Manhood: Playboy’s Cooper Hefner Delves into What It Means to Be a Man Today

By Cooper Hefner

Since the dawn of human consciousness, we’ve explored what it means to be men much more than we’ve permitted our counterparts to explore what it means to be women. This is a matter of fact for most cultures across the globe, but is especially the case in the United States. Historically, in America, whether a woman was setting her sights on a chief executive officer role or simply had a desire to own her sexuality, she has been set up to fail based on a simple truth: Critics, both male and female, have a tendency to come out of the woodwork whenever women try to take ownership of their destiny.

Although times have undoubtedly changed over the last century, this fight continues today, with feminist and female influencers breaking barriers and continuing to define what it means to be a woman. Betty Friedan, Gloria Steinem and other famous leaders that guided the second-wave feminist movement seem more relevant now than ever before. Writers like Roxane Gay and Lena Dunham, as well as notable political figures like Kamala Harris and Elizabeth Warren are just a few that are picking up the baton and continuing to fight for liberation and an equal playing field.

And as women continue to define their personhood and drive their evolution, quiet and often unspoken murmurs from the other side plague the minds of men. At some point, our evolution as men, or at least the conversation and constructive debate of it, faltered. And so a few questions arise, ones without simple answers: What does it mean to be a man in America today? How does one healthily own his masculinity?

Men must give themselves the same permission to evolve manhood as a collective as many women are giving themselves the opportunity to redefine womanhood.

All too often, this leads to great discomfort within the male mind amidst conversation and even during private thought.

Polarizing figures have had a tendency of dictating how men view their masculinity. Throughout the second half of the 20th and early part of the 21st century, my father played a key role in this exploration. Today, we have new characters defining manhood, some who claim to grab women by the “pussy” and explain that they get away with it because of celebrity. This individual is now the leader of the free world, and when I think about those past remarks, I find myself saddened to recall the reflections of a former American President Abraham Lincoln, a man I deeply respect: “Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character give him power.” Lincoln’s philosophy and remarks not only construct a method which provides a compass for good morals; they also enlist defining characteristics of what makes a good man. These words stand true nearly 150 years after his passing.

Today, some men garner tens of millions of followers on social media platforms, like Dan Bilzerian, by painting a portrait of a masculine lifestyle that seems gratifying on the outside due to the depiction of an exorbitant amount of material excess. While the overindulgence remains fascinating for millions to watch, what really intrigues most of the boys and men following comes from a desire to understand and answer the same questions: What does it mean to be a man in America today, and how does one healthily own his masculinity?

In some ways, Bilzerian’s life mirrors that of my father—a man who chose to walk down a particular path in the late 1990s and early 2000s, portraying and promoting certain qualities of manhood, a depiction that Bilzerian and others very likely try to mimic due to their definition of what it means to be a man without spending any time diving deeper into the topic. It is crucial to explore the importance of how men define masculinity and how masculinity, and those who American culture have anointed as its representatives, define us.

Today, masculinity is often connected to violence, which is a quality I don’t believe most men truly want to promote. Many men love to romanticize violence, yet very few if any actually enjoy the extremes of it, like war. Sexuality also defines masculinity, but sexuality has always been labeled as either healthy or deviant, depending on how various forms were viewed by society at a given point in history. Sexuality should be presented in a way that promotes a level of respect for self and one’s counterpart, while also accepting men who choose to live outside of conventional social boundaries that define gender roles. The world around us often says a gay man isn’t “manly”. This societal quality, which continues to plague American culture, has to do with our dated interpretation and acceptance of masculinity. For those who fall on the extreme conservative side of the spectrum in regards to social policy, remind yourself that acceptance is not the same as encouragement.

We are long overdue for a time for men to give themselves the same permission to evolve manhood as a collective as many women are giving themselves the opportunity to redefine womanhood. Failing to do so will allow “pussy” grabbers to continue telling the collective what it means to be a man, something none of us should be comfortable with as we continue walking towards our future.