Maxim Masculinity and the Re-Evaluation of Manliness


As one of the most popular “lifestyle” magazines in Canada, Maxim certainly has its appeal. With plenty of bare skin and articles ranging from “guy movie” reviews to sports and how-to-pick-up techniques, Maxim has found itself in a niche market with similar man-oriented magazines like Men’s Health, Stuff, and GQ. Of course it is well known that most magazines are part of niche market that helps to define the personal identities of those who read and subscribe to it. I’m a comic book geek, so I read Wizard, just as people who consider themselves sports enthusiasts read Sports Illustrated and so-called “Culture-Jammers” read Adbusters. This is the norm, naturally. But last year Maxim launched a campaign that was either a very clever marketing ploy or an attempt to sharply define the lines of who its readership should be.

Simply put, Maxim magazine is attempting to redefine, along indisputable terms, what it means to be male. Seeing itself as a crusader against all things “metro-sexual,” the magazine stated that a real man was one who worked out in dark dank gyms, not in “fitness centers,” who watched sports, not fashion shows, and is interested in signs of affluence like cars, watches, “toys” and suits. Women are to be looked at, picked up, and manipulated, not understood. No manicures, no pedicures, no vegetarians and no pussies allowed. The culmination of this campaign was the article simply entitled “Be a Man Dammit!” in which an esteemed panel of experts on all things manly, including Jack Palance, Evil Kneival and Lee Marvin, espoused The Great and Holy Gospel of The Phallic Supreme.

So I’m out. Sorry boys. I have no choice but to turn in my penis. I am no longer a member of the esteemed ranks of those uber-Schwarzenegger-video-game-destruction-loving-bicep-curling-sports-addict-hyperguys. Due to my enjoyment of poetry and books, my actual understanding and emotional connection to my girlfriend, and my lack of concern for things like cars and sports, I have been told by Maxim magazine that it is time to turn in the old testicles. And I’m not alone. By Maxim’s account so are all of my vegetarian friends as well as quite a few homosexuals, bisexual and queer-identified people who used to be considered male. That’s right guys. You’re not men.

But I have a solution. I propose a Post-Scrotal Support Dynamic, or PSSD for short. We can organize retreats, seminars, and reeducation programs to reclaim our frank and beans. You know, a place in the middle of Algonquin Park where we can all get together, eat raw meat, burn our intellectual materials, watch sports, grunt, howl at the moon, ogle women who don’t stimulate us on an intellectual or emotional level, and bare-knuckle box. I figure a few years of this, and our testosterone levels will be up to standard. Who wants to sign up?

The really funny part of this is that, at least on a superficial level, Maxim magazine is right: there is a crisis in masculine identities. First identified by Robert Bly, a poet ironically, in his work Iron John, there has been much contemporary debate on how to deal with the violence, irresponsibility, and downright vain and self-centered attitude that has swept young men as the proper way to be “male.’ What Maxim magazine fails to realize is that they are not on the side of angels in this debate (nor would they be: wings, harps, singing…all sounds pretty faggy to me.) Maxim’s attempt to define what it means to be a “real man” is to create the kind of juvenile personal identity usually associated with thirteen year-olds lifting Lose Weight Exercises in a basement surrounded by Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issues.

Unfortunately, Maxim, by aiming for the lowest common denominator of what it means to be man, is winning. Their version of masculinity: red-meat hyper-aggressive consumer-based vanity and irresponsibility, can be seen everywhere, especially here on campus. Go to the Turret, Wilf’s, or just down to the Terrace where I work every Saturday night and you can see the Maxim man strutting around like the alpha-male he’s been convinced he has to be. Maxim, of course, is not the only ones responsible for this sudden explosion of “real man” syndrome, but they are the easiest target. For every action, there is a reaction, and as we reconsider the stereotypes and dualisms of gender constructs, there will be backlashes like this one. But I’ll say one thing that is true for all “real men”: Real men don’t need to have their identities defined for them by a pop-culture life-style magazine, nor do they need “rules” to dictate their behavior. They can determine for themselves what it means to be a man, and they don’t need to indulge any ridiculous media constructs to feel confident.