What Men Like in Men: An Argument from 1902

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Editor’s Note: The following article appeared in a 1902 issue of Cosmopolitan Magazine (which started out as a quality family magazine before becoming a women’s rag). I think it raises an interesting question: What do men like or admire in other men? Lots of articles these days are about what men find attractive in women or what women find attractive in men, but rarely discussed are the qualities that men respect and admire in each other. It seems like men sort of intuitively know what traits we respect in other men, but we often cannot articulate them. This article attempts to put such thoughts into words.

I’d be curious to know if you think the same traits that the author found noteworthy in men over 100 years ago are still ones that modern men admire in each other. What traits would you leave out or add in? Share in the comments!

Please remember as you read this article that it was written in 1902. So the author has some opinions — particularly about women — that might offend modern sensibilities. 

“What Men Like in Men”
By Rafford Pyke
Cosmopolitan Magazine, August 1902


If you were to ask the average man to tell you offhand just what qualities he likes in other men, he would probably boggle a good deal over his answer. His first impulse would be to say, “Oh, I don’t know!” which is with men a convenient formula for avoiding thought upon unexpected or (to them) uninteresting topics. A little later, after turning the matter over in his mind, he would give you a catalogue of qualities to which he would be willing to swear. His list, however, would bear a strong resemblance to the “hundred-best-book” lists made my persons who sincerely believe that they are expressing their own literary preferences, but who are actually indulging in a bit of intellectual pose. Just as these individuals mention the books which they feel they ought to enjoy reading rather than those which they really read, so the average man will name a number of qualities which he thinks he likes, rather than those which in his heart of hearts he actually does like.

In the case of one who tries to enumerate the characteristics which he admires in other men, this sort of answer is not insincere. Although it is defective, and essentially untrue, the man himself is quite unconscious of the fact. The inaccuracy of his answers really comes from his inability to analyze his own preferences. The typical man is curiously deficient in a capacity for self-analysis. He seldom devotes any serious thought to the origin of his opinions, the determining factor in his judgments, the ultimate source of his desires, or the hidden mainsprings of his motives. In all that relates to the external and material world he observes shrewdly, reasons logically, and acts effectively; but question him as to the phenomena of the inner world – the world of his own Ego – and he is dazed and helpless. This he never bothers his head about, and when you interrogate him closely and do not let him put you off with easy generalities, he will become confused and at last contemptuous, if not actually angry. He will begin so suspect that you are just a little “queer”; and if he knows you well enough to be quite frank with you, he will stigmatize your psychological inquiries as “rot.”…

So when you ask a man just what it is that he most likes in other men you find him utterly unable to give you any satisfactory reply. …

[I]t will clear the ground a little if we first discover what it is that men dislike in men.

I suppose that every man who is a man would readily agree that he dislikes a “Sissy”; but it is doubtful whether most persons could give off-hand a really comprehensive definition of what a Sissy really is…

The subject of Sissyism is really very interesting – first because there are so many Sissies in the world, and in the second place because only a very small number of them are usually recognized as being such. Hence it may be worthwhile to give a little space to Sissyism here and to regard it in a scientific spirit, since, negatively at least, it has a definite bearing upon the subject of this paper.

Most persons when they think of Sissies, have a mental picture before them which is easily described. A slender, youthful figure, smooth-faced, a little vacuous in the expression of the countenance, with light hair and rather pale blue eyes a little wide apart; a voice not necessarily weak, but lacking timbre, resonance, carrying-power. The mouth is wavery and the lips are imperfectly closed. The chin tapers away a little. The shoulders slope, not with that peculiar slope and droop which often accompany great physical strength, as shown in the famous statue of the Farnese Hercules, but slanting straight down, so that unless they are scientifically padded by the Sissy’s tailor, they scarcely give you the effect of being shoulders. The neck is usually long, and the pomum Adami or Adam’s apple is very likely to be noticeable. The hands and feet are often large; or if not large, not very well compacted and put together, but giving one a general feeling that they are more or less imperfect. Such are the main physical attributes of one particular kind of Sissy.

In other respects his traits may easily be sketched and recognized. He is polite and rather anxious to please. He wishes always to do the thing which happens to be the proper thing at any given time. He never would think of initiating anything novel or starting out in a new and unexpected course. He likes very much to be with ladies, and ladies like him – in a way. He is a most useful creature and absolutely harmless, intended by Providence to carry wraps and rugs, to order carriages, to provide theater-tickets, flowers, bon-bons, opera-boxes and four-in-hands, according to his means and the position which he holds. He will call regularly upon a girl and in fact upon all the girls he knows, and he will keep it up for years, and it will never mean anything to him or to them, for he is essentially a tame cat…He is really an indispensable person in our modern life; for it is desirable that young women should have some male creature about them to fetch and carry – one who will do it all for the mere pleasure of the service, and who will never agitate them and disquiet them or make them feel it necessary to be on their guard. The best picture of a this especial type of Sissy, perhaps a little bit idealized, is that which is drawn by Henry James in his delicious story, “An International Episode.” Turn to its pages and you will find there a sublimated portrait of a Sissy, in the character who bears the subtly felicitous and expressive name of Willie Woodley.

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