The Protective Male

Damon Runyon

We have received a letter from a lady reader complaining that her husband walks along the street letting her tag after him, single file, and that he bolts through doors ahead of her. She wants to know if we do not consider him an exceptionally rude and inconsiderate man.

We do not. We think the protective instinct is quite highly developed in this husband, though he perhaps does not realize it himself. He goes ahead of her as a matter of instinct to shield her from possible danger—to take any impending blows first. If, while walking in the street, a shot is fired at them, the husband is the lady’s bulwark. If anyone asks what about a shot fired from behind them, we can answer that no gentleman would fire on a lady, especially from the rear.

If behind a closed door there lurks sinister danger, the lady’s husband is bravely lunging forward into it first. That is why he enters doors ahead of her. It is protective instinct. Sheer protective instinct. It is something that goes back to the primitive man. It is something you find in the nobler beasts of the forest, and it is always being misunderstood by married ladies.

We do not call ourself a brave man, yet we like to get into the bathroom first in the morning, because we cannot be sure that a rattlesnake is not coiled in there and we want to take its venomous punch rather than jeopardize the lady. Of course it is improbable that a rattlesnake would be coiled in the New York apartment we inhabit, but it could be a lion or a buffalo. We have the protective instinct developed to a high degree.

It looks quite gallant to see a gentleman arm-in-arm with a lady in the street and bowing her through doors ahead of him but it may not be gallantry at all. It may be cowardice. He may keep close to her while walking, so that when danger threatens he can push her in front of him as a shield. By letting her walk through open doors first he is letting her step into any risks that may lie beyond. In short, he is using her as a convenience and as protection. We earnestly advise unmarried ladies to avoid geezers of that type when contemplating matrimony.

We have heard married ladies, who fail to recognize the protective instincts in their husbands, beef because the husbands pull out chairs in restaurants and sit down first. Without the husbands knowing it themselves, the protective instinct prompts this move. They want to test the strength of the chairs before permitting their wives to try them. A gentleman who pulls out a chair for a lady may be exposing her to the hazard of a heavy fall.

Our correspondent does not mention bundles, but if her husband lets her lug the bundles when she is walking behind him in the street, it is further indication of the protective instinct. He wants to have both hands free to meet any assassins who may be lingering along the line of march. When a gentleman insists on carrying bundles for a lady, he is just assigning to her the fist-fighting, in case any develops.

The Indian warriors generally walked ahead of their squaws, letting the latter carry the bundles and perhaps the papoose. The warriors wanted to be freehanded in case of trouble.

Married men in whom the protective instinct is highly developed generally permit their wives to carry the papooses for much the same reason. Also, the papooses may be heavy.

The protective instinct in us used to always put us about ten paces ahead of the lady walking in the street, sometimes more, depending on the lady’s yen for window shopping. This practice occasionally developed odd little situations. Several times we have found ourself addressing strange ladies and telling them, rather sharply, to hurry up.

One night we took a lady by the arm and started to pull her along to accelerate her pace, only to discover that she was not the right lady. She stopped at the first cop and wanted to have us taken in charge, but the right lady hastened up from her window shopping and set things right. The strange lady said she was glad she was not married to the likes of us, and that made us even. We were glad, too.

We trust we have cleared up our correspondent’s query and placed her husband in a better light before her. We assure the lady that in the good old days he would have been preceding her with a lance or a big battle-axe. We can see that he is of the right breed. Undoubtedly he precedes the lady up and down stairs, which is not only proper but one of the greatest safety measures ever devised for gentlemen.

If the lady slips and starts falling down the stairs, the gentleman escapes the danger of being knocked into the next county. Besides, he saves her embarrassment in the event she has unshapely pins.