Welcome back to Guysourcing, where a panel of helpful gentlemen answer your questions. This week's question was the following: "When was the last time you got into a physical fight? What was it about and how did it end? Would you fight again — and if so, what would make you fight? And do you think being willing/able to fight is an important part of masculinity?" Read on for guys' responses.
The one and only time I've been in a physical fight — not sibling tussles, not goofing-around shoving matches at a bar, but clear-eyed, pulse-pounding, fist-swinging combat — was in a locker room in seventh grade. I had insulted a classmate's honor, or maybe he mine, in the way that only 13-year-old boys can do. So we squared off with a handful of onlookers. After awkwardly dancing around, I landed a punch in his stomach and he landed one on my nose. Neither of us had the appetite for more, and honor had been satisfied, so we called it even and went to back to the school dance. Now, at 28, I think the mark of a more-or-less mature guy is in part, cultivating an air of reluctant willingness/ability to fight if necessary, but more importantly, in not making the Neanderthal choices that would actually get you there.
The last time I fought anyone was about a year and a half ago. I was at a party and was talking with another guy there about some pretty mild politics. Over about 20 minutes he had a few shots and suddenly started getting very defensive and taking things all too personally (again, this was a difference of opinion regarding some pretty minor stuff). Long story short, I should have just walked away but I didn't. He socked me pretty hard in the jaw, possibly because I don't look like I can take a punch (I'm a lanky-ish chassidic Jew). Well, I used to bare-knuckle box reasonably well, and not only could I take the punch (I later found out he broke his hand on my jaw), I was able to land about 3 good hits before we were pulled apart.
[...] being able to defend yourself isn't about masculinity, unfortunately its something that all people need to know how to do. Whether that means puttin' up your dukes or being able to sprint away faster than the other person can run, it's important to know that you'd be OK if such a situation arose. Better yet, walk away like I should have, or have the rhetorical skills to defuse the situation before it becomes violent.
I do think that being able and willing to fight is an important part of masculinity. I know that I might get pilloried for that, so let me take a couple of steps back and say that I think it is a part of the human experience, anyhow. Violence is part of life. That being said, like anything it can become distorted into apish caricatures, males making showy threat displays, and that isn't cool. I'm not talking about aggression so much as capability. Saying "masculine" is almost too broad — I don't think it is a necessary condition for masculinity, but it is a potential part of the package, and it is part that I've bought into. I mean, I can justify by saying "hey, males represent caloric surplus; the whole point of the slightly higher muscle mass is to be there in case it is needed!" which has some validity, I guess, but media portrayals of action heroes and bad-ass kung fu flicks have just as much influence. Anyhow, I had a scrappy youth, and I've won fights, lost fights, and then REALLY lost fights, so I kind of feel like I've got a decent perspective on my own capacity for roughness. I'm a bit mellower with age — I'm much more inclined to let things slide and I certainly wouldn't bristle if my pride was struck — well, I might have words, but I'd steer away from violence — but sure, I'd fight again, if it was warranted. In defense, of myself or someone on my team.
My first and last fight was in the fall of 1999. My dad and I are pretty terrible Buddhists, but it's about the closest we can get to religion without exasperation. The standard tenets were things we generally lived by anyway, but in this case my patience and pacifism weren't getting me anywhere the world's most persistent bully. Dad and I were talking about why things like mosquitoes and this kid get to exist and he told me this one might not ever be solved by ignoring the kid — he told me I might have to punch my bully. It could have been the next day or the next week, but my bully was standing over me in art class and making fun of me. Without getting up or turning around, I punched him squarely in the mouth.
He went to the bathroom, peeled his lip off of his braces and came back to class. I started following our teacher around, probably because I thought she'd save me, but she went outside. The rest of the class circled around the two of us. He explained why he'd disappeared then punched me in the mouth. Then he wanted to be friends. I was suddenly funnier than purple nurples and Indian rug burns. I'll never understand how punching each other was supposed to excuse how much of a shithead he'd been to me and I was glad I never had the chance to find out why. My family and I moved away after the next semester and I have never had another physical altercation since. Sure, I sometimes fantasize about punching idiots who don't step all the way in on the subway, but I know there's no reason to act on it; it's not going to solve a single thing.
I'm well out of high school and now college, and meathead bars and "clubs" where fights tend to break out have never been nor will ever be my scene. If I have to throw a punch, I will, but I can't imagine when that would be. Masculinity isn't defined by how well or often or willing you are to fight, but in how you care for yourself, and others, to an extent — which may at some point involve me punching a dude. Getting violent over a guy calling you a pussy or hitting on your girlfriend says more about how uncomfortable you are with yourself than it does your masculinity.
War of words
I hate that moment when two people are having an argument and one, with arms raised, says something like, "Oh, yeah, you wanna go?" Actually, I do not want to go, asshole, that's why I'm arguing. With words. That's how we started this beef, that's how we'll end it. I might be calling you an asshole, but I don't understand how that or any other insult is a cue for somebody to put a fist in my face.
I can understand fighting when it's necessary, to stay safe or defend yourself. But fighting because somebody insulted or offended you? I don't get it. I don't get how you're a "pussy" — something I've been called after declining to fight — for keeping your fists to yourself, and I don't get how fighting proves your manhood. I don't get how it proves anything beyond your skill at fighting.
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