The internet can be a scary place — and it’s gotten scarier in recent years with the growing “manosphere,” defined by Wikipedia as a collection of online forums promoting toxic masculinity, misogyny and opposition to feminism.
It seems more and more “red-pilled” podcast bros are getting behind microphones to convince men that contemporary feminism is a sort of conspiracy, of which men are the victims and women the perpetrators.
There’s real consequences to these harmful ideas. According to the United Nations Women organization, since the outbreak of Covid-19, emerging data have shown that all types of violence against women and girls, particularly domestic violence, have intensified.
And social scientists largely agree American men are struggling: falling behind in education and accounting for the majority of drug-related deaths and suicide.
It begs the question: What would a progressive and positive vision of masculinity look like?
One Awendaw resident and former U.S. army ranger tackles just that in his debut book, Design the Man Within, a transformative guide for self-development.
In his book, Johnny Elsasser aims to empower men through self-awareness and mental health. He advocates that men show up authentically by communicating feelings with loved ones.
Based on his own journey of self-betterment, Elsasser offers his readers actionable advice, tools and strategies to help them unearth their masculinity, embrace vulnerability and achieve a more balanced, purpose-driven life.
Elsasser served four combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan and as a private contractor protecting the U.S. Ambassador to Iraq. He said he faced a harsh transition when he returned to civilian life and began working a desk job in 2013.
“It was about six months into that job, and I realized I had no purpose,” he said. “I was living just to drink on the weekends. I had nothing really steering me in any purposeful way for my life. At that point, I really lost myself and all this confidence I had from being a special operations officer.
“I floundered in that mindset for a while, and my marriage, at the time, started to struggle. I didn’t know who I was outside of fighting for this flag. I didn’t know how to really identify or cultivate my own purpose, or really see that I had the ability to write the story of my own life.”
He embarked on a journey of self-discovery — through fitness, then reading self-help books, at first begrudgingly.
“Naturally, I was like f**k that, no one can tell me how to be a man because they haven’t seen the things I had been through. Little did I know, that was my first realization that I was making excuses for myself to be a piece of shit and lack purpose.”
He started his podcast The Art of Masculinity five years after his return home and a few years into his own self-development journey. This year, Elsasser released his debut book, based in part on the many conversations he’s had with guests on his podcast.
“I thought, if I can catch one guy out there and help him be a better man, or I can help him to not hurt himself in his sadness and depression, if I can just help one guy like that, to me it is a victory.”
The first hurdle Elsasser encourages his readers to tackle is their socially programmed and even subconscious ideas about manhood.
“We have to stop and understand what was given to us as little boys, which then, when we became men, we hardened and re-instituted into how we behaved and spoke and what we believed. We need to start looking where that came from, and start challenging it to say, ‘Do I believe this to be a good version of masculinity?’
“Once we begin to understand what is aligned with us and what is not, we can start to really design that man within us and become authentic to who we are.”
Some of the challenges Elsasser lays out in the book include lack of self-understanding, harboring emotional labor and having a defeatist attitude. He provides actionable items at the end of each chapter and said he’s received incredible feedback from men who found the book to be a transformative tool.
His hope is that his book can help men walk away with a stronger sense of who they are.
“I hope that this book helps men by giving them permission to open up. Reconsider their perceptions of what it means to be a man. Find that authenticity. Develop happiness and joy and peace. Be that most confident version of themselves.”
Design the Man Within is available on Amazon. To learn more about Elsasser and his mission, visit johnnyelsasser.com.
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