Men are often accused of being aggressive, jealous, and/or selfish, but what (likely) lurks behind all of these labels is the masculine instinct to protect his person, partner, and property at all costs.
I am not suggesting that this is a noble instinct, even though the oft-misunderstood-but-popular concept of chivalry reeks of (over-)protectiveness. The protective instinct can often be reduced to basic survival, which can take many ugly forms if a man feels threatened. Ethics and morality take a back seat when the amygdala is driving one’s behavior.
To give one classic movie example (spoiler alert): David Sumner’s defense of his home in the 1971 movie Straw Dogs. There is just something perversely satisfying about a nerdy mathematician beating a man to death with a fire iron for daring to break into his house because such an act, while barbarous, demonstrates the universal instinct of self- and family-preservation. Win or lose, there is no scenario that is more likely to turn even a passive man into a merciless killing machine. I have no proof of this, of course, but watching the movie for the first time, given the context of the home invasion and the savagery of the invaders — which I won’t spoil — made my blood boil in such a way that I would have rushed headlong into the melee if it were real life. And I have never been in a fight.
I have also never been violently jealous: this is the worst manifestation of a man’s protective instinct. (I use the word “protective” here to be intentionally ironic.) I am horrified when I read stories of senseless murder over real or perceived infidelity, i.e., an incursion into a man’s “territory.” These stories overwhelmingly feature a male perpetrator, and, when coupled with reports of infanticide due to jealousy in the animal kingdom, I wonder if (some) men have really advanced beyond their primate ancestors.
Territorial aggression, when taken to its extreme, is a disturbing paradox. The aggressors may tell themselves that they are chivalrous knights protecting their dependents and property; they may tell themselves that it’s an unsafe world; they may tell themselves that masculinity or even survival is based on the ability to defend one’s honor — but this is the twenty-first century where women and children are people, and a man diminishes that personhood and its accompanying freedoms if he positions himself as an armed guardian when there is no legitimate threat to guard against.
We can protect “what’s ours” without oppressing or destroying it in the process. Excelsior!