Unpacking standards of masculinity within male self-improvement discourse
*All names have been changed for anonymity
You don’t need to venture far into YouTube or Tik Tok to come across content plastered aggressively with stock images of muscular men in suits and titles like “How High Value Men Get Women OBSESSED With Them.” In certain areas of the male self-empowerment space, the idea of the “high value man” is held as the epitome of masculinity. Promoted by the likes of Jordan Peterson, Kevin Samuels and Andrew Tate, the concept is used to encourage men to aspire to a specific check-list of traits that will increase their “value” and “desirability” as a man.
However, the discourse surrounding the “high-value man” and the general male self-improvement space has garnered significant controversy. Critics point to its entanglement with misogynistic ideas and promotion of toxic masculinity, while advocates argue that the framework provides men with constructive and straight-forward guidance.
But what do men think about this divisive topic? This week, Craccum spoke to a range of male students on campus to find out their thoughts on masculinity ideals within the male self-improvement sphere.
What Does Being a “High-Value Man” Even Mean?
For Caleb, the concept is about working on the way men carry themselves, such as through “being confident and respecting people around you.”
Similarly, Luke commented that being a “high-value man” is about being someone who has self-respect, while recognising that “they’re not always perfect but are working towards becoming a better person.”
“A high-value man may not necessarily be where you are now, but it is [a representation] of where you potentially want to [reach], if you have the desire to be better.”
Jack added that putting in effort is a key idea behind increasing your “value” as a man.”
“Someone that goes to the gym, studies hard, spends time with important people in their life—that’s potentially someone who is more [“high-value”] than drinking every weekend.”
However, other male students were sceptical of the notion and critical of the masculinity ideals behind the concept.
William not only disagrees with the idea of the “high value” man but he also does not consider himself as “high value.”
“People that think of themselves as “high value” are, in my opinion, low value. Your inner qualities matter more than your physical appearance or status in life.”
Nick feels that the concept is “stupid” because the “ideal” man that self-improvement creators promote is a “bit of an arse.”
“It [gets you] to take yourself too seriously and prevents you from being open-minded.”
Other male students also felt that the concept of the “high value man” promotes a very narrow view of masculinity.
“The idea is quite close-minded. There shouldn’t be a set idea of what a man should be,” commented Cole.
“Every man should have his own set of goals.”
Simon finds that aspiring to the notion of a “high value man” as toxic. Expectations like earning a high income and having many women surrounding them leads to a “detrimental lifestyle” as men are encouraged to chase “stuff that you don’t really need or want. “
How Helpful is the Self-Improvement Space for Personal Development?
The notion of the “high value” man is embedded in the broader context of the contentious male self-empowerment space. But do men find the messages propagated by this community empowering or harmful?
Ian feels that self-improvement in general is positive, regardless of “whether you’re a man or a woman.”
The prioritisation of fitness and taking on responsibility can be helpful for “making aspects of your life better.”
For Charlie, aspects of the self-improvement space, like the promotion of health, is a “positive thing.”
“I’m not a ‘go-Andrew-Tate’ person but he is still the guy who encourages other guys to be better, to hit the gym, to focus on their fitness, and not just drink alcohol on the weekends.”
Charlie also added that the space has the potential to be empowering as long as men find the right group where all members are “uplifting everyone.”
However, he also emphasises the importance of keeping a critical perspective on masculinity.
“You should develop that yourself. That’s something you should use your own head, rather than listening to others.”
Damian criticises the space for being “toxic.” In his experience, the content he has seen on social media tends to promote misogynistic ideas, or unhealthy expectations like having a “crazy body.”
On the other hand, Isaac finds the content from self-improvement content creators to be “cringey.”
“The whole alpha male thing is just bullshit. Live your life the way that you want.”
Similarly, Kenneth feels that the standards of the space promoted are centred around a very narrow and Western view of masculinity.
“They say you have to be the best, the strongest, the biggest guy—all of this shit if not what being a man is. There’s much more to [masculinity] than just going to the gym and picking up as many women as you want to, or can.”
Instead, he sees masculinity as encapsulating a wide range of qualities that should be defined on people’s “own terms.”
What Advice Should Men Interested In Personal Development Follow?
Kenneth’s advice for those looking to improve themselves is to carve your own definition of what it means to be a man.
“Don’t both listening to what social media personalities say. Your definition of [Masculinity] is unique to you and your situation.”
Similarly, Tom commented to “not care what other people think” and to work on yourself on your own terms.
Peter suggests having a more open idea of masculinity.
“You don’t have to be less ‘masculine,’ but it’s good to avoid following the advice of creators who promote ideals rooted in toxic masculinity.”
Others echoed the sentiment that simply being a man is masculine enough. In Finn’s words, “if you’re a man, you’re a man.”
The bottom-line seems to be that there are certain aspects of the male self-improvement space that can be unhelpful, such as its promotion of a very specific and narrow view of masculinity.
However, some of its messages, like the prioritisation of health and fitness, or taking on responsibility, not only resonates with men who are looking for personal development guidance, but can have a positive impact on their lives.
Whether you subscribe to the idea of a “high-value” man, or feel iffy about the idea of humans having standards that determine their “value,” it’s important not to impose your views or expectations of gender, or put others down because they don’t fit that subjective, constructed set of criteria.