Do Real Men Fight?

There’s an idea that has been going around for years.  You’ve heard it.  People love to say, “Violence never solves anything.”  The statement is meant to push people to engage in dialog to avoid violence.

However, let’s be honest for a moment.  Violence solves plenty.  The Holocaust, for example.  More importantly, though, is that violence solves the problem of evil in our world.

Photo by Hans Splinter
Photo by Hans Splinter

For most of us, unless we’re in the military, we’re not likely to be asked to fight for the sake of ending genocide.  That doesn’t mean we won’t have to fight.

Years ago, I was being harassed in my sixth-grade class by another student.  The teacher was out of the room, so this student decided it was a fine time to up his usual harassment.

Now, I’d been told for ages that violence wouldn’t solve anything, so I tried to stand my ground as nonviolently as possible.

“What are you going to do if I put my finger in your face?” he asked.

I gently pushed it to the side and said, “I’ll move it.”  I kept my voice even and non-aggressive.

Again he put the finger in my face and warned, “Don’t touch me again.  Now, what are you going to do?”

Obviously, this was a challenge.  The other boy clearly wanted to force me to back down to assert his dominance.  Unfortunately for him, I wasn’t in that kind of mood.

I gently pushed his hand to the side again.

He shoved me out of my desk, and the fight was on.

Who won?  Who knows.  It was a sprawling mess of barely landed punches, headlocks, and not much else.  It was a sixth-grade fight, after all.

Now, let’s contrast this with a moment when I didn’t fight.

I was at the fair with a good friend.  We met up at the local fair.  We also ran into this freshman (we were juniors if I remember right) that had a major crush on my friend.

While off to the side, the girl ran into a guy she’d supposedly done something to.  She was laughing and trying to hide behind my friend, so at first we didn’t register there was a legitimate problem.

However, when this guy started punching the girl in the back of the head, it was clear.

My friend was in no position to see what was happening.  He couldn’t do anything about it.

I was.

I’ve rationalized what happened for some time.  Yes, I was in shock when it first started happening as I tried to process that this kid was hitting a girl in the back of the head, but that doesn’t last too long.

Through the years, I’ve told myself a lot of things to try and make me feel better:

  1. I’d get kicked out of the fair.
  2. My Dad would whoop my butt because I’d gotten into this mess.
  3. I’ll lose the fight and then be humiliated because I’d lost to a freshman.
  4. It’s not like I actually cared a bit about the girl who, frankly, I found kind of annoying at the time.

All kinds of things have gone through my head.  The reality?  I was scared, so I didn’t fight.  In short, I was a coward.

There may be no feeling that unmans you quite like cowardice.  The old saw about how a coward dies a thousand deaths but a hero dies but one?  It’s true.

Which is why many years later, when I heard a female voice across the street crying for help, I went.

Her boyfriend was beating her right there in the front yard.  I was dressed for bed, but I wouldn’t let that stop me.  Nor would I let my fear of the unknown nature of the threat stop me either.

Luckily, the guy ran off, but I felt a lot better about the incident at the fair.  Not absolved of my sins, but I did feel like I’d chosen better.

More importantly, as the woman and her family thanked me, I felt like a man.

Yes, men fight.  Anyone who tries to argue otherwise is either willfully lying or they’ve completely deluded themselves to believe reality doesn’t exist.

Perhaps they fight when pushed like I did in sixth-grade, or perhaps they do when fronted with someone hitting a woman, which I have a mixed track record of in my own history.

Some guys actually like it, so they get involved in martial arts, boxing, MMA, or whatever.  Others study those things so if they have to fight, they’ll know what they’re doing.  Others join the military because they want to fight for a righteous cause like defending their nation.

Still others simply find themselves thrust into situations from time to time.

Some will look at the question and say, “No.  Next question,” but they are simply pointing to themselves as people who need to be ignored.  Men fight.  That point isn’t some moral proclimation either.  It’s simply a statement of fact.

In fact, as someone who spent time feeling unmanned because I didn’t, I feel confident in saying not only do real men fight, but that anyone who refuses to fight under any circumstances isn’t a real man.

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.