It’s easy to find poor examples of masculinity. There are thousands of articles discussing toxic masculine traits, but we can’t just be looking at the broken parts of masculinity. It’s helpful to look at positive role models and examples of Masculinity to know what to strive towards.
As we approach 20 years since the first Lord of The Rings film came out, we can look back at Aragon as a template of Positive Masculinity.
Aragorn is an example of chivalry and positive masculinity in a film industry that is riddled with toxic, aggressive traits in male heroes. Aragorn is different as a lead character because he isn’t defined by his aggressive competitiveness or being argumentative. He’s defined for his moments of deep empathy and compassion. In this article, we’ll break down the top 6 traits of positive masculinity in Aragorn.
1. Displaying Emotions
Aragorn’s most easily noticeable and iconic example of positive masculinity is probably his ability to display emotion and care. When Boromir dies, he doesn’t build up some tough guy machismo or pseudo-stoic response. Instead, Aragorn comforts Boromir even as their group is splitting up. He speaks with a calming, reassuring hush about Boromir’s bravery on the battlefield.
Death in battle is often followed by oftentimes emotionless ceremonies or rites. It is often depicted with standing at attention for long periods of time, yelling things, and giving salutes. Aragorn gives us something quite different. He treats Boromir the way a mother would her sickly child, which clashes greatly with the expectations and atmosphere of combat.
Throughout the trilogy, we can see Aragorn balancing his orc-slaying bad boy stereotype through his emotion and actions. We see him break down and cry. We see him act vulnerable around other people, without the fear that he will be considered cowardly or feminine. Aragorn accomplishes this heartfelt sincerity not through choosing to display or mask certain emotions, but in the lack of doing so altogether.
On the other hand, Aragorn uplifts the traditional ideas of “positive masculinity” by continuing to display his emotions genuinely. A common trope in medieval-style fantasies is an outburst of emotion by male figures upon receiving a lot of power very quickly. We can see this in characters like King Joffrey in Game of Thrones. Aragon isn’t like that though. He doesn’t seek attention or overplay his pain. He’s just himself.
Toxic masculinity often makes men feel like they have to behave in a certain manly way. Otherwise, they’re “weak”. But for Aragorn, it’s the opposite. It takes guts to live such a harsh life while still being able to write poetry and be a romantic. For him, vulnerability doesn’t take away strength at all. In fact, it proves he’s strong enough to express himself in such a hostile environment.
Aragorn’s ability to empathize & listen takes him far over the course of the films. We see this in his openness to characters like Gandalf or Frodo, who in turn inform him of their worries. By building empathy and trust, he is more able to take control of a situation. We see this in battles and other situations of peril. His men begin to not only listen to him, they begin to trust each other as a group and move beyond individuals, and into a fellowship.
2. Empathetic Leadership
Aragorn places his comrades’ safety above everything else as a warrior. He doesn’t care if he’s surrounded by orcs, death, or despair. He always puts extra effort into making sure his men are cared for and feel loved.
A prime example of this is when the Fellowship of the Ring is ambushed. Orcs are attacking everyone, chaos is everywhere, and the fellowship is broken up. On top of that, Merry and Pippin are held hostage by the Orcs. Despite that, Aragorn leads a team on a quest to get them back. Ignoring the entire main quest, Aragorn sacrifices time, energy, and resources just to do what’s right.
There’s no worse leader than someone who doesn’t even believe in his cause. In a leadership position, toxic masculinity has the potential to ruin pretty much every decision. For example, a large army might have loads of officers and warriors charging into battle blindly, following tradition instead of listening to your true feelings.
Aragorn doesn’t blindly follow leaders, he follows what he knows is right. Whether Aragorn is fighting orcs or fending off thousands of creatures, he is doing it for the good of people’s lives.
Yet again, we see that Aragorn’s badass behavior is actually positive masculinity at play. Aragorn wants the best for the Fellowship and for Middle Earth, which means he has to be the best leader possible.
A good leader acts as an example. He has to be a courageous, hardcore leader so that people will fight for him with grace, and thus accomplish his altruistic goals.
Loyalty is a big part of masculinity. It can have its positive situations and its negative situations.
Sometimes loyalty can be men doing terrible things as college fraternity pledges, or committing war crimes because their unit told them to.
There are other times when toxic masculinity makes a man feel inclined to be as disloyal as possible to be considered some kind of “bad guy”. We can see this in lots of 70s crime movies like Scarface, Taxi Driver, The Godfather. These films portray a man as bold for backstabbing and betraying.
Aragorn takes the positive side of masculine loyalty. He refuses to negotiate with or take hostage violent monsters, like Orcs. At the same time, Aragorn’s loyalty to his Fellowship and to humanity are astounding. When the ring is finally in his possession, he doesn’t even ponder the power he could potentially have.
What does our brave hero do instead? He resists the temptation of the ring when given the chance to be its wearer. In fact, he immediately does a 180 and gets as far away from it as he can. He is so loyal to everyone else that he won’t let any doubt or personal weakness take advantage of him.
Aragorn doesn’t present himself as some kind of “born leader”. Not at all. In fact, he didn’t even want to go on any grandiose, violent adventures. Aragorn would much rather keep to himself and live a life of peaceful comfort. He only takes action out of a desire to protect and help others.
Aragorn knows who he is and what his abilities are. In the Council of Elrond, he doesn’t speak up, demanding that Boromir recognize him as his king. He doesn’t keep score in the battles and he never brings up the fact that he IS a king. He allows others to speak for him and his strengths, preferring simply to show them when necessary.
Another key element of toxic masculinity is pushing one’s self beyond his natural limits. As a society, we idolize it. We idolize it by looking up to people who have superhuman abilities none of us will possess. We look up to athletes and special operations service members for sometimes nothing other than a genetic advantage.
At the end of the trilogy, we see Aragorn adorned asking. Instead of taking that moment to show off his own accomplishments, he finds the humility to bow to others that were as brave as he was. The moment in which he and the entire kingdom, bows to the hobbits shows the essence of humility.
A Message To The Future of Masculinity
Masculinity, as depicted by Aragorn, is a truly noble virtue. His experiences and leadership give him a status of eternal legend, similar to that of Zeus or Hercules. It’s easy to picture Aragorn’s legacy remembered by the inhabitants of Middle Earth through folk songs and myths for centuries to come.
The books, film, and lore of JRR Tolkein’s Lord of the Rings series have inspired millions of happy fans for decades. Aragorn’s unexpected take on positive masculinity is a favorite trope of Tolkien’s work, and his dichotomy of courage and emotion is something we can all learn from.
Living in a world so divided over the meaning of manhood, Aragorn’s spirit has something for us all. His grit, passion, and raw emotion give inspiration and wisdom to us all.