Manliness in the 21st century

manliness - man standing against a blackboard

Let’s begin by defining the term ‘manliness’

According to the Merriam-Webster online dictionary, manliness means:

Definition of manliness

: the quality or state of being manly (as by having qualities such as strength or virility that are traditionally associated with a man)
Hmm, somewhat vague…
The thing is that manliness means different things to different generations and different cultures. Take, for example, the man-bag. As a tail-end Boomer, I found it odd that a man would want to carry a bag around in a similar fashion to a woman. It certainly didn’t shout ‘manly’ to me; however, to a late Gen-Z or millennial, it is not only acceptable but popular. In fact, I know of one guy that is almost 40 years old and carries a man-bag across his body regularly, though he does keep his weed and Rizzlas in there as well as his wallet and iPhone.
masculinity - man wearing a business suit
manliness does not mean not asking for help
masculinity - deeply shadowed portrait

What is the difference between masculinity and manliness?

To many, manliness and masculinity are the same thing and they can be used synonymously in some cases; however, there are accepted differences, which are physiological and psychological.

Masculinity refers to the gender traits resulting from hormones. Things like physique, deep voice, body hair, virility, etc. Manliness, on the other hand, refers to the traits, abilities, and qualities of a man.

Of course, there is some overlap and the definition of masculinity includes references to manliness, as though a subset of masculinity, and vice-versa.

The role of Stoicism in manliness


55 – 135CE

Stoicism can be summarised as the ability to deal with life, recognising the things that we can change and the things we can’t. Understanding that it’s not the reaction to events that define us, rather it is our reaction to our judgment of the events.

Stoicism made its way from Greece, probably through the northward spread of Christianity and is considered, by some, to be the cause of the British ‘Stiff Upper-Lip’.

I reference this because having a ‘Stiff Upper-Lip’ is seen, by many to be a troublesome trait of manliness. Certainly, I have noticed that the older generations were more tight-lipped about their emotions and revealing their feelings than the generation of today.

Marcus Aurelius – Roman Emporer and The Philosopher-King

One of the most well-known proponents of Stoic teachings, Marcus Aurelius can help with modern-day manliness as Stoicism seems to be lacking, leading to instant reactions and flare-ups seen all around us.

Towards the end of his reign, Marcus Aurelius put his philosophies into a collection entitled “Meditations”, available on Amazon

Manliness - Marcus Aurelius

Marcus Aurelius
121 – 180CE

Quotes from Meditations

“And when you do become angry, be ready to apply this thought, that to fly into a passion is not a sign of manliness, but rather, to be kind and gentle. For insofar as these qualities are more human, they are also more manly. It is the man who possesses such virtues who has strength, nerve, and fortitude, and not one who is ill-humoured and discontented. Indeed, the nearer a man comes in his mind to freedom from unhealthy passions [apatheia], the nearer he comes to strength. Just as grief is a mark of weakness, so is anger too, for those who yield to either have been wounded and have surrendered to the enemy.” — Meditations, 11.18


“You don’t have to turn this into something. It doesn’t have to upset you. Things can’t shape our decisions by themselves.” – Meditations, 6.5

Manliness in the 21st century

My father was born in 1938 and raised to keep his emotions hidden, which he maintained throughout his life. I, in turn, was born in 1960 and he passed the same on to me; however, I began to question my thoughts and thought process at around the age of fifty.

It was clear that my sons were seeing the world differently to me. I realised that Stoicism had its place but that it can be too regimented. My dad was never able to tell me that he loved me, and I found it difficult to tell him. Now, with my sons fully grown, I make a point of telling them how proud I am of them and that I do, in fact, love them.

There is still a place for manliness and stoicism, with a small ‘s’, and I believe is something that should still be encouraged, but tempered with the need to communicate our feelings with those close to us.

For more information on what a father can teach his kids see our article What did you learn from your father?


What did the Stoics believe?

1. The Stoics believed in using reason and logic.
They believed that emotions like fear, anger, and grief clouded people’s ability to think clearly and make rational decisions. As such, they advocated for using reason and logic to make decisions and stay calm in the face of adversity.

2. The Stoics believed in self-control.
They believed that people should strive to control their emotions and desires, as these things can lead to suffering. Instead, people should focus on what is within their control, such as their own thoughts and actions.

3. The Stoics believed in accepting what is out of your control.
They believed that there are some things that are out of our control, such as the weather or other people’s actions. Rather than worrying about these things, we should accept them and focus on what we can control.

4. The Stoics believed in living in the present moment.
They believed that worrying about the future or dwelling on the past is a waste of time and energy. Instead, we should focus on living in the present moment and making the most of it.

5. The Stoics believed in doing what is right.
They believed that we should always do what is right, even if it is difficult or unpopular. They also believed that we should act with virtue, which is defined as doing what is good for its own sake regardless of any external rewards

Who was Epictetus?

Born around 55AD, Epictetus was born as a slave in Rome. When he arrived in Greece he was sent for training in philosophy and became known for his teachings of the Stoic movement and belief system. He lived until 135AD

Additional Reading

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