Sunday, March 1, 2009

Roy F. Baumeister - One Ideal Image of Manliness

I liked this post from the Psychology Today blogs. It offers up the lead character in Hotel Rawanda as an ideal of manliness. I agree.

One Ideal Image of Manliness

Who is your image of the ideal man? Our culture has gotten confused about how to depict manhood in a positive light. Hollywood movies have changed. When I was young, cowboy types like the young Clint Eastwood showed abundant competence and minimal emotion, had complete self-control, mastered violence, and did what was right. Rebellious images of manliness such as Marlon Brando swaggered and dominated. Then we moved to sensitive guys like Alan Alda. Strength and competence continued to show up in the characters played by Arnold Schwarzenegger, who gradually added a sense of humor as well.

Let me offer a very different sort of candidate. I recently watched the film Hotel Rwanda. The lead character in that film, Paul Rusesabagina, played by Don Cheadle, offers a great model of manliness. Slight of build, gentle, with soft high voice and almost servile manner, he bears no resemblance to the Schwarzenegger type of manhood. Yet the inner strength and resourcefulness that he exhibits throughout the story were remarkable. (Incidentally, the story behind the film is true.)

He has a nice job managing a hotel when suddenly the society around him descends into mass killing. He belongs to the dominant Hutu faction and would be safe, though his wife, a Tutsi, is at risk. Yet he resists the violence and uses every ploy and trick he can think of to save the lives of the vulnerable people at his hotel. He bribes, flatters, pleads. Knowing appearances count, he interrupts his increasingly desperate efforts to deal with the situation in order to take the time to dress properly and look good, so that his meetings with the generals and others with power will bear more fruit, and he can reassure the frightened guests that things are still under control. (At the end, when no one with power is willing to help, the concern with appearance is abandoned, revealing it to have been purely pragmatic.)

What made him manly, in my view? Although not physically overpowering, he was strong, resourceful, and effective. Patient, smart, realistic. He accepted more responsibility than was necessary and did his very best without complaint. He took care of a great many people, including his family but also a large number of complete strangers who had fallen under his care. (Women tend to specialize in caring for the small circle; men operate in larger social spheres and groups.) He maintained superb self-control, remaining restrained and pragmatic even as his world disintegrated into horror.

Read the rest of the post.

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