What To Do About Male Violence?

That men commit more violent crime than women is undisputed, though the gender gap has been narrowing for 20 years because men are becoming less violent. And it should go without saying the the majority of men are not violent.

Further, the gender gap at home is smaller than many realize. The claim that women hit men as often as men hit women is supported by numerous studies, including a recent study that debunked “male control theory”, instead finding that women are slightly more controlling than men. But although women are more likely to initiate domestic violence, men’s violence is more severe due to their average greater strength.

Men’s violence, then, stands out most in the public sphere and primarily involves violence against other men.

The question is: Why?

Testosterone is often implicated, and though Dr. Lloyd deMause disagrees, his explanation is not mutually exclusive:

The larger corpus callosum of infant girls allows them to work through trauma and neglect more easily than boys. Furthermore, boys who are abused had a 25 percent reduction in sections of the corpus callosum, while girls did not.17 This means boys actually need more love and caretaking than girls as they grow up.
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17 Frederic Schiffer, Of Two Minds: The Revolutionary Science of Dual-Brain Psychology. New York: The Free Press, 1998, p. 91.

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DeMause is a controversial figure, however. For example, he makes the dubious assertion that more boys than girls are diagnosed with autism because “maternal distancing” leads to “building defensive fantasies”  that encase boys “in ‘autistic shells’ “. Sounds almost Freudian.

Moving on, researchers from Harvard Medical School found that boys don’t regulate their emotions as well as girls; and it takes mothers longer, as they try to stay in sync with their infant’s emotional states, to repair “interactive errors”. In addition, they found that

…male infants smile less than female infants and display more irritability, crying, facial grimacing, and lability of emotional states…Male neonates also show a more rapid build up of arousal and a quicker peak of excitement…[And] male newborns engage in less self-comforting.

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Is it possible that cultural demands for male stoicism are an over-correction of biologically based male lability?

At any rate, deMause is correct to recommend that we give boys more love rather than trying to toughen them up (which is probably counterproductive). And if boys are less likely to self-soothe, then this is an important skill to teach them. But spanking a child only teaches violence, while self-control is the skill a boy needs to develop. And if the male brain really is less wired for empathy, then this too is a skill we should make an extra effort to teach to boys.

But back to the original question: Why is men’s violence primarily directed toward other men?

Googling the question, what stands out is the almost exclusive focus on violence against women. There seems to be little concern about male-on-male violence even though it’s far more common. Further, violence against women seems to be viewed automatically as gendered violence, while male-on-male violence is not (unless by a heterosexual man against a gay man). And, it’s not uncommon to hear someone dismiss this concern because it’s men doing it to men. But imagine dismissing black-on-black crime by shrugging and saying, “Well, it’s just black people doing it to each other”. Sounds racist. So why is the former generally not considered sexist?

In the United Kingdom, the Telegraph tackled the question of male-on-male violence. They note that the “ultimate distillation” of this is male suicide, which is three to four times higher among men.

But a concrete answer is difficult to come by. A popular explanation for male-on-male violence is the male dominance hierarchy. But most of the research has been done on animals, and generalizing to humans is tricky.

Still, most male violence is committed by young males, right at the time when teenage boys and young men are trying to achieve status, which in turn attracts women.

If I were a researcher, I’d test the ideas that male-on-male violence first appears in high status adolescent males who are solidifying their status but also decreases in this group first in young adulthood; that mid-ranking males continue to be violent toward other males longer than the alphas because the former have to work harder to prove themselves; and that low-ranking males show little violence because they give up on status quicker. I’d also test the notion that males become less violent toward other males after marriage with exceptions such as suspicion that his wife has been unfaithful or when experiencing other status losses such losing not just a job but a career.

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8 thoughts on “What To Do About Male Violence?

  1. That was really well done, thank you. It’s nice to read some factual information not dripped in hyperbole and hysteria.

    Something else I observe, there’s a huge bias when it comes to describing what constitutes “male violence.” Some people see violence in little boys running around on a playground shooting each other with play guns made out of peanut butter sandwiches. Sometimes implied threats, restrained emotion, is perceived as potential violence, which therefore is viewed as actual violence. Then there’s the “violence” of throwing around firewood or working out.

    Obviously drive by shootings and bar fights are violent, but I tend to believe that there is so much bias against men and fear of their potential to be violent, that the counts get all skewed.

    “Is it possible that cultural demands for male stoicism are an over-correction of biologically based male lability?”

    Sounds plausible. From observation, I’ve concluded that boys and men do tend to less resilient emotionally and in some ways physically, like when it comes to flexibility. Lots of broken bones in male children, partially because they tend to be more active, but also because they aren’t as limber. Like physical flexibility, there may well be something akin to emotional flexibility.

    1. Thanks. That’s a good point you brought up about boys’ play perceived as violence. Initially I wasn’t allowed to have toy guns as a child, but then when I began making my own out of sticks my parents relented. But as a boy it was always about adventure – we never wanted anyone to get hurt. And later when I was in my 20s playing paintball was also about adventure in a safe setting.

  2. Re: “I’d also test the notion that males become less violent toward other males after marriage with exceptions such as suspicion that his wife has been unfaithful or when experiencing other status losses such losing not just a job but a career.”

    Depending on how you define violence this notion is flat out wrong. I know this from my own personal experience working with men on an every day basis. Being married or single matters not for the average male is just as self centered, demanding, controlling and willing to both verbally and physically bully his fellow brothers; by relying upon his physical size and strength to Intimidate his fellow males if they dare to think differently from the status quo of the group as the average woman is to abuse the men in her life.

    1. It’s possible that’s true. I purposely stated these items to be falsifiable – otherwise it would not be scientifically testable.

      That marriage has a domesticating effect is a popular idea, though I haven’t looked at the research. For example, when I turned 25 my auto insurance didn’t decrease much. But when I got married it was nearly cut in half. And actuaries have to justify rates before the state insurance board, though I haven’t seen their data. Years later when I reported my divorce to the insurance company my rate didn’t change. My insurance agent said, “We figure you’ve already been domesticated” 😉

      1. I remember the time – mid eighties – I went to see my auto insurance agent and was on the phone at the time talking to an irate female customer whose rates had just went up because of the increasing losses the company had experienced caused by their female drivers.

        Even back then I had already observed that the females in my generation were not only more aggressive; but, that they would greatly increase the amount of female drivers on the road from previous generations; leading to an increase in women getting tickets for moving violations and being involved in accidents.

        I would love to compare the data on married men involved in accidents while driving with their families to married men driving alone and by their age group. Because where I live the drivers on the interstate – both men and women – drive recklessly by exceeding the speed limit over 10 mph, tailgating those who obey the speed limit and weaving in and out of traffic.

  3. You bring up a very interesting point that male on female violence is heavily focused on as compared to male on male violence. And, you made some really great suggestions for new research aspects on this topic, very insightful! This is a great article and I look forward to reading much more!!

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