Competitiveness And The Modern Male

Men are competitive.  This should not be groundbreaking news by any stretch of the imagination, but for some it actually is.  They’ve been conditioned to believe that competitiveness is something only some people experience and that it exists across the genders in a fairly proportional manner.

However, while there are competitive women, competition is a key part of masculinity and has been for eons.

In fact, competition isn’t even distinctly human.  In his work Professor In The Cage: Why Men Fight and Why We Like To Watch, author Jonathan Gottschall notes that competitive behavior has been shown in other animal species.  Two rams butting heads, for example, is nothing different than two men in the boxing ring.

Photo by Chris Lott
Photo by Chris Lott

Competition appears to exist for an evolutionary purpose, which is to illustrate which genes are most worthy to be passed on.  Two males competing in any kind of contest will show who is superior.

Of course, for many in this day and age, that’s a bug, not a feature.

Starting in my childhood, the idea surfaced of everyone getting a trophy.  Back in my day, we got participation trophies and those who excelled got other, larger trophies.

The argument was that receiving something would keep us from feeling inferior to those who had excelled.  Did it work?  Probably not.  We all knew that our trophies — assuming you only got a participation trophy — were inferior.  We were given our trophies.  We didn’t earn them.

Somewhere along the way, someone decided that was a problem, so they stopped giving out special trophies for those who excelled.  In some cases, they went even further.  They purged any aspect of competition from sporting events.

When my teenage son was younger, he played soccer in a YMCA league.  By this point, there were no scores kept, no “wins” or “loses”, no trophies.  Nothing that would mark out the victor or the defeated.

The effort was to try and destroy the competitive spirit in the name of self-esteem.

You know what, though?  The kids knew.  They kept score.  They knew who the best players were, they knew it all.  They knew because a competitive nature is a driving force in the male animal.  We know, on an innate level, that we have to compete.

From an evolutionary standpoint, we need to show that our genes deserve to be passed along.  In polygamous societies, which many were, it was imperative to attract women through skill because there was no parity between the numbers of men and women.

While monogamous societies have stripped much of this biological necessity from our lives, the imperative still exists.  As man civilized, he tamed this imperative into sports.

Now, many would watch the UFC or the NFL and argue that “tame” might not be the right word, but that’s a discussion for another time.

As man continued to be civilized, he found competition in other ways.  Sports has certainly been one avenue, but in just about anything else men engaged in was fair game as well (no pun intended).

Unfortunately, as noted earlier, competition is now considered a bad thing in a lot of ways.  It’s been completely removed from our classrooms with the exception of sporting events, and even those are often criticized by those leery of the competitive spirit.

Yet competition is a fact of our society and always will be absent a complete totalitarian overthrow of the social order.

There is nothing quite as masculine as competing, and those who are good at it are still seen as ideal mates.  After all, take a look at a professional athlete of average attractiveness.  Now, take a look at his wife.  Most of the time, she’ll be the most beautiful woman you can imagine.

Not just athletes either.  Successful businessmen or politicians also often find themselves attached to women who wouldn’t give them the time of day were they less successful.

Why is that?  Is these women just after the men’s money?

I don’t think so.  I believe we’re seeing evolutionary responses molded to a modern setting.  These men have proven to be excellent providers and can protect these women from the harshness of the world.  They have “won” at the greatest competitions in the world, be it sports, business, or politics.  Their relative attractiveness to potential spouses increased at that point.

While “gold diggers” do exist, many women accused of such are anything but.  They’re simply following through with an evolutionary imperative, which is to find a mate that can provide and protect them and their young.

Of course, I’m not an evolutionary psychologist.  I could be very wrong on this, but think about it for a moment and it makes sense.

Regardless, the masculine need to compete doesn’t necessarily end with marriage.  It continues because the evolutionary imperative hasn’t been quelled.

Men shouldn’t feel this is a bad thing by any stretch.  Healthy competition is a normal activity men can and should engage in regularly, regardless of how they do so.  Assuming, of course, that the activity itself is safe.

Unfortunately, we still need to do something about our children.  Anecdotal evidence suggests that self-esteem isn’t contingent on recognition in sports, but on ability.  All the boys on the team generally know who is the best player, and who is the worst.  The presence of a trophy doesn’t change that.

By the same token, they know who is winning a game, regardless of whether score is kept.  Failing to keep formal score has done nothing for the “losing” team’s self-esteem.

Moving forward, men need to fight to restore competition as a noble and just thing for boys to participate in.  We need to battle this desire many have to lash out at anything that smacks of masculinity in general, but in competition specifically.

In the process, we might just restore masculinity to entire generations of men.


Author: Tom

Tom is a husband, father, novelist, opinion writer, and former Navy Corpsman currently living in Georgia. He's also someone who has lost almost 60 pounds in a safe, sustainable way, so he knows what he's talking about.

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