October 7, 2015

Gendered Violence and Toxic Masculinity

This is a chart showing trends in violent crim...
This is a chart showing trends in violent crime rates by gender in the U.S. from 1973-2003. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
One of the narratives I have been seeing on Twitter in the aftermath of the recent mass shooting in Oregon (and there are many narratives) involves "gendered violence." The vast majority of mass murderers are men, and those promoting this particular narrative suggest that this observation can be combined with others (e.g., men are more likely to commit homicide, rape, and a host of other violent crimes) to support the claim that men are generally more violent than women. This inevitably leads them to conclude that the manner in which men are socialized is to blame for the difference. The undesirable socialization of men is often referred to as "toxic masculinity" by those pushing this narrative.

It seems to me that men probably are more violent than women and that this is especially evident if we focus on violent crime. It also seems that men raised in the U.S. are more likely to be socialized to be aggressive than women raised in the U.S. I'd stop short of claiming that men are socialized to be violent, but I could go along with the claim that they are more likely to be socialized to be more aggressive. In the sense that this can have adverse effects, I'd even agree that this can seem "toxic." What I probably wouldn't do is completely ignore the role of biology, but we can set that aside for now and keep the focus on socialization to see where it leads us.

Who socializes our boys? Is it our televisions, our schools, our Internet, our football coaches, society as a whole? Are each and every one of us responsible for how every child is socialized? If so, that would seem to mean that we are all "part of the problem" here. Despite the progress made by second-wave feminism, isn't it still true that women are disproportionately more involved in raising children than men? Should we blame the mothers for how our boys are being socialized to be more aggressive than our girls?

I am not a fan of single-variable explanations for complex behaviors. Violent behavior is extremely complex and cannot be adequately explained by any one variable. I do not doubt that certain aspects of how men are socialized can be relevant in certain forms of aggressive and even violent behavior; I question how far this one variable can take us when it comes to preventing violence. Still, I'd like to hear more from those emphasizing this variable as to what they suggest we do about it.

To get things started, I do have a few questions for those who want to talk about "gendered violence" and "toxic masculinity." If you are right that these are contributing factors, shouldn't we be reaching out to our boys and young men and trying to help them improve their lives? If we know one thing about mass murderers, it is that they are nearly always angry, frustrated, and feel intensely hopeless about their futures. If we are genuinely worried about angry and alienated young men becoming violent, might supporting them be more effective than calling them names on the Internet? Shouldn't we seek to embrace and integrate them instead of further alienating them because they sometimes express views we do not like? If we do things to make them feel even more alienated, are we making them more dangerous?

The problem of violence is not an easy one to solve, especially when we refuse to implement some of the measures the experts tell us would be most beneficial. But if we think about how we might improve the problem (i.e., reducing the number of victims), it seems like there are many things that could help. On the subject of gendered violence and toxic masculinity, I'm of the opinion that we will get far more mileage out of education, compassion, and empathy rather than public shaming and marginalization.

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