Friday, July 27, 2012

Male Violence

The other day I came across an article discussing the gendered nature of mass killings. I took a look because I was curious about what this person might have to say about gender and violence.

To start, the author presented some fairly obvious data illustrating the disproportionate prevalence in the United States of mass killings committed by men compared to those committed by women.

Now, the author took the data as an indication that males possess some sort of innate tendency toward violence. In fact, she chose for an analogy illnesses like lupus and anorexia, which disproportionately affect females, and to which an awareness of gender is employed in treatment and prevention.

And so I completely lost interest in this ground-breaking analysis. Any argument that rests on the concept of "human nature" - particularly a nature whose variations follow exactly along lines of gender and race - is automatically suspect to me. I have already discussed the rhetorical use of "human nature."  Yet I do not think I have touched on the social construction of gender in enough detail to warrant a link here.

I don't want to get too far off course, so I will limit myself, for now, to violence and aggression. It is commonly believed it is a biological fact that males are more aggressive than females. And testosterone is the culprit. In fact, no such evidence exists. Studies on testosterone are notoriously difficult to conduct, and the best ones have been conducted on birds, not people. Furthermore, they do not yield any conclusive findings.

You will argue, surely the prevalence of violence among males (compared to females) throughout history is proof enough. The problem is, it is difficult to make judgements about some sort of pure, unadulterated "human nature" when it has, for its entire existence, been so thoroughly polluted by society and culture.

To me, the fact that acts of mass violence are almost entirely committed by men suggests that this violence does not stem from any human nature at all. There is no evidence that anything biological is driving gender differences (gender as a set of behavioral traits, as opposed to sex, a set of anatomical features); and heaps of cross-cultural evidence prove just the opposite. However, there are countless numbers of societal features that do create and sustain gender differences. So it would be logical to suppose that these same societal characteristics are responsible for nurturing a male tendency toward violence.

To that end, I have subsequently come across the following articles that argue precisely that point.

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