Are Men Predators or Protectors…

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Brooke Cagle on Unsplash

Hey Wendy,

I’ve heard you say that most men would have a woman’s back if she needed help.

Why? What is a man’s motive to help a woman who is in need? What is he expecting to receive in return?

Bruce B.

_____

Hey Bruce,

I’ve never been asked “why do men…?” by a man. Cool. Thank you for trusting me.

It’s true. I’ve been known to say, “most men would have a woman’s back if she needed help.” This opinion comes from decades of social research and experiments, interviews, and watching closely how we humans relate to each other. I’ve seen this phenomenon in action repeatedly with my own two eyes.

“Protector” is a Default Setting

There is a strong “protect” impulse hard-wired into most of us (psychopaths excluded.)

Whether we’re talking about a child, a pet, or saving the planet, our protector switch is all instinct. Most of us experience this intense, animalistic, knee-jerk response to protect anyone and anything that seems vulnerable, as I’m guessing you have experienced it, too.

A little over a decade ago, my bestie, Leslie, and I met up with a long-time girlfriend of ours, Jami, whom we hadn’t seen in a while. Half a block from the coffee house, we spotted her and—surprise—Jami was nine months pregnant!

In that second, Leslie and I each grew about three inches taller, positioning ourselves on either side of Jami and sandwiching her in as we herded her to the café. Once there, I got us the coziest table available, shoehorned Jami into the center seat with her back to the wall, and planted Leslie and I on either side of her. (Leslie did the ordering.)

When Jami left to use the restroom (like pregnant ladies do) we were losing our minds! We were like guard dogs on duty with our master out of sight.

Looking back, I recognized this behavior for what it was, but in the moment, I don’t know that either of us realized just how strongly our protective instincts had taken over that day.

We Protect Our Tribe

From the simple gesture of throwing our arm across the chest of our loved one as we slam on the breaks in a car to running into a burning building to pull people and pets out, we want to protect those around us from harm.

As society grows and expands, our sense of “tribe” and who our people are grows and expands.

So, when we see someone whom we perceive to be compromised or disenfranchised, or simply needs our help, that protector-mode switch gets flipped.

If I were running the universe, right now more than ever I would flip every single one of our protector buttons on. I’d crank that dial up to 11.

Are you feeling as outraged and as helpless as I’m feeling with how many hashtags crying out for justice we’re juggling as a society right now?

#StopAsianHate.

#BlackLivesMatter.

#MeToo.

#NoHumanIsIllegal.

#ProtectTransYouth.

For many of us, our “people” includes a whole lot of folx, and even though we can’t protect them all, we still feel the urge to.

Our outrage, our voices, our donations, and our votes are expressions of our protector instinct kicking in.

This is a people thing, not just a man thing. However, in general, men are often larger and stronger than women, so many men feel the need to use their physical presence as a tool to protect those who may be smaller, weaker, and/or more vulnerable than they are. Again, we’re talking huuuge generalizations here, but I imagine you’re picking up what I’m laying down.

For example, I know that if I’m in a restaurant and a dozen guys are dining there, too, if someone walked in off the street and attacked me and I yelped, “Help me!” at least eight of those guys would be on it in seconds.

I’ve never intentionally put myself in danger to prove this point in my day-to-day life, but it’s nevertheless been proven time and again anyway.

I was once stuck in a car in a not-great neighborhood after my town won the Super Bowl. People were drunk, rowdy, and whipping each other up into a frenzy. Kids were jumping on cars, yelling and breaking beer bottles, and I was at a crowded four-way stop and unable to move an inch while I witnessed the car in front of me getting jumped on and yanked around. I was about to panic when I remembered, as Mister Rogers said, to “look for the helpers.” I paused. I looked. And there he was—a big six-foot-something dude in his twenties, looking back at me. We locked eyes, and once he saw the question in mine, he started herding the crowds and creating space for me to move through, waving me on like a cop on traffic duty. He saved me. I knew it. He knew it. Yay humans!

That one time I was walking through the worst neighborhood in San Francisco late at night in heels and a mini-skirt (what was I thinking?!) and a dude screaming into a tennis shoe at Ronald Regan points his shopping cart at me and comes careening in my direction. I took a breath, looked around me for a helper, and as I did I watched four guys, all on different parts of the street, stop whatever they were doing to rear up and come to my aid. Shopping cart dude turned his cart on a dime, reacting to one of the other men and missing me entirely. The street people of the Tenderloin? Heroes that night.

Or how about that time my partner steadily, stealthily watched a woman getting gas as a one-man-window-washing-business guy tried to talk her into paying for his services. My guy observed, unobtrusively, the entire interaction to make sure she was good and that the guy didn’t get too aggressive. He didn’t want her to know he was watching her—didn’t want to be seen as pushy or creepy himself. But just in case, he was there. Using his car mirror to survey what’s going down because if need be, he’s on it.

Stories like this? I have a million of them.

We are protected way more than we ever know.

This is not to say that bad things don’t happen. They do. All the time. Look, I’ve been on my own since I was 16 years old—way too young to have a solid life toolbox and enough common sense. I’ve seen a lot of shit that is seriously not okay.

I’m not saying that all men are always our protectors with that protector-instinct button turned on high at all times. Some men have ulterior motives to being “helpful”—whether it’s to be seen in a positive light by the woman in question so maybe she’ll sleep with him, or something more nefarious like luring a woman into a sense of safety in order to take advantage of her. Some people are predators instead of protectors. You hope you can spot these dudes coming, but that isn’t always possible. That’s a reality that all women live with.

How I live my life today is this: I lean into that protector instinct whenever I can. But since I’m not always given a choice, I also have a few tools in my belt to deal with predators when they do rear their heads.

That’s a whole different article for a different day.

So, this was all a very long-winded way to say a man’s motivation to have a woman’s back is, by and large, an instinctual one. And what is he expecting to receive in return? Anything from nothing to everything, depending on the dude.