What Is the Core of Masculinity?

This is a question posed by someone who wants to know what the core of masculinity actually is. The answer to this question requires an examination of how gender has been treated in different cultures, as well as with regards to genetics and psychological development. To put it simply, there are many components that make up “masculinity,” but for our purposes we will focus on the two most significant: dominance and aggression.,

The “examples of masculinity” is a broad category that includes many different things. There are many different types of masculinity, but all have one core idea in common: strength and power.

Military soldiers hiking in desert.

We’ve gone through the three P’s of Masculinity (protect, procreate, and provide), and we’ve boiled them down to the basics — the old, virtually universal norms of manhood that have existed for thousands of years all around the globe.

However, while analyzing them, it’s impossible not to observe that their criteria aren’t solely masculine. Women have played a role in these positions from the dawn of time, haven’t they? Is it feasible to go any further into these principles to uncover the function and its associated characteristics that are, if not exclusively male, then most unmistakably masculine — the very essence of manhood?

When we examine the procreator and provider imperatives, we see that these are duties that both men and women play – and that what makes them uniquely male is a difference in focus.

It is undeniably true that it takes two to dance in the function of procreator. The focus is simply on the guy who takes the initiative to start the procedures.

Since the beginning of time, men and women have shared the burden of providing for their families in the position of provider. The husband is emphasized here as providing more than the woman and as making a more significant contribution (protein vs. plants, in premodern times).

The responsibility to protect emerges as the most clearly masculine of the three P’s of Manhood. Because this position entails both protecting and conquering, it’s best referred to as the warrior’s path. Until recently, the position of warrior/protector has been almost entirely male, and it has remained almost unaltered in the contemporary day.

Even in the most advanced of households, if anything strange happens in the middle of the night, the male will not send his wife to check while he huddles beneath the covers. When a vehicle breaks down in the middle of nowhere, a guy will not send his wife on a mile-long hunt for the closest gas station while he waits in the locked car with the kids.

On a national level, while all combat positions in the US military, including the Special Forces, have been and may be opened to women (some positions are currently being studied and may remain closed in the future pending the results), this role will almost certainly remain nearly exclusively male for motivation and aptitude reasons. Women make up just 15% of the military’s ranks at the moment. Less than 8% of the 15 percent are interested in pursuing combat employment. And a third of those 8% want to work in aviation, as part of helicopter crews that assist special operations troops. At the same time, it’s uncertain how many of the already tiny number of women eager to serve will be able to meet the physical requirements unless those requirements are relaxed (and military men and women alike are unanimous that they should not be changed). For example, when it was discovered that more than half of female Marines couldn’t complete the minimum of three pull-ups, the introduction of a new standard requiring all Marine Corps boot camp recruits to pass a pull-up test (women may already pass the test by executing a flexed-arm hang) was postponed. And all 14 women who have tried to finish the arduous Marines’ Infantry Officer Course have failed, with the exception of one, who failed on the first day.


These figures are comparable to those of forces that have a longer history of allowing women to serve in combat positions. In the Israeli military, for example, just 3% of female soldiers serve in combat roles, with the majority of them serving in what is basically a military police/border patrol force.

The fact that the US military will open combat jobs to women was not followed by a declaration that all American women would be needed to join up for the Selective Service, as all males are already compelled to do. If World War II II broke out tomorrow, America would not deploy its women to the front lines in large numbers.

Vintage military soldiers with guns in desert trucks.

The guardian position is not only the most clearly masculine, but it is also the male imperative that allows the others — and all the other virtues — to exist.

When a man and his people are attacked and taken prisoner and/or enslaved by an enemy, they are unable to supply or reproduce. Those other duties are placed on hold during times of war and disaster, and all that counts is a man’s value as a guardian. Consider our most recent global crisis: during WWII, males were sent to serve as defenders, women switched to fill the now-vacant provider role, and childbearing was put on hold in anticipation of a post-war baby boom.

You may think that a true guy cultivates his intellect, works creatively, expresses his emotions honestly, enjoys a tea party with his daughter, and loves Jesus. But none of those things are conceivable — no philosophizing, worshipping, reading, or parenting… if you and your family are no longer alive.

As a result, I believe it is apparent that the guardian position is at the heart of traditional masculinity, and that every quality that is most uniquely male is linked to it. It’s the basis for being a nice guy and being excellent at being a man.


Vintage soldier carrying machete on shoulder.

When an anthropological study of 70 societies throughout the globe was conducted to determine the presence of female warriors, 87 percent prohibited women from participating in any kind of warfare. What is the reason behind this?

In prior postings, we discussed why males have traditionally been assigned to the warrior role, but I believe they might need some reiteration and enlargement. Men were given the guardian role due of fundamental biological and psychological distinctions between males and females, including disparities in motivation/temperament as well as aptitude/effectiveness.


The warrior role entails both delivering and receiving violence, and males are likely born with aggression in their genes. Richard Wrangham, a Harvard biological anthropologist, claims that males are the result of millions of years of evolutionarily selected hostility. Although we think of chimps as charming and cuddly, violence is common among our closest monkey cousins. Male chimps organize small raiding groups that go to battle with adjacent gangs, struggle for territory, and patrol the border, savagely assaulting and murdering any rival gang member who gets too near to their realm’s edge. These patriarchal primates are preoccupied with maintaining their “alpha” position and would murder for the sake of power and respect – to demonstrate that they can do it and should not be trifled with.


On these border patrols, a few females may sometimes follow the males, but they will disperse as the males near the fence. Occasionally, a lone female — one who does not usually have children — may follow the group until the conflict begins. She will draw aside and observe while the male chimpanzees pile on an intruder, opting not to engage in the battle.

As a result, human men may be said to be the result of millions of years of blood-soaked-bellum. “Males are inclined by their evolutionary heritage to take advantage of chances to be aggressive,” Wrangham said in a recent interview. “Men are aggressive by disposition,” he claims. Modern civilization’s police forces, governments, and social mores today curb this primal impulse, but in premodern periods, men’s inclination for aggressiveness had much more freedom and chance to be practiced.

[Because I’m sure it’ll come up — yeah, we’re linked to the more tranquil, matriarchal bonobos.] Instead of using violence to settle disputes, Bonobos use sex. Male bonobos may have the propensity for aggression, according to researchers, but this inclination is stifled by groups of “alpha females.” The presence of an inbuilt proclivity for violence does not imply that it cannot be mitigated by societal restrictions. Bonobos are similar to contemporary humans in this regard, as we’ll explore in a later piece.]

Vintage tribal family.

While anthropologists have long held the belief that hunter-gatherer cultures were peaceful — bucolic, noble savages — several current academics, such as Wrangham, Napoleon Chagnon, and Steven Pinker, clearly demonstrate that the contrary is true. There is significant evidence that violence was ongoing and extremely brutal among premodern peoples who lived in close proximity to neighboring tribes. Primitive human men imitated their forefathers by creating tiny gangs, striving for prestige, and enforcing strict borders. Just as with the chimps, only one or two childless women would opt to join raiding groups in the rare communities that did allow women to participate.

As a result, men’s inherent affinity to and comfort with violence likely pushed them to the path of the warrior, making them well-suited for the position of protector.


Even while there were probably a few women in every tribe with the temperament and desire to be warriors, most civilizations decided to maintain the guardian position entirely male.

This strikes us as intrinsically unjust in our present era of relative peace and wealth. We’re used to seeing all positions through the lens of personal preferences, so if a woman has the talent and drive to act as a protector, she should be allowed to live up to her full human potential.

However, in prehistoric times, what mattered most were the requirements of the tribe as a whole, not individual interests – whatever helped the community live as a whole topped all else.

Even if one disagrees with Wrangham’s jump from chimp to human aggression (fact: every anthropological theory is fraught with debate! ), there are some very simple, biological reasons why males were seen to be the most efficient warriors and hence exclusively responsible for protecting.


Soldiers fighting in battle.

To begin with, since males will never be pregnant or nursing, they will always be the most battle-ready and capable of leaving home at any moment to fight thousands of kilometers away.

Second, for a variety of reasons, guys with higher testosterone levels are more suited for the warrior role. To begin with, testosterone has been linked to an increased drive to compete and take risks. According to studies, when a guy “wins” a competition, his dopamine levels rise and his testosterone levels rise, making him desire to compete again. While testosterone does not immediately make men more aggressive (this is a fallacy – the truth is more convoluted), it does feed a desire to keep pushing while others are resisting.

Vintage man wearing boxing gloves and showing biceps.

“Male human shoulders and arms, like red deer neck muscles, xenopus frog clasping hands, and many other primates’ canine teeth, seem to be the product of sexual selection for fighting.” All of these instances of male weapons expand in response to testosterone. They are unique characteristics that expand for the sole aim of enhancing fighting abilities in male competition. It’s no surprise, therefore, that males brag about their upper-body power to each other before fights by hunching their shoulders, flexing their arm muscles, and generally demonstrating their upper-body strength.” Richard Wrangham (Richard Wrangham, Richard Wrangham, Richard Wrangham, Richard

In addition, testosterone aids males in gaining more physical strength than women. Prior to technical advancements in warfare, all battle was very physical, frequently including man-to-man, hand-to-hand combat. Physical height and strength (particularly in the upper body) were critical components of a warrior’s fighting ability, and males are taller than women on average and have a larger muscle-to-fat tissue ratio. Overall physical toughness was also important, because men’s bones are denser, making them less prone to injuries from rigorous motions and physical contact.

Finally, in prehistoric periods, it was more important to keep one’s population increasing, therefore wombs were prized much more highly than sperm, and males were considered as more disposable. It was a simple question of survival math: if a community had 50 men and 50 women, and 25 men and 25 women are sent to fight, and the warriors return with 20 men and 10 women still alive, there are now 35 women who can bear a child, and 30 men who can potentially impregnate them (some men will not get to father a child). The maximum number of children that may be born in the following nine months is therefore 35. However, if a squad of warriors sent out consists of 50 men, and 30 of them return alive, the remaining 50 women may be impregnated by those 30 men (some men will impregnate more than one woman). There are now 50 hypothetical children that may be born this year.

Even if the tribe had an outstanding woman who was inclined to male traits and was just as skilled and fierce a warrior as one of the inferior men, one womb could not be spared. For thousands of years, our hunter/gatherer forefathers used this calculation, which we now consider to be incredibly primitive and disrespectful. Every prospective kid mattered when the size of one’s village counted both as a barrier to an enemy’s invasion and simply as a hope that one’s people’s line would continue.


These were the reasons that our forefathers considered while deciding whether or not males should be assigned the position of guardian. It wasn’t a case of simple discrimination or a desire to hold women down; rather, it was a simple biological calculation. It was a deliberate move aimed to maximize a tribe’s chances of survival and keep the most individuals alive in a tough environment fraught with natural and human risks. Individual preferences and individuality were overshadowed by the requirements of the collective.

Maintaining the Periphery

Vintage soldiers walking in forest.

“When men judge one other as men, they search for the same qualities that they’d need to maintain the perimeter secure. In an emergency, men react to and appreciate traits that would make them valuable and reliable. Men have always had a distinct function to play, and they continue to assess one another based on the needs of that duty as a guardian in a group fighting for survival against impending catastrophe. Everything about being a man—not just a person—has something to do with that position.” –The Way of Men, by Jack Donovan

Working on this series has really challenged my brain as I’ve been thinking about the tradition of masculinity and trying to combine Gilmore’s findings with the manifestations of the masculine code in other cultures. When my mind was tangled up in knots and the concept of manhood seemed opaque and enigmatic, I would frequently turn to Jack Donovan’s The Way of Men for a definition of masculinity.

While I don’t agree with all of Donovan’s points (and, as we’ll see in the last piece in this series, I come to a different conclusion regarding manliness in the current day), his argument is without peer for a dramatically pared down assessment of the core of masculinity. It is captivating and very persuasive in its sheer simplicity.

Donovan basically agrees with me that when you boil the essence of masculinity — of being excellent at being a guy — down to its very foundation, what you find is man as defender; literally, man as boundary keeper. (The qualities that make a successful fighter also make for excellent performance in the most macho of provider tasks — hunting.) Donovan reaches this conclusion by picturing the attributes that would have been most required and admired in men under the most difficult of circumstances:

“You’re a member of a tiny human group struggling for survival.

It makes no difference why.

Any of The Horsemen will suffice: conquest, battle, death, famine, or sickness.

You may be our forefathers, pioneers, lost in a distant place, survivors of a nuclear holocaust, or zombie apocalypse. It makes no difference. The situation plays out similarly for people who do not have access to superior technologies.

You must first define your team. You must determine who is allowed in and who is not, as well as detect possible risks. You’ll need to build and maintain a secure zone around your group’s perimeter. Unless the group chooses to protect and feed someone who is unable to participate due to age or disease, everyone will have to contribute in some manner to the group’s survival. For those who can work, you’ll need to pick who does what depending on their skills, how well they collaborate, and what makes the most sense…


If you have any girls in your organization, they will have a lot of difficult and essential labor on their hands. Everyone will have to do their part, but the males will nearly always be in charge of hunting and combat. When lives are at stake, individuals will abandon the etiquette of equality and make that choice again and over again because it is the most rational…

In times of crisis, males have historically been tasked with establishing and securing “the perimeter.”

People can’t keep fighting, hunting, and killing all day and night. Humans need sleep, food, and rest in order to function properly. You’ll need to make a safe haven for yourself and set up camp someplace.

You’ll also need to determine certain desired resources, such as food and water. One of the first things you should think about is if the location renders you exposed to predators or unidentified groups of males. Then you conduct some basic recon, which is looking about the region for signs of another tribe or dangerous creatures. You and your friends set up a base camp and keep an eye on a primitive perimeter, tired and pleased.

Your group’s existence will depend on your ability to effectively claim and protect territory.

This line isolates your group from the rest of the world when you claim territory and establish a perimeter. Everything known and unknown beyond the border becomes them, and the individuals within the perimeter become us.

There is darkness beyond the glow of your night fire. They’re out there in the dark, just beyond the light of your fire. Wild creatures, zombies, killer robots, or dragons might be among them. It’s also possible that they’re other males. Men are aware of their own needs and desires. You’ll have to be aware of other guys if your men have something that other men desire or need. Tools, food, water, women, animals, shelter, and even excellent land will have to be defended from other men who may be desperate enough to attack you in order to get them. The perimeter distinguishes between men you can trust and those you don’t know well enough to trust.”

Spartan soldiers standing with swords illustration.

Donovan claims that the way of men is the way of the gang because, when confronted with a hard environment, men will rapidly realize that banding together gives them a far higher chance of survival than doing it alone. Because “gang” has bad connotations for certain people, replace “posse” or “platoon” or anything else you like. The crucial thing to remember is that for millennia, the tiny, close-knit honor group served as the core male social unit. That is exactly what the notion of the uber-manly lone wolf is. Men have always battled and hunted together, with a few exceptions. Rambo wouldn’t have had a chance if cowboys and pioneers teamed together.


Understanding the dynamics of these ancient honor societies, according to Donovan, is the key to understanding the core of male psychology and how men connect to, interact with, and evaluate one another even now. What men admire in other guys (and what women find beautiful) is founded in what men desired in the men to their left and right as they stood on the perimeter side by side.

Let us return to our guardians crouched on the edge of safety and peril to discover what men have required from one other for thousands of years:

“What do you need from the troops fighting with you if you’re struggling to remain alive and are surrounded by possible threats?”

What do you want of us in order to fight them off?

Who do you want to take with you if eating meant facing danger together?

To be effective in hunting and fighting, what values must you foster in yourself and the men around you?

You’ll need the guys around you to be as strong as they can be when your life and the lives of those you care about are on the line. Living without technological technology requires strong backs and a lot of elbow work. To fend against other strong guys, you’ll need strong men.

You don’t want your gang’s members to be careless, but you do need them to be brave when it counts. A guy who flees when the gang needs him to battle might jeopardize everyone’s life.

You’ll need guys who are capable of getting the task done. Who wants to be surrounded by knuckleheads and jerks? The guys who hunt and battle will have to exhibit mastery of the hunting and fighting abilities used by your group. It wouldn’t hurt to be a bit creative as well.

You’ll also need the commitment of your guys. You’ll want to make sure that the males next to you are us, not them. In times of difficulty, you’ll need to be able to rely on them. You want people who will defend you. Men who are unconcerned with what other men think of them are unreliable and untrustworthy. If you’re a wise man, you’ll want the other guys to demonstrate their commitment to the team. You’ll want them to demonstrate that they care about their reputation inside the gang, as well as your group’s reputation with other gangs.”


The Virtues of Tactical Thinking

Vintage men riding on horses with flag poles.

“The attributes connected with being a man describe a tough philosophy of living—a way of being that is also a strategy for surviving in difficult and hazardous times.” “The Way of Men is a tactical ethos,” says the author. –The Way of Men, by Jack Donovan

Donovan gives four “tactical qualities” to the above definition of the ideal perimeter-keeper: strength, bravery, mastery, and honor. These are “basic, amoral, and functional qualities” — “the practical virtues of men who, in the worst-case scenario, must depend on one another.” They’re “amoral” because they’re essential to any gang’s success, regardless of whether what they’re fighting for is good or evil. Strength, bravery, mastery, and honor are qualities that both a squad of Navy SEALs and a family of Mafiosos need. If you’ve ever wondered why, despite their thuggery and extralegal activities, we’re fascinated by gangsters, pirates, bank robbers, and outlaws of all stripes, we can’t help but think of them as pretty manly, now you know; they’re not good men, but they’ve mastered the core fundamentals of being good at being men.


Let’s look at what these tactical attributes necessitate:

  • Strength: Physical prowess and strength; capacity to dominate rather than be dominated by an opponent (natural or human), and the ability to remain firm and immovable when pushed.
  • When one is inclined to shrink, flee, or hide, courage is the spirit/will/discipline to engage and apply one’s power. There are “higher” versions of bravery, but at its most basic level, it is a public display of indifference to risk, suffering, and bodily danger.
  • Mastery: Skill and adeptness in the use of hunting and combat methods and technology; a keen comprehension of knowledge that saves lives and advances your group’s interests.
  • Integrity – living up to your own, personal standards — is not the same as traditional honor. Traditional honor is defined as a reputation for strength, bravery, and mastery based on the opinions of other men. Honorable men value manliness, understanding that each individual member’s tactical proficiency strengthens the gang’s overall power and reputation, deterring attacks from other gangs. Dishonorable males, on the other hand, show apathy or antagonism toward the norms, weakening the group and exposing it to greater risk.

In a male gang, the key to maintaining honor is to constantly endeavor to pull your own weight – to strive to be a benefit rather than a burden to the organization. If a guy lacks physical strength, he might compensate by becoming the party’s finest tracker, weapons maker, or trap creator; one skilled engineer can be worth more than a bunch of strong men. Even if a guy lacks physical power and skill, he may endear himself to the other men with a sense of humor, narrative ability, or musical aptitude that lifts everyone’s spirits. He may also play the role of a shaman or priest, executing rituals to prepare soldiers for combat and to cleanse and console them once they return from the front lines. The group’s strong males will normally look after the weaker members, who will at least attempt to help. Shame is reserved for those who will not, or cannot, excel in tactical qualities, but instead grow resentment and contempt for the perimeter-keepers who, paradoxically, give the chance to sit on one’s hands and moan.

Vintage men boxing in public area.

Men compete within a team for honor and to demonstrate who in the group has the greatest tactical skill. This intra-group rivalry also trains the squad to fight rival/enemy gangs.

Strength, bravery, mastery, and honor are attributes that are clearly not specific to males, and it’s not that women haven’t represented these traits throughout history (as we shall see next time, the idea of a soft, fragile femininity is a modern conception). It’s not that women shouldn’t strive for these qualities as well. The tactical virtues, on the other hand, are the distinguishing characteristics of masculinity. No one believes a woman is less womanly because she isn’t tough or appears terrified in the face of danger. Even today, such flaws will be seen as emasculating in a guy.


So, what are the characteristics that define femininity? I’m not touching it with a ten-foot rod, oh-hoho. It’s taken me years to figure out what it means to be a guy, and I’m still working on it. I wouldn’t enjoy it if a woman who hadn’t studied masculinity in depth presented an impromptu description, so I’ll abstain from doing so. Someone should develop a fantastic Art of Womanliness-style blog and research the topic. I’m going to be a reader.

Civilization’s Structural Elements

Vintage soldiers fighting with enemies illustration.

“The alpha qualities of males all around the globe are strength, courage, mastery, and honor. They are men’s essential qualities since no “higher” virtues can be entertained without them. To philosophize, you must be living. You may add to these qualities and construct laws and moral codes to control them, but removing them from the equation completely leaves behind not just the virtues that are unique to mankind, but also the virtues that make civilization possible.” –The Way of Men, by Jack Donovan

The tactical qualities may make some modern individuals uncomfortable since they seem raw, primitive, and thuggish to modern sensibilities, and anything defined as “amoral” tends to make people nervous.

This unease stems from the reality that tactical qualities may be used for good or bad purposes. We may be enthralled by Vikings’ exploits on television, but if they were stationed on the edges of our town, ready to loot and plunder, we would be trembling in our boots. Men’s gangs may wield unexpected strength against established interests (as seen by recent riots throughout the globe) and convert order into anarchy.

As a result, we are far more likely to praise and celebrate the higher qualities than the tactical type in contemporary times.

But, in reality, the two sets of qualities are inextricably linked; one makes the other possible. There would be no safety and tranquility without (at least some) guys who are competent at being men, making the quest of becoming a decent man impossible.

Soldiers defending our civilization illustration.

Danger is all around and may come from any direction in the most severe of circumstances, in the harshest of surroundings. People live on the edge of safety and peril, and all men must serve on the periphery and do their best to nurture the tactical qualities of the guardian. Violence isn’t a choice; it’s a lifestyle. Moral and spiritual norms may surely be present during such times, and they can greatly encourage and influence soldiers in their battle, but rituals, worship, and reflection have much less time. Winning the war and surviving take precedence, and the values required to carry out that goal – strength, bravery, mastery, and honor – are stressed the most.

A defending culture of post civilization illustration.

“Men who have completed the first task of being men—men who have made survival possible—can and do often worry about becoming decent men. Men have the leisure and luxury to nurture civilized, “higher” values when the brutal border between danger and safety extends outward. –The Way of Men, by Jack Donovan


As civilization progresses, danger and menace fade away, concentrating in more predictable locations near the periphery. Only these specific boundaries must be secured, requiring fewer individuals to act as defenders. People relocate their settlements away from potential dangers to a more comfortable zone of safety where they are not always looking over their shoulders and can relax their guard. Men, being liberated from acting as guardians (at least full-time), may focus more on the procreator and provider roles and specialize in an area that best suits their interests and abilities in these areas of more peace and abundance. There is time and opportunity to improve one’s writing, art, and music, to explore the meanings of Beauty, Wisdom, Justice, and Truth, and to imagine more just political and cultural systems as well as progressively compassionate moral norms. One of the goals of these moral codes is to regulate masculine aggression by establishing guidelines for when it is and is not permissible to use it, as well as to redirect it toward noble goals.

Gladiator fighting in crowd illustration.

The vocabulary of tactical virtues and the ideal of masculinity remain, but the notions become more metaphorical; physical strength is expanded to encompass mental power; moral and intellectual bravery are included as categories of courage. Men aim to “conquer” themselves and “vanquish” their flaws rather than conquer rival tribes. Men “battle” disease and “fight” for rights instead of fighting human fighters. Men compete in athletic events, debating competitions, scientific achievements, and corporate businesses to display their manliness, rather than fighting toe-to-toe on the battlefield. Men are willing to merely watch other men perform these things as the rings of abstraction expand more away from the heart of masculinity; the number of doers diminishes while the number of viewers rises. Men like to study and write about previous masculine actions rather than undertaking them themselves. Their battleground is internal rather than external, and they strive to improve their lives.

The outsourcing of the guardian function to what is becoming an increasingly tiny warrior class of men allows for this shift in priorities from being excellent at being a guy to being a nice man. “Men can only be highly civilized if other men, unavoidably less civilized, are around to watch and feed them,” George Orwell said.

It’s easy to lose sight of this, particularly in our contemporary culture, when the military employs less than.5% of the population (and even fewer see combat) and conflicts are fought thousands of miles away. It’s easy to go on one’s high horse about guys who are too brutal for one’s tastes, and about how scornful and unenlightened violence is in such a bubble. “Those who ‘abjure’ violence can only do so because others are doing violence on their behalf,” Orwell stated of pacifism.


It’s crucial to remember, however, that being a decent guy and being a good man are not mutually exclusive. Only in our current day do we tend to see intelligence and power, goodness and strength as mutually incompatible qualities. While one set of virtues may be preferred over another depending on the circumstances, mankind have strived for and achieved greatness in both tactical and higher virtues since the beginning of civilization. And there’s frequently a synergistic link between guys who succeed on either extreme of the manliness continuum. The greatest warriors are almost never the best authors, and the finest writers are almost never the best warriors. Great writers and philosophers’ works have often inspired great warriors, while great warriors have frequently inspired great literature.

Even the men we hold up as examples of how to be manly by practicing the higher virtues without totally meeting the 3 P’s of Manhood get their motivation from the tactical virtues’ underlying basis. Gandhi and Jesus are praised for their nonviolence and kindness, but our capacity to conceive of them as manly stems from their acceptance of male expendability — a daring indifference to the anguish and suffering inflicted on their physical bodies by others. They were decent men, to be sure, but their willingness to put themselves in harm’s way for the benefit of their people also made them good men.

The Protector Survived

Man showing his chest pose.

“A man is more than just a man; he is a man among men, in a world of men.” Being a decent man has less to do with a guy’s connection to any woman or group of women and more to do with his ability to thrive with men and among groups of men. When someone urges a guy to “be a man,” they mean “be more like other men, more like the majority of men, and preferably more like the men that other men admire.” –The Way of Men, by Jack Donovan

Even though we no longer live on the savanna and the great majority of men aren’t expected to serve as defenders on a daily basis, our proclivity for judging men based on tactical attributes has remained remarkably consistent.

When men and women look at a guy and try to figure out how masculine he is, their first instinct is still to look at his tactical qualities – how powerful and fierce he seems. “Yep, there’s a masculine guy right there,” you’ll instinctively reply when you glance at the image above.

When someone asks whether our brilliant, but slender, buddy is “manly,” our primordial brain automatically responds, “Not really.” “Well, he’s macho because he’s a highly accomplished engineer,” we’ll say after checking this reaction and looking for other elements that would suggest our gut response is incorrect: “Well, he’s manly because he’s a really accomplished engineer.” Similarly, if we’re asked whether an extremely obese guy who gets winded merely ascending a flight of stairs is macho, our brain will first say no, but then add, “But he is manly since he’s such a terrific father.”


A woman’s gut response to what registers as emasculating conduct is typically to recoil from what registers as emasculating behavior when a guy breaks down and sobs not out of reasonable pain, but because he’s upset or demoralized by a defeat. “No, it’s nice that he’s able to express his sentiments,” she’ll tell herself, pushing the notion aside.

When we experience this “Not masculine…yes manly” response, our older, more primitive brain reacts first, and then our contemporary brain comes online and reevaluates things after a few beats. Our primordial brain responds to a guy in the same way it has for thousands of years: it assesses whether you’d want that man on your squad if you were protecting the perimeter together. Our contemporary brain jumps in and tells us that we’re no longer in danger, and that the person next to us doesn’t have to be strong and fearless — simply a decent guy who’s honest, friendly, and laid-back would suffice. Similarly, when a guy does something historically emasculating, a woman’s first impulse is to be concerned about his ability to defend her – would he crumble in the face of actual danger? But the portion of her brain that deals with current sensibilities will attempt to calm her down: “That’s stupid.” For me, he doesn’t need to be a protector. It’s more crucial than everything else that he’s sensitive.”

This mental tug of war is at the root of today’s “masculinity problem.” Should we strive to do away with that early gut evaluation of men since tactical qualities are now mostly unimportant, and this traditional rubric of masculinity excludes far too many men? Should we aim to make masculinity more inclusive so that no one feels left out or ashamed of their flaws? Is it harmful to young men’s mentality to continue to teach them to “be a man” and “be tough”? Would they be happy if they weren’t expected to be tough and instead permitted to be more sensitive and transparent about their emotions at all times? If the warrior’s way is profoundly embedded in men’s psyches, possibly even in their DNA, what happens to manliness when this potential and proclivity have nowhere to go? Will it go away if we ignore and denounce it? Is it possible for males to be satisfied with only engaging in (and watching) abstract forms of battle and competition? When there are no more battles to fight, what happens to the warrior’s way of life?

To say the least, our contemporary society is severely divided on the answers to these concerns. The next time we meet, we’ll look at the beginnings of this dispute.

Continue reading the series here: Part I is to protect; Part II is to reproduce; and Part III is to provide. Part IV: A Review of the Three P’s of Manhood 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)


Additional Reading/Listening Resources:

Jack Donovan’s novel The Way of Men This book will provide a clearer and pithier explanation of the principles presented above. Donovan’s views are divisive, but even if you don’t agree with his findings, it’s worth reading and debating his theory.

Richard Wrangham and Dale Peterson’s Demonic Males Don’t be fooled by the title: this isn’t an anti-male rant. Instead, it’s an enthralling look at male aggression and its likely ape roots.

Friday Science: The Origins of Violence My podcast came out on Friday, and I couldn’t believe how well it matched this post. A brief yet engaging introduction to males and violence.



The “raw masculinity meaning” is the idea that there is a core of masculinity. This idea has been around for centuries, and it’s still present today.

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