The Stoic Man (as well as Woman)

Ancient Stoic literature often uses terms like "manly" to describe the Stoic ideal. It's unfortunate that they couldn't see past the gendering of human capabilities* but thankfully we can have clearer eyes and need not promote the same mistakes. Still, they used the manly vs effeminate concept more than a few times.We can understand that when Stoics speak of a manly ideal, they are pointing towards the ideal philosopher, whatever that philosopher's gender happens to be. I personally advocate changing the language of quotes to be more inclusive. I often switch "man" to "human" for instance. Today however, for the sake of clarity, I will leave Marcus Aurelius' words alone because they illustrate my theme.

*Not to say that they totally missed the mark. Stoics were vocal advocates of female equality, at least concerning education. 

The practicing Stoic is kind and courteous. After all, if we are truly unperturbed by fortune, what reason do we have to be abrasive to those we meet? And yet I sometimes come across fellow Stoics who un-stoically claim that they have no duty to change their own offensive actions because, "isn't it the other person's fault that they are offended?" Stoicism is not a means of deflecting blame. It isn't a bludgeon to use against the feelings of those we meet nor a shield to deflect our social duties. The ideal Stoic is beyond the pettiness that drives such defensiveness. We need to remember to aim for such heights.

To ward off anger, keep these maxims handy:

  • There is nothing manly about petulance.

  • Because they are more natural to our species, qualities like courtesy and kindness are the more manly. These qualities, not irritability and bad temper, bespeak strength and fiber and manly fortitude.

  • The freer the mind from passion, the closer the man to power.

  • Anger is as much a proof of weakness as grief. Both involve being wounded and giving in to one's wounds.

Meditations 11:8

I suspect that Stoics sometimes allow the more martial forms of supposed "manliness" to inform our image of the ideal Stoic. It would be easy to do, seeing as our philosophy speaks in such strong terms. As we learn to live an unassailable life, we picture ourselves as lone Spartans before the Persian horde, but in the Stoic view the only real enemy is our own undisciplined will. That's why Marcus Aurelius challenges martial manliness in his Meditations.

Marcus steels himself against anger by remembering what it means to be "manly," but Stoic manliness has nothing to do with machismo. He reminds himself that defensiveness is weakness. Anger, irritability, and their whiny cousin petulance, are all forms of licking wounds. Kindness, in contrast, flows from a position of strength and courtesy aligns with our Discipline of Action. Stoic manliness and womanliness are informed by an appreciation of our common humanity. Lived Stoicism allows us to be fearless in our devotion to others. We act with courage when we affirm the dignity of those we meet. At the same time, Stoics don't need to defend our own dignity because we understand that it can not be taken from us.

A Stoic meets other people where they are. Stoics act with compassion because we don't expect others to be anything other than human. We should, however, expect ourselves to be examples of what human can mean. So don't choose to be weak, choose to be Stoic.