The Confidence Gap Could Explain Why Men Think They Can Fight | Men's Health Magazine Australia

The Confidence Gap Could Explain Why Men Think They Can Fight

Watch Fight Club enough times and you just might fancy yourself as the next Tyler Durden, complete with Brad Pitt’s eight-pack of such defined, lean muscle that, should you zoom any closer, you might mistake it for some kind of corrugated iron roof. The reality, though, is that should a fight break out in public that somehow plants you in the thick of it, your skills are more likely to resemble Colin Firth and Hugh Grant’s match up in Bridget Jones than they are a trained boxer. Even so, there’s something deeply embedded in the recess of our brains that suggests we can fight. And though we know fighting is wrong, still, we have an instinct to do it anyway. 

As Scott Atkinson writes in The Guardian, most men feel an instinct to fight as a result of the “small voice deep in our caveman brains, the one questioning our manhood if we back down from physical confrontation. We feel the second shame immediately after because manhood (and its arbitrary makers) is something we’re not supposed to be worried about any more – certainly not the more base aspects of it, like violence.”

Atkinson cites John Gottschall, author of The Professor in the Cage: Why Men Fight and Why We Like to Watch, who suggests: “We have a weird, weird, cultural attitude toward violence. We want to be above it very badly, and yet we’re obsessed with it.”

It’s strange that such ideas continue to pervade society, particularly at a time where women have been outspoken about the fear they feel as a result of male behaviour and those in positions of power are being accused of sexual assault and rape. It makes such attitudes towards fighting seem archaic – and really, they are. Even so, Gottschall explains that tribalism is a major component of why we feel the instinct to fight; it stems from a need to protect our property, people and pride. 

Katty Kay and Claire Shipman write in The Atlantic about the “confidence gap” which separates the sexes. They explain: “Success, it turns out, correlates just as closely with confidence as it does with competence. No wonder that women, despite all our progress, are still woefully underrepresented at the highest levels.” Their research may have looked closely at the workplace and the confidence exhibited by employees, but it still applies to men and our instinct to fight. Perhaps in a nod to the Dunning-Kruger effect, those with low ability in an area or field believe their ability to be far greater than the reality. The theory suggests that when we lack competency, we don’t know enough to accurately assess our skill. 

Ultimately, as Atkinson concludes, violence may be instilled in all of us, but it’s how we choose to deal with it that matters. As he suggests, “It’s about the kind of men we choose to be.”

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