7 Vital Characteristics of a Man

by A Manly Guest Contributor on June 8, 2008 · 31 comments

in A Man's Life, On Manhood

What makes a man? The question has been asked many a time through the ages with varied response. “Man is what he reads,” contends poet Joseph Brodsky. “The character of a man is known from his conversations,” argues Menander, the Greek dramatist. While novelist Mark Twain claims, “Clothes make the man,” as “Naked people have little or no influence on society.”

To break it down to the basics, there are a few common traits that essentially make up the masculine gender. Though roles vary slightly in each culture, there are certain vital characteristics that appear in almost every male. Whatever the positive or negative manifestations of these may be, they are truly what make a man what he is.


1. Physical

Only a man who knows what it is like to be defeated can reach down to the bottom of his soul and come up with the extra ounce of power it takes to win when the match is even. –Muhammad Ali

Whether competing for food, fighting hand to hand, or challenging each other in the sporting arena, mastery of one’s own physical abilities is an important part of being a man. The most primitive, yet still one of the most prominent traits, a man’s physical capability affects everything from self-preservation to mating preferences. The health and virility of a male make him an appealing candidate for partnership with the opposite sex, while his strength and stature still prove to be influential factors in both the social and business world.

2. Functional

“Happy the man who, like Ulysses, has made a fine voyage, or has won the Golden Fleece, and then returns, experienced and knowledgeable, to spend the rest of his life among his family!” — Joachim du Bellay

Throughout time, a man’s ability and desire to provide for those that depend on him has been central to his masculinity. While utilizing a combination of physical ability, wit, savvy and ambition to succeed, his role as the breadwinner is what drives a man to achieve. No matter the geographic location or social situation, men work primarily to feed and create an environment of comfort for their wife and family. This is the commonly accepted role of the man within the social system and proves a formidable challenge that every man must accept.

3. Sexual

“I have always thought that every woman should marry, and no man.” — Benjamin Disraeli

When it comes to partnership, the man is perceived to be the less affected of the genders. Traditionally, it has been more acceptable for a man to remain a bachelor later in life compared to a woman. The desire for independence and freedom from the command of others is typically a masculine trait.

A man’s role as the aggressor in finding a mate is frequently recognized in most cultures, leaving him to seek out and pursue his interest. Although this sounds like an archaic and primeval practice, it is still a very large part of the courting process in modern society. In fact, this image of man’s independence has become so accepted, and even glorified in mainstream culture, that married men often feel compelled to follow this independence still. So, before marrying, ensure that you recognize the challenges that will come your way no matter what, and that you both have a firm commitment to make it last.

4. Emotional

“Feelings are not supposed to be logical. Dangerous is the man who has rationalized his emotions.” –David Borenstein

The denial of ones emotions is ingrained in men from a very early age. The phrase “boys don’t cry” about sums it up. Whatever his position, a man must manage without regard to the emotional effect that issues have on him. The ability to suppress personal feelings enables men to maintain an objective view of the circumstance and carry on. A man is then able to make rational decisions whether in a situation as small as an interpersonal debate or as catastrophic as a bloody battlefield. That said, it is necessary and healthy for men to have someone that they can confide in – a mentor, a brother, a friend – and let the old guard down once in awhile so that stress isn’t bottled up to the point of exploding.

5. Intellectual

“To me, being an intellectual doesn’t mean knowing about intellectual issues; it means taking pleasure in them.” –Chinua Achebe

Men are seen to rely on their intellectual capabilities rather than on emotion or intuition. Utilization of reason and logic enable men to view situations objectively and thus respond to them in a rational way. Only factual information is considered, while “feelings” are deemed unsuitable evidence on which to base decisions. Education and the acquisition of knowledge are viewed as important factors in male development.

6. Interpersonal

“A true man hates no one.” –Napoleon Bonaparte

In interpersonal relationships, men are prone to adopt leadership roles and take the initiative to act on the other’s behalf. This can manifest itself negatively in the form of dominant behavior, by suppressing the will of others in the name of self-interest. However, this leadership can also be utilitarian. It is highly effective in the family model, as the father is able to establish order in the household. Giving direction and acting as a disciplinarian are common functions of men as a result.

7. Other

“The most successful men in the end are those whose success is the result of steady accretion… It is the man who carefully advances step by step, with his mind becoming wider and wider – and progressively better able to grasp any theme or situation – persevering in what he knows to be practical, and concentrating his thought upon it, who is bound to succeed in the greatest degree.” –Alexander Graham Bell

Among some of the other characteristics commonly attributed to men are ambition, pride, honor, competitiveness and a sense of adventure. These are not necessarily the attributes possessed by the perfect man. Rather, they are displayed to varying degrees, in one way or another, in most all men. They may reveal themselves differently from man to man, as one may use his power and influence for selfish interests, while another will strive for the greater good. Each man must assess his own strengths and weaknesses and find the best use for his vital characteristics.

Inspired by Janet Saltzman Chafetz

Written by Ross Crooks and Jason Lankow

{ 31 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Neil Simpson June 9, 2008 at 3:23 am

A nice start attempting to outline the key facets of the masculine character, but I think the inclusion of the heading “other” perhaps limits the accuracy of the article.

Also, you may want to consider changing “functional” to something like “effectiveness” and add another one concerning a sense of humour.

Best regards

Neil

2 John~ June 9, 2008 at 6:10 am

I’d add the following:

1. Authenticity — With a man, you know where you stand. He is who is, he does what says he will, and he doesn’t waiver. He knows his values, knows his likes and dislikes and can verbalize them. There’s no guessing about his nature, no mystery as to “what makes him tick”.

2. Honesty — Men are who they are, no denials, no compromises and none of that superfluous being-something-they’re-not-for-the-sake-of-others. They speak the truth, for the truth distinguishes the man from the gossips and manipulators.

3. Passion — Passion fuels life. Not passive, sit-on-the-couch-and-opine-while-life-happens-elsewhere. Men make life happen. Men explore their dreams, and make them into realities. Pioneers, cowboys, astronauts, explorers, men take a dominant, active role and take chances.

3 Brett June 9, 2008 at 6:47 am

@Neil-Yeah, “Other” is a bit vague. The list headings were originally created by sociologist Janet Saltzman Chafetz and Jason was exploring what he thought each one meant. But the “other” characteristics all really bear entries of their own. As you say, this is just a start and we’ll keep on exploring manliness in the future.

@John-Good additions.

4 Art Gonzalez June 9, 2008 at 7:37 am

This is one of the best posts I´ve seen and I fully agree with John´s additions. I have found that Psalm 112 encompasses very well the characteristics of a wholesome man. I invite my fellow readers to read it.

Many blessings to all,

Art Gonzalez
Check my Squidoo Lens at: Quantum Knights

5 Yatrik June 9, 2008 at 4:28 pm

Great write up! I try to live by most of these guildlines every single day. Now i’ll try to live by all of them!

6 linkerjpatrick June 10, 2008 at 3:45 am

FYI, the second photo is on my flickr account. The man at the table in the photo is my great grandfather. I took the photo from my grandmother’s colllection. She is in the original photo but the one above was cropped and she is not in that one. Readers can see the source of this photo and the orginal size that I also colorized at;

http://www.flickr.com/photos/linkerjpatrick/335290845/in/set-72157602115434662/

http://www.flickr.com/photos/linkerjpatrick/335290550/in/set-72157602115434662/

7 Charlie June 10, 2008 at 4:51 am

Damn. Greta post, guys. And GREAT pictures, wow.

8 Dana June 10, 2008 at 5:08 am

I completely agree with this post with the exception of the emotional section.

Emotions are what make us human…what distinguishes us from the rest of the animals. Hiding are emotions is archaic and a sign of someone that is not strong enough internally to express his feelings.

I don’t think we should cry during Hallmark commercials or when we get our feelings hurt a little – nor should we lose control of our anger to the point of violence. But, there is nothing wrong with showing someone that you care and showing pain, anger, passion and happiness when appropriate.

A man willing to show emotion and able to control it is a true man.

9 Neil Simpson June 10, 2008 at 7:59 am

I would wholeheartedly agree with Dana, the problem isnt having emotions, but letting them run the show. Bottling things up isnt constructive, or even healthy, but then, I think we have all had enough of guys “letting it all hang out”, pushing their emotions in everyone elses face and calling it expressing themselves, there is a time and a place for everything.

I would agree partially with John regarding being authentic, as I think there is nothing wrong with being a little mysterious. If you think of Steve McQueen, he was always totally authentic as he was always totally himself, but he also had a charismatic air of mystery.

This is a very interesting thread, thanks guys.

10 Carl June 10, 2008 at 11:44 am

I found the bit on emotion interesting. I work caring for young children and have often found my self in emotionally overwhelming situations. But as my job requires me to put the needs of the child ahead of myself I can not let my emotions controll me. I find it vital to take note of any strong emotion and to put it aside for another time.

In addition I hope that the next generation of men are able to be intouch with thare emotions as well as strong of character .

11 Lauri June 10, 2008 at 1:56 pm

Rudyard Kipling’s great poem “If” sums up the constitution of a man pretty neatly.

12 AlexN June 10, 2008 at 4:33 pm

Lauri sums it up!!!! Rudyard Kiplings “If” (http://www.swarthmore.edu/~apreset1/docs/if.html) is great!

I’ve seen some pretty “fruity” or feminine men that were more manly than my highschool football team. Its a state of mind.

13 William Shears June 19, 2008 at 8:42 am

I would venture that all these things work for women equally as well.

14 Rod Homor July 1, 2008 at 7:47 pm

I was going to add “honesty” but John beat me to it. Thanks, John. Good catch.

And, thanks for another great article, A of M team!

15 Kevin (kev-lar) July 3, 2008 at 11:59 am

You guys nailed it with these characteristics. Thanks for giving my mind something to chew on for a while.

16 Dale January 14, 2009 at 12:20 pm

Actually honesty is not a necessary characteristic of a man… Life is a competition for men… let’s face it. If it’s not you then it’s someone else. If it’s not your family then it’s someone else’s family.

Take politics for example… do you really think these men rise to their positions of power by being honest???

I think a better example would be “intent”. As long as you intend to do the right thing then you can be selectively honest without inducing a moral dilemma.

Only the naive are honest 100% of the time.

17 Julio Iglesias March 5, 2009 at 1:53 pm

Add self-respect to the list. Controlling emotions is good, but don’t be a doormat for jerks. There are times when one needs to confront the bully, make him see fear, and keep his self respect.

18 Ajibola Olude May 18, 2009 at 6:59 am

To me, i think men could be very autocratic in decision making process.

19 Adrian May 29, 2009 at 4:30 am

Awesome post, I have to spend more time on developing some of these qualities…. Thanx

20 Scott March 31, 2010 at 2:24 pm

What about – trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean and reverent.

I still remember that from my Boy Scout days.

21 elisha baya(kenya) April 2, 2010 at 11:02 am

I think what really defines a man is derived from the childhood experiences, family beliefs and exposure. From my personal experience, i think the challenges i went through in my childhood have really defined alot about me and have in one way or the other made me who i am today.

A man is what he decides to be.

22 John May 6, 2010 at 9:07 pm

@John

Those are great additions. When I think of all the men I want to be like, to a one, they were authentic, honest, and passionate. Of the list above, some of the greatest men I’ve known were lacking many departments but still great men.

@Dale

I’d argue that Senators have none of these traits and presidents have all of them. Politics is the very antithesis of what it is to be a man (Mr. Smith Goes to Washington).

23 zane May 10, 2010 at 2:20 pm

this wont get you very far in the world. the strong survive,but the ruthless prosper. better to be the latter.

24 Parinya Wannarak June 16, 2010 at 4:47 am

That’s made us man and better man … :D

25 leonides July 14, 2010 at 8:35 pm

…………… THE true MAN makes THE family BETTER,,“““““?????>>>>>>

26 simo July 27, 2010 at 10:34 pm

Imam al-Qushayri [22] (rahmatu’Llahi ‘alayh) summaries what the nature of positive masculinity is. In Arabic this is called muru’a or manliness. Conceptually, manliness is closely related to futuwwa or chivalry. Imam al-Qushayri says in his famous Risala,

“The root of chivalry is that the servant strive constantly for the sake of others. Chivalry is that you do not see yourself as superior to others. The one who has chivalry is the one who has no enemies. Chivalry is that you be an enemy of your own soul for the sake of your Lord. Chivalry is that you act justly without demanding justice for yourself. Chivalry is [having]… beautiful character.” [23]

27 Al August 5, 2010 at 9:02 pm

To borrow from Robert Heinlein, I think this sums up Manhood effectively “A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.” And I would add that an unshakeable dedication to faith, family and future give purpose to this.

28 zeus November 13, 2012 at 8:54 pm

what makes a man is his hair on his back

29 jamar October 25, 2013 at 9:55 am

i believe that a man is the one that is hard to believe when they have a vision, they make you believe you are a somebody when you think you are not, have a way to forgetting about what you could not enjoy, he is a cool, calm collective to the point where it does not make much sense, he is willing to fill the void that someone has left, he is able to work out things without a sweat, and he becomes something which others can emulate.

30 Chris McKenzie November 29, 2013 at 4:26 pm

The traits of masculinity are 4-fold:
1. Procure- territory, food, women, shelter, desirable objects.
2. Protect- what he has procured & those he loves from threats (other males, other animals, other forces).
3. Provide – food, protection, safety, shelter, territory for those he loves.
4. Propagate – all he has procured & all he protects (women, children, territory, shelter, food source) by taking it from others.

31 Fran March 18, 2014 at 11:12 pm

I do not agree with the number 4 on this list, emotional. “The phrase “boys don’t cry” about sums it up. Whatever his position, a man must manage without regard to the emotional effect that issues have on him.” I don’t believe this should be true whatsoever. We are all humans and as humans we have emotions, and showing your emotions should not lower your “manliness”. Boys are taught from a very young age that being a man means being tough and being tough means not crying or showing emotions because that’s for girls. You’ll be called a “pussy” or a wimp or just told to “man up”. Denying or hiding your emotions should not make you a man. I believe that there are several other vital characteristics that should go into being a man rather than emotional. Imagine being under pressure to appear to be strong all the time, that is not healthy. The expectation to be seen as tough all the time can harm every aspect of a man’s life: his health, his relationships and his happiness. I don’t think it’s fair to be putting all this pressure and expectation on guys. Having emotions and dealing with them is what makes you a strong person. In the end I believe that on their quest to be a ‘real man’, men have stopped being real humans.

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