Is barroom brawling good romantic bonding?
The New Year came in with a bang. Or rather, with a solid pop to the jaw.
Defensive and dyspeptic as I am, it’s surprising that it took so many years
for me to haul off and belt someone. I suppose it was bound to happen
eventually. But on such an auspicious occasion? Who knew?
I’ve always liked the aesthetics of aggression — punk rock, fast cars, barbed
wire tattoos and boots with spike heels that could take out a man’s eye — but
I’m not so keen on the real thing. I can’t even watch “real life” dramas like
“ER” (too much blood), pundit-laden cable news channels (too much yelling) or
talk shows like “Springer” (ditto, plus all that klutzy fighting.) Common
brawling has forever been, to me, the trashiest means of conflict management.
A surgical strike delivered verbally seemed much more dignified — and so I
maintained the position that only the truly uncivilized negotiate with the world
using their fists.
But then, no one had ever pushed me too far.
- – - – - – - – - – - -
The scene of the maiden tussle takes place at the local honky-tonk, Jack and
Gloria Horn’s Cowboy Bar, just after midnight on Jan. 1. Hordes of people
possessed of few brain cells and several beers mill about the billiards
lounge, many more are on the dance floor shaking their behinds to Tracy
Lawrence, George Strait and Reba.
My boyfriend and I sit side by side at the crowded bar, sharing a New Year’s
toast with our Bud Lites. He is wearing basic cowboy drag — boots, black hat,
denim shirt, competition-style Wranglers. I’m in a more festive outfit — a red
plaid A-line jumper, coordinating red plaid “Hillary, circa 1992″ headband,
black tights and combat boots. I’d have turned out in Wranglers, too (for that
soupgon of Western credibility) but after weeks of holiday grazing, mine fit me like
a sausage casing.
Enter the antagonist: very loud, very aggressive poster girl for White Trash
Nation. (White trash: It’s a style, not an economic class. You can have a
million in the bank and be white trash up the yin-yang.)
WT is drunk, and continually jawing off and dribbling her drink on my boyfriend. When he asks her to stop, she yells, “Lighten the fuck up! It’s NEW
“Geez, quite a mouth on that girl,” I say.
“Don’t mind her,” my boyfriend replies, turning back to his beer. “She’s just
I try to diffuse the tension by distracting said boy, but WT comes back and
wedges herself between two guys. She continues being loud, bumping into us,
and one of her weasely guy friends stumbles (accidentally, drunkenly, but
still) into my boyfriend. Boyfriend pushes him away with full-body force and
he sails into WT and her friend.
The ka-POW part: I don’t remember exactly, but WT says something with the
words “FAGGOT” (regarding my boyfriend) and “FAT COW GIRLFRIEND” (meaning
me). Yeah, it sucks to have her point out that I’m carrying an extra 10 these
days, but I’ll be fucked if someone gets away with insulting my mate. Boy and
I rise at the exact same time. Boy lurches for WT’s friend, asking, “YOU READY
TO GO? COME ON!” I, on the other hand, maintain my silence, surge through the
crowd of people pressing by us and heel-palm WT right in the chin, with
satisfying precision and oomph.
It’s true what they say — that when you’re in battle, everything appears to
move in slow motion. The blow seemingly took forever to reach its target, my
arm unfurling with fluid ease. I will never forget how her skin felt under my
hand — a smooth, yielding warmth over a narrow ridge of bone — or the look of
pure surprise on her face.
Clearly, she didn’t see it coming. She held her jaw in shock and her friends
closed in and formed a wall around her.
By then, both sides have bouncers all over, pulling us apart. Then she
charges back to me and says, “OK, cowgirl, if you’re so tough, let’s go!”
Satisfied that I’ve already proved my dominance, I just look at her like,
“Don’t you have chancres to pop or something?” I stand up just in case, but a
bouncer pulls her away.
After inviting a few of WT’s male friends to “step outside” (no takers), my
boyfriend hustles me out to the parking lot. He holds open the door to our
truck and I hop in. He is chuckling with glee, I am traumatized.
“Oh, come on, baby!” my beau says, patting my knee. “This isn’t like New
York! No one’s going to come back with a gun and shoot us!” I wish it was New York. There, when women have run-ins, they just inwardly muse over each other’s physical flaws and professional failings.
During the ride home, I am strangely shook up and ambivalent, since fighting is not at all my style. Even though I’d “won” — adrenaline is humming
victoriously through my veins, and my headband hadn’t even fallen off during
the proceedings — I feel like I failed somehow, taken the lowest road. My
boyfriend is pumped and exhilarated, even though he didn’t get to lay a hand
on anyone. We’re the perfect illustration of the ways in which fighting is
very different for women and men.
- – - – - – - – - – - -
I believe that in both sexes, the primitive aggressive impulses are
identical. Dig deep enough in anyone and you’ll find a molten ripple of
malice. Offend someone badly enough and you’ll see it burst forth in a violent
spray. But men tend to attack each other’s sexual prowess or orientation (“YOU
PUSSY,” “YOU FAG!”), then take it to blows, while women generally eschew
physical contact in favor of talking shit about each other’s appearance.
The reason women are more inclined to speak viciously to each other than men
is simply because … women talk. That’s what we do. We process the world
verbally. But now I personally would rather hit someone and get it over with.
Words are precious. And if you’re fighting in a bar, no one can hear you over
the music anyway.
Another difference is that some men don’t just fight to protect themselves and
others. They also fight to bond. They can sock the living crap out of each
other and 20 minutes later be walking around with their arms draped over
each other’s shoulders, the best of friends. Dislocate a guy’s shoulder and
he’ll buy you a drink. Hell, in Wyoming, brawling is just a recreational pastime.
Every guy who offered my boyfriend backup in the bar was someone he made
friends with after they slugged it out first.
With girls it’s a different story. I’ve yet to hear of a case of females over
the age of 12 ending up friends after a fistfight. “I got the fuck beaten
out of me when I was 16 by some girl who was jealous that I was dating the
bouncer chick at the nightclub I hung out in,” my dear friend Eleni tells
me. “I never became friends with that bitch.” In fact, 15 years later, the animosity is still there. She says, “I would probably call her some pretty nasty names if I ever saw her again, that cross-eyed ‘ho!”
The most dramatic difference in male and female fighting is that men are
culturally entitled to fight. Brawling men are absolved by the “boys will be boys” imprimatur. Women, on the other hand, are seen as the keepers of the peace. We’re supposed to care-take and arbitrate. But somehow it’s not yet a given that if someone threatens that which you take care of — your friends,
your mate, yourself — you’ve got to kick some ass sometimes.
It’s my experience that women would rather get along with each other than
not, and the assumption that women really can’t (and shouldn’t) trust each
other is pure bunk. That’s not to say, however, that there’s a Universal
Peace Pact among the supposedly fairer sex. We don’t always get along, and
for some reason, this is seen as heretical. And hysterical. If you want a
precis of the cultural inability to deal with female conflict, it can be
summed up in one infuriating word: “Meow.”
Every women who has ever expressed dislike for another woman has been met by
someone screeching out the dread “Meow.” That is to say, “Ooh, how catty and
jealous and small you are!” As if all dissent among women is A) petty and B)
based in jealousy. Culturally, we’re not quite sure what to do with female-to-female aggression, so, like all things female that we don’t understand, we
dismiss it. With a pantomime of swiping claws and a stupid hissy-cat noise.
(Remember those rollicking feminist ideological conflagrations in the early
’90s? Rather than being regarded as legitimate debate, they were derided as a
“feminist cat fight.” Feh.) Face it: After all these years of trying to show
our strength, women fighting with each other is still regarded as a sideshow
amusement. Because female rage is seen as impotent. Or a side-effect of PMS.
When girl-on-girl fighting isn’t trivialized, it’s sexualized. In some cases,
this is a form of condescension, but mostly, it’s a natural hormonal response.
After all, fighting and fucking are the twin testosterone furies. Plus,
fighting and sex share a similar down-market, down-and-dirty appeal. This is
why all those Russ Meyer flicks work. Well, that and the cleavage.
My little fight definitely made my fellow more amorous toward me. “Girls are
usually all mouth and no muscle,” he swooned as he slowed the truck to pass a
DUI roadblock on the highway, “but you just kept your mouth shut and popped that girl!”
“Yep, that’s me,” I said weakly, trying to get into the spirit of things. “Silent but deadly.”
“What, you mean like a fart?” he said, laughing.
“Fuck you!” I screamed, burrowing into my parka and folding my arms across my
chest. Then I laughed, too. A little.
Had I killed that girl, I’m sure my boyfriend would have proudly driven home
with her carcass tied to the grill of our truck. It’s an odd but potent
bonding ritual, two lovers fighting side-by-side. Maybe he and I should’ve
continued our fisticuffs and gone to jail. Started a tradition of weekend
brawling. Saturday nights we could go out bopping noggins, then spend lazy,
black-eyed Sundays nursing each other with sirloin poultices. Really, though,
I’d rather just stay home.
“Oh, no,” my boyfriend tells me as we pull into our driveway. “We have to go back there. If we go back, it’ll blow over. Once you let them know you’re
not afraid to show your face there again, you won’t have any more trouble.”
Fine. But I’m practicing my strategy, just to be safe. I’m not eager for an
encore, heaven knows. But if this girl must fight, she wants to win.
Lily Burana's most recent book is "I Love a Man in Uniform: A Memoir of Love, War, and Other Battles." Her resolution for 2013 is to kick the Diet Coke habit. More Lily Burana.
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