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Friday, May 23, 2008

Why are men so violent?

I have been engaging in an ongoing conversation with a friend about violence and men and he flat out asked, “Why are men so violent?” The question became a springboard for a greater dialogue with my friend and others and I thought it would be an interesting post to our Blog. So, with his permission, we are putting this question out here and creating space for some open dialogue. We would be interested in hearing what you think or how you would respond to such a question and ask that you would participate in our dialogue by posting in the comments section.

If you think this is an unfair question, consider a small sample of the overwhelming stats that validate the need to ask this question…

*Nearly one-third of American women (31 percent) report being physically or sexually abused by a husband or boyfriend at some point in their lives, according to a 1998 Commonwealth Fund survey.[The Commonwealth Fund, Health Concerns Across a Woman’s Lifespan: 1998 Survey of Women’s Health, May 1999]

*99.8% of the people in prison convicted of rape are men.
[National Crime Statistics]

*The majority of victims of men's violence are other men (76% Males, 24% Females).
[U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justic Statistics]

*Forty percent of girls age 14 to 17 report knowing someone their age who has been hit or beaten by a boyfriend.[Children Now/Kaiser Permanente poll, December 1995]

*A nationwide survey found male students more likely to have been involved in a physical fight than female students in the 12 months preceding the survey.[]

*In 2003 men 15-19 years of age were more than four times as likely to die from suicides as girls their same age.

*Of all the homicides reported in the 18 to 24 age group in 2004, 86 percent of the victims were males.[]

It begs the question, "Why are men so violent?"


Anonymous said...

I feel that a question like this falls under the idea of the seven P’s of men’s violence. I don’t know if you all are familiar with them. They are; patriarchal power, the sense of entitlement to privilege, permission, the paradox of men’s power, the psychic armor of manhood, masculinity as a psychic pressure cooker and past experiences. I strongly feel that the basis for men’s violence not only fall under these ideas, but our culture and society plays a role as well. If society enlightens a developing male child that he needs to be tuff and manly as an adult which is reinforced by his farther, then why wouldn’t that child become a “tuff guy.” I don’t want to bad mouth our culture, but regrettably we live in a society that has labels, a place for each individual. There needs to be a redefinition if you will of the word masculinity. I’m convinced that men who exercise violence do so to feel collectively accepted in our society.

Anonymous said...

I did a basic search on this topic and found two argument types: nature (i.e., men are violent because they are essentially biologically predestined to be so) or nurture (i.e., men are violent because their experiences teach them men are supposed to be violent and don't teach them an alternative). In considering where I stood on these arguments I began to examine my own beliefs. I found that I would lean towards nurture as I believe people (men and women) are influenced by their experiences (both nature and nurture) as well as their reality (experience of their experiences) but that their attitudes and behaviors are ultimately a direct byproduct of their choices whether they are aware of their ability to control themselves or not. I would also like to believe (as a man) that men are capable of choosing healthy and safe alternatives as oppose to a predestined belief that men were, are, and always will be abusive & violent because they are biologically designed to be aggressive as a part of 'survival of the fittest'. I'm all for evolution as I know that without it our brains would not have developed the frontal lobe and cerebral cortex that enables men and women to make informed decisions and act on them. Because of this, I believe that some men choose to be violent because no one has challenged them to consider an alternative that would be better for those around him as well as for the man himself. I dismiss that men are naturally violent in view of the facts that expose men's violence as reactions to their own insecurities and a means to gain power, control, and dominance over others. I believe some men are violent because they choose to be without considering a healthier and safer alternative. I hope that men can change as a result of nurture – that men and women working together can challenge violent attitudes and behaviors and teach healthy and safe alternatives – because the only natural option to end men’s violence in the face of these stats is to eradicate men altogether.

Kristin said...

I 95% agree with this person. I believe / know that men have more testosterone which is linked to aggression, that is science and can’t be disputed. But I do not believe the additional amount of testosterone leads to such an increase in violence, therefore I believe that men’s violence is learned from listening to their fathers said that would kill a man that hurt his daughter, watching boys at school physically fight over a verbal argument, idolizing football players who yell and push the opponent in between plays when they are angry, and sitting with their older brother when they pay money to watch the fight on TV that night. I am 100% supportive of men choosing a healthier lifestyle and response to anger, threat, etc… but just a little food for thought... people often do what works for them, and what if a majority of women are attracted to & feel safety from violent men, because to many women that equates “toughness” and protection? It is a man’s problem that they choose violence… but it’s a societal problem that violence is viewed to be such a respectable, negative trait.

James said...

I am heavily involved with men's work and often witness men who have become vulnerable enough to share deeply about the inner conflicts and emotional wounds that have influenced their choices in the past. The bulk of these wounds seem to often fall into two broad categories:

*a father wound in which as a young boy he desperately tried to get the approval of a father who was absent or emotionally distant or angry or cruel (ie, wounded himself).

*a mother wound in which as a young boy he had an emotionally confusing, enmeshed, distant, or dominated relationship with his mother (who invariably seemed to be a victim of abuse herself)

I've witnessed the rage that men with such experiences often feel. Many of these men are terrified of their rage and suppress it, but it invariably leaks out sideways during stressful moments of their lives. I believe that much of the violence that men do come from the suppressed rage of such wounds.

Many of the hundreds of men that I've witnessed in my men's group have been able to eventually release some of this rage and get to the deep sadness and grief that lies beneath it. Fully feeling this grief is a life-changing event for many of them, and they are subsequently able to experience increased empowerment, compassion and joy. Such a man is able to then make different choices in his life.

I believe that the psychological model above explains much of the intense violence that men do. Even if such father and mother wounds did not exist, however, we would have male violence because of the sociological factors present in our society (the seven P's of patriarchal power, privilege/entitlement, permission, paradox of men's power, psychic armor of manhood, psychic pressure cooker of masculinity, and past experiences noted by the poster below.) I will add to this the need for rites of passage from boyhood to manhood so that boys clearly see positive expectations of what it means to be a man and have opportunites to step into such expectations and be seen, heard, honored, and loved for becoming capable, connected, and contributing men.

Our society lacks this and the freefall into manhood that adolescent boys experience is devastating and culturally irresponsible. We abandon our children when we do not create such intentional rites of passage in their lives and they in turn must turn to their peers and to the media to find the definitions of manhood that will influence the men that they become. The statistics show the results of such abandonment of our responsibilities.

Cody said...

We are subjected to think that our brains evolve in one manner. Meaning that everyone's physical structure is developed through genetic structure. It has been proven that our brains can alter through physical impact as well as psychological impact. with this who is not to say the the conditioning that society produces with the gender separation does not effect our brains physically as a small child and into adulthood. From birth there is a significant difference in the way we treat both sexes. We may be more rough with our sons and yet more gentle with our daughters. Underlying the point that as our brains develop we may be physically altering how they develop. Structure and environment have everything to do with the development of our brains and to say that men just have have more testosterone is a blatant cop-out. Men are more violent because we raise them this way, because there are double standards. Because of the 7 P's. The difference is real and it has a huge impact on how our society feels about humanity in general.

John said...

The fascinating book by Dr. Warren Farrell, Why Men Are the Way They Are, delves into the issue of male powerlessness. (Summary at: As men, we are taught to repress our feelings, including, often, a load of powerlessness, which is almost certain to erupt into rage and violence given the proper circumstances. Like James, who posted previously, I have seen many, many men, for the first time in their lives, break through into the core of their anger and rage promulgated by both overt behavior and abandonment by, principally but not exclusively, their fathers.

Robert Bly, in his PBS series with Bill Moyers, A Gathering of Men, asserted that "there is a kind of Spiritual Food that flows from father to son when they work together." Since the industrial revolution, which took fathers away from home and family and relocated them in dehumanizing factory environments, the opportunity for fathers and sons to share meaningful work has become extremely rare. In addition, the fathers experience high degrees of powerlessness, enui and lack of fulfillment resulting in frustration and anger which gets acted out upon their children.

Body-oriented Gestalt Therapy, which I underwent for several years in the '70's, had a saying: "What we "got" as children, we "do in" and we "do out," meaning that most adult men (and women) live their lives simultaneously victimizing, abusing, shaming themselves in a never-ending internal dialog, as well as perpetrating the same sorts of violence "outward" on their families. It's a tragedy of immense proportion.

The men's work of which I am a part, The ManKind Project (, assists men in doing their inner work. Any interested man should feel free to contact me for more information.

Rick said...

Look at the nature of our world. Lions eat antelope, hunting the weak down and eating them while they are still semi consious. Hawks swoop down and pick up feild mice, eating them for breakfast. Bears pick samon from streams, biting their heads off and chewing on there skulls. This is life, it is violent, it is nature.. natural. This is the way the creator made things, if you belive in a creator.

Rick said...

This is the way the creator made things, let me explain. Lions kill and eat antelope while they are still semi consious. Bears pick salmon from streams, bite there heads off and chew on their skulls. Snakes eat mice whole and digest them while they are still alive. Life is violent, as in nature. It is natural. This is the way the creator made things, bloody and violent. If you belive in a creator..

Anonymous said...

So, Rick, you believe in a "creator" that would instill a nature of destruction in its creation? Why create something with the propensity to destroy itself? I'm pretty sure that's not a creator I want to believe in. I'm also not sure I would put animals right to food on the same plane as men's violence towards other men & women. Men's violence is not inherently about survival of the fittest.

Cody said...

I have to agree, we do not kill someone for the sake of survival in that we are supior in our ability to choose. Our brains allow us to find alternate routs to find solutions emotionaly. In that case believing a creator or supior being is exactly what got us into this mess in the first place. If we believe we are one species than we will become one species. In that case we can learn from the animal kingdom as to protect eachother as well as respect rather than act on our infintile judgement of difference. We are one, once we become one the world will change tremendoulsy.

Anonymous said...

I knew a man who turned his rage at seeing his mother physically abused by his father into a different kind of abuse of women. He became a raging womanizer. He wanted every decent looking woman within sight, and some not so decent looking. He was charming and quite successful in his quests. He was married with children and started cheating on his wife within a month of their marriage and continued on until their divorce some twenty years later. He was never faithful to any one of the probably hundreds of women he bedded. I was a friend in whom he confided a lot of this stuff and, yes, involved with him for a number of years as well. I do believe he was terribly damaged by his childhood and to this day he does not have normal thinking about women, although finally remarried to one of his former much younger paramours.Violence happens in many forms.

Anonymous said...

Indeed, perhaps it is true that males are unusually violent sometimes. I myself recall actual physical confrontations between myself and my parents when I was younger, which I now regret. Perhaps it was the emotional distancing between myself and my father...Alas, we cannot change society, and our world, for better or for far worse, is destined for male violence eternally.

Anonymous said...

Though philosophical debate may apply, the reality of the world points to the destruction of male behavior.. Who cares if childhood wounds are to blame? That doesn't change the genocides, the child rapes, torture, nuclear detonations.. What difference does such a realization make when the manifestation is so alive and well?

In my opinion, the question is rhetorical. Hope for a better future is always nice. However, in this world, you're either exploited or exploiting.