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Becoming a Man

“In the puberty rites, the novices are made aware of the sacred value of food and assume the adult condition; that is, they no longer depend on their mothers and on the labor of others for nourishment. Initiation, then, is equivalent to a revelation of the sacred, of death, sexuality, and the struggle for food. Only after having acquired these dimensions of human existence does one become truly a man.” – Mircea Eliade, Rites and Symbols of Initiation: The Mysteries of Birth and Rebirth, 1958

“To be a man in most of the societies we have looked at, one must impregnate women, protect dependents from danger, and provision kith and kin.” – David D. Gilmore, Manhood in the Making, 1990

“Keep your head clear and know how to suffer like a man.” – Ernest Hemingway, The Old Man and the Sea, 1952

There are commonalities of human behavior that extend beyond any geographic or cultural boundary. Every known society has a sexual division of labor – many facets of which are ubiquitous the world over. Some activities are universally considered to be primarily, or exclusively, the responsibility of men, such as hunting large mammals, metalworking, and warfare. Other activities, such as caregiving, cooking, and preparing vegetable foods, are nearly always considered primarily the responsibility of women.

Table from ‘A Cross-Cultural Analysis of the Behavior of Women and Men: Implications for the Origins of Sex Differences’ (2002) by Wendy Wood and Alice Eagly illustrating sex differences in activities across cultures.

In my last article for Quillette, I noted that in every known society males are more likely to kill another person than females are, and that this pattern is ultimately fairly predictable in light of some basic sex differences in reproductive biology. Here, I want to explore the functions of socialization, and ideology, as they contribute to the differing sex roles of males and females across cultures. In particular – how boys become men, and what the social demands of masculinity often entail.

The recognition that hunting is a predominately male behavior is widespread across cultures. In fact, this association is not unique to humans. In the volume Chimpanzees and Human Evolution (2017), anthropologists Brian Wood and Ian Gilby write that, “Among all primates that regularly hunt vertebrates, including chimpanzees, baboons, and capuchins, males hunt more frequently than females.” Yet hunting among human populations is not solely an extension of a biological inclination found predominately among males; it is a behavior that is often deeply infused with social meaning.

The hunt is central to masculine identity among many hunter-gatherer populations, such as the !Kung of the Kalahari Desert. In her book on Nyae Nyae !Kung Beliefs and Rites (1999), anthropologist Lorna Marshall wrote that, “With the rarest exceptions, all !Kung men hunt. Little boys play with tiny bows and arrows from the time they can walk and practice shooting throughout their childhood. At adolescence, they begin to hunt with their fathers.” The practice of learning to hunt is part of a boy’s transition to manhood, and it holds strong ritual significance. Marshall notes that, “The most important rite in a !Kung boy’s life is the Rite of First Kill,” and she further describes its role in the !Kung social system;

A boy may not marry until he has killed a big meat animal and had the rite performed. The rite marks the change of state from boyhood to that of hunter, which in !Kung culture is equated with manhood…The principal element in the rite is the scarification of the boy. The purpose of this is to put into the boy’s body, through little cuts in his skin, substances that, in !Kung belief, will make him a successful hunter. The scarifications remain visible on the skin for a lifetime; they show that the man has been “cut with meat.” (Marshall, 154)

An emphasis on the essential role of hunting – and male provisioning more generally – in marriage practices is quite common. Anthropologist Lewis Henry Morgan described the Iroquois tradition of exchanging food to ratify a marriage; the bride would present cornbread to her mother-in-law indicating “her skill in the domestic arts”, and in turn “a present of venison, or other fruit of the chase,” would be given to her own mother, indicating her future husband’s “ability to provide for his household.”

Anthropologist Frank Marlowe found that among Hadza hunter-gatherers, it is the women who bring more food back to camp, on average, than the men do. Yet this is driven in part by lackluster returns from unmarried men, who often eat while out foraging, bringing less food back to share. It is married men with young children who bring the most food back to camp, providing essential calories for their family. The demands of family life can offer a powerful inducement for male responsibility.

Success in hunting is often an explicit pathway to increased prestige. Commonly across cultures, better hunters have better reproductive success, and are usually conferred high-status. In Cultural Anthropology: Tribes, States, and the Global System (2011), anthropologist John Bodley writes that, “Throughout Amazonia, hunting success is equated with virility, and the successful hunter can support extra wives and lovers through gifts of meat.”

Across small-scale societies, hunting is a valuable, highly practical skill, allowing the attainment of nutrient dense foods to provide for one’s family, while also acting as an appealing signal to the rest of the social group, indicating a man’s competence and expertise at a difficult task.

Image from ‘Hunting and Trapping Stories; a Book for Boys’ (1903)

Teaching socially valued skills, such as hunting, and instilling courage and a tolerance for pain that might be required for success in warfare, are often part of masculine rituals and rites of passage. In the volume Rituals of Manhood (1982), anthropologist Gilbert Herdt noted that, throughout New Guinea, “the rites of making men…share in common the intentionality of instilling warriorhood, masculine identity, and higher social status in the change from boyhood to manhood,” and we see “similar transitions to adult manliness in many social formations—ancient and modern, across civilizations large and small—around the world.”

The world over, there is a sense that manhood is precarious; that it is something that must be earned over time, yet can quickly be taken away.

One manner in which men are considered to be stripped of their masculinity is through being subdued in war. In 1754, as recounted by diplomat Conrad Weiser, Chief Tamaqua of the Delaware Tribe addressed the Six Nations of the Iroquois, describing their past battles in war, saying, “I still remember the Time when You first conquered Us and made Women of Us, and told Us that You took Us under your Protection, and that We must not meddle with Wars, but stay in the House and mind Council Affairs.”

According to a member of the Seneca tribe, known in English as Captain Newcastle, in 1756 the Mohawk chief, Canyase, said, “We, the Mohwaks, are men; we are made so from above. But the Delawares are women and under our protection, and of too low a kind to be men…”

Conversely, success in warfare has often conferred important social benefits for males, such as increased status, access to resources, and better marriage opportunities. In his book Cattle Brings Us To Our Enemies (2010) about Turkana pastoralists, anthropologist J. Terence McCabe writes that, “Young women will sing songs about young men who are successful raiders, and such individuals often receive the benefits of their adulation.”

Table from ‘The Role of Rewards in Motivating Participation in Simple Warfare’ (2013) by Luke Glowacki & Richard Wrangham illustrating the social benefits conferred to warriors across numerous small-scale societies.

Warfare also creates the need for effective leaders that can build and maintain strong coalitions. In the volume Manhood in the Making (1990), anthropologist David D. Gilmore, describing the importance of leaders among various New Guinea societies, writes, “Through this hands-on leadership, the Big Man does something more than fight, fend off enemies, and exemplify a warrior ideal for impressionable boys and aspiring youth; he establishes an artificial social cohesion for the people of his village or territorial unit.”

Across vastly different societies, with very dissimilar political systems, it is often similar sets of skills that are considered desirable for their (predominately male) leaders. A man can gain status through displays of key talents; through his ability to persuade; by developing and maintaining important social relationships; and by solving difficult problems. In his classic paper on the political systems of ‘egalitarian’ small-scale societies, anthropologist Christopher Boehm writes, “a good leader seems to be generous, brave in combat, wise in making subsistence or military decisions, apt at resolving intragroup conflicts, a good speaker, fair, impartial, tactful, reliable, and morally upright.” In his study on the Mardu hunter-gatherers of Australia, anthropologist Robert Tonkinson wrote that the highest status was given to the “cooks,” which is the title given to “the older men who prepare the many different ceremonial feasts, act as advisors and directors of most rituals (and perform the most important “big” dances), and are guardians of the caches of sacred objects.”

Aboriginal elders and young boys in ceremonial body paint sit on the red sand by fire after sunset in desert Central Australia

Anthropologist Paul Roscoe writes that some of the important skills of ‘Big Men’ in New Guinea horticulturist societies are, “courage and proficiency in war or hunting; talented oratory; ability in mediation and organization; a gift for singing, dancing, wood carving, and/or graphic artistry; the ability to transact pigs and wealth; ritual expertise; and so on.” In the volume Cooperation and Collective Action (2012), Roscoe notes further that the traits that distinguish a ‘Big Man’ are “his skills in…conflict resolution; his charisma, diplomacy, ability to plan, industriousness, and intelligence” and “his abilities in political manipulation.” In their paper on ‘The Big Man Mechanism,’ anthropologist Joseph Henrich and his colleagues describe the common pathways to status found across cultures, noting that, “In small-scale societies, the domains associated with prestige include hunting, oratory, shamanic knowledge and combat.”

A similar process can be seen at work even in contemporary, large-scale, democratic societies. In an article about French President Emmanuel Macron over at the Wall Street Journal, journalists Stacy Meichtry and William Horobin write, “Mr. Macron made friends in high places who propelled him to ever-higher echelons of French society. Along the way he acquired a repertoire of skills, from piano and philosophy to acting and finance, that helped impress future mentors.” Displaying visible skills, demonstrating possession of relevant knowledge, and managing personal relationships are key factors in obtaining status.

Essential to the ideal conception of masculine identity is exhibiting competence in socially valued domains, while taking on important responsibilities and offering leadership.

When looking across cultures at ideological conceptions of manhood, we see many of the same themes occurring continuously. In the book Law and Order in Anglo-Saxon England (2017), historian Tom Lambert analyzes King Æthelberht’s code of law in the Kingdom of Kent in 6th century CE, and describes what the laws conveyed about masculine social identity in this society. Lambert notes that, “Virtually every clause of the code is concerned to define an affront and the compensation appropriate to it.” One extended passage in particular is worth quoting in full. Lambert writes;

Within this model of an ideal society of free males is a model of an ideal free man. He is strong and determined, in that he is willing and able do what is necessary to maintain his honour, insisting on being compensated in full for any affront. However, he is also level-headed and reasonable: his strength and determination are used to exact the compensation required to maintain his honour, and no more. He does not rush precipitately to avenge wrongs done to him, nor does he take advantage of his strength to dishonour his opponents by extorting more from them than is just. And he is careful not to impose obligations on others. He accepts full responsibility for all his own actions, personally paying compensation when it is right to do so, and he is certainly not so hot-headed and self-indulgent as to engage in reckless acts which might compel his family to use their wealth to bail him out. A proper man, the laws imply, is not just strong and determined, he exercises restraint because of his commitment to the ideal of a community of free men who respect one another’s honour. The laws thus promote a particular construction of masculinity, one distinctly tinged by social responsibility. (Lambert, 57)

This conception of a socially responsible sense of masculinity may offer some lessons for men of our own era.

In his book How Can I Get Through To You? (2002), author Terrence Real describes visiting a remote village of Maasai pastoralists in Tanzania. Real asked the village elders (all male) what makes a good warrior and a good man. After a vibrant discussion, one of the oldest males stood up and told Real;

I refuse to tell you what makes a good morani [warrior]. But I will tell you what makes a great morani. When the moment calls for fierceness a good morani is very ferocious. And when the moment calls for kindness, a good morani is utterly tender. Now, what makes a great morani is knowing which moment is which! (Real, 64)

This quote is also favorably cited by feminist author bell hooks in her book The Will to Change (2004). While hooks and Real offer perspectives quite different from my approach here, the words of the Massai elder illustrate an ideal conception of masculinity that may appeal to many people of diverse ideologies and cultural backgrounds. A great warrior, a great man, is discerning – not needlessly hostile nor chronically deferential, he instead recognizes the responsibilities of both defending, and caring for, his friends and family.

In The Cassowary’s Revenge (1997), anthropologist Donald Tuzin discusses his fieldwork among the Ilahita Arapesh horticulturalists of New Guinea, and describes a man who seems to fit many facets of this masculine ideal;

Kwamwi, for example, was not only of the highest ritual rank, he performed as a master artist and one of the village’s leading shamans. In the opinion of neighboring enemy villages, Kwamwi was a dangerous sorcerer, a cold-blooded killer who fueled his mystical power by eating human corpses. Taking pains to look like a man of parts he was always decked out in shell jewelry and a jaunty comb-and-feather arrangement in his hair. Around his neck hung an unadorned little bundle, containing, he said, the magically efficacious finger of a bush demon he had once killed in the jungle. Although Kwamwi could be scary when it suited him and could more than hold his own as a magician, artist, and orator, off-stage he was remarkably sweet tempered and playful. Little children adored him; he was a gentle husband; and, to my knowledge, he was the only man in the village at the time who treated his dog with kindness, and who gave it a name – Kailal. (Tuzin, 28)

Finally, we come to the central question: why are these particular conceptions of masculinity so common across cultures and throughout history, and what are the implications for our current, democratic, post-industrial era?

Terrence Real and bell hooks, like many other feminist writers, are very critical of phrases such as “be a man” or “man up,” arguing that these sort of statements impose rigid gender norms and unreasonable standards on young boys. I’d like to propose an explanation for why these kinds of comments exist in the first place.

As anthropologist David G. Gilmore notes in Manhood in the Making, exhortations such as “be a man” are common across societies throughout the world. Such remarks represent the recognition that being a man came with a set of duties and responsibilities. If men failed to stay cool under pressure in the midst of hunting or warfare, and thus failed to provide for, or protect, their families and allies, this would have been devastating to their societies.

Throughout our evolutionary history, the cultures that had a sexual division of labor, and socialized males to help provide for and protect the group, would have had a better chance at survival, and would have outcompeted those societies that failed to instill such values.

Some would argue, quite reasonably, that in contemporary, industrialized, democratic societies, values associated with hunting and warfare are outmoded. Gilmore writes that, “So long as there are battles to be fought, wars to be won, heights to be scaled, hard work to be done, some of us will have to “act like men.”” Yet the challenges of modern societies for most people are often very different from those that occurred throughout much of our history.

Still, some common components of the traditional, idealized masculine identity I describe here may continue to be useful in the modern era, such as providing essential resources for the next generation of children, solving social conflicts, cultivating useful, practical skills, and obtaining socially valuable knowledge. Obviously, these traits are not, and need not be, restricted to men. But when it comes to teaching the next generation of young males what socially responsible masculinity looks like, it might be worth keeping these historical contributions in mind. Not as a standard that one should necessarily feel unduly pressured by, but as a set of productive goals and aspirations that can aid in personal development and social enrichment.

 

William Buckner is a student of Evolutionary Anthropology at UC Davis. He is interested in cultural evolution and understanding human conflict patterns across cultures. He can be followed on Twitter @Evolving_Moloch

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66 Comments

  1. IntN says

    Really good article. I think the idea that because we evolve as a society, basic biological characteristics become “outmoded” is a dangerous one. Our being is pretty much the same, no matter how much we develop our society. I think that we must seek to adapt our biological traits to our current reality, instead of simply trying to dismiss them. So remembering what “becoming a men” meant throughout history and comparing it to today’s standards is pretty interesting.

    • Joshua Schwartz says

      You’re right, I think, but I would add to that that there are certainly elements of our biological evolution that made sense (from an evolutionary perspective) at the time that create challenges in the modern context. I am thinking here about our tribalistic nature, which served us very well during evolution but creates a lot of tensions in the context of a big society like a Western democracy. I doubt that tribal impulses will ever go away. Are we denying ourselves if we try to curb them? I’ve taken to thinking that maybe they just need to be channeled (into sports teams and such instead of politics) and we get along fine.
      In any case, I don’t think masculinity is one of those, and I appreciate this article. Masculinity created too many of the marvels around us to discount, given our amazing standards of living (relative to our past). If there’s a problem, it’s in failing to channel it productively and pathologizing it instead.

      • Fred Laurenso says

        I would argue that , absolutely yes you are denying yourself if you curb your tribalism or other biologically evolved traits. Like it or not, we are not robots that can simply repress a side of ourself because of some silly ideology. Just take a look at sports, isn’t that the largest body of proof that tribalism makes people extremely happy when they feel like they are fighting on a side in a safe, socially maneuvered way where hardly anyone needs to get hurt? We need to accept the dark side of ourselves and figure out ways to express them, not dangerously repress them. Spikes of depression and suicide are what happens when you do that

  2. Jim H. says

    I note that those, such as feminists, who complain of the phrase “man up” are actually not complaining that men (and boys) are manning up, they are complaining that they are manning up by other than their definition of how men and boys behave. The great irony of the feminization of boys by the feminist society is that young girls find themselves miserable as they look for the strong masculine provider and find none available complaining of the lack of “marriageable men” in a system they made to “empower” women. Karma’s a bitch.

    • Slaggingham. says

      Then you’ve missed the point of this article, entirely. Or maybe you only came to comment, not to actually read it. Go back, read the part about the Maasai again. Then understand that most people who say “man up” are missing fully HALF of what makes one a man.

  3. ccscientist says

    Why might it be that women need provisioning? The modern woman isn’t helpless. Yet in biological reality, she might very well become pretty helpless by becoming pregnant and having children, and this process is open-ended: no-one knows when you might be done having children and when they will no longer need you. To resent this reality is childish and it is certainly not the fault of men that only women get pregnant. Thus I think it is deeply ingrained in women’s DNA to look for men capable of provisioning and protecting her and her children. I think the mechanism for this is that women tend to fear danger more than men, even invisible dangers, and to be generally anxious whereas men tend to be confident, even over-confident. If you are going to go out and hunt elephants you better be confident.

    • Agne says

      In biological reality, all humans depends on each other for help and survival. Even the mightiest warrior gets injured and needs someone to treat them or save their life (and healing was often a feminine task in many societies). And even the strongest men need their families to support them, to have something to live for and give their lives meaning. After all, as mentioned here, men do all that in order to gain women’s attention or to provide for their families, and women are the ones giving them a family. Men are just as dependent on women as women are on men. People who ignore it or deny it are either being sexist or very ignorant.

      And this article is pretty one-sided. Of course that’s the point, since it’s about men, but it does seem to fall victim to some of the common traditionalist myths about historical gender roles. A lot of people still think that for most of the human history gender roles were exactly the same as in 1950s white suburban America – men go out to work and provide for the family, while women stay at home and cook, clean and look after children. The truth is that this stereotypical family was very different from how humans lived for most of the history. For one, this whole division between “work” and “home” was much more blurry. Most of the work was done at home or close to home, by both men and women. Women weren’t like helpless children who did nothing but clean, cook and sat around with children on their laps. They were contributing to the household economy just as much as men. So many things we take for granted today because we can just buy them anytime, were made by women’s hard work. And yet for some reason the definition of “provisioning” became limited only to money or bringing raw food when they were discussed by (mostly male) sociologists and anthropologists. Today we buy clothes and think nothing of it – back then women had to take a hide, strip it, clean it, process it in a way that made it more resistant to water and dirt, and then sew it (with the needle and thread they made by themselves too) into the finished product. This required hard work and complex knowledge, passed down from generation, and in many regions it was no less vital than food or water. You can survive almost a month without a food, about 3 days without water – without effective clothing on a winter day you could die within a few hours.

      Clothing, linen, baskets, other household materials, and, of course, food processing (since they couldn’t just buy processed foods from a supermarket. Imagine shelling walnuts by hand). Laundry too. Back then it was a little bit more than just aesthetics, having dirt stuck in your clothing for too long, often in contact with wounds too, could mean infections and death. And washing clothes was so much more difficult without washing machines.

      However, the part that this article glosses over is that in most societies providing food wasn’t an exclusively male or masculine activity. Hunting large animals was, specifically. Yet there are still societies where women engage in large game hunting as well. This “standard sample” must be a bit selective, because clearly the Mbuti, Martu and Agta weren’t included. Hunting large animal isn’t always a glamorous adventure of mighty spear throwing. There’s an amazing diversity in hunting methods around the world, and some of them (depending on the animal in question and the geographical location) are so easy even the children and old people engage in them. For example, net hunting, or driving animals off the cliffs. In some societies men and women hunt as a team effort, splitting tasks. For example, women row boats in the river while men fish with spears. When it comes to smaller game, women engage in a lot more hunting. And, of course, the importance of gathering vegetables can’t be understated either, they provide certain nutrients and antioxidants you can’t find in meat. Not to mention gathering firewood and water that essential for both food preparation and survival.

      This notion that life was easy for prehistoric women and they had to just sit around doing some light menial work while only men were doing the hard work has no basis at all. Many common tasks for women in those societies include ones that would be deemed heavy manual labour in modern societies today, and thought as masculine – for example, carrying heavy things like huge baskets of firewood for many miles, or doing heavy fieldwork. Even studies on hunter-gatherer energetics show that men and women burn on average the same amount of energy per day when controlled for differences in body size, muscle mass and women’s reproductive activities.

      Your other assertions seem sexist and unsupported too. What do you mean by women being “generally anxious”? As a woman I’m certainly not anxious most of the time, and neither are most women I know. In most societies men are a lot more likely to kill themselves or succumb to alcoholism and drug addiction, which show that men are a lot more likely to hide their anxieties and not seek help. Being strong and resilient mattered just as much for women back as it did for men, even if it served them in different ways. Pregnancy and childbirth can be very scary, but being afraid and stressed out is bad for the health of both the mother and the fetus. In fact, in many societies childbirth was treated a lot like war – women were required to be brave and endure pain and hardship without showing weakness. If they failed, they lost some status for it, just like men would if they showed weakness or fear in a battle. Maybe they weren’t fighting wars, but they were still going out there in the wilderness every day to gather foods or hunt, they had to keep a cold head and know how to survive. They were there to support men and the whole family during the crisis, solve conflicts and other issues, which also required confidence and calm. I’m pretty sure any modern differences in anxiety or confidence between men and women are mostly cultural, and even those differences are pretty small.

      Of course women were looking for capable men who were able to provide. Men were looking for the same in women. Women had to be physically strong and have a lot of stamina in order to do all the work in the house and out. And of course she had to be strong in order to survive pregnancy and childbirth (by the way, women worked hard all the way until their due date, contrary to modern views a healthy pregnancy doesn’t make women weak. Most female athletes and weight lifters exercise while pregnant too). No man wanted a wife who was lazy, sickly or unskilled. They also had to be intelligent too, to be able to run home and effective multitask with all their children. Unlike modern women, they had a lot more help and support, though. Their husbands weren’t the only ones they could turn to. In fact, in some societies the grandmothers were the most high-powered providers and supporters, with men playing only a secondary role, and hunting more for personal status than provision.

      However, what’s considered sexually attractive is strongly influenced by culture. People ascribe too much importance to biology and not enough to culture. Aside from the most fundamental things like young women being seen as more attractive, almost everything else is culturally determined. Many beauty norms are even counterproductive from evolutionary basis. For example, the Victorians valued small, delicate, pale women, even to the point of women poisoning themselves with arsenic in order to look more pale. Such a woman wouldn’t even have survived in prehistoric times, let alone being able to carry ~70lbs worth of yams and a toddler on her back, or given birth +5 times and survived. Paleness in both men and women was considered attractive, even though it likely meant sedentary lifestyle and vitamin D deficiency, certainly not what any smart caveman/woman would have wanted in a spouse. And, heck, the Chinese were literally maiming the feet of little girls, I’ve absolutely no idea how this could ever be considered attractive, but it was. And not so long ago in the West borderline anorexic women were all the rage, despite the fact that many of them weren’t even fertile due to too low body fat levels.

      • Maria Velasquez says

        You seem not to have read the article and then wasted a lot of typing time thereafter.

  4. James says

    You point out in this article that men who “man up” are given status in exchange. Well in modern times men who man up are given less and less in exchange for their sacrifice, why take care of children and a family if they can be stripped from you at the woman’s whim.

  5. Miles S. says

    This is a great summary of what masculine identity was founded in and why we evolved a set of values for men that, while not universal, are predominately found through human societies. It does raises questions that are not answer in the summary, namely ‘How do we translate this into positive role models for modern boys & men?’. The history of what & why are well explained but I would be interested in hearing the authors opinion.

    One example of where I would like to see further research is the social effect of ‘practical skills’ in today’s society. (The definition of ‘practical’ needs to be addressed, does this mean carpentry? car mechanic skills? driving a trailer? website construction? dog training? welding? What is a masculine, ‘practical’ skill that we can teach boys and young men?) My personal experience is they are immensely confidence building and rather unique while being undervalued by today’s society. For example, I know how to back up a trailer whereas very few of my peers at my urban company know how to do that and I have been asked for assistance before including by the warehouse foreman. This is a simplistic example but is that a ‘practical skill’ or just something people pick up based on their upbringing?

    On a side note, I do find the writing of social studies very interesting, for example the chart above indicating masculine to feminine activities would be torn apart in my field (engineering) as misleading. If you have 4 columns split into uneven percentages and claim that anything over an arbitrary 92.7% is ‘predominately masculine’ but something that is 2.7% is only ‘quasi feminine’ you are using two different standards.

  6. Gemmel says

    Who will be your role model when your role model is gone?
    A study on Masculinity will never be complete unless the consideration of our Eternal father for whom billions of years is true.

    He is your heavenly Father and you are His child 1 John 2:1
    The relationship He has is best considered as an earthly father with his son
    A good father loves and cares for his son. 1 Peter 5:7
    A good father protects his son. Matthew 18:6
    A good father provides for his son. Philippians 4:19
    A good father guides and teaches his son. John 14:26
    A good father helps his son. Psalm 46:1
    A good father encourages his son. Philippians 4:13
    A good father disciplines his son. Hebrews 12:5-11
    A good father feeds his son. Matthew 4:4
    A good father has a plan for his son. Romans 8:28-29

    God’s attributes obviously far outweigh those of mankind and are not a consideration therefore in manhood. Fatherhood however is part of masculinity not femininity. Something the haters of Christianity will try to change through homosexuality and gender confusion.

    • Sebastian says

      That’s great…for Christians. However, unless one IS a Christian, than all the biblical quotes in the world mean next to nothing. As someone who is not a Christian, I’d much rather take the word of sociologists, anthropologists, and psychologists than the word of a religious book.

      • Matt says

        I’m also not a Christian, or a member of any other organised religion, but wisdom can be found in many places and religious texts are some of them. Poetry is another good place to look, and the writings of the ancients (Seneca etc.) is another. You don’t have to be religious to value the Bible – there is a space between belief and hostility, it’s a good spot to be in. I can recommend it. If you want to Gennel’s post as tiresome God-bothering you can, but you could also read it as an example of a perception of masculinity dating back thousands of years and thus relevent to the debate – again, if you wanted to.

        • Matt says

          *see Gemmel’s post

          Damnit, where’s the edit-my-fool-writing function?

        • Sebastian says

          Matt,

          If the comment, and biblical quotations, Gemmel presented had been brought up as examples of ancient thoughts on masculinity, manhood, and fatherhood, then I would agree wholeheartedly with your assessment. However, given the tone in which those quotes were presented (as a definitive source and prescription for proper fatherhood), I took it as religious proselytizing. As merely ancient thoughts and views from literature, you are correct. As religious dogma, it means little to me.

      • John McCormick says

        The Christian Bible is as much a work of literature as faith, and it has influences on historically Christian societies of which you seem to be unaware. BTW, the progressivist movement in the US evolved from the Great Awakening and those faithful regarded the social sciences as the means to improve society. Unless you are conscious of the influences of your culture on your thinking, it is inescapable.

      • Melanie Bettancourt says

        The Bible is filled with sociology psychology and anthropology. It contains tens of thousands of years of the wisdom of the most successful human society, the history of the world, Judeo-Christian.

        Also, it comes as a shock to non-Christians to learn that Christianity Is an evidence-based religion. God has revealed himself and it takes an open mind to realize this. Christianity gave birth to all of science, from A-to-Z. All of the Western Universities, Oxford, Cambridge, Harvard, Yale, Leyden were all founded by Christians to explore our relationship with God’s creation.

  7. Chesterton wrote some interesting things on boys and men. Among them.

    “What can they mean when they say that we must not put militarism into boys? Can we by any possibility get militarism out of boys? You might burn it out with red-hot irons; you might eventually scourge it out as if it were a mediaeval devil; but except you employ the most poignant form of actual persecution, you certainly will not prevent little boys thinking about soldiers, talking about soldiers, and pretending that they are soldiers.”

    “But really to talk of this small human creature, who never picks up an umbrella without trying to use it as a sword, who will hardly read a book in which there is no fighting, who out of the Bible itself generally remembers the “bluggy” parts, who never walks down the garden without imagining himself to be stuck all over with swords and daggers—to take this human creature and talk about the wickedness of teaching him to be military, seems rather a wild piece of humour. He has already not only the tradition of fighting, but a far manlier and more genial tradition of fighting than our own. No; I am not in favour of the child being taught militarism. I am in favour of the child teaching it.”

    Chesterton on War and Peace. Illustrated London News, October 6, 1906.

    The male nature is what it is. We’re all looking for something worth living for, and something worth dying for.

    • cacambo says

      It would be interesting to see if Chesterton’s views on militarism had changed a decade later after having witnessed the horrors of WWI. Not trying to be tendentious, just interested as a historian.

  8. Softclocks says

    Jason, have you ever worked with small children?

    • Helga says

      Based on the quote provided, I could believe Chesterton has. Boys, at least.

  9. James van den Heever says

    Excellent article, thanks. I have come to feel that one of the key issues for the West is that we have no process by which a boy becomes a man, a process that includes explicit teaching about what masculinity means in our culture. Boys don’t learn from their fathers because they are either away at work or just gone. Of the many unintended consequences, males in particular remain unformed, unadult for way too long, and pick up clues to adulthood either from their peers (who are similarly clueless) or from digital games (used to be books).
    I notice that the expensive “good” schools are increasingly forcing dads and sons to spend at least a token few nights together camping, and one school I know of, St Albans in South Africa, has a formal rite of passage programme called “Journey”, where boys hike for many days in small groups towards a destination–it seems to be an extremely meaningful experience for them.

    • Jay Baldwin says

      This, I think, is perhaps more true of urban and denser suburban experience but in rural America hunting, fishing, and other “practical” skills (farming, tool use, basic carpentry ,and automotive repair, etc) are still highly valued and culturally inherited from fathers, male kin, and others, and competence is largely a measure of manhood (symbolically speaking)

  10. Anonymous says

    Great article and interesting discussion. I would like to see a similar article about girls by the same author. I like the evolutionary anthropological perspective.

    In reply to “James van den Heever”: It should be noted that it is not just that fathers are often away from home for work, this is the case for mothers as well, given that there has been an increase and strong societal encouragement for mothers to continue working.

    Homemaking is becoming rarer among women, and fathers have not really taken it up either (which is in part because most men don’t like it and most women don’t find homemaking men attractive: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2017/09/13/number-stay-at-home-dads-falls-novelty-new-man-wears/). Further, nowadays two incomes are often necessary.

    The increased absence of parents at home is not necessarily a problem, but I think society has not really found a good way on how to manage it for boys and girls alike. Maybe the absence of parents in younger age explains the increase in mental health problems among young adults (anyone teaching at university will know how common it is: anxiety, depression, etc).

  11. dirk says

    On Dutch TV, two framings related to male/female roles exist in the media (= the message). In advertisements, women and girls mostly are seen busy with a washingmachine, in the kitchen, busy with babies, doing makeup etc etc and men cutting wood, eating a plate brought by their wives, on motorcycles, teasing his son. In columns and talkprograms the framing is completely different, the discussion is about women, doing very good in schools, but not being enough represented as professor, in management, government, politics, having lower salaries for the same work, etc etc. How come? You never hear a straightforward answer, but Peterson was the exception, in that most amusing interview with Cathy Newman (” What gives you the right to say this?”). Hilarious!

  12. Dave says

    There is no longer a strong need to conform.Therefore, there is not much societal need to demand conformance. When everything is free……every person is free.

  13. Dave says

    Perhaps the above cause and effect relationship can be reversed….and a circle of cause and effect imagined.

  14. Liberty says

    Most provocative and interesting read this morning! Thanks!!

  15. CONNER M STEACY says

    By nature, men are aggressive and women are vain.

    This is all well and good when men and women are taught self control. Proper behavior was modeled to youth by the actions of parents, extended family, and respected elders.

    In our current society the desires of women are predominant. We are all told that the patriarchal oppression needed to be reigned in to usher in a more peaceful and egalitarian society. The result is an epidemic of single motherhood which blunts the desirable effects parental modeling. Boys and girls need to be shown how a good man and a good woman behave and this is true for fathers to daughters and mothers to sons as well.

    It’s not hard to find statistics for males in fatherless homes. Incarceration rates, suicide, drug addiction are all multiple times the average. The worst one of all, 80% of rapists with anger issues come from fatherless homes, 14 times the average.

    • Jane says

      Women are not less aggressive than males. Women express their aggression in a different way, non-physically. Women engage in character-assassination. This is why we have seen the “me-too” movement descend into catty, mobbish vengence-seeking.

  16. There is obviously a genetic angel to masculine striving:

    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3107626/

    Obviously, high status men have the highest fertility because females select high-status men for sexual partners. As it stands 4-5 women reproduce for every man, and the ratio has been as high as 17 to 1:

    https://psmag.com/environment/17-to-1-reproductive-success

    From an evolutionary perspective, the only way a man has a reasonable shot at passing his genes down is through cultivating masculinity.

    On one hand, manhood is earned, and femininity is simply a function of biological maturity. On the other hand, this is a function of sex selection by females. Only real men get to reproduce, but most females who want to get to reproduce.

    The best strategy I can see for overcoming “toxic masculinity” is for attractive females to insist on group sex without any limits on participants and disavow any kind of pair bonding with males. This would neutralize the evolutionary advantages of real men.

  17. In contrast to high status for males, high status for females seems to convey negative associations with fertility:

    http://www.oxfordhandbooks.com/view/10.1093/oxfordhb/9780190299323.001.0001/oxfordhb-9780190299323-e-29

    This suggest that either men don’t care about their mates status, or they prefer mating with lower status females.

    The exception to high status women having lower fertility occurs when the high-status female snags a high-status male (fertility increases with male income).

  18. p m says

    I exposed my son and daughter to the same skills. What tools were what in the garage and how to use them. I took them backpacking in the Sierra Nevada every year from the time they were 7 and 5. I taught them how to fish and how to clean and cook them. I taught them how to drive a stick-shift and change a tire. They both know how to play poker. I saw no reason to delineate who should learn what. They decided on their own what skills they’d pursue. It’s fascinating to read how other cultures treated males and females in times past, but, frankly, I just showed them both whatever I knew and let Nature take its course.

    • dirk says

      Take care, p.m., not other cultures, but our own as well, historically spoken. In my youth in the Netherlands, almost every job or task was either male or female (culturally laid out of course), and that’s the reason why there was not so much fighting as there is today. For example, to put the dustbin outside, to slaughter and clean a rabbit, to cut firewood, to carry heavy and dirty things, to repair a bike was for the men/boys, to stroll around with the baby, to cook and clean, to put things nicely in a cupboard, all that was to be done by my mum and sisters.
      Sometimes I wonder whether young people remember, or know, how things went a couple of decennia ago. And, more importantly, whether they think that the present egalitarian system is an improvement, or not.

  19. Jesse Kotel says

    Excellent analysis. I would be interested to hear the author’s thoughts on Jewish culture, where the path to becoming a man (a Bar Mitzvah) is intrinsically linked to literacy and education

  20. Right, but as Jordan Peterson points out,the case has to be made to men for putting their bodies on the line. All of these descriptions of manhood are very easy. What’s harder is presenting a society worth sacrificing men for. If you haven’t got one, men won’t sacrifice their bodies for it.

    Manhood is, at its its bottom, human sacrifice. The degree to which you sacrifice yourself, and others, is the degree to which you are a man. This is serious business. So you better have a serious reason for men to do it.

    The west, scared of its own shadow due to losing the ideological war to the communists, cannot seem to make this case to men anymore. So they are failing to put their bodies on the line.

    Once we get over the bullshit about our colonist crimes, and become colonists again, the west will have a case for its men to sacrifice their bodies once again.

    • I wanted to post this again with an edit:

      Right, but as Jordan Peterson points out, the case has to be made to men for putting their bodies on the line. All of these descriptions of manhood are very easy. What’s harder is presenting a society worth sacrificing men for. If you haven’t got one, men won’t sacrifice their bodies for it. The result in modern times is, approximately, males opting out of manhood challenges and instead going for the simulated victories of video games and porn.

      Manhood is, at its bottom, human sacrifice. The degree to which you sacrifice yourself, and others, is the degree to which you are a man. This is serious business. So you better have a serious reason for men to do it.

      The west, scared of its own shadow due to losing the ideological war to the communists, cannot seem to make this case to men anymore. So they are failing to put their bodies on the line.

      Once we get over the bullshit about our colonist crimes, and become colonists again, the west will have a case for its men to sacrifice their bodies once again.

      Let’s start with more Hyperloops, the modern railroads of yesteryear’s colonists. Or get serious about colonising space. That’s pretty much the only inspiring colonial game going around at the moment.

  21. Franklin Wright says

    There are literally tens of thousands of articles, blogs, vlogs, and random forum chatter about men, masculinity, and how its changed. What constitutes a “real man”, why many modern men don’t qualify, and what men need to do to “do better”. Reflections on how men need to grow up and the lists of men’s responsibilities seem never ending. Amidst the myriad queries of why men have changed, invariably laying the fault for those changes at the feet of men, something is decidedly lacking.

    Virtually nonexistent, relegated to tiny corners of the net, some voices are asking; “Why should we man up?” “What’s in it for us?” “Why provide for a family that can be stripped from us on a whim?” Which is socially and financially encouraged. “Why spend years and thousands of dollars to get an education, only to see job after job handed to a diversity quota?” “Why subject ourselves to the scathing rhetoric against men in higher education?” “Why do anything that an uncaring, unappreciative society demands of us?”

    The most common answer to these questions is “shut up and do what you are told”, which is hardly encouraging.

    The fact is, as long as all these articles are focusing on why men aren’t complying with societal demands, the contingent of men asking the above questions will grow, because men are realizing that there are no benefits in compliance.

    Stop asking what’s wrong with men, because there is nothing wrong with men. Stop demanding men’s compliance, because we refuse. Responsibility is by nature paired with some sort of benefit. If men historically accepted responsibility above and beyond the needs of their own survival, there must have been commensurate benefits. If men are no longer accepting those responsibilities, it stands the reason that those benefits no longer exist. So here’s the real question: What happened to those benefits?

    Answer that, and you will fully understand why men are rejecting their historical responsibilities. Write about it, and a multi-billion dollar socio-political ideology will attempt to #metoo you out of existence.

    • The reasons we have standards for men, and no real standards for females, is because females select males for mating. Lean muscularity, masculine features, physical attractiveness are important for female short-time horizon, high-status and wealth for the long-term horizon. Some overlap, due to the fact that the best protection against male violence is male defenders willing to lay down their lives.

      4 to 5 women reproduce for every male who reproduces. But if you are not interested in continuing your genetic line, there is no real point in playing along, except for the fact that most gay men also have similar standards of attractiveness for partners (although, being men, they are a lot less picky).

  22. For your consideration:
    Yes, there are certain traits that are considered masculine. Women can also have these traits. For example, both women and men who serve in the armed forces can be considered courageous. Male and female athletes share traits considered masculine.
    I see no problem teaching your child, male for female, to be courageous or independent or assertive (all considered masculine traits). My daughter is certainly independent an assertive. She is also very female.
    The problem is that we, for some reason, try to put human traits into categories of male and female. That’s silly. Behavior isn’t gender assigned. Biological differences are different. It’ an another conversation we need to engage in.

    • Sean says

      I agree with your assessment. From what I understand, in pre-agricultural, hunter-gatherer/ horticultural societies- just over 10,000 years ago- there was greater ‘equality’ between the sexes, in both division of labour and even assignment of gender to the day’s deities. Homo sapiens having been around for about 200,000 years, so that leaves a lot of guess work in figuring out how we determined gender roles for almost 90% of our existence. Agriculture and its wealth-concentrating outcomes certainly play a key role in shaping our current civilization; now that we have reached a post-industrial era where brute strength no longer plays a key role in our production of wealth, by necessity women must play a greater role. The results seem promising- in the last 73 years, where women have been taking up a greater number of key leadership roles in society- in law, medicine, business etc. there has been a corresponding drop in war, famine and disease. This cannot be coincidental. Clinging on to gender-specific attributes may not be the best way forward. What of gratitude, compassion and earned pride? Three qualities that defy gender assignment, yet are the most important qualities leaders can have.

  23. Father2be says

    I am soon to have a daughter and I think often about what to tell her later about sex, gender and society. Perhaps she should be aware that female fertility drives society and that how she chooses between men competing for her affection is a subject worthy of thought and central to her responsibilities as a woman. Perhaps also she should see her gender traits as putting a responsibility on her to nurture and create social cohesive environments as well as any other life persuits she fancies, purely as she is more gifted in these domains on average than a man. I guess I’m wondering in general if a new generation of women don’t need to go beyond mere recognition of gender differences to infact embrace and then Intellectualise both their sexuality and gender traits within the context of modern life. Perhaps this call to a new revolution in femenine identify is what is needed, as men are perhaps simpler creatures and not perhaps the root of our current woes as currently portrayed. Women make the rules and men play the game?

  24. Santoculto says

    MOST if not ALL human problems are directly caused by men…

    It’s inevitable your condenation.

    Men are ”teached” to be evil, selfish and emotionally dumb and majority of them are at some extent just like while in other counterpart majority of women are just impregnable barbie dolls.

    • random observer says

      Does that imply that evil, selfish women have these qualities by nature and did not need to be taught? Or have you never met one of them?

      As to ’emotionally dumb’, much like ’emotionally unavailable’ it seems like a catchphrase hovering on the edge of meaning and semantic content without quite being universally intelligible.

      • Santoculto says

        I know more about women than most men. I don’t need ”to engage” with many of them to understand their psychology.

        Most women don’t cause directly for example criminality or violence even they tend to have a indirect role.

        ”As to ’emotionally dumb’, much like ’emotionally unavailable’ it seems like a catchphrase hovering on the edge of meaning and semantic content without quite being universally intelligible.”

        Your PERSONAL OPINION don’t matter isn’t*

        Emotional intelligence exist
        Humans behave in intelligent emotional ways [too]
        Men have a hard time to be correctly empathetic
        Most of interpersonal problems from our millieu to macro-scenarios are caused by men even women are not, on avg, that saints
        Men tend to be considerably worse

        All these above are facts easily proven. There are exceptions; different subgroups and even some qualities which are more confined among male psychology, courage for example. BUT

        But the exception proves the rule and men as a group has been proved as

        disastrously bright

        Specially alpha and beta males.

        There are a very positive correlation if not partial causation between hyper masculinity and all sort of bad behavioral outcomes.

  25. random observer says

    That account of masculinity, particularly the Anglo-Saxon [for obvious reasons] and even the Maasai anecdotes, would seem entirely consistent with the values one might call “traditional Western versions of masculinity” as they had come down to the time of my grandfather [born UK 1911] and father [ditto, 1940] and, just barely, to me [born Canada, 1970]. Although to me mainly through their example- society was already starting the process of discounting it and I am only a facsimile of the proper product.

    With that in mind, I have never understood the sort of thought process that leads to some women [ as such] and most feminist writers [female or, in this case alas, male] to argue that this model imposes rigid gender norms and unreasonable expectations on boys. Most people are not going to be transgender and will live according to their sex, even now this seems to be the case. There is therefore only limited scope for gender/identity/sex role confusion and this can be managed in a society as large and rich as ours. Most of us boys wanted to emulate and learn how to be men, and the girls seemed to want to be women. [This does not require women lacking access to any job they want, lest that point not be obvious to any reader as to me. ]

    Similarly, the basic expectations of traditional manhood are entirely reasonable in any age and adaptable to any.

    If one lives in a hunting society, one needs to learn that survival skill well enough. Not all will be the greatest hunter of their age. But all must learn to survive and contribute. It isn’t and shouldn’t be optional. Those who are only middling good follow those who are best. Such is leadership and service. If one lives in a society with as many economic functions as ours, one is not even held to the specific demands of one skill or trade- one has a plethora of options. So long as one learns something and does it, one is useful.

    The possession and display of feelings has never been unavailable to men. The level, frequency, and circumstances of sanctioned display of these qualities has varied a bit, but to suggest they have never been permitted is an absurd caricature. Stoicism is about mastery of emotions as best one can, not about not having them. It is a valid possession of women as well, as it happens, it’s just that they traditionally had a different suite of circumstances in which their own sex sanctioned the display of stoicism or the display of deep feeling. The areas where those overlapped were the engines of cooperation and relationships between the sexes. Until the advent of a few particular strands of 3rd wave feminism, everybody seemed to understand this. My mother was my greatest teacher of stoicism and self-discipline, to the extent I might have these.

    Or to put it all into two talking points:

    1. I don’t understand any intellectual framework in which which those Anglo-Saxon and Maasai anecdotes can be set as counterpoint to ‘traditional masculinity’. They are traditional masculinity.

    2. Many if not all criticisms of that ‘traditional masculinity’ depend on silly caricatures of that and every other concept involved.

    If, however, the nub of discussion is males who’d rather opt out of discipline and use their skills in counterproductive ways, societies have always had management tools. We can punish, where there is a threat. We can leave them alone to do as they will, where there is not. We can discern the difference between the former and the latter. We can make exceptional use of many of them in war, where their skills and attitudes often become circumstantially pro-social.

    And we can often sit back and praise them as existentialist heroes, where often warranted.

  26. random observer says

    I should add that there is one element of traditional masculinity that would certainly have terrified me. More than it seems to have terrified others- the call to war.

    A thing I like most in recent generations [even for the US] have avoided by luck.

    All I can say to that is that I have no idea how I would have reacted at 18 or so, nor at a much later age can I accurately look back on my young self and say for sure. If I had failed, even in that society, I would have been judged by some. And they might have been right.

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  28. This article looks at primitive societies and history and sees that certain roles are filled my men.

    Taken one step farther.

    Men fill those roles because they are physically and mentally suited to those roles.

    The same can be said of women and their traditional roles.

    But that thought of course is totally Politically Incorrect.

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