'Art Of Manliness' Is Finding A Balance Between Tough And Tender To help men learn to be better men in the 21st century, Brett MacKay created the website Art of Manliness. He talks with Audie Cornish about what he sees as the basic conflict of modern masculinity.

'Art Of Manliness' Is Finding A Balance Between Tough And Tender

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

And now another resource for the 21st century man.

BRETT MCKAY: The whole point of etiquette and being a gentleman is to just make life more comfortable for others.

CORNISH: That's Brett McKay. He's the creator of the website Art of Manliness, which she co-edits with his wife. It covers a range of subjects that sometimes confound men - practical skills, such as hunting with dogs, advice on relationships and guidance on the big questions. One article is titled "What Is Character? And How To Develop It." Social etiquette is a recurring topic on Art of Manliness. McKay says among his readers, opening the door for a woman is a hot button issue.

MCKAY: I think you shouldn't get hung up on it. Like, if a woman is, you know, closer to the door than I am, I'm not going to run to the door and, like, knock everyone over so I can open the door for her. But if I'm there before her, I'll open the door.

CORNISH: It's sort of a mask for the big issues, right? And if there's one word that gets at that - what I'm coming away with here is confusion. And what kind of confusion are you hearing from your readers?

MCKAY: Well, what I find with our readers is that on the one hand, you have this idea that to be a man means to be macho and strong and stoic and tough. The other idea of what it means to be a man is you need to be more sensitive and more loving and compassionate and more - you know, have some of those softer virtues. And I would say that that's a false dichotomy. You can be both. And, in fact, what we try to promote on the site is this idea of the complete man.

For the ancients - from the ancient Greeks, the ancient Romans - being a man meant being physically strong, having martial courage, taking risk, being daring. But you tempered that with some of the more softer, contemplated virtues, like compassion, temperance, empathy for those who are weaker than you.

CORNISH: And you also look - I'm going to fast-forward in history a little bit to Theodore Roosevelt, as someone who you consider a model. How come?

MCKAY: Yeah. So Theodore Roosevelt really embodied this classical idea of manliness. If you look at his life, he - when he was a boy, he was sickly with asthma. Then he made a commitment to build his body - went off to the woods and manned the hunt. In Harvard, he boxed. But at the same time, he embodied this sort of tenderness and compassion for this family and for the common man. His son described Roosevelt as one of the manliness men he's ever known with the tenderness of a woman. We call Teddy Roosevelt the patron saint of the art of manliness because he embodies what we're trying to go for.

CORNISH: Doesn't it, in some ways, say something positive about the state of things, in that both men and women are even having this conversation?

MCKAY: Yeah. I mean, I think it's fantastic that both men and women are having this conversation about what it means to be a man and how we can encourage men to be the best they can be so they can have a fulfilling life and - as well as contribute to our culture and our society. Again, this is a - this -we're just having this discussion that's been going on for thousands of years. And I think we'll always be having this discussion because it's - for whatever reason, it touches a nerve. And it means a lot to us as a culture - what manhood or manliness means.

CORNISH: That's Brett McKay. He's founder and editor-in-chief of the Art of Manliness website. Thanks so much for talking with us.

MCKAY: It's been a pleasure, Audie. Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WHATTA MAN")

SALT 'N' PEPA: What a man, what a man, what a man, what a mighty good man. He's a mighty, mighty good man, y'all.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

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