The Male Scale: 10 Archetypes

Legends of the Fall - Brad Pitt

Manhood is in flux.

Until the 19th century and the beginning of the Women’s Suffrage movement, traditional gender definitions prevailed. But as women gradually claimed their share of political power, they were not content with the classic male-work-rational-strong vs. female-home-emotional-weak dichotomy that dominated — and of course they shouldn’t have been.

Men resisted the movement until they could do so no longer. As women took steps to define their own gender roles, men missed the opportunity to do the same. We were left with a confused, ragtag concept of what it means to be a man, defined not by ourselves, but rather by contrasting ideals from two sources — liberated women and posterity.

But most modern men defy these narrow stereotypes, taking pieces of each. So without further ado, I now present to you...

The Male Scale

John Wayne1: John Wayne
The cowboy. Solitary, doesn’t need anyone else, but everyone else needs him to save the day. He is untethered by the world, an emotional Gibraltar. Therein lies his power, and his doom.

James Bond2: James Bond
Bond is…almost untrammeled. As a spy, he is defined by his one “weakness,” a desire to save the women who he encounters, and not solely for the sex. It is this chink in his armor, this mite of sensitivity in an environment where it could mean his death, that has made his image an echoing one.

Hemingway3: Hemingway
Hemingway would pretend to be Wayne, hunting and fishing and eschewing the women for the guys. For Chrissake, he got a special dispensation to hunt U-Boats in the Caribbean during WWII, which really just was him and his buddies getting drunk in pleasant waters. But his manliness, down to his nickname — Papa — was always a bit of trying too hard, always a dodge from the heavy emotions that consumed him. His characters were constantly hurt and refused to show it. He was the sensitive man who couldn’t bear to think it, so tried to cover it up with obscene displays to the contrary.

Jason Bourne4: Jason Bourne
As we reach the middle of the scale, Bourne is a twist on Bond. He has that something that many men crave, that surety that every other guy he sees, he can take in a fight. But he’s also a man in search of himself, haunted by his status as an assassin. If you choose to see it that way, he represents a drive towards self-awareness that few action heroes attempt.

Harry Potter5: Harry Potter
Harry isn’t the best wizard. He’s not the smartest. But he is the bravest. He alternates between brash actions that make you cheer cringe, and moments of self-doubt and emotional connection that, well, make you cheer and cringe. He is motivated by the desire to protect, but also for love and family. And, of course, he combats evil. It’s fitting, perhaps, that the balance is embodied in a child, who is less affected by the cultural ideas that can take root in the soul after so many years.

Brad Pitt6: Brad Pitt
Right, right. We all know he plays a badass Irish boxer, a secret agent, and Tyler Durden. But let's not forget roles like Tristan in Legends of the Fall. (Sure,Tristan was one of the Knights of the Round Table in Arthurian legend, but the name also means "sad"). And, since hooking up with Jolie, Pitt has actively been trying to change his image from sex symbol to humanitarian aid symbol. That Vanity Fair cover he got so upset about was said by some to be working against this new image.

Barack Obama7: Barack Obama
Obama is a sensitive voter’s fantasy, hitting all the right notes of compassion and unity and hope. He lets us fantasize about the possibility of a President who isn’t a 1 or a 2 like most of those we’ve gotten over the years (particularly from the Republican party). Although he displays a strong chin, he is constantly criticized for his “lack of experience,” meaning his indecisiveness, lack of definitive policy, etc. In effect, he’s being criticized for not being more like Wayne or Bond.

Anderson Cooper8: Anderson Cooper
The compassionate anchor. Cooper vaunted into celebrity, of course, with his impassioned reporting from New Orleans during the Katrina disaster. He attracts viewers who want something beyond that dispassionate traditional approach, an anchor with whom they can connect emotionally. His stature, fine features, and blue blood are also not prototypically masculine, but are part of a package that a lot of people find appealing.

Danny Tanner9: Danny Tanner
On Full House, he was father and mother, teaching his children about emotions really more than anything else. He was respectable, the kind of dad a lot of people would want. Of course, that didn’t stop everyone from calling him gay to the point that Bob Saget wrote a hysterical song defending Tanner’s heterosexuality.

Mr. Sensitive10: Mr. Sensitive
Just to get the point across, I’m going with a caricature here. In the certifiably crappy movie Bedazzled (whose only redeeming feature was Liz Hurley in shifting, besequined outfits), Brendan Fraser for his wishes switches his personality around in an effort to win the heart of this one girl. At one point, he wishes to be “sensitive,” which just means that he starts crying over crap like the flight of a bird. The lesson I think we’re supposed to take away: some, or even a lot of sensitivity is good, but for God’s sake, be a man!

So now I ask you: is this scale accurate? Is it skewed in one direction or another? Where do prominent figures you know fall? (I think Bush is a 1.)

Ethan Todras-Whitehill is a freelance writer who covers technology, travel, and subcultures. He contributes regularly to The New York Times and several national magazines. He also blogs at

See also:
The Scientific Laws of Romance
Nancy Drew's Sexy Secrets
Girls Are Geeks, Too
Why Chicks Don't Dig the Singularity
Top 5 Cartoon Hunks

24 thoughts to “The Male Scale: 10 Archetypes”

  1. A guy with a hyphenated last name is writing about manliness? My irony meter just blew a fuse.

  2. First 6 were spot on. When you got to Obama, though, you completely lost me. The guy’s as thin skinned as they come, is a transparent suit who lacks a portfolio. He’s just a pretty face with nothing to say.
    Then you toss in Anderson Cooper? WTF? No thanks. Walter Cronkite, sure. Peter Jennings? OK. Anderson Cooper? Completely lost on that call.
    Both these guys are really “Mr. Sensitive” or “Danny Tanner”.

    I disagree about Bush. You’re missing the “tough guy who talks tough, but is really a pawn” archetype. Mongo from “Blazing Saddles”, for example, or Governor LePetomaine (not exactly tough, but tough talking).
    Cheney is a 1, without question.

  3. Really? I think Bush would like to be a 1, but he’s really somewhat higher on that scale.

    What with his needing a crowd of yes-men and all..

    “Don’t worry Mr Bush, you don’t need congressional approval to invade Iraq.. You’re the decider!”

    Of course, like any of these things, you can’t really pin anyone firmly to that scale..

  4. Skewed to one side? No, insulting the republican party and placing a prospective democratic candidate on the list in the process is definitely not skewed.

  5. are you kidding me… anderson cooper… that freakin hack? well as soon as i saw him and obama i knew this article was tripe.

  6. i’m not so sure it’s a list about manliness per se. it’s more about showing that there’s a spectrum stretching between extremes of near-robot-like lack of emotional depth on one end, and cry-baby, indecisive wimpiness on the other; and it’s the types in the center, synthesizing those qualities, who are the most interesting.

  7. bush as a 1? Independent cowboy maybe. However, this status would require the request of others for him to save the day. I give him an 12.5.

  8. uhm. obama? anderson cooper? mr. sensitive? give me a break! If we’re working off a list of “scripted personalities” I have a few more that at least have more archetypical depth:

    Forest Gump – Has a lot of issues but seems to always do the right thing. Makes it through life successful despite all his problems.

    Dane Cook – sort of a metrosexual who plays off his boyish charm but surprises you with obscure references.

    Merlin (also Gandalf) – The mysterious wizard who is wise beyond his years, deeply spiritual, and knows the inner workings of the universe. (same archetype is in “Spirited Away”, the boy dragon)

    Larva (from Vampire Princess Miyu.. also “Joe” from Meet Joe Black.. and “Maxx”) – The protector. Always defending his woman unfettered despite attempts from his (or her) family/clan to free him from his bonds. Takes care of problems in his own way.

    Lewis Black (and also Lou Dobbs) – Reformers. Drawing attention to problems through wit and dialog. Maybe your “obama” and “anderson cooper” would fit in this category?

  9. Yeah, once you get to barack you kinda lost the plot, the top 4 just seem to be a nebulous collection of bedwetters.

    and forchrissakes whoever is whinging about political bias harden the fuck up.

  10. I loved the movie Bedazzled! I thought Brendan Fraser was great, as was Liz Hurley. But the girl who played his love interest was fantastic. That Spanish scene where he was a Colombian drug lord and she was married to him but hated him was so funny.

  11. Why is there no mention of Rock Hudson? Where does his form of manliness come into the scheme of things?

    And what about Truman Capote?

  12. Where do the likes of Truman Capote and Rock Hudson find themselves in this scale?

    This scale has chosen to omit many manly qualities. The Greeks, now they had the archetype thing down to a Tee.

  13. If the american male needs a scale this broad, I would like to turn in my citizenship please. On that list anything past 3 or 4 is at best a drone and not a man.

  14. I agree with the guy who said a man with a hyphenated name should not be writing articles about manliness.

  15. I’d have to say Clint Eastwood instead of John Wayne. Way more manly.

    The list is useless, aside from pointing out the obvious: balance is healthy.

  16. well, 7-10 are supposed to be the wimpier sides, eh? In that case, I would transpose potter with pitt.
    yeah, for all this shit W takes, he has to be a 1.
    I also agree that a gandalf figure should be there. Prob instead of Bour(ing)ne

  17. If you take one particular man, I think he could move from one point to another (and back) on this scale over a lifetime, depending on his circumstances, life lessons, and mental health. There’s also the public face vs. reality schism, such as W’s tough image. In some men, the public image IS reality, for others, not so much.

  18. interesting continuum. i’m not sure yet if i agree, but there is something that bothers me… harry potter isn’t brave. anyone who unconsciously defies death as he does, has taken bravery out of the equation. i don’t really find wolverine from x-men brave for this reason either. hermione and ron seem braver to me, since they’re always the ones facing real danger with no invisible cadre of spirits waiting in the wings.

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