Profiles in Positive Masculinity: Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson

Edit: I got some good critiques on this profile that are worth thinking about. I’m going to leave it up, as I think the conversation itself is good to have. If you want to read where I’m seeing these critiques, check out this thread on Reddit

Sometimes you have to just turn masculinity up to 11, and when you do, you create Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. I’d go ahead and say that there can be no reasonable measure of masculinity, no masculinity scale, that doesn’t at least include The Rock, and I imagine he’d be at or near the top of any of them. But what about his masculinity is positive, in light of the other men we’ve looked at?

I’m pretty sure there is no photo in which Dwayne Johnson does not look masculine, so here is a photo of Dwayne Johnson from his Wikipedia page:

Dwayne Johnson 2, 2013.jpg

He looks a little bit tired, and I can’t blame him. One thing about The Rock that you pretty much can’t question is that he works his ass off. If you follow him on social media, you will find that he is up at like 4:30am every morning to go work out like a maniac, despite not going to bed until around midnight a lot of the time. It’s hard to hate a guy for succeeding when he keeps a schedule like that, day in and day out.

There is even a Rock Clock app he’s developed that helps you set goals, and you can sync the app to The Rock’s own alarm clock and try to get up when he does. Good luck with that, by the way. Project Rock is what he’s calling his foray into being a motivational professional, and while I find these kinds of things to be irreducibly hokey, it seems like Johnson is excited about helping people achieve their goals, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

For a superstar, he seems to be very engaged with his fanbase. It’s one of the reasons he has nearly 100 million followers on Instagram. He set the Guiness World Record for selfies at the opening of San Andreas, taking over 100 in just 3 minutes with his fans. He also founded the Dwayne Johnson Rock Foundation, a charity working with terminally ill children, and made the largest-ever donation from an alumnus to the University of Miami athletics department. He was granted a noble title by the Samoan government for his, and his family’s, contributions to that country.

For showing how epic victory can come from epic dedication and hard work (and freak genes as a third-generation professional wrestler), for remaining connected to fans even when he is a multi-millionaire movie star, and for wanting to use what he’s achieved to inspire others, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson is today’s Profile in Positive Masculinity.

P.S. He’s Also Problematic

I tend to focus on the positives when presenting these profiles, but it’s been pointed out that this is still a one-sided way of presenting each of these people. My goal is to be pithy, but that doesn’t mean I should ignore the other side of the proverbial coin.

In The Rock’s case, there are two problematic things that were pointed out, both of which I was aware of if I had thought the issue through and written about it. One is that The Rock presents an unattainable physicality. There’s almost no doubt he is augmenting himself with at least a plethora of supplements, and maybe more. If he really does get 4.5 hours of sleep a night, he has a one-way ticket to early stage dementia and a host of other problems related to a lack of sleep.

He also has a long history of smack-talk from his wrestling days, including using “hermaphrodite” as an insult. Clearly, that’s a bigoted thing to say as an insult. Now we’d maybe call it intersex-phobic. If anyone can find an instance of him apologizing for using that kind of language, let me know, because he certainly should. 

I still think we can learn about positive masculinity from Dwayne Johnson, but that hardly means he’s perfect.

Profiles in Positive Masculinity: Demetrius Johnson

Image result for demetrius johnson

Above is a manly picture of Demetrius Jonson, the first and so far only Flyweight Champion of the UFC. At only 5’3”, he fights at 125 pounds, but I can say with confidence that for 99.99% of the people reading this, “Mighty Mouse” would knock you unconscious, or choke you unconscious, without breaking a sweat.

In fact, that number may very well be 100%. Demetrius Johnson is near the top, if not at the top, of most lists of greatest fighters, pound-for-pound (meaning comparing all weight classes) of all time. (He is at the top of the official UFC rankings and also Sherdog’s #1 in the world) He is a master of multiple martial arts, and a master of combining those martial arts with blinding speed and near-perfect technique. Here’s a highlight reel that gives you an idea:

So, what kind of person would you expect to be a fighting machine? Some kind of alpha-male dude-bro maybe. Someone with a chip on his shoulder and a criminal record who lives a life of excess and thrill-seeking behavior.

In stark contrast, here is what Demetrius Johnson does when he’s between training camps or in recovery:

Yup, that’s a Twitch stream. This master of world-class ass-kicking is a gaming nerd. He’s also seemingly quite a family man, with his wife, Destiny, and two small children. He had a tough upbringing, born premature and raised in an abusive household, but he has also worked hard to overcome that beginning, and has seemingly reached the pinnacle of his chosen endeavor. Which, again, is fighting other men in a cage.

For comparison, I think of Jon Jones, the current Light Heavyweight Champion of the UFC and another incredibly talented martial artist. He’s up there next to Johnson on the pound-for-pound lists. But in contrast to Johnson, Jones has had multiple issues with illegal drugs, banned performance-enhancing substances, a hit-and-run accident, and a lot of behavior that has hurt himself and those around him. Meanwhile, Johnson hangs out with his family and plays video games and is a clean fighter who lives a clean life.

For his toughness (he has fought with multiple broken limbs over the course of his career), devotion to his family, enjoyment of hobbies that are not usually associated with a fighter’s life, as well as avoiding the many moral pitfalls that come with fame in an ultra-masculine environment, Demetrius Johnson is this week’s Profile in Positive Masculinity.

Profiles in Positive Masculinity So Far

Manly Men We’ve Covered So Far

We’ve had nine Profiles in Positive Masculinity so far, and I continue to enjoy the little bits of research. I think it’s very worthwhile to be constructive with regard to masculinity – not instead of deconstructive, but rather, to have something worthwhile left over. Popular culture continues not to really offer a positive alternative to toxic masculinity on the one hand and…nothing on the other hand, except agreement that toxic masculinity is bad.

Here is the list of scions of positive masculinity that I have discussed so far, with links in case you missed any and are curious. I’ve gotten some feedback, including encouragement as well as challenge, which has been helpful as I organize my thoughts and choose whom to profile. And don’t worry, we have plenty more coming!

Michael Forbes, who showed more backbone than the entirety of the US Republican Party

Justin Trudeau, who solved the puzzle of the Trump handshake

Nick Offerman, sawdust-covered oracle of self-reliance

Jimmy Carter, the nonagenarian former US President who will probably die with a hammer in his hand

Common, maintaining his moral compass as a hip-hop artist

Aziz Ansari, comedian, actor, writer, director

Newt Scamander – here I just shared a cool video about one of the heroes of Fantastic Creatures and Where to Find Them

Neil deGrasse Tyson, science educator and actual heavyweight wrestler

Mister Rogers, who deserves the title “Saint” if anyone ever has

What I’ve Learned So Far

I don’t have a standing theory, or thesis, on what precisely positive masculinity is. Just the strong intuition that if there is toxic masculinity, there must be positive masculinity that exists in contrast to that. It can’t just be rapist dude-bros on the one hand and a silent mass on the other. Right?

So, what is common among these men, in my view? Not to be an exhaustive list, but as I go back over what I’ve written and thought about and learned, these are things that come to the forefront.


Strength could come in many different forms, but I think that part of positive masculinity is some kind of strength. It could be physical strength, like Neil deGrasse Tyson, or moral strength, like Mister Rogers or Jimmy Carter. Part of this strength is courage, since a person has to be there in the moment in order to bring their strength to bear.


Not all of you who have been following along have liked all of my choices, which is not surprising. But I think it is fair to say that each of these men is very much themselves. They have a strong sense of identity, and uphold a particular set of values, and you don’t have to look at them for very long to figure out what they are doing with their lives. Some of them ignore outside pressures to do what they think is right, while others simply have lives that hang together over the long-term.


Each of my examples of positive masculinity are makers. Common makes music, Aziz Ansari makes a television show, as did Mister Rogers. I’m not sure Justin Trudeau is a maker in the same sense, but I would argue that some creativity comes through in how he has governed as Prime Minister. Michael Forbes is a farmer; Nick Offerman makes beautiful canoes. And so on.

So then, for now, maybe positive masculinity is being strong, being yourself, and contributing something beautiful or useful (or both) to the world.

We’ll see what the next crop of many folks adds to this list…

What would you list as aspects of positive masculinity? What have you noticed that I missed? Feel free to comment. 

Edit: Had a friend point out something I had missed – an attribute of positive masculinity as I am looking at it. That attribute is a commitment to make the world around them a better place. Each of these men, in their own way, is speaking out and/or taking action to make other people’s lives better. That’s a crucial attribute of positive masculinity, I think, and it definitely goes on the list with strength, integrity and creativity/making.

Profiles in Positive Masculinity: Mister Rogers

Rev. Fred Rogers is one of the greatest people who has ever lived. Before I get into a few reasons why I believe that, here is a manly picture of Mister Rogers testifying before the Senate Subcommittee on Communications:

No, he isn’t tearing a telephone book in half or bench-pressing a bunch of weight, but do you have the courage to testify before the Senate because of what you believe? The story behind this image, and event, is amazing, as Fred Rogers did a huge amount to sway a Congressional committee and save PBS’s budget. He does this the same way he does everything – through the kind of gentle persistence that lets water cut through stone:

It is an easy thing, to confuse gentleness with weakness. And there was certainly nothing about Fred Rogers that cut a traditionally masculine figure – singing while he changed into loafers on TV; wearing sweaters his mother knitted for him; playing make-believe with puppets. His was a kind of strength you could only see over time – the strength of integrity, of consistency of vision and character.

Not only was Fred Rogers committed to improving the lives of children, he was committed to speak unflinchingly to those children about topics that most parents shy away from with their own kids. He spoke to children about death, and grief, and war, and divorce, in the same voice he spoke about what a postal worker is, or what various characters were up to in the Land of Make-Believe. I challenge anyone, man or woman, to do that, on national television, for decades.

Children sense fear and hesitation. They can often sniff out a fraud much more quickly than adults can, though they probably can’t articulate what it is that they’re seeing. When a child falls to the ground, she will often look up at an adult she trusts before she decides whether to cry or not. She can see, immediately, in the adult’s face if what happened is serious or not. And if the adult is fearful, then the child assumes something bad happened and they cry. If the adult is calm, then the child often just gets up and keeps playing.

Now try doing that with millions of children you can’t even see.

Gentle, constant pressure can leave a deep mark on the world. Fred Rogers ended his life living for the same values that shaped his career from the very beginning. He fought, in his own quiet and relentless way, for a better world. He made his own life about making the lives of others better. He ennobled others; reminded them, reminded us, of our better selves.

His ideas and his convictions are still as radical today as they were when he was alive, when his show was being watched by millions of children. The idea that people are of immeasurable value, in and of themselves, totally apart from how others view them, or how they have been treated, or whether they are good consumers, or good workers – we still do not understand what Mister Rogers understood.

We are still not the people he believed we could be.

For demonstrating, over the course of his life, the power that lies in gentleness and patience, Rev. Fred Rogers is today’s Profile in Positive Masculinity.



Profiles in Positive Masculinity: Neil deGrasse Tyson

I thought it would be interesting to use, as Neil deGrasse Tyson’s manly picture, an image that he brought up while being interviewed by Joe Rogan (as well as in other instances) from his time as a heavyweight college wrestler:

…in part because I don’t necessarily think of Tyson as…swole. But there you have it. He was an undefeated wrestler and team captain in high school, and went on to wrestle as an undergraduate at Harvard. On the list of astrophysicists you wouldn’t want to fight, Tyson is probably at the top. He may also be the only name on that list.

But it’s been a while since he last wrestled. Obviously, I need to look at Tyson as a scientist, educator and public figure, and for the purposes of this profile, I’ll be looking at the second two.

He founded the Department of Astrophysics at the Museum of Natural History in NYC in 1997, and has had his position as director of the Hayden Planetarium since 1996. He visited the Planetarium as a kid, and that visit was a big part of what got him initially interested in astronomy and astrophysics. Neil deGrasse Tyson is gifted with an amazing voice and eloquent mind, and he was an excellent choice to take over as the personality behind the remake of Cosmos, following in Carl Sagan’s footsteps. He is an effective communicator and educator, with that combination of presence and his enthusiasm for what he has to teach that makes a person compelling.

Tyson has become a public figure primarily through debates over science and religion over the course of the past decade or so. I’ve watched him in debates a number of times, and one thing that stands out to me is that he doesn’t take crap from anyone. He isn’t acerbic or self-absorbed or unnecessarily harsh; he is direct and clear and uncompromising. He is able to acknowledge and speak about what some might call the spirituality of science without leaving room for anything he feels lacks sufficient evidence to justify belief. That is, he can talk about the numinous without having to refer to the divine, nor even leave grey area where others might want to reference god or the supernatural. For Tyson, the natural is more than enough.

For being uncompromising while remaining gracious, for serving as an example of more than one kind of strength, and for being someone who has become a public figure because of his intelligence, eloquence, and integrity, Neil deGrasse Tyson is today’s Profile in Positive Masculinity.

Profiles in Positive Masculinity: Aziz Ansari

It seems appropriate, having just binge-watched Master of None Season 2 (which I cannot recommend enough), that I should present the second requested Profile in Positive Masculinity: Aziz Ansari. First, a manly picture of Aziz:

Image result for aziz ansari

Complete with pocket squerr.

I first found out who Aziz Ansari was while falling in love with Parks and Recreation, a show that featured another masculine phronemos, Nick Offerman. (And yeah, there’s a decent chance Chris Pratt will show up in one of these too someday) Like the other main characters in Parks and Rec, Ansari plays an exaggerated version of himself: a perennially stylish hype-man who works incredibly hard at goofy projects throughout the series. Somewhat like his character Tom Haverford, Ansari wears many hats: author, stand-up comedian, actor, director and producer. He even does occasional charity work…

When I think of Aziz Ansari, I think of style. He is a very fashion-conscious person, which despite being a fat slob myself, I respect. He puts a lot of thought into how he comes across, and always seems deliberate in what he says and does. He’s also highly creative and hardworking – amidst his work on television and in film, he has remained active in stand-up for the past decade and a half, releasing multiple comedy specials and headlining more than one tour. But what stays with me is his intentionality.

Master of None is one of the few shows I’ve ever seen that doesn’t address masculinity by vapidly playing to stereotypes. His character, Dev, is not plagued by insecurities about his masculinity. Humorously, he’s the sort of person who would be uninterested in the conversation I’m trying to have through these blog posts. He never questions himself in that way, nor does he do anything to make himself more masculine. He’s a small-statured guy with an enormous best friend Arnold, and the two of them are more interested in brunch than working out. They have this great un-self-conscious friendship. Neither one of them seems to have any trouble meeting or talking to women – rather, then issues that come up for them are in maintaining relationships, understanding themselves, and understanding others. Regular human stuff.

So many other story-lines are driven by male anxieties – anxieties around (ahem) size, strength, sexuality, how others perceive them, daddy issues and so on. These stereotypical anxieties drive a lot of character actions and relationships, and a common crutch for humor; a cheap shortcut to get the attention of viewers, and star-writer-director Ansari has none of it. One can only assume that, since Master of None originates primarily in his mind, it reflects a lot of what Aziz Ansari is about. And perhaps for this lack of masculine anxiety, more than anything else, Aziz Ansari is today’s Profile in Positive Masculinity.