A Good Man …

(c) 2012, Davd


You need only a penis and a testicle or two, to call yourself a man … but it takes much more to be one.


Paul Elam, in reaction to a website called “the Good Man project,” (whose “CEO”, by the way, he states to be named Lisa) issued and later repeated a challenge to which i respond here1.

He wrote, “Please inform us of anything, one single quality, that you think constitutes a part of being a good man – that does not also apply to being a good woman.”

I’m going to quantify that challenge for clarity’s sake— “… that does not equally apply to being a good woman.” Some of the good qualities and activities below are found among women, but much less often than among men, or in significantly smaller amount. They still represent, in-the-aggregate, important differences between the sexes.

In identifying differences in good qualities, i affirm the value of men. We are not unfinished women. We can have good works and good qualities that most women lack; and if the genders be reversed, they can have good works and good qualities that most men lack. They can do better the work of pregnancy and lactation, and enjoy them—especially the lactation, Elaine Morgan [1973] assures us—more than we could enjoy holding a baby-bottle or overseeing an artificial womb.

They can do fine detail manual work better—on average—than we, with our stubbier stronger fingers, can do it.

There are many qualities which are good in both men and women: Charity, fairness2, fidelity, fortitude, honesty, modesty, prudence, reliability, temperance …

There are a few characteristics which are good in women but not so good in men, because they facilitate pregnancy and lactation: An anatomy more suited to sedentary work [and non-work], a higher proportion of body fat, a greater attraction to those who are clumsy, rounded in shape, and helpless; even long hair which (as Morgan [1973] pointed out) offers infants one more way to keep from falling away from mother.

Not needing to do the work of pregnancy and lactation, men are blessed with other good qualities, some of which might interfere with one or both. The qualities offered below might imaginably add “goodness” to a woman’s score, but are not as important to her as to a man, and indeed if she quite lacks them, no significant harm done; while a man really should have them. We should keep in mind that “goodness” is a matter of degree rather than a yes-or-no variable (or in more formal terms, continuous rather than discrete); and thus, for instance, a man who has no skilled manual trade can be good—but would be better still if he had one.

To identify some distinctively men’s good-qualities, i reflected on what men do best and women not so well. My first distinctive reflection was perhaps stereotypical:

A Good Man takes his [grand]son hunting and fishing. Rare is the mother or aunt or grandmother who can do that as well. Hunting and fishing in their essence, are the disciplined killing of animals for food. If women do well to sit still and nurse infants, and more generally to avoid activities that might harm a pregnancy, men do well to bring home the high-protein food with which those female bodies get children from conception to walking and talking on their own (and which benefit present and future hunters as well.)

It need not be a “blood relative” that a man takes fishing and hunting, but usually it will be. (The Fish and Game laws pretty-well forbid replicating the team-fishing style of our evolutionary forebears; and modern rifles and shotguns bring the optimal hunting team size down to 2-5 men—so we seldom see the pre-agricultural hunting style today, either. Taking one or two boys hunting or fishing, a man can mentor them well; taking more than two, the boys tend to demand more attention than one man has to give.)

Once the children are walking, running, and talking fluently, fathers are usually more important to boys and often more important to girls, than mothers, which in evolutionary terms, fits in neatly with mother getting pregnant with her next baby.

Most of my best memories of my father involve fishing.

My second reflection was more personal—something many men can’t do for lack of the place to do it, while most men can get out onto public land to hunt and fish:

A Good Man walks into the forest on the packed snow, towing a sled, and for an hour or two or three, does careful, thoughtful, often-heavy hand labour, leaving that forest better than he entered it, and towing home a sled-load of firewood or perhaps fence posts and small saw-logs. Ecoforestry is man’s work if ever man’s work there were: Upper body strength, spatial relations, forecasting the probable growth of dozens of trees of all sizes and several species, with allowance for variability around those estimates. The same powers and skills that evolved among co-operative hunters before our technological “explosion” began, apply in ecoforestry to plant nurture rather than killing meat.

Since not all men can have land where to do ecoforestry, for the reflection to point to a Good-Man characteristic, the qualities and skills it requires should be more generally applied.

There are other kinds of important work, which men can do better than most women for anatomical, physiological, and genetically “mental” reasons. Forestry and heavy hand-tool gardening, happen to be the ones this man does best. I have respect for men of many trades; for instance: Carpenters, diesel mechanics, heavy electricians, farmers, fishermen, masons, plumbers and welders. My grandmother was about my size, and very strong indeed for a woman; she might have done them well—but not as well as her son, my father, if he’d had the same training.

The Hebrew [Mosaic] Tradition demanded that every man have a trade. As a sociologist, i have tended to think of the reason for that as “If intellectual work [in which as a culture, Jews tend to specialize somewhat] fails to earn the means to provide for a family, skilled manual work is a men’s-distinctive contribution for which there is usually ‘demand’ and decent pay.” Most trades are men’s rather than women’s work, and as B. R. Merrick pointed out, civilization depends on them.

Perhaps there is an even more fundamental reason for the doctrine: Every man benefits from having a distinctively manly skill, and society benefits from having every man able to contribute in a distinctively man’s way, when the need is great. So let me posit: A good man’s personal character includes at least one manual skill that puts his male strengths to work. I would be less good as a man, without my hand-tool gardening and forestry work. For the gardening, my grandfather gets much credit.

My third reflection was based in men’s affinity for team sports and for work like barn-raisings and harvest teams; in the history and sociology of war and rescue; and in knowing how prehistoric men hunted:

A Good Man stands by his buddies. The notion of “male disposability” in the service of women and even of children, is a perversion of our willingness to take risks for the good of the group. Like our use of violence, our acceptance of risk is disciplined and co-operative.

One hunter in a team might give up his life to save two or more others, or take a 10% risk of death to have a 50% chance to save a brother—and in the Hunt, all the team are brothers. He would not take a 50% risk of death to have a 10% chance to save a brother. (And of course, the men of twenty millennia ago would not have used algebraic or probabilistic quantitative terminology—but they probably did use some form of language that corresponds to our “logic of inequalities”, or crude ordinal-level-of-measurement semi-mathematics.)

Stories from the recent Burns Lake sawmill fire illustrate this. On January 21, the Winnipeg Free Press published:

With no time to think, not even about his own safety, Tom said he parked his loader and tried to run into the sawmill, but the flames were too hot and he couldn’t get inside.

He said mill’s walls were blown out, debris was everywhere and an entire crew was trapped inside.

Almost immediately, a handful of mill employees who either worked outside or at the planer mill, which wasn’t destroyed, began a rescue effort.

“Everybody just took it on themselves to do whatever had to be done,” he said.

Meantime, the explosions — Tom said as many as five — continued, but “there was no time to be scared.”

With ground-floor exits at the sawmill non-existent, Tom said some crew had to jump from the second floor onto the ground.

He said he followed the sound of the screaming, helping one worker with a broken arm, another badly burned.

He said one mill employee, who was also a volunteer firefighter, was one of the injured and resembled a character in a war movie.

“The guy was walking around saying ‘I can’t hear, I can’t hear.'”

Tom said he had to help the employee jump from the second floor onto the ground.


and on January 23:

Ernie Nesbitt said he did what anyone would do for the guys he worked beside day after day. His eyes were bloodshot as he recounted the harrowing memories inside a town hall where more than 100 people gathered to share food and grieve together.

He named co-workers who helped swiftly move the injured people out.

But another mill worker and friend who asked to remain nameless described Nesbitt’s actions as heroic.

“He lifted one guy who was trapped under some sort of wood or beam, dragged him out to safety. And three other guys he led were almost blinded from all the explosion stuff, the dust,” said the 33-year worker.

“One at a time, he dragged them back to safety, and almost feeling his way through the dark, because all the lights were out.

“He’s a big strong guy with a big, big heart, one of the bigger hearts I’ve ever met in anybody and he saved four people’s lives.”

Two men among many, whose stories happened to be published: Neither sacrificing himself, both taking serious risks, to save their workmates, who were mostly or all, other men. That’s good-manhood.

The story of the survivor of the Spirit Lake bush-‘plane crash a few days later, is the same, except the man he dragged from the burning aircraft didn’t survive.3  When the fire became too intense for him to have a good chance of surviving, he gave up trying to save the others.

At “Boy Scout age”—12-15 sometime—i recall rowing a boat out to rescue a water-skier when the tow-boat ran up on a raft anchored offshore. Everyone else happened to be paying attention to the damaged boat and its driver, and i happened to have a rowboat handy. But swim out to rescue the skier?—hardly. Rowing out put me at negligible risk and the skier could tread water for an extra minute, if indeed i could swim any faster than i could row. Once i got there with a rowboat, the skier had an easy ride back. I believe that nearly all of men’s altruism is, like that little rowboat-rescue, very practical.)

An old Innu might go out on the ice to die, for the good of his extended family; the young strong hunter would not die in this way, for the family is better off with him alive to hunt. (The Titanic and Costa Concordia stories might have been better heroism and fairer to everyone, if “who gets on the lifeboats first” had been settled by Innu rules. As it was, there were dozens of empty seats on the Titanic’s lifeboats, as the true consequence of excess devotion to women—and about twice the percentage of children as of women died. Politically Incorrect or not, my judgment is like the Innu way: More children, more young men, and fewer old women should have got into those lifeboats!)

And yes, men make better rescuers because of our bodily strength.


Now for a bit of a stretch:

A Good Man leads in envisioning and building-for, the future. I have read on men’s sites, many claims that most women do not appreciate cause-and-effect, do not have the knack for forecasting that many men have, and tend to live in the moment. That makes sense to me, though the documentation to make it a conclusion rather than a speculation, isn’t in hand. Hunting uses future-forecasting more than gathering does. Infant care and pregnancy are more things of the moment than rearing older children and planting a forest or building a barn.

A good quantitative study of the gender of futurists would be an article in itself. A quickly available indicator—the press-resources page of a leading futures organization—shows that 9 or 10 of 11 names listed there are male.4.


I do not claim that this list is complete. I present it here to make the point that there are “Good Man” qualities which are not so natural to women, and thus can be called male-distinctive. A good man does not cater to women, he does those things women cannot do as well, and then with the work time remaining, does things both sexes can do about equally well.

These manly qualities have no special, distinctive implications for a man’s one-with-one relationship to his lover, his mother, or his wife. They do have direct implications for a man’s relationships with his [grand]father, his brothers, his sons, his buddies, his apprentices; and some have implications for our relationships with women in general. Indirectly, they imply that a wife might specialize in looking after the babies and her husband, in looking after and guiding the older children. The “good” qualities that a man ought to have in erotically intimate relationships, are as Paul Elam wrote, human rather than male—at least as far as came to my attention.

As for what qualities women want men to have for their convenience, for their privileging, those perhaps are not good at all. I would have called them nice which unlike good, is a four-letter word in both the literal and the ugly senses of the phrase. Call me nice, and you insult me more than if you call me an old fart. Call me good, and it’s a compliment. The only valid reason to be nice is intimidation; and intimidation is a large part indeed, of the predicament Men’s Rights Activism is working to unmake. I would suggest that while we are wise sometimes to fear those who are unfriendly and have coercive power, a man should not pander to women, but should “to his own self—and kind—be true”.

A good man is distinctive in ways not all humans share; and we can take satisfaction in the distinctively manly ways of being good. It even feels good to come in after a few hours of hunting, fishing, or hard, skilled manual work, have a mug of home-grown cider, ease those tired muscles and sense them readying to grow stronger—and go over the day’s work with the boy who helped out, and who learned what few if any women can teach.


Lenski, Gerhard, Jean Lenski, and Patrick Nolan, 1991. Human Societies: An Introduction to Macrosociology. 6th ed. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Martel, Charles”, 2010. “Is There a Female Brain?” The-Spearhead website, January 3.

Morgan, Elaine 1973 The Descent of Woman. NY: Bantam.

Sandford, John and Paula, 1986. Restoring the Christian Family. Tulsa, OK: Victory House. Source for the importance of fathers and of mothers, in different ways.


1… because his site’s terms of use [as retrieved January 31, 2012] state that content posted there becomes the property of the owning corporation. I may use some of this material again and wish to retain my copyright.

2 The Four Classic Virtues [and yes, i notice that virtue derives from the Latin word for man] are Prudence, Fortitude, Justice, and Temperance—but “Justice” today has been so linked with the enforcement of laws, many of which are not fair [“just” in the classic sense], that “Fairness” seemed the better word to use. “Equity” would have been more-Latin, but is contaminated by financial usages.

3 “Shead said he came to after the crash and tried to undo the seatbelts of others, as well as pull the pilot from the plane. An attempt to put out a fire on the wing of the plane failed, and the fire then spread. …”

4 The World Future Society [founded 1966] is, to my knowledge, the best known future-forecasting organization working in English. Their “Press Room” web-page, http://www.wfs.org/node/215 (accessed January 28, 2012) lists the Society’s founder Edward Cornish, Director of Communications Patrick Tucker, and links to some two dozen “nodes” that they consdier to be of possible interest to the press. In the descriptive text for those links, nine names appear: Aubrey de Grey, Bob Chernow, Lance Secretan, Cynthia G. Wagner, Daniel Bell, Don Tapscott, John Challenger, Barry Kellman, and Michael Marien. Of the nine, the given name Cynthia is evidently female, Aubrey probably male but imaginably female, and the rest evidently male. A listing of names on a web-page for the press may imaginably not be random; but there is no reason to believe that it would be biased against women, especially at a time when erring toward giving women too much rather than too little acclaim is “politically correct”.


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About Davd

Davd Martin (Ph.D., 1966, Sociology) has been a professor, a single parent on a low income from a small commercial herb garden, and editor of _Ecoforestry_. His men's-interest essays and blogs have appeared on "The Spearhead" "A Voice for Men", and "False Rape Society", as well as this site.
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