You wanna hear something fucked up? “In the UK about 84% of all recorded crime is by men; about 97% of those in prison are men; a quarter of all men are convicted of an offence by the age of 25; and two-thirds of all male offenders are under 30” (Hearn, 1999, p. 4). On top of this, in the United States and Europe, 85-100% of assaults and 90% of murders are committed by men (Ruby, 2004). This isn’t just men bashing women either, as men are reporting assaults 12 times more than women (Hearn, 1999). Now some of you are probably thinking that there is a perfectly reasonable explanation for this; like maybe all these dudes collectively lost a bet on the Super Bowl and immediately flipped their shit and just started murdering and assaulting everyone around them. If you spoke to these men, they would tell you that they were justified in physically exerting their rights to correct a misdeed, or that they lost control of their mind or body, or that an anger exists inside them that caused them to lash out, and the odd one will occasionally admit to just being an asshole. Most of these men might not even believe their actions to be violent at all, as pushing, holding, blocking, throwing things, etc. are not often considered ‘violence’, nor is it violence if it fails to leave a mark (Hearn, 1999). I assume those doing the murders figured it out eventually, however.

Now, my online medical degree is in the mail and has yet to be delivered, but I still feel comfortable enough with these statistics to suggest that there is a small possibility that a link exists between men and violence. Call it a hunch. There are two gut responses to men and violence, and the first is that there are women who commit violence and there are men who don’t, so clearly it can’t be related to gender and ignoring empirical statistics is the soundest scientific method to further social advancement. The other response is that violence is inherent to being male. After all, boys will be boys, and if half the population is biologically predetermined to kill everyone around him given half a chance, well I guess we’ll just have to learn to live with it (Ruby, 2004).

To see if all men are actually going to be shitty human beings regardless of how nice they look in a suit or how charmingly British their accent might be, we should probably look at more statistics since we gave up on being morons after abandoning our first gut reaction. Most of you know that people frequently carry baggage, such as the attitudes, skills, and behaviors of the workplace, home from work, and if you don’t, I have scholarly research backing it up (Melzer, 2000). Not so surprisingly then, those who work in violent professions, such as police officers, correction officers, or military personnel, are 43% more likely to be violent toward their partners than comparable men in white collar jobs (Melzer, 2000). In these professions, violence is used as a resource to exert control over others, command respect, demonstrate power, and instill fear. Maybe it’s not so bad when it’s bad guys suffering authoritarian brutality because black and white morality is totally a real thing between good guys and bad guys, but when it’s brought back into the home is when shit gets real.

However, violent work is not the only thing that begets violent men. Those pesky statistics show that men who work in traditionally female dominated work are also more prone to commit domestic abuse (Melzer, 2000). If it was just violent work then we could argue that violent work is just a draw for violent people, and be done with this whole blog post and never give it another thought. But something about being surrounded by a predominantly female workforce is apparently enough to drive the occasional male employee nuts. As hilarious as a sexist joke about menstruation would be right about now, the truth that this Melzer person I’ve been citing for the last couple paragraphs tells us is that “blocked attempts to affirm masculinity at work may also lead some men to act more aggressively and assert their dominance at home via intimate violence” (2000, p. 823). Essentially what this means is that if a man is routinely teased about doing things inappropriate for his gender, he is more likely to try to compensate by beating the shit out of somebody; in this example, his wife.

In order for this to make any kind of sense, there would need to be a culture that exists on the macro level that teaches men that violence is a part of masculinity. How we form our gender identity is based on our gained knowledge of gender-typed traits, activities, occupations, and attitudes (Mayes, 2000). For masculinity, when we see advertising that has a powerfully built muscle man as the representation of some new technology and some slob with a dad-bod representing the obsolete model, or listen to a narrator describing a truck with the traditional gravelly voice declaring how it ‘outmuscles’ the competition, or how our status as men in linked to sexual prowess in cologne commercials, we absorb this information and catalogue it as ‘masculine’ (Mayes, 2000).  Male role models, the quintessential man, can be identified by a long series of masculine-oriented media performances: “a collection of rogue cops, vigilantes, and glorified psychopaths who see a broken world of bureaucracy and inefficiency and unfairness around them and decide to take matters into their own hands” (Earp, 2013).

Men who exist in entirely male environments such as sports teams or fraternities were studied to see what kind of rambunctious, Blue Mountain Sate-esque shenanigans they would get up to. What they found out instead was that homosocial groups tend to label outsiders, or even members who do not conform to behavioural expectations, as threats or at least oppositional to the standard way of life (Melzer, 2000). This means that the men who do not project masculine traits such as power, strength, and sexual prowess will be ostracized by male culture, and will therefore lose a significant portion of their identity.

A psychiatrist named James Gilligan interviewed hundreds of violent criminals and discovered that the single greatest contributor to violence was having been shamed, humiliated, or disrespected as men. Seung-Hui Cho, or more commonly, the Virginia Tech Massacre guy, wanted to rewrite the script of his life and portray himself in the manly starring role (Earp, 2013) The Columbine shooters were outsiders, bullied and victimized by those in the ‘jock’ culture, and retaliated by utilizing the ultimate metaphor for manliness: guns (Ericsson, Talreja, & Jhally, 1999).

William Pollack introduced the idea of a ‘boy code’ wherein young males will be conditioned to act tough and not show their feelings (Earp, 2013). This ‘boy code’ has been extended by others to encompass the entirety of a lifetime. The ‘boy code,’ or I’ve also seen it referred to as the ‘man box’, emphasizes the restrictions masculine culture enforces on those born with a penis. Emotions are limited to anger, stoicism, and apathy; backing down is not an option; toughness regarding taking and dealing pain is required; women are meant as sexual conquest. All these conditions must be met out of fear of being labelled as outside masculine culture: weak, feminine, or gay (Earp, 2013).

What we learn about this is that being manly is a performance; a projection of what masculine culture expects from men and each must play his part. But unlike a theatre geek getting their first opportunity to star in The Wiz, men do not masquerade their performance of masculinity out of sheer fabulous delight, but rather because it is a survival mechanism. Men must be “Men” in order endure their day to day life. If you’re a male reader, I want you to answer these few questions: How do you define “being a man”? What aspects of yourself fall under that umbrella, and which do not? How do you portray the “manly” aspects of yourself compared to how you portray those outside of it?

There are plenty of reasons for men to be violent outside of male culture; poverty, mental illness, addiction, and abusive childhoods all statistically lead to an increase in violent behaviour. Yet poverty in women does not lead to as great an increase in violence, and so it is more likely that the outside expectation of the male to be the provider adds further stressors that exacerbate the violence brought on by those same expectations (Melzer, 2000). Similarly, girls who grow up in abusive homes are far less likely than boys who grow up in abusive homes to continue the vicious cycle as abuse is typically expressed as male domination instead of generalized violence (Hearn, 1999). In addition to more men with mental illness committing violence, therapist Terry Real examines what he calls ‘covert depression’, from which he estimates that approximately three quarters of the American male population suffer, which is mental anguish and instability that goes unchecked due to the man’s desire to appear independent and tough leading to an abhorrence for professional help which can only worsen its consequences (Earp, 2013). Recklessness has also become attributed to masculine toughness, and men represent 76% of binge drinkers, outnumber women in addiction, and make up 86% of drinking and driving related car accidents (Ericsson, Talreja, & Jhally, 1999). Even the increase of violence and posturing among racial minorities can be linked to a hyper-masculinity adopted to signify the retention of manhood in the face of everything else that has been stripped away (Earp, 2013). What this means is that regardless of the indicator, be it poverty, mental illness, or otherwise, young men grow up in a culture that normalizes violent masculinity.

As flashy as violence is as a cultural phenomenon within masculinity, I think the more important issue to understand is how this culture affects men on a day to day basis. Everyone knows that most men do not commit violence, but all men are exposed to the culture of masculinity. Men are taught that compassion is a virtue, and yet somehow that domination through violence is natural. Men are taught to respect women, but also that caring for them, or treating them as anything other than a trophy to be bragged about, is not manly. There is an incredible conflict that must be juggled within masculinity that causes anxiety for those who are socially compelled to exude it. Being unable to express oneself to their full capability is incredibly isolating, and just over half of men polled in the UK say they have two or fewer people with whom they could talk about serious issues, and an eighth said they had no one at all, with married men having fewer intimate friendships than their single counterparts. The dizzying number of men who commit suicide is a visceral reminder of that isolation (Bingham, 2015).

Here’s another thought experiment: you know that guy with the popped collar and sideburns who hits on a girl at the bar and won’t leave her alone no matter what she says, unless she says she has a boyfriend? I’ve seen some remarks about how a man won’t listen to a woman but will respect that she is the property of another as a means of explaining this hostile and disrespectful behaviour. However, if a man approaches a woman with all the baggage of masculinity weighing on his shoulders, and she refuses him, he has essentially failed as a man. Rather than abandon the greater part of his identity, he persists. Having the ‘out’ of a boyfriend isn’t necessarily respecting another man over a woman, but a way for him to salvage his masculinity because the failure was out of his hands.

Recognizing the influence of masculine culture does not excuse the behaviour of those who take it to its extreme, but it does illuminate that those violent or sexual psychopaths we deem as deranged individuals or deviants from the social norm are actually over-conforming to the ideals of manhood out of fear of not being seen as men (Earp, 2013). The thing is, it’s getting worse. The brutality of celebrated men is increasing. Superman and Batman both started out as dumpy George Reeves and Lewis G. Wilson. Today, they are hulking behemoths. I’m pretty sure Batman now is bigger than what Bane would have been hosed-up on Venom in the 1940s (Yes I know Bane didn’t show up until 1993; it’s a joke, get over it). Another example is the expanding mass of GI Joe’s biceps. The action figure in 1964 would have the real-world equivalent of arms 12.2 inches in diameter. In 1974 it was 15.2 inches. In 1998, GI Joe’s arms grew bigger than the Grinch’s cold, dead heart to be an astounding 26.8 inches. If you don’t know what that looks like (because why the fuck would you) then think of Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson, celebrated People’s Champion, who has biceps that are 20 inches in diameter (Earp, 2013).

Another problem is a complete lack of support. Women who suffer violence have an average contact with 11 different agencies, whereas the men who commit it really only have jail (Hearn, 1999). There are Band-Aid solutions, like getting men to create “cost-benefit analysis (of the gains and consequences of violent and abusive behaviour), safety plans (strategies for avoiding violence and abuse), and control logs (diary records of attempts to control partners)” (Hearn, 1999, p. 14), but in order for real change to take place we must “focus instead on all the different ways that we as a society are constructing violent masculinity as a cultural norm, not as something unusual or unexpected, but as one of the ways that boys become men” (Ericsson, Talreja, & Jhally, 1999).

A common solution is that we should identify the gender of the perpetrator rather than the victim in media reports to create a dialogue centred on the root of the issue rather than the symptom (Ruby, 2004), but that ignores the social conditions that lead to violent men and can only begin with an accusation rather than an understanding. I think one of the more important solutions that I’ve seen in regard to this issue is that we need to redefine courage (Ericsson, Talreja, & Jhally, 1999). Completely eradicating all common traits of masculinity, its toughness, its power, etc. is impossible as a first step, but if we take the masculine attribute of courage and define it as standing up for what’s right when harassment or bullying is taking place, or being something outside of the norm and being it proudly, we can cut down on the negative aspects that come from masculine culture in a much more positive way.

References:

Bingham, J. (2015, Nov. 14). 2.5 million men have no close friends: Stark new research shows chances of friendlessness trebles by late middle age. The Telegraph. Retrieved from http://www.telegraph.co.uk/men/active/mens-health/11996473/2.5-million-men-have-no-close-friends.html

Earp, J. (Producer, Director). (2013). Tough Guise 2: Violence, manhood & American culture [Motion picture]. United States: Media Education Foundation.

Ericsson, S., Talreja, S. (Producers). Jhally, S. (Director). (1999). Tough Guise: Violence, media & the crisis in masculinity. [Motion picture]. United States: Media Education Foundation.

Hearn, J. (Jun., 1999). The violences of men: Men doing, talking and responding to violence against known women. GenDerations, 7th International Interdisciplinary Congress on Women. Retrieved from http://www.eruoprofem.org/contri/2_04_en/en-viol/Hearn_Jeff2.pdf

Mayes, E. (2000). The study of the construction of white masculinity in advertising in multicultural education. Couterpoints, 73, 144 – 149. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/42976126

Melzer, S. (Nov., 2002). Gender, work, and intimate violence: Men’s occupational violence spillover and compensatory violence. Journal of Marriage and Family, 64(4), 820 – 832. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/3599985.

Ruby, J. (Sep.-Oct., 2004). Male-pattern violence. Off Our Backs, 34(9/10), 21-25. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/20838166

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