Sex Differences Entertainingly Elucidated

Sex Differences Entertainingly Elucidated

This month, take pride in learning the true natures of men and women with an excellent book about violence.

The 2015 book The Professor in the Cage by Jonathan Gottschall isn’t political in any obvious way. But since it was written just before the federal legalization of same-sex marriage and the explosion of gender-bending behavior and propaganda we’ve seen since then, it’s markedly unconcerned with, and dismissive of, far-left gender theory. This makes it both a refreshing break from current political and cultural trends, and exceptionally edifying. In looking at the science underlying violent tendencies in humans (and in the animal kingdom generally), Gottschall feels no need to engage with the idea that “gender is a social construct.” Such a claim is ruled out by the most basic evidence the author compiles to support his arguments.

The gimmick the book is organized around is that Gottschall, an out-of-shape English professor at a small liberal arts college, is unhappy with his career and with aspects of himself, so he decides to do something reckless. What he decides to do is join an MMA gym and train for, and eventually fight in, a real MMA bout. And, of course, he makes no bones about the fact that his real reason for the undertaking is to write a book about the experience.

This gimmick gives The Professor in the Cage a satisfying narrative arc, but it’s not the main takeaway of the book.

What the Book is Really About

Gottschall’s thesis is that human males are naturally attracted to violence and high-risk behaviors as ways to gain or maintain social status. And, the implication of this, which is ever-present in the text but not emphasized, is that human females have completely different inclinations.

The sexes developed their respective tendencies, the author explains, because in the struggle to ensure the survival of one’s genes, all a woman has to do is say yes to any one of a basically endless line of eager sperm donors. A man, on the other hand, has to find a way to stand out from this basically endless line of competitors, so the severely devalued commodity of his sperm can be brought into contact with the relatively precious commodity of a woman’s fertile eggs.

It’s a simple math equation, Gottschall tells us. The sperm produced by the typical man in his lifetime, if placed in a line head-to-tail, could encircle the Earth’s equator twice. The eggs produced by the typical woman in her lifetime could encircle a ping pong ball, once. Moreover, a man’s investment in procreation can take only seconds, while a woman must commit years to gestating, protecting, and raising her offspring.

This lopsided division of labor (and of valuable resources) means that, as we evolved, a woman could ensure the continuation of her genes with effectively no effort—by simply lying down—while a male had to hustle and fight, to embarrass, overshadow, and even kill his competitors, to see his genes survive. That means that timid males did not procreate, and that means that the males who did procreate—your ancestors and mine—had a built-in tendency toward aggression which we, as males, have inevitably inherited.

The Implied Takeaway

The inescapable implications of this situation are borne out by what we see in practically all human societies throughout history. Men have evolved to seek status through activities that are at best stressful or physically punishing, and at worst suicidal. And women, conversely, have evolved to capitalize on their outward signs of fertility and to manipulate men, social forces, and each other as they try to improve their life-situations.

Gottschall doesn’t state this in such explicit terms, but he says as much as he contrasts the behaviors of the two sexes at a Tough Man competition, and as he contrasts how male and female students use the gym at the college that employs him (males seek to get bigger; females seek to get smaller).

The Book Itself

The Professor in the Cage is a book of social science, delving into the question of why man acts how he acts, and what his motivations and behaviors mean in our societies. But it’s also a book for mainstream audiences, using some basic devices to capture our interest and keep us reading to the last page. An example of this is, the book opens with the story’s climax—with Gottschall in the cage for his MMA bout—but suddenly cuts to another scene, takes us back to the beginning of the author’s journey, and doesn’t tell us how the bout turned out until the final chapter.

In a similar instance, Gottschall tells of fighting a fellow professor, who is a karate practitioner, at a cocktail party. After a couple of drinks the two nerds agree to “scientifically” test whether karate is useful in a real fight, retiring to a convenient patch of grass and squaring off with one another. The author sets up the scene, but then makes us wait until the book’s closing section before we learn who won, how, and why.

These slightly cheap ploys to hold our attention, however, are features not bugs. As is the entire, personal aspect of the narrative, which has Gottschall recounting his own history as a victim of schoolyard bullies, and sharing his youthful fascination with martial arts, and then describing how the rise of MMA destroyed his faith in kung-fu and karate.


For its genre, The Professor in the Cage is almost defiantly gritty and down-to-earth, almost a conscious effort by Gottschall to create a “problematic” experience for other academics. In fact, the author’s intent seems to be to bypass academicians and speak directly to regular guys. Because of its true subject matter—which is not just males’ fascination with violence, but the fundamental natures of men and women—the book could even be considered daring.

It’s also excellent for helping us understand political agendas that center on denying sex differences and promoting exotic gender identities. The fact that, despite The Professor in the Cage being published only eight years ago, Gottschall can’t even conceive of such a thing as a transsexual man competing in women’s sports, shows how quickly our culture and social norms have been changed, and how bizarre those changes objectively are.

On the whole, if you want to escape the madness of the season and get a refresher course in what makes men men (and women women), this book is well worth your time.

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