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Why Civilization Depends On The Strength Of Men

The following is an exclusive book excerpt from No Apologies: Why Civilization Depends on the Strength of Men by Anthony Esolen, available now.

Strength: The Facts

If we have anything for which to thank the utterly mad “transgender” movement, it is that it has laid bare, for all to see, the relative weakness of the female body by comparison with the male. Rather mediocre male athletes enter the lists against the best of the girls and run away with the trophies. Again, it is a shame that I should have to point out what everyone with eyes once noticed immediately. Men are stronger than women. They are bigger and heavier, and more of their weight, by far, is in muscle and bone. And their larger limbs make their strength easier to put to use, with additional mechanical advantage: think of the long arms of the average baseball pitcher, who stands near to six feet three inches tall.

Indeed, if you look up the all-time track records for high school boys in the United States, and compare them with the world records for women, you will see that the fastest boys in this one nation are faster than all the women in the world. There are two important implications that flow from this fact. Consider, first, that boys can compete against full grown men in no category of track. If that gap is wide, and it is, the gap between those men and the fastest women is a veritable Grand Canyon. Second, consider that of all sports on land, running is the one that rewards brute strength the least. A skinny man weighing 125 pounds must do 25 percent more work than the woman weighing 100 pounds just to run the same distance in the same time. Put a 25-pound pack on her back, and see what happens. I am making the suggestion in earnest. In real life—let us say that you are running across an open stretch of a battlefield, and you are carrying a rifle and ammunition—you never have the luxury of determining the conditions whereby you will do one necessary thing (traversing a certain distance) while also fulfilling another necessary condition (carrying the materials you need to survive).

If we turn to sports that approach more nearly to reality—the reality of war, of hard work, of struggle against the brute weight and resistance of nature—that softening of the differences between the male body and the female body is no longer in force. The strongest and fastest women in the world would be pulverized by a professional football team. You would not ask the score. You would ask whether the women could stop a single play from scrimmage. You would ask whether the women ended up in the hospital. In fact, the best female athletes in the world would be made into mincemeat by a half-decent high school boys’ team. They would be in danger of serious harm, because the boys would be heavier than they are, taller, faster, stronger, and with much more of that quick-surge muscle action that packs power into the shortest impulses. Again, you need not take my word for it, or trust your common sense and your eyes. A few years ago the Australian women’s World Cup soccer team was trounced, seven to two, by an under-sixteen boys’ team, and a similar thing happened to the American women’s team that actually won the World Cup. And that was soccer—a sport in which you hardly get to use your arms, your shoulders, and your chest.

I hear the objection, But that is just on the average. In reality there is a great deal of overlap. So the fact has no practical consequences. On the contrary, the consequences are decisive, and for practical purposes there might as well be no overlap at all.

First, let us think of a task.

You are a farmer, and you want to build a barn. It is not as if you have free time on your hands. No farmer does. There are always things to do. So you buy the beams, the plywood, the tar paper, the shingles, the nails, the bolts and nuts and washers, and so on. Then you call together a dozen of your neighbors, to get the thing done in one afternoon. Those neighbors will all be men. The wives can help best by tending to their own work in the meantime, or by providing plenty of food and drink for the men and seeing that the children do not get in the way. It is marginally possible for one of the wives, maybe of Norwegian stock, near six feet tall, to climb up the scaffolding with a full bag of asphalt shingles over one shoulder, while she steadies herself with her free hand, or to slant a full thick sheet of plywood in such a way as to not have the wind make a sail of it, while she stands fifteen feet above the ground and waits to hand the sheet up to one of the men splay-legged above on the skeleton of the roof. But the marginal possibility poses more than a marginal cost and more than a marginal danger. You would not have her fifteen-year old son do it, and he is stronger than she is. There is simply no point in her trying.

Such work is not achieved by the marginal. It is achieved by the great and obvious normal. You cannot say, “Let us gather up from all the corners of our nation the men with the strongest shoulders, so that we may have a bridge over this river.” Nothing is ever built on those terms. Army platoons are not made up of giants. When the Germans first looked upon a Roman army, they laughed, because the Romans were short by comparison with themselves. No matter: the Romans still had muscles on their muscles, they were disciplined, and they were confident, having fought many a battle in the past. Any task, to be practicable, must be achieved by the strength of teams of ordinary men readily available in sufficient numbers.

You may say that we can make up for the strength of men by increasing the number of women at work on the job. To the extent that that is true of women, it is also true of boys. That is, if two boys can each wheel a hundred pounds of bricks in a wheelbarrow over to the masons, while a man can wheel two hundred pounds of them, we have not really lost anything by hiring the boys, provided that there is room for them to work, that the conditions do not endanger them , that they have the same staying power as the man, and that we pay them half as much. Those are a lot of conditions, and no woman would now put up with the half pay. But for many purposes, strength is not additive, and two half-jobs do not equal a whole job. If a boy swings an ax at an oak tree with half the force of a man, there is no guarantee that it will take him twice as many strokes to cut it down. There is no guarantee that he will be able to cut it down at all. The tree resists; the blade turns; the wood turns to a gummy mass; the boy’s hands are blistered and bleed. If a boy’s shoulders can apply half the force of a man using a wrench against a rusted bolt, it is not true that the bolt will take twice as long before it finally lurches free. It probably will not lurch at all.

In the course of all hard physical labor, the ordinary man in good shape will meet some resistance that taxes his strength near to its limit. Every such instance means that job is an impossibility for his teenage son—and therefore, a fortiori, for his wife, his sister, and his grown daughter. He will regularly do things that they cannot do, or that they can do only with profitless and danger-posing difficulty.

I have mentioned conditions above. The boys and the women competing for the mile run on a level indoor track enjoy ideal conditions. Insofar as conditions are not ideal, they place an additional burden upon the weak, they reward the strong by comparison, and they make it impossible in reality for the weak to accomplish many a task that in theory they could accomplish. Let me give a whimsical example. Many years ago, I was nailing up long planks of shiplap to the unfinished ceiling of the third floor to our house. I did not enjoy ideal conditions. I had no scaffolding, and no ladder that could help with this particular job. It was summer, there was no air conditioning, and the temperature up there would reach 120 degrees in the heat of the day. I weighed myself after one afternoon of work and found that I had lost six pounds of water through sweat—an ordinary occurrence for men who work in quarries.

The planks were sixteen, fourteen, and twelve feet long; mostly sixteen. I laid a sheet of plywood across the roof-joists, lifted a plank to set up there, then did a pull-up to hoist myself. Lying upon and braced against the plywood, I maneuvered the plank into place, holding it secure with one foot fully stretched out while I nailed the other side. Then, turning to the still-free end, I started a couple of nails, but inevitably the long plank would not be entirely straight—another feature of the less than ideal conditions. That meant that it had to be forced into place by main strength to unbend its crookedness from side to side. But I could only use one arm and one shoulder for that, because I had to nail the plank down with the other. Plank after plank, day after day, 2,400 board-feet of the stuff, and many odd cuts and notches to make for the planks that would sit over the joists— with no fancier tools than a circular saw and a jigsaw. My wife literally could not begin to do that work, nor my sisters, nor my daughter, nor my mother at the height of her physical strength. The attempt would be too daunting for them to make. It would make no sense. And with a man around, why wouldn’t you want him to do it? The job is obviously men’s work.

Consider that this work had to be done in stifling heat. A man’ s heart is twice as big as the woman’ s, and it fills his blood with much more oxygen; if they’re both in reasonably good shape, a man will not flag as quickly as a woman. He sweats much more freely than she does, cooling his body faster. He has a greater margin for loss. Five pounds of water for him are all in a day’s work. The same loss would be perilous for her. Sweating off three pounds of water would put her at risk of fainting. Think also have of work that has to be done where the footing is precarious. He has reserves of strength for bracing himself; she does not. Think of work pushing against brute matter of inconvenient shape or in inconvenient places: a devilishly round and heavy boulder you want to heave up out of the ground. If you have small hands and slender wrists, most of the strength you do possess will be wasted. To get a grip, you need the leverage of the longer and thicker fingers, the broader hand, the longer arm, the broader and stronger wrist. The slight and tender hand does not twist and wrest that stubborn root; the root strips the hand. The slight and skinny crowbar fails to heave up that wall; the wall bends the crowbar.

Now, I have said that you do not have boys do the work of men—because they cannot—and that teenage boys are going to be stronger than their mothers. This is not a thing that women have direct experience of. They cannot know it in their bones. I am probably too old now to do 100 push-ups (of 180 pounds) without stopping, but I used to do that without breaking a sweat; I used to be able to do 400 without stopping. Until I reach a very advanced age—and these days, that will be close to 80—or unless I am enfeebled by a debilitating disease, I will always be stronger than my daughter. But the boy surpasses his mother in brute strength when he is—what?— ten years old at one extreme, sixteen at the other. It will happen; and he will know it. He will have some memory of being only as strong as she is. She can have no memory of being as strong as he has become. She can only observe it, or imagine it, and in our time the observations are sporadic and the imaginations in this regard rather dull. That is because many men, and almost all women, are rarely if ever near the kinds of work I have been describing.

But even the boy who is still teetering on the brink of puberty, and who is, for a time, only as strong as his older sister, enjoys a tremendous advantage over her, and one that should prompt us to bring him the closer to hard physical labor. That advantage is simply that he is going to be a man, and she is not. An eighteen-year-old girl is pressing against the limit of her brute strength; that is why such girls often beat their older sisters in tennis, golf, and gymnastics, when boys at that age are no match for fully grown men. A teenage boy has a wide field for increase, and his sister does not. We can say even more. With every passing year, her body grows less and less boyish and more womanly, so that most of the weight she gains is not in muscle, but in the fat that makes her body round and that prepares her for the needs of pregnancy and nursing a child. Her hips will grow wider, too— a hindrance rather than a help if you want to be a miner or a mason. Those wide hips will make for a visible angle at the knee, if you go from hip to knee and knee to foot, rather like the angle you see at her elbow if she extends her arms with palms turned outward, and that angle at the knee puts a dangerous torque on the ligaments when she runs or lands from a jump. The boy, in contrast, is pretty much built straight up and down. With every passing year his body grows less and less girlish and more and more manly. He grows tall. His bones thicken. His shoulders broaden. His muscles are bigger. He will continue to “fill out,” as we say, until around age twenty-five. We can hear the differences between the woman, the teenage boy after puberty, and the man, in their voices. The larynx is the one muscle that men and women, boys and girls, exercise all the time. In the tone of those muscular cords, we hear that the boy is already stronger than his mother, but nowhere near the strength of his father. No one can mistake the voice of a teenage boy for the voice of a man.

Nature never meant for women to wrestle hogs or work on pile drivers or hang from the mast of a ship. The man’s strength is for the common good, and in particular for the women and the children. It would be a contradiction for women as a group to define their good apart from the children that they alone can bear, and that their bodies are directed so profoundly to care for. Every month the woman’s body, sometimes with pain and always with loss of blood and some depletion of the iron that helps to enrich the blood with oxygen, undergoes that cycle that is imperative if the race is to survive. Imagine a menstruating woman in the filth of a ship’s hold, of a stockyard, or of a swamp on a dredging crew. What advantage is there in subjecting her to those conditions—what gain would accrue to her, to any man she may love, or to the children she has or may have?

You can have your own politics or your own social theories—perhaps. But try as you may—and these days a lot of people are trying very hard—you cannot have your own biology. You cannot have your own physics. That block of stone does not care for democratic or egalitarian ideology; if you cannot apply sufficient force, it will not move. Those germs cannot be persuaded to turn aside—as you may have noticed from recent events. Wishing does not make it so.

Anthony Esolen is the author of some 30 books and over 1,000 articles in both scholarly and general interest journals. The 2020-21 recipient of the CIRCE Institute’s Russell Kirk Prize “in honor of a lifetime devoted to the cultivation of wisdom and virtue,” Esolen is a professor of humanities and writer in residence at Magdalen College of the Liberal Arts in Warner, New Hampshire.

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