By Jennie Ruby
There seems to be a kind of statistical dyslexia that people get when
Why do both men and women avoid admitting the existence of and examining male violence? Could it be we don’t really want to end violence? Are we afraid, as a society, that if our men shy away from violence, we will be vulnerable to the violence of other men, other cultures? Do women find violent men attractive? Are men afraid that if they are asked to end their own violence, they will be vulnerable to the violence of other men? Are they afraid that without violence, they would lose their dominance over women? Is it that without recourse to violence, men would lose part of their identity?
We may all have to examine our fears in order to reveal resistance to stopping violence. And we may need to examine the ways in which our economy, our nation, and our way of life are supported by violence before we can dismantle all the mechanisms that perpetuate violence in our lives, from our media’s glorification of violence, to our violent video-game industry, to our love of violent sports, to the institutionalized violence of our military.
feminists start talking about male violence. The statement “Most violent crimes are committed by men” is often misheard as “most men are violent,” or even with a kind of gender dyslexia, as “women are never violent.” Thus radical feminists find themselves in conversations like this:
“Most of the violence around the world is committed by men.”
“You can’t say that! My friend Jim isn’t violent!”
“Nevertheless, the Bureau of Justice statistics show that over 85% of violent crimes in the U.S are committed by men.”
“Are you saying women are never violent? Because I read about this one woman who…”
“I guess her crime would be one of the 15%…”
“Some of us don’t think men are that bad, you know.”
The conversation usually stops there, stuck in rounds of denial and accusation, while the defensive person accuses the radical feminist of man-hating, male-bashing, and unfairness, and of wanting to alienate half of the population. The conversation never goes on to examine what it is about men that causes the violence, what we could do to help men stop their violence, or anything else constructive.
This reluctance to talk about men’s violence is widespread and seems to amount almost to a taboo. The news media report that “a woman was raped,” but never say “a man raped a woman.” Analyses of school violence talk about “kids killing kids,” ignoring the fact that it is almost exclusively boys committing the violence. Terms like “domestic violence” mask the fact that most of this violence is commtted by men. Feminists and feminist organizations also fall into this pattern by using the term “violence against women.” This wording puts the focus on women as victims and hides who is perpetrating the violence. If we can’t even say who is doing most of the violence in the world, how can we hope to stop it?
Why do both men and women resist naming male violence? One reason is that we are afraid to insult, alienate, or anger male family members and loved ones—and men are often angered by discussions of male violence. Men are notoriously reluctant to accept responsibility or apologize for anything they do on an individual level. When it comes to taking responsibility on the society-wide level, we encounter this fragile male ego writ large. Of course not all men are like this. But the unapologetic male is a pervasive cultural theme that we are all aware of. And it is true enough, often enough, that on a case-by-case, experiential level both women and men know to avoid stirring up that male defensiveness. When feeling accused, a man may lash out by raising counter-accusations, confuse the issue, deny the wrong-doing, become sullen and withdrawn, or even, dare I say it, become violent (see box on page 24 for some common defenses against discussing male violence).
Another reason men resist naming male violence is that men tend to think of the male as the default human. This means they can’t see male patterns as male—they just see them as human. So male researchers and theorists often write about “human” aggression, “humanity’s” wars, and so forth. But can we stop “human” violence without acknowledging and examining the fact that it is disproportionately committed by men? I think not. For example, doing research on violence in both men and women together, without looking at differences between the sexes, would result in skewed results in which women’s different reasons for committing violence and women’s decreased propensity for violence would mask the male data, decreasing the chance that meaningful, usable findings would result.
We need to stop debating whether men are more violent or quibbling about whether women could be as violent as men if they had the chance, and take accurate stock of the evidence: United Nations Economic Commission for Europe data show that in the U.S. and Europe, 85%-100% of people convicted of assault are men. And 90% of murders are committed by men. Men are by far the principal perpetrators of rape, war, torture, incest, sexual abuse, sexualized murder, and genocide. We need to investigate what it is about men and masculinity that is so conducive of and associated with such a wide range of violent behavior. We need to talk about male violence. The sooner we stop denying that men are the ones who commit most violence and begin to examine what it is about men that causes this, the sooner we start to solve it.
We need terminology that will break through the statistical dyslexia and the resistance surrounding the term “male violence” and allow us to focus on the problem. I think we’d have more success with a phrase that could not be misinterpreted as “all men always do it.” For example, most people can understand that “male-pattern baldness” is a male problem and that when women do have thinning hair the pattern and etiology are usually different. What if we start calling male violence “male-pattern violence” as distinguished from “female-pattern violence”?
“Male-pattern violence,” then, is characterized most notably by its far greater overall prevalence than female-pattern violence. A far greater proportion of men commit male-pattern violence than women commit either male-pattern or female-pattern violence. Male-pattern violence also has a different etiology than female-pattern violence. Male-pattern violence is often characterized by motivations of aggression, revenge, competition for dominance, competition with other males (for example in drug- or gang-related violence), or feelings of ownership or entitlement toward women. Male-pattern violence includes sexual violence, including sexual violence against their own children. Some common patterns of male-pattern violence are assaulting/killing a woman who rejects them or tries to leave a relationship with them, killing children, wife, and self out of a tendency to see their wives and children as merely an extension of themselves, killing other males who are in economic competition with them, killing after being dishonored, killing for sexual gratification and killing in a jealous rage. Male-pattern violence ranges in scope from these individual crimes up to full-scale war and genocide.
Female-pattern violence is more often characterized by self-defense, response to long-term abuse by a husband, killing children because she cannot properly care for them, and involvement in male-initiated and male-led violence ranging from crime to war (e.g., women in the military). I think the term male-pattern violence side-steps the whole “some men aren’t violent” thing because it is obvious it is talking about a pattern that most often occurs in men, but can also happen in women. It should also be clear that it doesn’t mean all men engage in male-pattern violence (any more than all men exhibit male-pattern baldness) but that when it occurs, it does result from some tendency related specifically to masculinity. So a woman who commits male-pattern violence is following a pattern that is found predominantly in men, but can happen in some women. Once we learn what causes male-pattern violence in men, we can see if those same causes are present in a violent woman—did she have a sense of entitlement, did she have a jealous rage, and so on.
Some are already doing this work. The movie Tough Guise, produced by Jackson Katz, shows that if we can get beyond the denial, we can explore the aspects of masculinity as defined in families, in schools, and in popular culture that encourage and condone male-pattern violence. The book Men’s Work by Paul Kivel and the book Refusing to be a Man by John Stoltenberg also examine how masculinity is connected to violence.
But for social change to take place, we need more than just a few books. We need a public information campaign. We all need to be talking about solutions to the problem every day. We need to talk to our male family members and colleagues in ways that point to the truth. We need to raise sons who don’t perpetuate the violence. We need our newspapers and other media to help focus the attention on the causes of violence, rather than the victims. These things are needed for social change, for men to change.
Without open discourse about the truth of male-pattern violence, we have confusion. We see increases in women’s violence. And we see male violence continue and even escalate worldwide while societies seem to just accept it as inevitable.
Until we can openly and honestly address the problem with those who are committing it, we are going to have male-pattern violence.
What You Can Do:
1. Replace the phrase “violence against women,” everywhere you or your feminist organizations currently use it, with the phrase “male violence against women” or possibly “male-pattern violence against women.”
2. Specifically name the most prevalent kind of domestic violence as “male-pattern violence in the home.”
3. When writing and speaking about male-pattern violence, actively name the perpetrator or at least the gender of the perpetrator: “A man raped a woman.” Do away with expressions such as “a woman was raped,” “her rapist” and every kind of wording that focuses on rape as a problem only for women.
4. Wherever possible, present statistics about violence in ways that clearly indicate the gender of the perpetrator, not just of the victim: Instead of “Every 15 minutes a woman is raped,” which makes rape seem like a female problem, try “Every 15 minutes, a man rapes a woman.” Or better: “Every 15 minutes, a man commits a rape.”
5. Call people on their defensiveness against acknowledging male violence. Watch for the classic defenses (see Ways People Deny Male Violence) and point them out.
6. Know the statistics and cite them often.
7. Talk about male-pattern violence openly and constantly. Make sure everyone you know is aware of this particularly masculine problem. Discuss it with your children. Discuss it with male friends. Discuss it with female friends. Discuss it in classrooms, in gossip sessions, and in bars.
8. Study the phenomenon. Examine how the construction of masculinity contributes to the commission of violence. Read what researchers such as James Gilligan are finding about why men become violent.
9. Encourage men to explore and question the cult of masculinity. If you are a man, call other men on their unexamined acceptance of mainstream masculinity.
10. Don’t accept male violence. Make it stop.