Homo sapiens is a sexually reproducing species. To reproduce, two members of each sex—one male, one female—must come together and fuck. The biological drive that makes a man and a woman come together is called sexual attraction. A female’s attractive qualities are feminine, whereas a male’s attractive qualities are masculine. What is feminine and masculine is objectively determined by how well it attracts members of the opposite sex (potential mates).
Masculinity can therefore be defined as the potential to sexually attract females. Ethologically1 speaking, masculine is whatever makes a man sexually attractive to women. The more sexually attractive a quality is to women, the more masculine that quality is. Some examples:
- If being tall and muscular is sexually attractive to women, then height and muscularity are masculine qualities.
- If being loud and aggressive is sexually attractive to women, then loudness and aggressiveness are masculine qualities.
- If being rich and successful is sexually attractive to women, then wealth and success (and all traits that lead to it) are masculine qualities.
- If being fun and easygoing is sexually attractive to women, then humor and easygoingness are masculine qualities.
- If being coy and submissive is sexually attractive to women, then coyness and submissiveness are masculine qualities.
A man’s looks, clothing style, ways of behavior, thought patterns, and interests are masculine to the extent that they increase his chances of getting laid. Raw masculinity is thus optimized for the female short-term mating strategy, aimed at the insemination by a sexually exciting male. True masculinity, as a function of the reality of mating dynamics, is objective, sexual, and behavioral—determined by women’s objective sexual behavior. Of course, individual women might have idiosyncratic tastes and sexual desires, but there exist general behavioral tendencies, and they are all that matter here.
As we know, women’s libido peaks around ovulation, making them more likely to have sex. And since masculinity is directly linked to a man’s ability to get laid, qualities that females find most attractive at mid-cycle are the most masculine qualities. Such qualities include masculine facial features,2 lower voice pitch,3 and behavioral competitiveness.4
Secondary masculinity, by contrast, is about the long-term reproductive strategy (providing resources, fatherhood) and the social construction of masculinity (performing masculinities, manhood). Secondary masculinity is indirect because the qualities of fatherhood and manhood are truly masculine only insofar as they improve sexual attractiveness to females.
Let’s consider the cultural standards and expectations of ‘what it means to be a man’. Cultural stereotypes of manhood consist of behavioral guidelines, typically defined as virtues, that a man must follow in order to be respected by other men in a certain culture. This is what social scientists call ‘performing masculinities’. The performance of masculinity yields respect from other men, and respect improves social status, which is universally attractive to women.5 In this indirect way, culturally defined manhood matters for true masculinity.
Accordingly, traditional stereotypes of manliness (e.g., a real man doesn’t show emotions) as well as modern redefinitions (e.g., a real man isn’t afraid to show emotions) are truly masculine to the extent that their embodiment attracts women sexually, both directly (through sexual arousal) and indirectly (through respect gained from other men). For example, if women get sexually aroused by seeing a grown man cry and if crying elevates his social status, then that behavior is masculine; if not, then it isn’t, no matter the ideological narrative.
Depending on their childhood, family, and sociocultural environment, some women may be more attracted to tough, aggressive, domineering machos, whereas others may be more attracted to chivalrous, charming, emotionally balanced men. But does this make masculinity a social construct?
Social factors may influence what moistens vaginas and thereby influence what specific qualities count as manly in a given culture. It is certainly worthwhile to study masculinity as a social phenomenon—as manhood—on a cultural level. However, this does not change anything about the fact that masculinity is primarily a biological construct.
Is masculinity reducible to a biological level of description? No, because it has irreducible cultural aspects. Does this make masculinity a purely social construction? No, because multiple levels of description are valid. Are humans more complex than nature vs. nurture? Yes, because nature and nurture interact.
We must also not forget that culture itself is rooted in ecological human behavior. Culture did not evolve to subdue women to the patriarchy. Cultural stereotypes of manhood and womanhood evolved because a sexual division of labor was biologically adaptive. Males and females are naturally inclined to behave in certain ways, and traditional culture served to reinforce these inclinations—but it did not construct them.
Finally, and on a different note, we shall be wary of the role of masculinity as a word. Since masculinity is linked to male respect and female attraction, which are desired by almost every man, the word ‘masculinity’ (like the word ‘alpha’) has enormous power. This makes it a great tool for cultural reformers to push their moral agenda, for example, by making a society believe that stability, honesty, and responsibility are masculine traits while aggression, dominance, and violence aren’t. Similarly, marketing professionals use the word to manipulate men into buying products. How often have you bought, say, a body wash labeled ‘for men’ without ever considering what ingredients actually make the product so suitable for male skin? I certainly have, countless times…
What is masculine is primarily determined by the behavioral reality of women’s general sexual interests. It is not something a man can determine for himself—unless that self-determination makes him sexually attractive by virtue of appearing bold and rebellious. Nor is masculinity something men can determine for society—unless that cultural determination makes them sexually attractive by virtue of demonstrating high social status, derived either from having the power to influence society at large or from being respected by other males for ‘performing masculinities’.
- Masculinity is the potential to sexually attract females. This definition is objective, biological, and behavioral.
- Masculine qualities are determined by how sexually attractive they are to women in general and especially during ovulation.
- Manhood, the social construction of masculinity, is indirectly masculine via the sexually attractive quality of social status based on respect from other men.
- Masculinity is primarily a biological construct, albeit not reducible to biology because it is influenced by sociocultural factors.
- Manhood is culturally relative, but culture itself is rooted in ecological human behavior.
- Moral reformers and marketing agents use the word ‘masculinity’ as a tool for manipulation.
- ethology = the objective study of animal behavior
- Penton-Voak et al., Menstrual cycle alters face preference, Nature, 1999, Vol. 399(6738), pp. 741-742
- Puts, Mating context and menstrual phase affect women’s preferences for male voice pitch, Evolution and Human Behavior, 2005, Vol. 26(5), pp. 388-397
- Gangestad et al., Women’s preferences for male behavioral displays change across the menstrual cycle, Psychological Science, 2004, Vol. 15(3), pp. 203-207
- Women’s desire for high-status men (female hypergamy) is also the reason why men produce so much more testosterone, the hormone of drive and desire, of doing whatever it takes to elevate social status.