Welcome back to our series on the 3 P’s of Manhood: Protect, Procreate, and Provide. When professor David D. Gilmore did an exhaustive cross-cultural analysis of how masculinity was lived and perceived around the world, these three male imperatives emerged as nearly universal parts of the code of manhood in every culture. His findings are detailed in Manhood in the Making, and the quotes below, unless otherwise noted, come from that book.
If you haven’t yet, I invite you to read the “Series Sidenote” and Conclusion to the first post in the series on the imperative to protect. Those sections are important in framing what this series is about and the mindset with which it should be pondered.
As we continue on, I want to remind readers that these articles are largely descriptive, rather than wholly prescriptive. That is, they offer a look at the core standards of manhood that are common to almost every culture, but they do not necessarily endorse the idea that every aspect of these standards should be perpetuated. These traditional male imperatives are neither good nor bad in and of themselves; it’s how they’re lived and enforced that matters. I believe a man must first understand these stripped down fundamentals that are common through centuries of masculinity, and then filter them through his moral and religious beliefs to determine their weight in his life.
There is a difference between a cultural concept of manliness and a philosophical one; what Jesus or Marcus Aurelius defined as true manliness can diverge from that which emerged from biological realities, evolutionary pressures, and societal needs and expectations. Or as anthropologist Michael Herzfeld puts it, there’s a difference between being a good man, and being good at being a man1. It is the latter category we are grappling with here.
Man as Procreator
The imperative to procreate essentially requires that a man act as pursuer of a woman, successfully impregnate her, and thus create a “large and vigorous family” that expands his lineage as much as possible.
Of the 3 P’s, I think the charge to procreate probably has the least resonance with modern men and will be the most controversial. There are many reasons for this, beyond the fact that “procreate” is a word little used these days, and tends to remind one of an old preacher who employs it as a euphemism for sex.
Proponents of the zero population growth movement will say the imperative to have children is wholly outdated – that while begetting numerous offspring might have strengthened societies in the past, it now has the very opposite effect.
Those who simply don’t want to have children will chafe at the idea that their decision should amount to anything more than personal preference.
Feminists will say that the idea that the man should be the pursuer is sexist, as it has its roots in violence against women and treats them as a prize to be won.
Religious folks, who might otherwise be very receptive to the injunction to “multiply and replenish the earth,” may at the same time be uncomfortable with the fact that in some cultures, it was acceptable to accomplish this charge with a woman who was not your wife, or with multiple wives.
And people of all stripes will likely be uncomfortable embracing a standard for manhood that is not completely within a man’s control. A lazy man can get his butt in gear and become a good provider, and a timid man can bite the bullet and become a courageous protector. But as we shall see below, in many cultures, infertility was always considered the fault of the man, and there wasn’t anything he could do about it.
Finally, unlike the charge to protect and provide, the duty to procreate lacks the same self-sacrificing, heroic quality that stirs one’s “higher” yearnings. It is more base, more biological.
Yes, it would seem that every conceivable segment of our present-day population might have reason to take issue with the idea of procreation as a fundamental male imperative. Yet this charge has been a core component of the code of manhood from the beginning of time, all around the world. In fact, it would be argued by anthropologists like Napoleon Chagnon that not only is the imperative to procreate a fundamental part of the 3 P’s of Manhood, it underlies the other two, and practically all male behavior: a man seeks to develop and demonstrate the smarts and strength needed to be a good protector and provider in order to win a mate and beget offspring with her; once he forms this family, he then strives to continue to provide and protect them. Which is to say, the motivation to provide and protect is often ultimately derived from the motivation to procreate.
Thus, no matter how squeamish a discussion of procreation may make us, its universal inclusion in the global code of manhood demands that we put aside emotional knee-jerk reactions in order to give it a thoughtful examination. It is my hope to provide such a treatment today.