The Arty Semite

May the Most Manly Man Win

By Philip Eil

  • Print
  • Share Share

Man Made: A Stupid Quest for Masculinity
By Joel Stein
Grand Central Publishing, 304 pages, $26.99

Was it possible for Joel Stein to get through his new book, “Man Made: A Stupid Quest for Masculinity,” without mentioning Judaism? Of course not. The Time Magazine humor columnist makes it only a few steps into his journey before facing the fraught ties between religion and gender.

Courtesy of Joel Stein

“After all that camping and firefighting, I am happy to relax in the comfort of a fellow Jew,” he writes, after arriving to learn how to throw and hit a baseball with retired L.A. Dodgers slugger, Shawn Green. “Woody Allen has made neurotic, frail, high-strung Jews seem like all we’ve got, but I don’t blame my lack of manliness on my religion. Not only are there tanned, Uzi-toting, unsmiling, Maccabee-tough Israelis, but there are the haggling, arguing, lawyering Jews that Larry David has brought back.”

Though he fires an M240 machine gun by book’s end, Stein undoubtedly belongs to the Woody Allen School of Jewish Men.

“I don’t think of myself as a man so much as a person who happens to have a penis,” he writes in the introduction.

When he sees a sonogram forecasting his first child as a son, it sends him into a panic. How can he raise a boy when he, himself, once had an Easy-Bake Oven and a glass animal collection? When he drives a yellow Mini-Cooper convertible? When the manliest tool he owns is a crème brûlée torch?

And so he sets off on the “stupid quest” of the book’s title, collecting wisdom for his son, Laszlo, and absorbing as much second-hand machismo as possible. He hunts. He fishes. He watches football. He hangs out with guys named Grizz and Buzz Smith who all seem to set their watches to military time and wear steel-toed boots.

Though the book can feel at times like a publishing stunt (conspicuous product placement doesn’t help; readers are constantly reminded that it’s Macallan Scotch that Stein is drinking, a Lamborghini that he’s driving), the writing makes the trip worthwhile. Stein is equal parts reporter and stand-up comedian: no detail of this foreign world evades his focus. When men spend lots of money on clothes before camping, they are buying “gear,” he notices.

“An enormous part of our financial system is just dudes making straight-up bets against one another,” he reports from a day-trading firm in Chicago.

Perhaps most startling to the author is the fact that manly men aren’t nearly as sarcastic as he is. He watches in awe as a hunter produces shrill warbling sounds with a latex contraption that he cups to his mouth.

“No one laughs,” Stein writes. “There is a man impersonating a turkey, and they are nodding appreciatively, acting like he’s banging out the Goldberg Variations on a piano.”

By the end of the book, Stein may not have become a tough guy, but he does have a few bruises and mementoes (a Boy Scout badge, a military buzz cut) to show that he tried. And thanks to a conversation with a strapping Jewish sergeant at a U.S. Marine Corps boot camp, he inches closer to cracking the mystery of Jewish masculinity.

“There seem to be a lot of Jews in the world of manliness,” he writes. “We just don’t hear about them because we Jews in the media never go places where we could meet them.”


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Woody Allen, Philip Eil, Masculinity, Manliness, Joel Stein, Gender

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.




Find us on Facebook!
  • "'What’s this, mommy?' she asked, while pulling at the purple sleeve to unwrap this mysterious little gift mom keeps hidden in the inside pocket of her bag. Oh boy, how do I answer?"
  • "I fear that we are witnessing the end of politics in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I see no possibility for resolution right now. I look into the future and see only a void." What do you think?
  • Not a gazillionaire? Take the "poor door."
  • "We will do what we must to protect our people. We have that right. We are not less deserving of life and quiet than anyone else. No more apologies."
  • "Woody Allen should have quit while he was ahead." Ezra Glinter's review of "Magic in the Moonlight": http://jd.fo/f4Q1Q
  • Jon Stewart responds to his critics: “Look, obviously there are many strong opinions on this. But just merely mentioning Israel or questioning in any way the effectiveness or humanity of Israel’s policies is not the same thing as being pro-Hamas.”
  • "My bat mitzvah party took place in our living room. There were only a few Jewish kids there, and only one from my Sunday school class. She sat in the corner, wearing the right clothes, asking her mom when they could go." The latest in our Promised Lands series — what state should we visit next?
  • Former Israeli National Security Advisor Yaakov Amidror: “A cease-fire will mean that anytime Hamas wants to fight it can. Occupation of Gaza will bring longer-term quiet, but the price will be very high.” What do you think?
  • Should couples sign a pre-pregnancy contract, outlining how caring for the infant will be equally divided between the two parties involved? Just think of it as a ketubah for expectant parents:
  • Many #Israelis can't make it to bomb shelters in time. One of them is Amos Oz.
  • According to Israeli professor Mordechai Kedar, “the only thing that can deter terrorists, like those who kidnapped the children and killed them, is the knowledge that their sister or their mother will be raped."
  • Why does ultra-Orthodox group Agudath Israel of America receive its largest donation from the majority owners of Walmart? Find out here: http://jd.fo/q4XfI
  • Woody Allen on the situation in #Gaza: It's “a terrible, tragic thing. Innocent lives are lost left and right, and it’s a horrible situation that eventually has to right itself.”
  • "Mark your calendars: It was on Sunday, July 20, that the momentum turned against Israel." J.J. Goldberg's latest analysis on Israel's ground operation in Gaza:
  • What do you think?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.