The use of the “chick stick” came into question during a recent game of pool with my brother, brother-in-law, and younger male cousins. My 16 year-old cousin needed to make a shot from a significant distance across the table. He was given the option of using the “chick stick” (bridge), but was warned–in a semi-joking way–that this was not the way “real men” strike the cue ball. We were of course referring to this age-old notion that men only do things the hard way. Taking the easy way out is seen as weak, womanly/girly, and generally less masculine. I’m happy to say that my cousin didn’t let us get inside his head and he successfully used the bridge to make his shot.
To me, this strategy of encouraging men to take the more difficult of two roads to prove their masculinity is reminiscent of so many Discovery channel moments. One can easily envision two full-grown rams banging their heads together, giving each other concussion after concussion until one of them submits and walks away, defeated, likely never to mate again. Sure, they’re built for it, and in some ways the survival of their species depends on it, but why do we men do the same thing to each other? Why must the most difficult way be the manly way? Does this even make sense any more?
I suppose many of us convince ourselves that we compete for the sexual attention of women through displays of our physical prowess. There’s evolutionary evidence for this, and research would support the notion that there are certain traits that women find more attractive than others. However, I think we may be fighting a battle long since over. For those of us living in developed, 1st world nations, women no longer look to that physical prowess as their most enticing, sexually motivating factor. Where we men still prefer attractive physical features suggesting youth, health, and reproductive fitness, women all over the world prefer men with resources and status (Buss, 1995).
How does one acquire resources and status? Well, unless you are one of a very select group of professional football players, fewer UFC fighters, and even fewer boxers, you probably aren’t making too much scratch beating up other guys. Hit the weights to stay in shape, but don’t count on them to help you “get the girl.” Many of the wealthiest and apparently most desirable men in the world these days have used personality/charm, intelligence, intuition (business sense), and/or strong leadership/relationship skills to get to the top. This is what most women want most. Long gone are the days of beating each other up for attention.
With this in mind, to whom are we trying to prove ourselves? Women? Research would suggest no. Often they’re not even around for our little skirmishes. Think about the majority of the crowd at a school fight, a UFC fight, a football game. Sure, there are some women in attendance, but they’re the clear minority. We are trying to impress other men!
We are competing for women that are not around, don’t care, or would rather see a “civilized” approach to courting them including courtesy, sophistication, precision, respect and–yes–strength. But what kinds of strength? Certainly there will be many men out there that must maintain their physical strength for work. Blessings on you for carrying sacks of cement, 2x4s, tires, and heavy tools across the construction site. I appreciate your ability and willingness to bulk up your arms using a jackhammer on the street for hours at a time so my drive to the office is faster and more enjoyable. The rest of us thank you, but try not to think of yourself as just a tough guy. Don’t let your strength be the trait that defines you or the thing that you lean on in relationships. That can lead to unsatisfying, shallow, and–in more extreme cases–abusive relationships.
For the rest of us, the average guy, how much is enough, really? My wife needs me to reach high places in the kitchen, lift heavy boxes, move furniture around, open pickle jars, and lift the stroller into the trunk. For most men, this is all the physical prowess our women need from us.
So carry on men. For the subset of women that still want to mate with a neanderthal, grunt away. Live at the gym. Display your largely useless physical strength. Chug that bottle of whiskey and race your monster trucks. Definitely leave the “chick stick” on the rack. For the rest of the women checking you out in 2015, show your strength of character, your strength of resolve, your strength of values, your strength of maturity, and–if necessary–your physical strength to open a jar or two. But let’s not fool ourselves. We’re mostly just trying to impress each other.