Most violent crimes are committed by men. This is true across the world and throughout history. The US Bureau of Justice Statistics puts the figure at 78 percent in 2008. Other studies put that number closer to 90 percent.
These figures don’t surprise most people. Yet, whenever the discussion is raised, most recently in light of the shootings in a Colorado movie theatre, there is often a backlash, a defensive retort. In a recent Hartford Courant article, Linda Scacco, Ph.D., and Molly Turro brought up the subject, insisting that we take a closer look at the problem and try to look at it as a male phenomenon, not just a human issue. Of the four comments following their online version of the story, all complained that the article was demonizing men.
While the posters may have misread the article as accusing all men of being capable of this type of violence, the question of why most violent acts are committed by men is brushed aside.
New England Psychologist’s Catherine Robertson Souter spoke with Scacco, an adjunct faculty member in the psychology department at the University of Hartford, about the issue and what she feels could help reduce violence. Scacco teaches adolescent psychology, abnormal psychology and a course on psychology of gender. She has also written a curriculum for father and son groups and a book for children dealing with Alzheimer’s disease, “Always My Grandpa.”
Q: Why don’t we question this imbalance more?
A: Jackson Katz, who has done lot of work on educating people about gender violence, has written a book called “The Macho Paradox.” He says that when an event is perpetrated by an element within the dominant culture, we don’t question it. The majority has become invisible. When you get males primarily being the perpetrators of violence, no one talks about it as being a male phenomenon. If it was a female, the media would be asking, “What is going on in the socialization process that girls are exhibiting violence?”
When a male perpetrates violence it is so common it has become the norm and we look at the other things that contribute. There is no doubt that the media contributes, the family, disconnected parents – there are so many things but the fact that 90 percent of perpetrators of violence are males just kind of gets lost.
Q: The comments at the end of the article online complain that the authors are picking on men. Not all men are violent, they say. They turn the statement from “most perpetrators are men” to “most men are perpetrators” of violence.
A: That’s the dilemma when you make these kinds of statements – that it is male bashing, stereotyping men. I feel that is very unfortunate. It is so important to talk about the fact that males are socialized in a way that traumatizes them and that they are victims of the socialization process in same way that women have been victims. Women historically have been devalued and objectified and the same thing really happens for men.
Men are as oppressed and maybe more so than women in our culture. Little boys are much more restricted in terms of the kinds of behaviors and interests and clothing and attitudes that they can express. It is the ultimate insult in our culture for a boy to be a “sissy.” Some people call it the gender straightjacket, this box, that boys can only exhibit certain kinds of feelings.
Also, boys are having a harder time in school. They are more likely to drop out, more likely to get into trouble. There are more females in college and in graduate school and that wasn’t the case 20 years ago. In almost every school except for engineering schools, there are more females in college now.
Schools are designed for girls the way we do it in this country. Sit and listen and stay still. Boys have a harder time with that. They are a little more active and this gets them into trouble more, gets them sent to the principal. Schools need to be more responsive to how boys learn.
Q: Between men and women, there are physiological differences. How does that play into this?
A: There is no doubt that there are biological, innate differences between males and females. The jury is out about the relationship between testosterone and aggression. There is a correlation but it is not causal.
But even though that is the case, there is a great book called “Pink Brain, Blue Brain” (2009) by Lise Eliott, that says that we are more alike than different, for one thing and that the brain is modifiable. There is a classic piece of research in which they looked at mice living in rich versus deprived environments and the brains of the stimulated mice were much more complex. Our experiences can change our brains. So, even though there are biological differences, social impact can impact the biology.
Q: Is it getting better?
A: Fathers are much more involved than they used to be. I think it is better in a lot of ways but on the other hand, there are some things that are not very good, especially in the media. If you look the kinds of shows our kids are watching now, males and females are stereotypical. The girls are highly sexualized and the guys are highly masculinized and macho.
Q: What needs to be done to reduce violence and to address this issue?
A: I think men need to get on board. Historically, the women’s movement has been really strong and cohesive and has had focused goals. That has not happened to the same extent with the men’s movement. After the article was in the newspaper, we got an email from a man who is publishing a new magazine called VoiceMale, about the new man and talking with your children and all that. He was touting the magazine as being the Ms. Magazine for men.
There are a lot of violence prevention programs out there where men can get involved. Jackson Katz gives talks. I would never have as much credibility as a male would who could go out there and say, ‘look, this is not our fault but we need to step up here and be able to be more vulnerable and that will have implications for our relationships with women, with ourselves, our children, with other men.’ There are more of those kinds of men stepping forward and getting in the trenches.
The other thing it is so important is for males not to feel deficient. We do have a lot of male sexism going around. We make a lot of male bashing jokes that if someone said that about a woman it would be very offensive. We all do it. We poke fun at our husbands because they can’t find the keys or something.
Q: Okay, that has to be biological.
A: You know what, that is one of the few things that there is some evidence. Women are better at locating objects in space and men are better at mental rotation. It also has implications for how men and women get or offer directions.
Q: What is the takeaway?
A: I think being aware of the whole process, that there are inherent, biological differences but that we can do something to modify them.
By Catherine Robertson Souter