The Meaning of Manhood: Protect

Manhood is a difficult thing to understand. It can be understood in many ways, and the meaning of manhood changes with time. In this article we will explore what it meant for men 100 years ago compared to today, as well as how that has changed over time.

The “a man is a provider, protector and” is a phrase that has been used for centuries. It is often misunderstood as the meaning of manhood.

Vintage soldiers charging climbing up hill with rifles.

 “Manhood is the social barrier that civilizations must create against entropy, human opponents, natural forces, time, and any human flaws that jeopardize collective survival.” David D. Gilmore (David D. Gilmore) (David D. Gilmore) (D

These days, there is a lot of talk about masculinity and the future of males. “Talking about what it means to be a man is worthless, since the whole concept of masculinity is utterly relative,” I’ve seen people attempt to stop one of these talks before it ever starts. Every culture is diverse, and it has evolved through time.”

That argument has some validity in that masculinity ideals have changed throughout the years and across the globe. However, it is incorrect to assume that these concepts have not shared certain universal characteristics. Manhood has always meant something, and unlike what some may believe, it has always meant about the same thing to practically every community on the planet.

This is the conclusion of Manhood in the Making by David D. Gilmore, one of the few, if not the only, books to conduct a full cross-cultural examination of the different ways masculinity is seen and acted out across the globe. I had assumed I had read this book about the time I began the blog and had not gotten much out of it. But, to my amazement, I recently took it up again and discovered that, not only had I just skimmed it before, but it turned out to be the most informative book about masculinity I’d ever read. I strongly advise you to read it if you’re interested in the nature of manliness and masculinity. It’s made me think about masculinity in a new way, and I’m looking forward to utilizing it as inspiration for a variety of blogs now and in the future.

Today, I’d like to start with one of Gilmore’s main findings: that the desire to be manly is shared by nearly every culture in the world, both past and present, rather than being a peculiarly modern phenomenon, an American obsession begotten of a frontier past, or a cultural quirk that developed in a few pockets of the world. A cultural notion of a “true man” — an ideal to which all men are supposed to strive — existed in Japan and Mexico, New Guinea and India, Kenya and Spain, and continues to exist now.

Not only is there a practically universal belief in a rule of “real manliness,” but there are “continuities of masculinity that transcend cultural distinctions,” as anthropologist Thomas Gregor puts it. While each society’s definition of a “real man” has been shaped by its own history, environment, and dominant religious beliefs, Gilmore discovered that almost all of them share three common imperatives or moral injunctions — what I’ve coined the “3 P’s of Manhood”: a man must protect, procreate, and provide.


The fact that this trinity of male imperatives may be found in civilizations with nothing else in common is astonishing. They are known as “deep structures of masculinity,” and they may be found in patriarchal as well as somewhat egalitarian civilizations, in rural as well as urban settings, and in bellicose as well as peaceful ones.

The three P’s are not universal, since some cultures have no concept of masculinity at all. However, since these exclusions are so few and extraordinary, the code is widely followed, though not universal.

Today, we’ll look at the first of the three P’s: the responsibility to protect.

A Note on the Series

Since we’re all ego-driven beings, the most urgent issue on your mind as you read these three blogs is probably, “How can I stack up to this criteria?” Even in contemporary cultures, when boys are taught that worrying about becoming a “true man” is pointless, many men (and I’d hazard to say most men) still want to believe they qualify.

You’ll probably be nodding your head as you read along if you identify with the three P’s. If you don’t, you could have a strong emotional reaction; a “threat” to our social position typically triggers a visceral, physiological fight-or-flight response.

Men will define their concept of masculinity in a manner that best reflects their own personal make-up, beliefs, and traits; they gravitate to a definition of manhood that best describes them and critique models of manhood that have less congruence. That is, a frail nerd is more likely to downplay the importance of the protector role and emphasize the intelligence required to be a provider, whereas a physically fit man who is unable or unwilling to have children is more likely to downplay the procreator role and emphasize the strength required to be a protector.

But isn’t it true that defining masculinity with oneself as the ultimate model isn’t the greatest way to go about it? I like a guy who can honestly admit when he falls short of established standards, then critically consider whether or not that concerns him, and whether or not the standard is a good one in the first place. Then he may determine if it’s something he’d want to work toward more or whether he’s aware that he doesn’t fit the customary norm but doesn’t care.

For instance, I’m a complete homebody who likes reading and spending time with my wife and children. This predilection of mine would have gotten me classified as a certifiable nancy boy until recently (more on that below). While stepping out into the hustle and bustle of the world may not be my cup of tea, I can see the usefulness of encouraging males to compete and take risks in the public arena; all of society benefits from such endeavors. I’m not going to entirely alter my ways as a result of this information, but I’m also not dismissing it out of hand; it inspires me to seek for methods to balance my reticent tendencies with greater social involvement, even if only somewhat.


All of this is to say, whenever you come across manliness standards that don’t fit you personally, resist the emotional urge to dismiss them right away and spend more time considering their potential value, whether you might aspire more to them, and, if you can’t achieve them, whether you might work harder for excellence in other areas where you can.

Man as a Defender

Vintage man guarding temple with rifle.

“The core of manliness is bravery, the willingness to protect one’s own and one’s family’s pride.” The People of the Sierra, Julian Pitt-Rivers

The duty to protect is clearly the cornerstone of the 3 P’s of Manhood, if we may conceive of them as an arch through which a male must travel to become a man. Since ancient times, the trait that is required for its fulfillment – bravery — has been acknowledged as the sin qua non of manliness. It is also the masculine imperative that has persisted the most in our contemporary, otherwise gender-neutral society; even in houses where husband and wife share equal responsibility for work and childcare, if anything goes bump in the night, it is almost invariably the guy who is sent to investigate.


“The key qualities of the male and of manliness among the Jats residing in the state capital of Chandigarh… were boldness and the readiness to accept risks.”

Protection’s enduring potency and importance as a manly imperative may be related to the fact that, unlike the other two injunctions, it is more solidly anchored in anatomy and physiology. Men have higher physical strength than women, and semen is much less useful than a womb in terms of sustaining and increasing a population. As a result of being both stronger and more replaceable, males have been assigned to society’s dirtiest and most hazardous tasks from the dawn of humanity.

“Manhood is the victory of the will to flee danger.”

Gilmore contends that all three of manhood’s main imperatives include some risk and are framed as win/lose scenarios, as we’ll see. Because “losing” in this mission might end in physical damage or death, the risk associated with the guardian duty is simply greater than that of the other two.

Vintage soldiers military funeral in field folding us american flag.

Because the undertakings necessary to become a man are inherently risky, “expendability…often forms the measure of manhood”:

“Most importantly, they must understand that they are replaceable in order to be men.” This acceptance of expendability is the foundation of the masculine attitude in any situation; but, simply acceptance will not suffice. To be socially relevant, a man’s desire to become a man must be marked by joy mixed with stoic resolution, or possibly ‘grace.’ It must provide a public display of positive choice, even in suffering, since it signifies a moral commitment to protect society and its essential ideals despite all difficulties. So masculinity is the triumph over juvenile narcissism, which is not only distinct from, but also diametrically opposed to, the adult role.”


From men placing women and children on the Titanic’s lifeboats as they went down with the ship, to men covering their girlfriends’ bodies during the Aurora movie theater shooting, manliness has always meant a readiness to sacrifice one’s own life for the safety of others throughout history.

Standing Guard at the Front Door

Vintage man standing in doorway of cabin home.

“A true man earns his reputation by standing between his family and disaster, enduring the blows of destiny with calm.”

The “obligation to create and maintain limits” lies at the heart of the protection injunction. A man guards the line between various hazards and people he loves and feels obligated to defend — the line between his house and the outside world, as well as the line between his town or country and its adversary. When that boundary is crossed, he is compelled to act. Even if a guy does not consider himself very patriotic or gives much credit to the notion of masculinity, if invaders began flooding over his country’s border, he would almost certainly take a weapon.

Bravado and Bluff

A man’s borders extend beyond the physical to include the distinction between honor and shame, both for his personal reputation and that of his family and lineage. Maintaining a reputation for masculinity used to entail reacting quickly to any affront to either – defending one’s good name was crucial.

Vintage Trukese tribe war dance ceremony.

“The Trukese emphasis of fisticuffs and hardness follows this protectiveness toward women. Young Trukese males believe they must fight each other to demonstrate courage and ‘victory in physical warfare.’ A guy who takes insults in stride isn’t a man at all. ‘Come, are you not a man?!’ is a popular insinuation used in battle. ‘I’m going to end your life right now.’

One of the main components underpinning the three P’s of Manhood is that a man’s qualification for each job had to be shown in visible symbols and achievements, and public confirmation was required. It was deemed effeminate to be a secluded homebody; a guy had to be out in the public square, “in the arena.” In Cyprus, for example, “a guy who stays at home with his wife and children would have his masculinity questioned: ‘What kind of man is he?’ He likes to spend his time at home with ladies.’ “A guy who spends too much time at home during the afternoon is questionable or absurd among the Algerian Kabyle: he is ‘a house man,’ who broods at home like a hen at roost.” A self-respecting man must continuously expose himself to the eyes of others, confront them, and face them down (qabel). He is a true gentleman.”

Vintage men with machine guns standing on hill overlooking sicily Italy.

“In Sicily, a’vero uomo’ (true guy) is described by ‘the strength, power, and cunning required to safeguard his ladies.’ At the same time, the effective protective man in Sicily or Andalusia obtains notoriety for himself as an individual and receives admiration for heroic deeds. One of the most ancient conceptions found in Mediterranean cultures is the inescapable functional relationship between personal and communal gain.”


When it comes to the guardian position, competitive, violent sports like wrestling and fisticuffs serve as a public show of fitness. Within the tribe, these competitions build a pecking order, demonstrating who is the fiercest. When a guy wins a battle, he gains a reputation as someone who should not be trifled with. At the same time, these squabbles tell which males are battle-ready and which would be weak links if the tribe were forced to band together to fight an external threat. Because each man adds to the group’s total reputation for strength, that reputation may operate as a deterrent, deterring adversaries from even trying an assault.

As Gilmore says, the most crucial thing for males to exhibit in these kind of battles is their “gameness” – that even if they aren’t the strongest of the group, they are prepared to struggle and endure:

“What seems to matter most is not necessarily winning the battle, while that is important, but rather the willingness to engage or react to challenge, as well as the display of indifference to suffering.” A true gentleman is unconcerned with personal hurt, and he laughs at the sight of his own blood. Fighting, win or lose, a man corroborates his claim to masculinity while also enhancing his group’s reputation for strength if he acquits himself heroically in the heat of battle. Honorable defeat does not always imply a loss of face; what seems to matter most is demonstrating a willingness to take blows and spill blood. Bruises and scars only add to a man’s and his family’s status.”

While all-male organizations’ bluster and bluff – overt machismo – is sometimes regarded as childish and theatrical, Gilmore believes that brawling and risk-taking really “overlay an architecture of serious social obligations”:

“Below the bravado and self-promotion is a residue of practical expectations that males everywhere bear to some degree…the urge to create and maintain limits.”

Men in straight brim fedoras and suits riding horses.

“In Andalusia, being a man is likewise founded on the concept of hombre. In technical terms, this denotes manliness… hombre denotes both physical and moral bravery… It entails standing up for yourself as a strong and independent performer who can hold her own when confronted. This is also known as dignidad in Spanish (dignity). It is not founded on threats or violence, since Andalusians abhor bullies and consider physical roughness to be mere buffoonery. Hombre, in a broad sense, refers to a brave and stoic temperament in the face of danger; more importantly, it refers to protecting one’s dignity and that of one’s family… The ability to suppress violence is always predicated on the potential for violence, hence reputation is crucial.

Everything a man does is based on how he wrestles.

Vintage men boxing in grass yard field with onlooking action shot.

The three P’s all interact and interrelate with one another. When it comes to the aforementioned public brawls, for example, a man’s peers use them to appraise not just his fitness as a guardian, but also his ability to be a decent farmer and spouse. Discipline and persistence, which are attributes that create a successful wrestler, are also skills that will help him succeed in these other tasks. A guy who demonstrates his ability to scrap will be more trusted and respected by his peers, and will be more likely to be asked to be a buddy and business partner. When it comes to team selection, he’s the one the other guys want. The opposing sex watches the brawls carefully and passionately for identical reasons. Physical strength may therefore help a guy achieve financial prosperity (making him a better provider) and women (raising his chances of procreation), all while enhancing his overall macho reputation.



The big question that naturally arises from a discussion of the 3 P’s of Manhood (aside from how well you personally embody them) is whether these standards are still relevant in a time when drones have replaced men as killing machines, some believe the world is already overcrowded, and women make up half of the workforce. Is manliness really a thing of the past?

As Gilmore points out, the imperatives aren’t inherently good or harmful in terms of encouraging certain behaviors. People object to how they are applied, enforced, and separated primarily to the masculine sex. Some traditionalists would argue that we should proceed with these accusations mostly unchanged. Some argue that they are insulting, misogynistic, and out of date, and that they should be phased out entirely as markers of masculinity. Some would argue that they still have value, that you should keep the finest elements of these macho chores while discarding the rest, and that you shouldn’t toss away the baby with the bathwater.

I appreciate someone who is willing to adopt any of those positions more than someone who refuses to engage the conversation because “manhood is irrelevant.” At the very least, have a dialogue. When you do, you’ll know where to begin.

Continue reading the series here: Part II is about procreation, while Part III is about providing. Part IV: A Review of the Three P’s of Manhood Part V: What Is Masculinity’s Heart? Where Does Manhood Come From in Part VI? Why Are We So Conflicted About Manhood? Part VII – Why Are We So Conflicted About Manhood? The Dead End Roads to Manhood (Part VIII) Semper Virilis: A Roadmap to Manhood (Part IX)

Continue reading the series here: Part II is about procreation, while Part III is about providing. Part IV: A Review of the Three P’s of Manhood Part V: What Is Masculinity’s Heart? Where Does Manhood Come From in Part VI? Why Are We So Conflicted About Manhood? Part VII – Why Are We So Conflicted About Manhood? The Dead End Roads to Manhood (Part VIII) Semper Virilis: A Roadmap to Manhood (Part IX)

 A Word About the Source

David D. Gilmore’s Manhood in the Making: Cultural Concepts of Masculinity is an outstanding and enlightening work. Gilmore, like many writers, has his views, but for a topic like masculinity, which is typically polarized, the book is pleasantly well-balanced.

Gilmore mentions various anthropological research from the 1960s and 1970s in his book, which was published in 1990. We’ve utilized the present tense as he did while discussing the civilizations stated above for the sake of style. However, much has happened since those studies were conducted, and if any readers live in the civilizations named, it would be wonderful to hear from them about the present condition of masculinity in their respective communities.

Actually, I’d love to hear from people all across the globe on how their culture views masculinity in today’s society.



The “raw masculinity meaning” is the idea that masculinity is a type of raw power. It’s the ability to protect and provide for one’s family.

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