Yes indeed. But let’s leave it at that. Let’s not go down the road of holding them up as symbols of masculinity, as is done here and here. People who hold either of them up as a symbol of masculinity have no understanding of the truth of masculinity or manliness. Manliness isn’t just the feature of possessing the male appendage, and it’s not the antithesis of womanliness. So no, Bowie and Prince weren’t playing with the border between masculinity and femininity – they couldn’t. Although I don’t dispute they were male, they didn’t have a public persona that was manly (although they might have been in private).

So what is manliness? Very deep question. One of the best answers I have seen yet comes from Jack Donovan in his book The Way of Men. His thesis is that manliness is the fulfillment of the four manly virtues: strength, courage, honor, and mastery. It’s also about the journey rather than the fulfillment of a quest: becoming stronger, more courageous, keeping your honor, and developing mastery.

Strength is simple: it’s the physical ability to cause your will to be done. It’s the ability to move stuff, to move people, to hold on tight. Courage is the will to face danger and do what must be done. Honor is quite interesting, so I’ll leave that to the next paragraph. Mastery is skill – the ability to do complex things, like trapping & hunting, or building structures, or (in this case) musical ability. Mastery is quite valuable, and in a peaceful world, mastery can be developed in a very specialized way. But mastery alone does not a man make.

Honor is defined differently than one might expect. In our advanced society, honor usually means recognition of a particular job well done. Academic honor societies are quite common, for example. Masculine honor is about tribal honor. In this context it’s about holding up against attacks (physical or otherwise) against the tribe: never compromising the tribe. In general, men aren’t called upon to do so in our advanced society, with the likely exception of criminal gangs.

So why bring up all this on a website devoted to liberty? Because the state doesn’t want males who follow these virtues: it doesn’t want men. Men are hard to control, but boys in adult bodies are like sheep. They want someone to lead them, to tell them what to do. Furthermore, the state doesn’t want you to be loyal to a tribe – they want you to be loyal to the state. But men build tribes, and to those tribes do their lives belong.