The Art of Manliness’ Brett McKay on polishing your shoes, walking like a ninja and why men still need ‘hard’ skills
This masculinity guru wants to help men Do the Right Thing.
As co-founder of Art of Manliness, an online guide to old school masculine pursuits, Brett McKay has helped men everywhere with struggles big and small. If you’ve ever wondered how to develop a manly handshake or jump-start your car, you’ve probably stumbled across an AoM guide. “It’s common sense advice that a lot of young people didn’t get growing up,” McKay tells Moneyish. “You’ll be surprised at the number of grown men that don’t know how to tie a tie.”
Since its 2008 founding by McKay and his wife, Kate, the Art of Manliness has become a trusty reference guide for millennial men. The 34-year-old McKay says the website, which is designed with a 19th century Western saloon aesthetic, draws 11 million hits monthly. It has also spawned a popular podcast, an online store carrying throwbacks like as Zippo replicas, and a series of books. The latest tract, “The Illustrated Art of Manliness,” hits bookshelves on May 16.
Created with illustrator Ted Slampyak, the new tome is a compilation of previously published how-to guides. There’s unsurprising bread and butter content like the ABCs of shoe shining and deadlifting, but also some head scratching material. These include walkthroughs on gracefully opening the door for a woman (“don’t knock her over” in the rush!), escaping from assassins via the trunk of a car (the car jack is your best friend) and walking like a ninja (lower your body, keep legs shoulder-width apart and don‘t move your waist).
“These traits are prerequisites for the independence…cultures across the world expect from men,” the fedora-wearing, mustachioed McKay writes. “We still need hard skills…even though we no longer need to survive in the wild or constantly guard against physical threats.”
McKay acknowledges that some of the more esoteric material – like the ninja walk – is there primarily because those posts go viral. But is the focus on chivalry and manly skills simply Eisenhower-era sexism repackaged for the Internet age? After all, while some tips are universal, about 90% of AoM’s readership is male.
“I’m not discounting the problems we had with sexism or racism,” McKay says. “But there’s also a lot of good stuff about masculinity.” A trained lawyer, he created the site partly in homage to his grandfather’s generation. “They were courteous, tried their best to support their family, and were active in the community,” he says.
But if McKay can’t please the politically correct, those who advocate really going back to the 1950s aren’t fans either. AoM has become a target of so-called “men’s rights activists,” who accuse the McKays of “poisoning the concept of masculinity with Disney Lifestyle Advice,” allegedly offered by devious women seeking to emasculate sleepwalking men.
“Nowadays, the male self-improvement space is all about improving yourself for the sake of yourself,” McKay says. “It’s about becoming fit to be sexy for the opposite sex. We lack the sense of obligation to be of service that my grandfather’s generation had.”
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