Not the Man We Used to Be: An Anthropologist’s View of the New Weaker Sex

According to a recent book, Manthropology: The Science of Why the Modern Male is Not the Man He Used to Be, by Peter McAllister, modern men are basically fucked. McAllister, an archeologist and science writer, has analyzed the iron men of yore — the Neanderthals and Wodabees, the Tahitian seducers and Mongol bowmen — and concluded that in every meaningful department the Homo modernus is a deplorable wreck. For instance? Well, for instance, we are jelly-muscled and out of shape; we are bad singers and worse lovers; we’re a lazy, cowardly, unimaginative bunch of wrecks. Turns out we’re not even good with kids anymore: Aka Pygmy fathers in Africa were known to spend “47 percent of their waking time in close physical contact with their children and even sometimes grow breasts to suckle them.”

This is of course old, though still unwelcome, news. For a while now we’ve been witnessing the gradual depletion of the male sex. But McAllister really wants us to know how bad things are, wants to rub it in. On the first page he nukes readers with the claim that “you are — or he is — absolutely the worst man in history,” before scouring for survivors with his flamethrowers and assault rifles of facts and stats: “falling sperm counts, accelerating job losses, waning libidos, and fading masculine relevance,” etc. Briefly put: “there’s nothing we can do that ancient men, and sometimes women, haven’t already done better, faster, stronger, and usually smarter.”

That’s on the third page. By the end of the book, if you haven’t already hanged yourself, or collapsed in a spasm of orchestral sobs, you will have been subjected to a carpet-bombing of scientific fact, evolutionary theory and ancient history, all of it sub-sectioned neatly into categories like “Bravado,” “Balls” or “Babes.”

Charles Atlas "Popular Mechanics" ad
A June 1946 advertisement in "Popular Mechanics" with celebrity strongman Charles Atlas (image via

On page after page McAllister goes out of his way to quell our bleeding reserves of manhood. If you think you’ve had a lot of sexual partners he’ll inform you that King Tanga of Varanasi kept a harem of sixteen thousand women. If you think you play sports hard he’ll tell you about Swedish knife-wrestling. Think you’re a tough pub-brawler? Forget it: young Trukese men would spend entire weekends in armed drunken combat, sometimes slicing open their arms in brash displays of bravery. Three hundred pages of this, while McAllister sits there cackling, like some mad scientist, with sardonic glee: “every little doubt you have ever had about yourself is completely and utterly true.”

OK, but what can we do about it? McAllister claims that the modern male’s ailments are genetic, ontogenetic, or cultural. The genetics bit we obviously can’t do much about, whereas we can change our cultural ways, or so the author inveighs. But even if we could, do we really want to? The gold standard for men used to be James Bond. Now it’s Don Draper: i.e. we don’t want to jet around the world thwarting terrorist organizations, drinking martinis, and spending every night under a heap of women. We want to sit in an office all day, drinking martinis, and spend every night under a heap of women. And what of it? Does the fact that the modern male either chooses not to, or simply isn’t able to, physically exert himself as capably as his tribal forefathers really make him a traitor to his sex, as McAllister argues? It’s obviously one thing to skip the daily Big Mac or cut a twelve-pack or two from the diet — but do we really need to row as fast Greek trireme rowers? Run as fast as Ice Age runners of Pre Historic New South Wales? What exactly would be the point of jumping as high as the gusimbuka-urukiramende high jumpers?

I wonder if McAllister isn’t the real traitor. I was already feeling like shit, thank you very much. There’s enough male anxiety going around these days, an imponderable excess of fitness mags that guilt you into the cultivation of six-packs and two-pecs, biceps and triceps. Manthropology is simply a low blow. Besides which there’s something troublesome about the book’s latent nostalgia for the Terminators of ages past. The Olympian physique-romance is just one side of the story. The other side, the one that McAllister doesn’t really get into, would go something like: ‘Hey guys! Remember when we used to beat up women and destroy shit?’ I can’t help but feel that if the majority of modern males were anything like their superior ancestors, things would be looking pretty bad. Perhaps beer guts and whiskey paunches a better world doth make.

Manthropology: The Science of Why the Modern Male is Not the Man He Used to Be, by Peter McAllister is available on Amazon and other online booksellers.

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