Updated 03 April 2013

Why men fight in bars

Will boys be boys and beat the crap out of each other because that’s just the way they’re wired or is there more to bar room brawls than meets the eye?


Most of us have witnessed more than one bust-up at our regular watering holes. You may even have been a participant, willingly or not. Why is it that so many men can’t seem to just get along once they’ve had a couple of drinks in a public space?

Given enough booze and opportunity, will boys be boys and beat the crap out of each other because that’s just the way they’re wired, or is there more to bar room brawls than meets the eye?

Why we fight

More often than not things start off really innocently until some idiot steps across the line of acceptable pub behaviour and a suitably hot-headed would-be adversary looses his cool. A racist remark, a comment about someone’s girlfriend’s mother and before you know it fists are flying and bar stools are swung like baseball bats.

The things men most commonly fight over in bars include:

  • women,
  • alcohol,
  • money,
  • other people’s opinions,
  • sports matches and teams, and
  • pool games.

Many guys will tell you that we fight because we enjoy it, that we’re compelled to do so by nature, that driven by testosterone and adrenaline we simply can’t help ourselves and that for millions of years we’ve evolved to do personal battle with other men over territory, food, females and the right to be an alpha male.

What a bunch of polony. I reckon all of this social Darwinist claptrap is simply a convenient cop out. Come on guys. We’ve also evolved a powerful sense of morality, responsibility, ethics and right and wrong that allows us to be conscious of our actions, care for others and solve disagreements in a civilised manner. We live in the 21st Century. There’s no need to beat up anyone over anything.

More than just the booze talking

Of course alcohol is a major bar brawl stimulant. Several studies have confirmed a connection between alcohol use and aggression, particularly in bar room and party environments, but there must be more to men’s tendencies to beat each others heads in than excessive boozing. After all, only a tiny proportion of social events involving alcohol involve any violence.

New research published in the April 2011 issue of Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research considers the role played by a range of factors that might contribute to male bar room aggression, including alcohol use, men’s attitudes, frequency of pub visits and personality characteristics that might predispose men to aggressive behaviour.

The study, which surveyed hundreds of young male drinkers aged 19 to 25, found that not all boys will simply be stereotypical boys, suggesting that not all guys who participate in bar fights are eager participants. It turns out that two personality characteristics, so-called hypermasculinity and trait aggression, play an important role.

While both the men who start bar fights and those who participate in them as relatively innocent victims tend to be heavy drinking frequent pub-goers, it’s only the perpetrators and not the victims who rank high in the trait aggression and hypermasculinity scales.

Trait aggression refers to a propensity to respond to certain situations with acts of aggression. Hypermasculinity is a psychological term for exaggerated, narrowly-defined, stereotypically male behaviour emphasising things like physical strength, body hair, virility, and physical and sexual aggression. Basically we’re talking about the male stereotypes that get perpetuated in the media, the movies and on TV by extra-macho characters like tough cops, soldiers, firemen, professional sportsmen, gangster rappers and career criminals, who despise everything that could be considered weak, feminine or soft-hearted. Hypermasculinity frequently comes with unhealthy lashings of homophobia, racism and misogyny to boot.

So while alcohol and frequent pub visits may provide some of the fuel that feeds bar room brawls, it’s an exaggerated masculinity that tends to supply the psychological trigger. The remedy? Avoid the overly macho guys on your pub crawls in the knowledge that their hypermasculinity is probably a reflection of a deep sense of insecurity and powerlessness. Having little control over the important bits of their lives they need to bolster their egos by starting fights over nothing.

(Andrew Luyt, Health24, updated August 2011)




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