About Men By Gretel Ehrlich

The intention of this essay is to uncover how the basic stereotypes about cowboys are not entirely true. She goes on to talk about how real cowboys are very nurturing and are not the rough and tough men we see in the movies.

Ehrlich uses the appeal to pathos a lot in this piece to make the audience sympathize with the cowboys. She goes through a lengthy description on what the day of a cowboy is like and how hard their job is. She makes cowboys sound like such a compassionate group of men. To further her point that cowboys are kindhearted Ehrlich says, “If a calf is born sick, he may take her home, warm her in from of the kitchen fire, and massage her legs until dawn. ” (276) She uses pathos to make the audience see her point that cowboys are not rugged individuals but instead hardworking goodnatured men.

“Ranchers are midwives. hunters, nurturers, providers, and conservationists all at once. What we’ve interpreted as roughness- weathered skin, calloused hands, a squint in the eye and a growl in the voice- only masks the tenderness inside.” (277) I love this quote so much because I think it perfectly describes Ehrlich’s overall intention. In the quote, she acknowledges that on the outside cowboys do indeed look very rugged and tough. This rough exterior is the reason a lot of people have assumed that cowboys are just as tough on the inside. Ehrlich goes on to say that this harsh appearance does not allow people to see the kindness that is inside each cowboy.

For the arrangement of this essay, Ehrlich starts off by comparing what people think about when they think of a cowboy and what cowboys are actually like. The stereotypical cowboy has very different characteristics compared to actual cowboys. Ehrlich outlines these differences when she says, “If he’s “strong and silent” it’s because there’s probably no one to talk to. If he “rides away into the sunset” it’s because he’s been on horseback since four in the morning moving cattle and he’s trying, fifteen house later, to get home to his family.” (276) After she goes on to further explain the kind hearted nature of most cowboys. She uses many examples to show how easy going and nice cowboys are. Ehrlich then shifts the focus a bit and talks about how cowboys act towards women. There are really two different parts to this essay. The first part of the essay talks about the overall attitude of cowboys. The second half is more focused on how they treat women and how they always appear evasive. This part of the essay focuses more on how cowboys interact with people and she connects this will the social isolation they often experience from their career.

— Megan Ross

Ehrlich begins her essay with, “When I’m in New York but feeling lonely for Wyoming I look for the Marlboro ads in the subway. What I’m aching to see is horseflesh, the glint of a spur, a line of distant mountains, brimming creeks, and a reminder of the ranchers and cowboys I’ve ridden with for the last eight years. But the men I see in those posters with their stern, humorless looks remind me of no one I know here” (275). This is an effective hook because it draws on the memory of the audience, who have seen the “cowboy” stereotype in the media, and then proceeds to contradict it. It’s not quite an anecdote, but it’s a snapshot of the speaker’s daily life that outlines the importance of the essay. Also, it begins in New York, which is a more tangible setting to most of the audience than Wyoming.

Ehrlich vividly describes many instances of cowboys saving animals, such as the one Megan mentioned above. This especially serves to soften the audience’s image of cowboys. We often see men portrayed in the media as masters of animals – friends to dogs and cats, maybe, but exploiting every other beast that can be used to their advantage. These illustrations of cowboys as nurturing and maternal caretakers of their animals not only appeals to pathos, but completely contradicts the media’s image.

In the latter part of her essay, Ehrlich writes about cowboys’ emotional immaturity and writes, “they don’t know how to bring their tenderness into the house and lack the vocabulary to express the complexity of what they feel” (277). This is due to the cowboys’ social isolation and “chivalrousness and strict codes of honor” (277) toward women that date back to the 19th century and continue to persist today. I believe this part of the essay is relevant even to modernized society. Our concept of “American masculinity,” perpetuated in learning institutions and by the media, can stunt boys’ emotional growth because most boys are never socialized to be around girls and are often taught to hide their emotions. (It’s also ironic that the “rugged” cowboy image may be partially to blame for this because of its prevalence in the media.)

–Sophia Dahlquist

Ethos: Throughout the beginning of this essay, Ehrlich develops her ethos and informs the reader that she is knowledgeable in this subject. The first sentence states, “When I’m in New York but feeling lonely for Wyoming I look for the Marlboro ads in the subway” (Ehrlich 275). This sentence reveals to the reader that she has lived in both New York and Wyoming for some period of time. Therefore when she begins to talk about the stereotypes associated with cowboys, she gains ethos. The reader knows that she can accurately compare and explain the stereotypes people say in New York with the actual personalities of cowboys in Wyoming. Ehrlich also shows that the information and insights she presents about cowboys are trustworthy because she shares with the reader that she has ridden with cowboys and ranchers “for the last eight years” (Ehrlich 275). By revealing this information, Ehrlich gains ethos because we know that she has personally lived alongside and experienced the personalities of real cowboys and how they live.

Style: Ehrlich presents a very assertive, serious tone throughout the essay by using precise and careful wording to explain and defend against the stereotypes cowboys are defined by. For example Ehrlich states “To be ‘tough’ on a ranch has nothing to do with conquests and displays of power. More often than not, circumstances – like the colt he’s riding or an unexpected blizzard – are overpowering him. It’s not toughness but ‘toughing it out’ that counts” (Ehrlich 276). By saying they must tough it out, rather than be tough is important because she shows that cowboys do not possess a lot of power. Cowboys are constantly fighting the unknowns of the weather, the behavior of the animals, and the hardships of life, so they do not act as if they are in control of everything because they know they don’t have power over the weather and various other things. Therefore, Ehrlich is showing the reader through this tone that a cowboy can be macho and tough looking, but this isn’t what defines them. They are instead defined by the way they bounce back from difficult situations and “tough it out.” Through this assertive, serious tone, Ehrlich defends that cowboys should never be characterized as being ‘tough’ for the way they look, but instead for the things they do and the actions they carry out.

Quote: “Because these men work with animals, not machines or numbers, because they live outside in landscapes of torrential beauty, because they are confined to a place and a routine embellished with awesome variables, because calves die in the arms that pulled others into life, because they go to the mountains as if on a pilgrimage to find out what makes a herd of elk tick, their strength is also a softness, their roughness, a rare delicacy” (Ehrlich 278). I love this quote because it shows that just because men have difficult, demanding jobs that require strength and live in rustic environments, doesn’t mean they can’t possess tenderness and compassion. In fact, the quote states that the strength cowboys develop is because of both the soft and tough aspects of their jobs, not just the tough. I also like how Ehrlich includes the comparison of those who work with “machines or numbers” because one could argue that those who work with computers are cold and unsympathetic because they aren’t exposed to the fragile lives of animals every day.

–Sarah Biehl

Ehrlich describes cowboys as “androgynous” more than anything, the embodiment of both male and female qualities existing at once. For every moment of the surly, “rugged individualism” we associate with cowboys, there are quieter times, more beatific, gentler moments spent nursing cattle to health. It’s a simple, Genesis description of what it means to be a steward of the earth, one that resounds with me personally. I may be less of a physical laborer, more a midwife of guppies and a steward of guinea pigs, but the basic idea is the same nonetheless. To care for animals– filling hay bins with summery-smelling Timothy or syringe-feeding the sick and weak– is to be close to what people call God, to experience simple truth.

That said, Ehrlich was a pleasant read. She spoke a language that I understand. She’s fluent in animal husbandry.

I see fit here to talk about a personal hero of mine by the name of Dr. Temple Grandin– and I promise to synthesize this, just bear with me. Dr. Grandin is known for her work in the cattle industry– she galvanized massive reforms to cattle facilities, resulting in more humane facilities that reduce stress on cattle. There’s so much to say about Dr. Grandin– she uses her experience with autism to better understand animals and their sensory sensitivities, embodying the same oneness with animals that Erlich describes. Cowboys, she argues, connect with animals on a primal level entirely separate from human social structures. They’re cattleworkers before men, they’re husbands of their isolated lifestyle and can’t quite translate such an identity into layman’s terms. This accounts for the socially-stunted cowboys that Ehrlich describes– they’re fully independent and rugged in their work, but still have a coy, childlike relationship with the female sex.  HBO’s well-made biopic on Dr. Grandin depicts this– initially, cowboys are intimidated and ostracize her, unsure of how to react to a female ranch hand. As more of her grad-school research papers are published and she gains ethos in the field, she gradually gains more respect. She translates herself from the foreign, human concept of “woman” to the more familiar syllables of “fellow rancher.” It’s all a matter of translation in this fence-straddling life– from animal to human, husband to husbandry, back again.


Finally, I’m glad that Ehrlich describes a way in which gender roles are harmful for men. While there’s certainly a place for feminist literature describing female hardships, we often forget to discuss the toxicity of masculine roles on men and boys. In Burl’s, Bernard Cooper mentioned the burdens shared by “soft and wayward sons” when his parents attempt to toughen him up at a fitness club. We make masculinity synonymous with physical strength and emotional distance, and in doing so we turn men and boys into Ehrlich’s socially-crippled cowboys. Even cattle work– the most masculine of professions, the most rugged and Jeffersonian–  has androgynous aspects and calls for tenderness, Ehrlich argues. With her ethos and poetic fluency in a rare language, I can’t disagree. This piece was by far my favorite in the year and the most effectively persuasive for me– with its round, winding narrative and simple-truth language, this piece is a work of craft by calloused hands.

–Olivia Short


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