By Blaine Stum
If you were to ask most people what trait or characteristic was most common in perpetrators of violence, what do you think their answer would be? Surveys have shown Americans think everything from mental health to violent video games are major factors contributing to violence. So if you’re picturing a mentally ill gamer, you’re probably not alone; but you’re also wrong. The reality is: They’re almost all men.
In 2013, men in the United States were the offenders in 98 percent of reported rapes, 88 percent of reported homicides, 86 percent of reported robberies, 82 percent of reported burglaries, 80 percent of reported violent arsons and 77 percent of aggravated assaults. It does not matter which data set you use, or what time period you look at, the dynamic is the same across the board: men are the perpetrators of a vast majority of physical and sexual violence. This is true outside of the United States as well. According to a study by the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime, 95 percent of all homicide offenders were men.
Explanations for this dynamic are many. Scholars have suggested everything from evolutionary processes that have selected for natural aggressiveness to genetic and physiological differences between men and women. The problem with these explanations is that they either ignore evidence to the contrary or give an incomplete picture of potential forces that have shaped men’s relationship with violence. What is often neglected in these popular narratives is culture: How we define masculinity, and what that means when a man’s masculinity is threatened, challenged or scrutinized.
In the United States, as in some other cultures, masculinity is defined by assertiveness, control, risk taking and internalization of emotion. If a man finds a woman attractive, our conception of masculinity says we need to “chase her.” When another man controls us in ways threaten our masculine facades, our conception of masculinity makes us feel less self-sufficient. Our conception of masculinity encourages us to take risks every day; from the dorm room to the board room. And despite our ability to process and communicate emotions, our conception of masculinity suggests that doing either is a sign of weakness.
These ideas of what masculinity should be have proven disastrous to say the least. Studies have been showing for years that men who exhibit more masculine traits or adhere more stringently to traditional gender norms are much more likely to accept and inflict violence on others, and especially lethal violence, even when controlling for other factors. The questions now become: Why don’t we talk about this more often? And how many more people must suffer before we seek comprehensive ways to address the problem? Until we do, we will continue to reel from the horrifying violence men commit against others and themselves.
Join SpokaneFAVS for a Coffee Talk forum on “Responding to Violence in Modern Culture” at 10 a.m. Nov. 7 at Indaba Coffee, 1425 W Broadway. Stum is a panelist.
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