What's so wrong about (fist) fights?

What's so wrong about (fist) fights?

Although humans have evolved a great deal, in a way we are still stuck with the genetic adaptive mechanisms of the Stone Age. To be genuine contributors to society, we must be aware of the ways in which our evolutionary past constantly shapes our behaviors. Some "do-gooders" believe that culture is everything and that with a bit of social engineering and government control we can do away with all the biological traits that constitute our human heritage. Unlike these day-dreamers, we embrace a fuller, more realistic image of human nature. Part of this image is aggression, which does serve a range of adaptive purposes, especially in adolescence. Physical fights can:

  • establish status and power hierarchies effectively and quickly. As female philosopher Simone de Beauvoir had argued in 1952, sport "does not provide information of the world and the self as intimately as does a free fight. [...] Lack of physical power [in girls] leads to a more general timidity: she has no faith in a force she has not experienced in her body" (de Beauvoir cited in Girlfighting, p. 19). "Indeed, Simone de Beauvoir [...] saw the benefits to fighting that transcended competitive sports 'which means specialization and obedience to artificial rules'" (Girlfighting, p. 19).
  • deter same-sex bullies effectively and quickly.
  • constitute an effective training ground for women--as preparation for defense against possible future violent attacks (e.g., against rapists). No one can expect to fight well if it remains an unpracticed skill.
  • stimulate the flow of adrenaline and result in "natural highs."
  • lead to social admiration by individuals of the same sex and different sex.
  • be a psychologically healthier alternative to never-ending back-stabbing and verbal denunciation of rivals.  (Of course, fighting can also harm you and result in serious injuries.  This web site does NOT encourage fighting.  You fight at your own risk.  It's your choice.) 

For better or worse, physical aggression prepares us for life in human society. Wishing it away would mean that we would have to deny part of our humanity. Psychological studies have shown that when aggression is abnormally constrained, these constraints often lead to aggression being internalized (e.g., in the form of depression, self-hatred, lack of self-esteem). In fact, when physical aggression is stifled or suppressed, the natural human aggressive drive may erupt abnormally. As almost everyone knows, "emotional wounds take longer to heal than physical ones" (15-year-old Kim, interviewed by Lyn Mikel Brown for her book Girlfighting). The biographies of people who have run amok often show socially withdrawn, shy individuals who have been unable to negotiate the regular social hierarchies. Well-adjusted individuals do not turn their anger inward all the time.

For a while, society wanted to make us believe that while it may be okay for males to fight, females "don't do that." This is a short-sighted, culturally unaware attitude that ignores the evidence of other societies. Among Venezuelan Margaritans and Australian Aborigines, females are allowed to express themselves as violently as men and given the freedom to express their aggression and be proud of it. Mischa Merz describes these cultural patterns of greater acceptance of female physical aggression in her book Bruising: A Journey through Gender (2000). Often, there is little that police can do about consensual fights. Even books that are generally against girlfighting and written by professors of Education and Women's Studies encourage certain types of girlfights:

"We do girls a service when we teach them how to question and critique assumptions about how "good" girls should act, look, and feel" (Lyn M. Brown, Girlfighting, p. 208).

"What may look like 'toughness' or 'meanness' to you or to some girls may be just the way things go for other girls -- it may be part of how girls play and tease, how they create space for themselves and their friends or how they initiate other girls into their group" (Lyn M. Brown, Girlfighting, p. 216).

Lyn M. Brown's advice in Girlfighting (p. 222): "Provide opportunities for her to use her body through sports and 'free fighting' [...] I also think Simone de Beauvoir was onto something when she distinguished mere rule-bound sports with a good free fight. Self-defense classes, boxing, and martial arts can offer girls a chance to exhaust their deepest rage and know their full strength and capabilities. They instill girls with confidence about their place in the world and a full awareness of what their bodies can do. They also encourage girls and women to take up space. [...] It's important to encourage girls to redefine femininity to include strength and courage and to reimagine "our bodies as strong, active subjects moving out to meet the world's risks and confront the resistances of matter and motion.' This awareness of and comfort with their bodies centers girls, connects mind and body. Fully inhabiting our bodies as subjects rather than objects radically alters our relationship to the public world" (Girlfighting, p. 222).


A few very interesting comments in response to a blog on so-called "teenage fight clubs":

"I have two things to say about this: In many ways I am proud of these girls. I have had a theory that if girls were permitted to really physically fight each other, there would be a decrease in the amount of girls with eating disorders and self-mutilation problems. I realized this the first time I saw the movie Fight Club. I was sixteen, a self-mutilator, and a recovering anorexic. These problems often originate in supressed anger. And organized, contained fistfights could be the answer. Of course, no parent wants their little girl coming home from school with a black eye, but is that any worse than having her verbally abused by her peers, which seems to be the only acceptable way teenage girls can vent their anger? Is it any worse than seeing a self-inflicted cut on her arm?

Posted at 1:06PM on Mar 27th 2006 by jessica ferrara"


"What's wrong with girls being tough? Why do you say "Yikes" as if its a bad thing? If girls are becoming less submissive and breaking out of the docile shell that this society trys to lock them into, then good for them. I for one, applaud these "fight clubs" and as long as anyone's not getting killed or too seriously injured, then I think they should keep going. All you fussy mothers and testosterone-lacking males and male shovenists who are worried that females are getting a bit too headstrong - you need to relax.

Posted at 1:08PM on Mar 27th 2006 by Sarah Phillips"


"Suicide doesn't come from left field, it's spurred on by the gang-ups going on in middle schools and high schools across the country. There's not much one can say in response to a scathing comment by the most popular girl in school, but I'm fairly sure if a bullied kid landed a punch right in her face it'd sure do a lot more for her self confidence than writing poetry and knitting scarves would. Is it so crazy that women are tired of sitting there and taking abuse? It's as if men are appauled when a girl doesn't just roll over and take it. This is evidence of the beginning of equality among the genders, not female corruption.

Posted at 3:24PM on Mar 27th 2006 by Lyn"


"I am a now a first year college student attending University of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Approximately 3 yrs ago, over the period of my sophmore yr of high school, me and several friends participated in a fight club. I was in more than one, with different friends, of different ages, and of different schools, backgrounds and beliefs. All of us enjoyed the events, never complaining to an adult, or higher authority with issues. We used open fists and recieved injury ocassionaly, but never was the sport allowed to extend into something serious, or dangerous. To myself and several others, it was a relief of stress, a self-taught self-defense method, and a way of entertainment and managing time. I am no more a threat of randomly beating, roughing up, or physically abusing a random individual or friend, then the strangers walking the streets with you everyday. I didnt learn aggression, or hate, but rather how to harness and use it at an appropriate time, it was also a way of staying in shape. Thanks

Posted at 4:54PM on Mar 27th 2006 by Andrew"


"i agree that having a mutual ass-kicking session is a good way to get out excessive anger and tension. it's better, in my opinion, than beating up on kids who don't want it or cutting yourself up or whatever else unreleased tension can cause you to do. but i think the issue to focus on isn't what they're doing to release that anger but why the anger is there in the first place. sure some of the aggression is teenaged hormones or our 'animalistic instincts' but to a certain extent our society is teaching and encouraging us to live and act in ways which can build up a lot of terrible feelings. we should be working not so much on the fighting but what's causing the fighting. i also think girls need to recognize and deal with their anger instead of taking it out in passive agressive ways or bottling it up until they can't take it anymore. we aren't expected to be tough and strong but it's in all of us and recognizing that is essential.

Posted at 7:04PM on Mar 27th 2006 by raven"


"This is in response to "some guy". Common man, you're living in a complete fantasy life. Yea all that stuff you said sounds good, i'm sure you're all about world peace and all that good stuff. Well so am I, but lets stop dreaming for a second, do you really think it's that easy? just "oh ok, i'm just gonna walk away from violence" but why don't you tell that to the Iraqi's, y don't you tell that to Bush, this country was built on violence. Our society is built from wars, from fighting, from killing. If you grow up never having been in a fight, or ever having to stand up for yourself, whats gonna happen when one day you are put in that situation where you have to fight? are you gonna just sit there and wait for the police to come while some guy is pounding the crap out of you? People need to take a look at things from a different perspective. Tell the starving people living on welfare, plagued by gangs, drugs and crimes, to "walk" away from violence... I don't think it's that easy. Kids fighting each other for fun and blowing off some steam, gettin rid of some stress, thats a hell of a lot better than some kid keeping all that anger frustration and hatred up inside of himself and then one day decides to take his daddy's .45 to school and blast his teachers and classmates.

Posted at 8:59PM on Mar 27th 2006 by Some Other guy"


"My son participated in a fight club about 5 yrs. ago. when he was a junior in high school. He came home with a bruise on his cheek and I asked what happened. Sheepishly he told me about this club, and that he was scheduled to fight again the next day. All I said was there was a great deal of liability and it wouldn't be himself paying for any damages but his father and me. He was thoughtful enough to realize he wasn't really in this alone, and it was involving two adults who were not interested in this type of clubbing. By the way, he really enjoyed his time in fight club.

Posted at 10:21PM on Mar 27th 2006 by Justine"


"This is different, though, because these kids are willingly engaging in these fights and they know that they will get hurt. I'm not saying it necessarily makes you a better person, but I think it's better for teenagers to take their anger outward than to suppress it. Being constantly told that it's bad to express anger doesn't make you better, either. It would be nice if people realized that violence and aggression solve nothing, if the world really worked that way. But it's unrealistic to expect an adolescent to solve all their problems by talking things through and finding solutions. These are kids. This isn't the U.N. Not everyone can be so nonchalant about "some chick who cuts herself" or a guy who fights "for who knows why." Actually, in your post you unwittingly reveal the double standard. A guy doesn't need a reason to fight, does he?

Posted at 12:38AM on Mar 28th 2006 by jessica ferrara"


"Does it matter if women are more prone to fighting than 50 years ago? Please, all the crime rate has gone up since fifty years ago. So has the populations and the percentages. Violence is just one more wonderous part of the human being. Just like hunger, need for comfort, and sex. Teenagers are always getting crap about going through puberty and hormonal fluxes. Let them have their fight clubs. It relieves stress. Besides you're worried about them bringing guns or knives to the fights? What about all the news about High School shootings? The parties where some kid brings a gun or a knife? Not everything is failsafe. Things are going to happen. If you're so worried about your kid getting into unsupervised fights, enroll them in martial arts. Because you know what Martial Arts teaches you: how to punch, block, and how to have control.

Posted at 12:46AM on Mar 28th 2006 by Jennifer"


How new are these "fight clubs" that the media sensationalize?

"I am a child of the late 80s and early 90s and this is no new news to me. Boys have had fight clubs since the beginning of testosterone. People get hurt, but only those who want to participate. The only difference now is that it is taped and shown to a wider number of people. I dont think its the best thing in the world but I think that it will happen whether there are clubs or not. Just another form of our country overreacting when "society" finds out about something that has ben going on under their noses.

Posted at 4:58PM on Mar 27th 2006 by Brian"


So do yourself a favor and ignore the advice of the "do-gooders" and day-dreamers that try to tell everyone that girlfights are things that must be stopped, that so-called "mean girls" must be "fixed," cured, or, even more radically, criminalized. At any rate, there may be psychological but also monetary pay-offs if you keep reading this web site.


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