposing feminine: unconditional love, stability, security, decisiveness, an analytical perspective.

While Glover’s understanding of masculinity is largely based on what a man is capable of, Deida’s concept lies more in what it feels like to be a man and how this specific energy positively contributes to his relationships and the overall balance of the universe.  

Social Movements That Divided Men, According to Glover

Glover argues that various 20th-century social movements contributed to men’s increasing feelings of isolation from one another:

The Anti-War Movement: According to Glover, the Vietnam War deepened the chasm between Baby Boomers and their fathers’ generation. World War II veterans took pride in fighting for their country, while their sons of the 1960s protested Vietnam. Unlike their fathers, the young men of the Anti-War movement preached peace and love over bombs and war. 

The Post-Vietnam Distrust Between Generations

In her article “Fathers, Sons, and Vietnam,” sociologist Tracy Karner explores the distrust that arose between WWII veterans and their sons after the latter group returned from Vietnam. She takes Glover’s point further, emphasizing the feelings of betrayal that arose when sons heading overseas—who were told stories of valiant, necessary war in which the US was a “winner”—found the opposite of what their fathers had described.

Further, upon their return, the lack of resources offered to Vietnam veterans (as compared to those after WWII) made these young men feel left behind. These sons found the America their fathers had described to be a myth. Between Vietnam, Watergate, and shifting morals of the 1960s and 70s, this “crisis of credibility” forced the younger generation to question all forms of authority—including their fathers and their brand of masculinity.

Second-Wave Feminism: During the women’s liberation movement of the 1960s, women continued to break free from their assumed roles while men grew increasingly confused about their role in society. In particular, Glover says young men internalized radical feminist slogans that asserted men were bad or useless. Nice Guys were already scrambling to please women—and now they believed they had to try even harder. This obsessive focus on solely women’s approval continued to isolate men from one another.

Were Men Negatively Impacted by “Feminist Slogans”?

While the impact of feminist movements on gender roles and societal values is clear, there’s little concrete evidence to back up Glover’s claim that the second-wave’s “radical slogans” negatively affected the egos of young men. In fact, these “damaging” slogans likely didn’t exist to the degree that Glover implies, or at least weren’t mainstream enough to affect an entire generation of men. 

Unlike first-wave feminism—which focused on women’s voting and property rights—the women’s liberation movement of the mid-to-late 20th century turned its sights on women’s roles in the home and workplace, reproductive rights, legal inequalities, sexism, as well as domestic and sexual violence towards women. With these goals in mind, the most prominent slogan of the second-wave movement was not a tirade against men but, “The personal is political.” This phrase sought to highlight the fact that women’s everyday experiences were entrenched in their unequal political and social status. Its impact inspired women to weave political activism into their daily lives and prompted the creation of feminist consciousness-raising groups.

The main slogan Glover takes issue with is “All men are rapists,” which comes from Marilyn French’s novel The Women’s Room (1977). (However, the full quote is: “All men are rapists, and that’s all they are. They rape us with their eyes, their laws, and their codes.”) The book explores a range of women involved in the liberation movement and that particular phrase is said by a character meant to represent militant radical feminists, not mainstream feminism.

Although French’s novel was a New York Times bestseller the year of its release, it was considered a text for “hardcore feminists” and was critiqued harshly in the media for its portrayal of men. Thus, it’s difficult to imagine this slogan permeating pop culture and the minds of young men in the way Glover describes.With the context of this phrase in mind, as well as a lack of historical or psychological research on the impact of these “slogans” on men, we don’t have hard facts to corroborate Glover’s observations on this topic.

Tap Into Positive Masculinity

Glover argues that if a man wishes to feel empowered and get a handle on his relationships with men, women, and life in general, he must reclaim his masculinity. This reclamation means embracing your manhood and all its traits. To get back in touch with and draw on the power of your masculine self, Glover recommends you:

Welcome fear: Glover asserts the only way to overcome vicious anxiety and fear is to acknowledge it and face what currently scares you. You create new beliefs each time you push through fear.

(Shortform note: Facing your fears is easier said than done, but we can look again to The Way of the Superior Man for advice. When you’re feeling uncomfortable, anxious, or afraid, Deida recommends you let go and open yourself to uncertainty by breathing deeply and speaking your fears. These exercises will allow you to be mentally and physically present with your emotions so you can acknowledge them and move on.)

Set boundaries: It’s hard to embrace your personal power if you let others walk all over you. So, you must take responsibility for how others treat you. Glover stresses that others have no incentive to change if you reinforce their bad behavior by giving in. Once you realize this, you’ll find changing your own behavior (by setting firm boundaries) is a simpler, more rewarding path.

(Shortform note: Nervous about setting boundaries with a loved one or your boss? Psychology scholar Mariana Bockarova encourages you to practice being assertive in all situations to get used to enforcing boundaries. How can you talk to your partner about being mistreated if you can’t tell a server he got your order wrong? By starting small, you can build your way up to setting limits with your loved ones.)

Develop integrity: Instead of defaulting to deceit out of fear, Glover says Nice Guys must develop integrity. According to Glover, the best way to live with integrity is to ask yourself, “What do I think is right?” Then do it. Honesty gives you the power to approach everything with clarity, direction, and sincerity. 

(Shortform note: How do you know what’s “right”? In Dare to Lead, Brené Brown stresses the importance of developing strong personal values to guide you through difficult matters of integrity. Without guiding values, we’re more likely to take the easy way out than do what’s right. For example, if you value accountability, you could set a guideline for yourself that says you will own up to your mistakes and avoid making excuses when you do so.)

Bond with other men: Whether hanging out with friends or admiring a role model, Glover urges you to develop solid relationships with other men. Glover says Nice Guys are less likely to smother, resent, or manipulate their partners when they have others they can turn to for support. Additionally, friends and role models can provide new, healthy models of masculinity.

Exercise: Access Positive Masculinity

Before you can reclaim your positive masculinity, define it for yourself.

  • What are some examples of positive masculinity and positive masculine traits in your opinion? What makes a “healthy male” in your eyes?
  • Think about other men in your life (relatives, community members, fictional characters). Who do you know that embodies any or all of these characteristics? How could they serve as your role model?
  • Pick one potential role model. What questions might you ask him? (Gear your questions toward masculinity and being a self-accepting man—if Captain America is your role model, don’t ask him what it was like to wake up decades into the future.) How does this person embody positive masculinity?
Positive Masculinity: What It Is & How to Tap Into It

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Here's what you'll find in our full No More Mr. Nice Guy summary:

  • Why being a "Nice Guy" isn't actually a good thing
  • Why Nice Guys miss out on a life of self-acceptance, empowerment, and satisfaction
  • How to know if you are a Nice Guy and how to become an "Ideal Man" instead

Elizabeth Shaw

Elizabeth graduated from Newcastle University with a degree in English Literature. Growing up, she enjoyed reading fairy tales, Beatrix Potter stories, and The Wind in the Willows. As of today, her all-time favorite book is Wuthering Heights, with Jane Eyre as a close second. Elizabeth has branched out to non-fiction since graduating and particularly enjoys books relating to mindfulness, self-improvement, history, and philosophy.

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