Why men engaged- and what it says about masculinity

I suspect “theres a lot” of men out there who feel what I do, writes Scott Atkinson. We know that fighting is dumb, but we still have the subconscious said he wished to do it

About a year ago, I was consolidating paths on the superhighway during an hour-long trek to a job interview when, in my rearview mirror, I encountered a middle paw rippling strenuously at me. Cutting the other driver off had been my fault, and so where reference is changed paths to zoom up beside me I turned in my bench to motion and mouth an overstated and lip-readable “I’m sorry”.

I could speak his lips, too.

” Pull over !” he was hollering. He had also switched thumbs, and was now pointing at the shoulder of the road beside me.

This was where we were to fight.

And so I did what you do when you’re a radical person who teaches college writing and writes stories for a living. I shook my psyche and squinted at him like he was a lower, more barbarian life-form, and I represent it. One of three sequels was possible:

1) He beats me up
2) I beat him up
3) We square off until one of us backs down

In any scenario, the facts of the case that I cut him off doesn’t change, and I’m late for the opportunities to gather up some freelance toil. If my minors is currently in the car, it might have been an opportunity for a good reading: “thats how you” dismiss an idiot.

All good reasons, and hitherto there was something else at work: a consuming, spine-level electrical humming I like to call The Fear. And with it, my subconscious was calling me out.

” You have never been in a fight ,” it said.

I have never been in a real one, regardless- and by that I symbolize a streetfight with no governs , no refs , no squishy skin-deep under our paws. This shouldn’t bother me but at times, I feel like I’ve missed a necessary rite of passage studying to be a man.

I’m not supposed to feel this way. I am a suburban papa, a mower of lawns and packer of lunches. I crave my son and daughter to grow up feminists, and in an age when our presidential candidate openly talked about about the size of his penis, revelling in thinking about the perils of masculinity exclusively extends my shame.


I started learning Brazilian jiu-jitsu at 17, about half a lifetime ago. My ears are now somewhat misshapen and I have a small collect of medals prevailed after twisting the joints of other guys until they have “tapped out”- that is, signaled they can take no more. I have bounced in three rails and done the kinds of things one does in that job. I have sparred with MMA fighters, been tossed by wrestlers and pierced by boxers, and as a result have a pretty good feeling of what I am and am not capable of.

But then, maybe I don’t. And sometimes, I can’t help it: I want to know what I would be made of.

Modern guys, specially liberal ones, are not supposed to feel this behavior, and so we event a double reproach. The first comes from a small voice late in our caveman brains, the one questioning our maturity if we back down from physical showdown. We feelthe second shame following the end of because maturity( and its arbitrary markers) is something we’re not supposed to be worried about any more- certainly not the more base aspects of it, like violence.

” We have a creepy, bizarre, culture outlook toward brutality. We want to be above it very badly, and hitherto we’re absolutely obsessed with it ,” John Gottschall told me a few weeks ago on the phone. He’s the author of The Professor in the Enclosure: Why Men Fight and Why We Like to Watch and formerly I started speaking his notebook, I couldn’t stop. When I emailed him to tell him about my secret chagrin, he wrote back:” Wow. We are apparently the same guy .”

So we were.

Now a professor with importance, when Gottschall started the research for his notebook, he was in his 10 th time of adjuncting and feeling generally disagreeable about a lot of things. Across the street from his office was a mixed martial arts gym, which he met, starting a two-year excursion into volume writing while preparing for his one and only MMA fight: his chance to finally see if anything fundamental would ever change for him after indulging in violence.

My interview with Gottschall was supposed to be serious, but it quickly was transformed into a cathartic rehabilitation hearing. The most serious question I requested “mightve”,” What the hell is wrong with me ?”

If there was anything I took away from our talk, it was that I wasn’t alone- and not just because Gottschall and I had so much in common. In his volume, he details how” a diverse display of species- from beetles to birds to assumes to mantis shrimp” all share strikingly same “dueling” actions. In other words, for every two people you’ve seen at the bar puffing their chests at one another before returning to their tables to tell their onlookers what they would have done if, the committee is species all over countries around the world doing the same situation( I exclusively wish we could ask the beetle how it felt after it backed down ).

If you believe some filaments of evolutionary psychology, there are lots of reasons we’ve evolved this direction. Fornication is supposed to be a big part of it: the remaining notion that a strong man had been able to acquiring a fight is oftens seen as more desirable.

Maybe, but in my own residence and others, evolution seems to have moved on. My wife is always more impressed with me when she comes home to our favorite beef stew made from scratch( I like to cook ), or when I blithely go to the theater( I was raised by musicians) than when I tell her legends from the jiu-jitsu gym.

Growing up, a strict version of manliness was never instilled in me, either. My family owns a building firm, but I never heard my dad or my uncles ever talking here pushing when we were on a position locate, and they seemed to have minds about those who would( idiots ). My dad didn’t go to the bar after handiwork, didn’t engage in tough-guy talk, and in the few moments I accompanied him have to stand his field he ever did it in accordance with the rules that I now do: with messages.

I was luck to have a pa who would come home some epoches in coveralls, take a shower, and leave in a tuxedo, trumpet instance in hand, to play a gig with the symphony. In retrospect, it’s probably from him that I learned the lesson that has driven much of “peoples lives”: that it’s always possible to remain calm, and calm means you’re in control.

Tribalism is another reason Gottschall cites- the need to protect your dimension, people and dignity. It’s also another area where I impressed out. Even in high school, I could never muster the necessary academy feeling to work on the homecoming swims. Didn’t my classmates understand that had they been born even five miles away they’d be at another institution, claiming to dislike the very parties they were now with, based on arbitrary boundary lines outlined by others?( I wasn’t much fun at defendants .)

But for my buddy Mark, it was all about honour. We recently went to a neighbourhood hockey activity at a rink where we’d both played growing up. Back then, Mark was the team soldier. He pointed to the far corner of the rink and told me that was where he’d goes in his biggest crusade- not biggest in matters of blood spilled( although there was that) but the one where he’d had to fight the toughest guy on the competitive school’s team. His reputation, which he’d deserved through his battles, was on the line.

” I never implored developing a honour ,” he told me.” But once I had one, I clung to it urgently. You simply don’t shun it. It’s like a golden cape. It’s a strength, whether falsely created or not .”

I must not have wanted one poorly enough. I played hockey too, and formerly I nearly got in a fight by pushing a guy in the back when he turned away from me. I do remember that I wasn’t really mad when I did it, either. Instead, it felt like I “shouldve been” mad. And so, with the same various kinds of curiosity with which someone might take their first inhale of a cigarette at that age, I jostle him, and the refs stepped in.

Later, in the car, I remember my mom asking me what that had been all about before telling me that she understood, that it was so hard sometimes to walk away.

But the thing was, it hadn’t been hard, and so the only lesson I could draw from it was that my mom, elementary music coach, vocalist, and master of hugs, had more fighting in her than me.


When I told my wife I was writing about this, I was flustered- not because I’d never campaigned, but to admit that I sometimes was just thinking about it. We were in the kitchen, and she leaned across the island bar and said she had no doubt that I would push if I needed to. No uncertainty, she recited. And there it was, my golden cape.

She had no doubt, but I still do. I announced one of my first jiu-jitsu managers, Matt Thornton, to help me figure out why. When he’s not teach, he’s traveling countries around the world, doctrine and chiding about martial arts and brutality. He’s also been at work on a journal that explores what he calls” a health tie-in with savagery “.

So I asked him what that meant.

” Just like with procreation and fornication, if you talk to someone who doesn’t have a health relationship with specific topics, they’re going to end up on one of two extremes ,” he said.” They turn it into a fetish where it’s something they’re continue to attract in an undesirable method, or they can demonize or repress it … My argument would be that neither of those is health .”

What is healthy, he said, is recognise it.

We talked about why someone like me would think about these concepts, but( this is how Matt educates) he set the question back to me.

” Why wouldn’t you think about that ?” he asked me.” I absolutely get it, that’s the cultural criterion you’re learn, but why wouldn’t you think about that ?”

Matt argues that we’ve advanced this lane. We still carry around DNA of our more brutal ancestors, he says, and it’s instilled in us a natural bent toward savagery. He’s not the only one to establish that disagreement: evolutionary psychology pins a lot of our worst actions on more barbaric ancestors. But the results of this analysis- the entire realm of studies, certainly- has also been harshly criticized as a cop-out for those working behaviors.

The thing is, whether it’s from ancestors or not, savagery is in me. It’s in a lot of us. And what matters, Matt said- and this is what stayed with me- is how we choose to deal with it.

It’s about the kind of men we choose to be.


The man in the car followed me for about 15 miles that day, past batch of departs. Actually, he gave me plenty of opportunities if fighting was what I missed, but I passed them all until his automobile ultimately slowed down and disappeared in my rearview mirror.

I knew I established the right choice, but I still engaged him in hundreds of imaginary engagements in my judgment afterwards- equal divisions heroic and pathetic.

Watch with me. Watch as he hurls a right cross that I am, due to all my years of training, be permitted to decline as I cease my center of gravity to set up the double-leg takedown, killing my shoulder into his waist and driving him to the sand. Maybe I’ll finish with fists, or maybe jiu-jitsu, taking his arms between my legs and wrenching until I hear the gristly pop of a hyperextended elbow.

Can you accompany him?

Can you recognize me, victorious?

I’ve seen it extremely, but it doesn’t last long. It’s promptly replaced by embarrassment and I oblige myself to think of other things. Thoughts that are important: my teenagers’ education, the lawnmower that needs its oil changed, my wife’s birthday- or the interview that I will soon go to, and grind, before I oblige the long journey home and tell my wife of my success.

I might even tell her the story of an moron I construed along the road who wanted to fight me, and her attentions will dilate at the barbarity that still exists in this macrocosm before we move on to other topics. And beneath all our talk, somewhere deep in a situate I’m not proud of, I’m still back there along the road, chin down, fists up, itching for a fight I know I’ll never prefer.

Read more: www.theguardian.com

Check Also

How the ‘natural talent’ myth is used as a weapon against black players

Slurs and racism are routinely hurled at minority jocks, and the media often help fan …

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *