Whether man wants to admit it or not, he constantly frets over his own masculine status where perception is often more important than reality. He therefore is constantly measuring his own, and other men’s, masculinity through an unspoken Male Code, which, as we shall see, is so rife with complexities that a guidebook is desperately needed. Part of the problem regarding man’s confusion regarding masculinity is a lack of candor. No man is honest enough, or brave enough, to ask any nagging questions he may have about the Male Code. The second problem is that we assume the Male Code is somewhat obvious and transparent, but once we take a closer look we see that behind its apparent simplicity is an endless maze of Male Code bylaws, stipulations, and corollaries that make manliness a very messy business indeed.
Let us begin with the two essential features of the Male Code. The first is the dubious notion of courage based on a high tolerance to pain and adversity. There are many examples of this first trait but perhaps one of the most popular and recognizable types of masculine showboating is the man who braves the frigid outdoors in a ribbed undershirt, commonly known as a “wife-beater,” in order that he may show the world that his muscular carapace offers sufficient insulation from the hostile elements and as such he earns respect from his male brethren. Such a man forever shuns wearing a sweater or coat, for to cover himself in Gor-Tex or cashmere makes him lose face among his fellow males who perceive his “chilliness” as a sign of wussiness. What else will he whine about? A case of the sniffles? A mild sunburn? A rusty nail in the foot? A small albeit deep tiger shark bite? It is therefore imperative for man to conceal his sense of discomfort and to act as if he is sufficiently warm even when he is not and to hope that this exercise in machismo will eventually condition him to go the whole winter in nothing but jean cut-offs and a tank-top, and to do so with gusto. For it is well known that man’s insecurity makes him eager to earn Man Points from his fellow males even if traipsing half naked through harsh weather results in frostbite and the loss of life and limb.
However, man must understand that in his quest for Man Points his reluctance to show pain can be taken too far resulting in the very loss of Man Points he is so desperate to acquire. For example, as a teenager hanging out at the lake one summer, I once witnessed a mustached playboy with gold chain and puka shells playing Frisbee with a couple of bikini-clad women on a nearby grassy knoll. This tanning-lotion-slicked mountebank stepped on a bee and was stung, resulting in the inflammation of his foot. Sweat poured down his face. His foot and ankle area kept swelling. The women repeatedly asked him if he needed to stop the game of catch and get some medical attention, but hell-bent on not losing Man Points, he adamantly denied needing any assistance and continued tossing the Frisbee, trying to conceal his growing discomfort. Soon thereafter he went into anaphylactic shock and paramedics whisked him away in a stretcher as he screamed in agony, resulting in the loss of Man Points. A more manly reaction would have been to respond to the bee sting with an immediate, unflinching cry of visceral pain, followed by him injecting himself with a dose of Epinephrine. Gritting his teeth like Jack Bauer as he pulls a bullet from his lower abdomen and giving himself an intramuscular adrenaline injection would have earned him Man Points whereas being taken away on a stretcher, rendered helpless and moribund, compromised his masculinity to the point that he could never show his face to those women again.
The second characteristic of the Male Code is man’s need to show off his reproductive dominance, but this, too, often backfires. He is most vulnerable to trying too hard to show his reproductive superiority when he feels in competition with another man whose overpowering virility threatens his own. One salient example comes from the hysteria that surrounded the popularity of Tom Jones, the Welsh crooner whose sex appeal was once so great the ladies used to throw their panties and hotel keys at him on stage. In his TV show, circa 1969 to 1972, Jones wore tight spandex pants, which revealed a scandalous crotch bulge. Rumors abounded. He stuffed a giant rabbit’s foot down there. Or it was a stuffed sock. Whatever it was, the protuberance was enormous and it caused anxiety in the men whose own loins looked dwarfed in comparison. The Tom Jones spectacle created the necessity for men to stuff their own pants with bulge-enhancers. It didn’t matter if Tom Jones’ crotch was “natural” or not. What mattered is that there was the suspicion that he was relying on props and the average men of the world couldn’t stand by passively while one man enjoyed all the attention. They had to take matters into their own hands.
The race to have the biggest bulge is like the suspicion surrounding steroid use in sports. Athletes fear they are losing the edge because their competition is taking anabolic steroids, so that they too must take synthetic testosterone. Likewise, man’s need to out-schlong the other becomes like a nuclear arms race so that man reaches the absurd point that he is using prosthetic scrotums that, larger than elephant trunks, enter into the realm of diminishing effects so that his bulge is incapable of stirring lusts but is merely eye-popping in the most grotesque sense. Ultimately, these escalating Crotch Wars attest to male insecurity and prove to be repellant. In other words, when man tries too hard to draw attention to himself, he overcompensates so that his displays of self-aggrandizement betray his fundamental smallness.
Another striking example of masculinity overkill can be found in the Tom Cruise public relations debacle. Tom Cruise playing the fearless hero in Mission Impossible earned him Man Points, but then he asserted his masculinity too far when on Oprah he jumped on a couch like an alpha chimp to show how giddy he was over his allegedly euphoric relationship with Katie Holmes and suddenly he found his manliness was in question. His loss of Man Points provides a valuable lesson to those men who try too hard to grandstand their masculinity. A golden mean must be established, a fine balance between man’s Inner Billy Goat and his more softened, refined, nurturing side. A man who embodies this fine balance is Clint Eastwood. He showed is he is capable of seething and squinting at his enemies while brimming with testosterone before shooting them dead in such classic spaghetti Westerns as The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. But later in life he showed the maturity and sensitivity to pull Meryl Streep’s heartstrings in The Bridges of Madison County. Navigating between the roles of a fearless vigilante in a hardcore western and a sensitive lover in a chick flick earned him Man Points. This feat is all the more remarkable when we consider that the novel from which the film is based is so pabulum-soaked that any man caught reading it will be forever reduced to a eunuch. On the other hand, that same man is allowed to see the film version with impunity because, he can say, it featured Clint Eastwood, his childhood hero.
Another man who achieves this fine balance is Simon Cowell. Judging emotionally-arrested wannabe singers with dissociative personality disorders for American Idol is an emasculating endeavor, sure to result in the loss of Man Points. Cowell’s loss of Man Points is exacerbated by his penchant for wearing Euro-sleaze tight-fitting T-shirts, which highlight his saggy pecs. But by virtue of his unforgiving meanness and unflinching scowl as he fillets the contestants into dog chow tidbits, he earns back all his Man Points, plus more. Cowell shows a rare talent in which he can work within the namby-pamby entertainment industry, cohort with Paula Abdul, and actually earn Man Points.
The above examples show that adding or subtracting Man Points is a rather tricky business, burdened with so much confusion that the average man feels helpless and perplexed and he is ready to raise his hands in despair and give up on his masculinity quest altogether. But march forward he must. For maximizing his Man Points is his primary reason for living. It is in fact the primary obsession of modern man. It animates all he does, it consumes all his thoughts, his dreams, and his greatest fears. And why shouldn’t it? After all, a potent dose of masculinity has spurred man to sail the Seven Seas, to break the speed barrier, to venture into outer space, and to invent the hookless bra. Unfortunately, men like too much of a good thing so that they often assert their masculinity to exaggerated, self-destructive extremes. What is needed, then, is some kind of a guide, some sort of roadmap, that will take the average man to Man Points Valhalla.
Thus it is my role to provide that roadmap. Of course, this begs the question: Just what is my expertise, anyway, in the study of Man Points? A cursory glance at my background will indeed show that my credentials are impeccable as I have spent my entire life steeped in masculine pursuits and have enjoyed my own fair share of Man Points. Here is a pithy biographical sketch of some of my Greatest Man Points Moments: At thirteen, I was number one in the nation in the 148-pound class in Jr. Olympic Weightlifting. In my late teens, I “warmed-up” with 315 pounds on the bench press without bouncing the barbell off my chiseled pecs and with my steely ass glued to the bench. During my high school senior year during the frosty month of December as the cheerleaders did a toilet paper raid, streaming several toilet paper rolls over the limbs of my front yard’s eucalyptus trees, I scampered out of the house in nothing but a pair of underwear, so gonad-hugging that it put Tom Jones to shame, and I chased the cheerleaders down the block to their slowly-accelerating getaway car and caught one of them just as she was about to jump into the car’s back seat. Like a scene from Conan the Barbarian, I flung the flailing pompom girl over my shoulders. Then braving the blustering cold winds in my tattered loincloth, I carried her back to my bedroom where I conducted an interrogation and extracted all the names of the vandals. My audacity afforded me long-term Man Points buzz at high school to the point that the other boys, when seeing me, would freeze in silent adoration. Or breathless and stuttering, they would ask me for my autograph. After high school, at nineteen, I was runner-up in Mr. Teenage San Francisco. During my twenties and beyond I maintained my svelte high school physique so that I could enjoy the luxury of fitting my rock-hard butt cheeks in the world’s most expensive designer jeans. And I did this, it should be added, while putting myself through college by working at an upscale liquor store in Berkeley that boasted the largest import beer selection in the country. Obliged to be familiar with all the beers in order to make recommendations to the customers, I consumed more variety of beers than any man in the country, earning me a heap of Man Points. In my middle-age, I studied jiu-jitsu for a year with the famous Gracie family. Additionally, I have forged friendships with Navy SEALS, British Special Forces operatives, PRIDE fighters and other combatants in mixed martial arts fighting. I have, in short, rubbed shoulders with the world’s most macho men, and I am privy to the irrational impulses, biases, prejudices, and apex predator fantasies that makeup the Male Code. From these testosterone-fueled dreams, I have culled the most important elements that make up Man Points so that I can provide a guide for those who feel perplexed by the dizzying labyrinth that makes up the Man Points system.