On Wednesday night in Manhattan, it was cold. The pavement was wet from the day's long rain, and men were congregating in a penthouse on 23rd Street to learn, together, how to become elite. For half an hour they filed in, one after another. The group could have easily been pulled from any average New York bar—they were a cross section of the general male population; men of all races, body types, professions, and outfits had come. But unlike other sizable groups of men, these guys all shared one quality, the very thing that drew them to a free masculinity seminar: They are insecure and want to become confident, with women and with life.
As their students shuffled in, Brian Begin, the founder of the Fearless Man consulting network and community, stood at the front of the room while Dave Stultz, the company's head "coach," hung out statuesque in a muscle-hugging slate gray suit at the back. Their company, which also hosts $1,500 three-day workshops, was born from Begin's personal triumph over insecurity: For years he was agoraphobic, so crippled by his emotional ailments, that he could not leave his house—forget confidently dating women. Eventually Begin embarked upon a quest to conquer his fears. He devoured whatever self-help material he could find, even undergoing hypnotherapy training in the 90s. He became a pseudo-anthropologist when he moved into an apartment with a hot, confident couple—people he envied, and then emulated.
"I used this period to study what I'd like to be—social—and to be outgoing," Begin told me in an interview the day before their seminar. "I started meeting a lot of people, hypnotherapists that worked in this arena. I started taking workshops myself—tons of them." Now, he's bringing that knowledge to other men.
"How many of you really love women?" Begin asked the crowd on Wednesday. There must have been about 40 men seated before him, awkwardly slumped in collapsible chairs. About ten raised their hands. They seemed nervous.
They don't see themselves as less than women anymore.
Begin asked for those who had come in order to improve their courtship and pickup skills to raise their hands; only a few did. Then he asked: who had come to improve their self-esteem more generally? Half the room put their hands in the air. That was good because, as Begin explained to us, many men come to the Fearless brotherhood to become better with women, not realizing they must improve their self-confidence before they can excel and maintain excellence in this arena. He and Stultz want to distance themselves from the "pickup community," which trains men how to bed women.
"They have this attitude towards women that is just disgusting," Begin told me during our interview. "If you go up to a woman and you appreciate her, that's really different than going up to a woman and pretending to appreciate her so you can get in her pants.
"Everybody wants good sex," Begin continued, explaining the difference between his program and others. "Everybody wants a good partner, everybody wants great intimacy, and everybody should have that if they want it. But what it really comes down to is the feeling of their self-worth, feeling powerful as men, feeling worthy of being loved." Without that, he explained, men may be in dire emotional condition even after achieving sexual success. "By building self-worth, their dating issues start to resolve themselves," Begin explained. "They don't see themselves as less than women anymore."
Back in the penthouse, Begin established that the men who come to him are typically emotionally injured in some way, and he began explaining what had happened to them. What role did men play 2,000 years ago? he asked. "Hunter–gatherer!" several attendees excitedly replied. They looked more alert now, scooted up in their seats. That's right, Begin said. Time-traveling 2,000 years, he went on to detail how, with suffrage and second-wave feminism, women became empowered. Naturally, women's rights are a good, necessary thing, Begin assured us. But men did not know what to do with themselves after the feminist movement severed them from their social role of dominance.
They lost their place and, apparently, became somewhat feminine, creating what the Fearless Man has termed "nice guy syndrome": Today, men are "half masculine" and "half feminine." I learned that this is an ineffective way to live your life and women don't like it. "If [men] have anger towards women they're trying to repress it," Begin told me. "They're repressing it because they're afraid of it. What comes out is that nice guy syndrome."
But the Fearless Man is not about eradicating femininity, not at all. According to Begin, guys need to accept their femininity—they just need to own their masculinity as well. They need be opinionated and self-assured, or women will lose interest in them. When I asked Begin and Stultz to summarize what masculinity means to them, they gave me a long-winded rundown of their program, including various stages of masculinity. Stage one, the guy uses "force and power to take control," Begin explained. "In the second stage, there's the masculine and feminine, so there's compromise, but compromise kills polarity and kills attraction." In the third stage, masculinity and femininity coexist by playing off the roles a couple adopts. "They work together as a team," Begin said. "So in a painting, the masculine would be the frame, the feminine would be the artwork. One actualizes the other. One without the other doesn't quite work."
OK, but I still didn't feel like I understood what masculinity meant. When I asked Begin to clarify, he relayed some experiences with his girlfriend. He said he typically takes the masculine role by holding the door for her or making dinner reservations, but sometimes, like when he's sick, she takes the masculine role and helps him out with eating and stuff. This makes it seem like their definition of masculinity is pretty traditional.
The program outlined on Wednesday advocated for men and women to adopt opposite roles in relationships. Without the masculine/feminine polarity, Begin said, the spark between two people in love will fail to ignite the flame that maintains desire in a long-term relationship. "My partner loves to be in her feminine," Begin told me, "so she loves it when I hold the door, make things happen, make the dinner reservations. Beyond that, it's about making sure she feels protected and safe to be fully feminine. So she doesn't have to worry about those details. She comes back and gives me that powerful feminine gift, which I so appreciate—her radiance, her beauty, her flow, her inference."
The peak of the seminar featured a live demonstration with a woman apparently employed by the Fearless Man. Volunteers from the audience stood up in front of the room and practiced saying hello to her. Then the group critiqued how they did, with Begin running commentary on participants' body language. One man in the audience asked if the goal was to "feminize" their posture? Nope. It's more about directing energy toward her, standing confidently. At one point, the woman slapped Begin, an exercise designed to portray tension and the proper way for men to absorb and respond to that tension.
"The biggest thing is understanding, from a masculine perspective, that [men] can handle their own emotions much like a woman can, and there's nothing wrong with that," Stultz explained. "A lot of men operate in shame and grief when it comes to dealing with emotion or expressing it to anyone, especially to other men." Some men are emotionally divorced from themselves and each other. "The first day they come into the workshop, we'll give them hugs," Begin told me. "And a lot of the guys are like, what? What? By the time they're done, a lot of the guys will end up hugging each other."
The catharsis the Fearless Man offers is desperately needed, according to Begin and Stultz. Where are men supposed to go to become whole when they feel inadequate and society shames them? "Hollywood has criticized the masculine," Stultz told me, "and men are always made fun of and criticized to be weak and silly and stupid on TV. There are no really solid role models of what a gentlemen should say or do." Indeed, I was struck by the number of men who had shown up, and by their apparent sincerity. But I wondered if what seemed like stale rhetoric about gender roles was really worth the workshop's $1,500 fee.
At the end of the seminar, several men said they'd like to sign up.
Begin pulled up a quote on his laptop that he said was an "ancient Cherokee proverb." "A woman's highest calling is to lead a man to his soul," Begin read. "A man's highest calling is to protect woman, so she is free to walk the earth unharmed." When I got home later that night, I looked it up myself. A user on the fact-checking site Snopes questioned the legitimacy of the alleged proverb. "Aside from the offensive translation into generic 1960s cowboy and Indian movie Indian-speak," the user wrote, "I don't think the Cherokee traditionally think in terms of 'calling.'"
Authentically Cherokee or not, the essence of this quote runs throughout the Fearless program. "Can you enjoy the woman when you're just dancing with her, or do you have to expect sex?" Begin asked me, rhetorically. "Can you enjoy the woman when you're just smiling at her? Can you just enjoy femininity as a man and appreciate it first before getting anywhere? That takes guys a little bit, because a lot of them have a lot of resentment towards women. Part of our job is to strip that resentment away."
Before the room dispersed for sales and socializing, Begin spoke to the men in attendance about the importance of establishing trust with women. Women need to know that it is safe to share their deepest fantasies with their partner without being ridiculed or made to feel embarrassed. "In modern society we shame women for liking sex," Begin said, aptly. To illustrate the proper way to respond to a woman's sexual liberty, he relayed a personal exchange he said he had with a woman once. He asked her what her deepest, darkest sexual fantasy was. She, apparently, responded: "To have sex with five cowboys in the back of a pickup truck."
Begin said he did not judge her. Instead, he replied, "That was beautiful. Thank you for sharing."