Violence by men: Addressing the problem, or blaming mean feminists?

US feminist activist Cathy Brennan recently wrote a piece –  Name the Problem – in response to Trayvon Martin’s murder, questioning why a common denominator in most violence – a male perpetrator – is escaping scrutiny.  She commented, “We are averse to acknowledging male violence because we do not want to make the males in our lives uncomfortable”.

An activist acquaintance of mine, Matthew Smith, took considerable exception to the article (his response in thumbnail screenshots to the right – click to see full-size).

His response is very unexceptional – his views are quite usual, on the subjects of women, weapons, male victimhood and feminists. These common attitudes need to be addressed, since they do perpetuate the problem of male violence, without most of those holding them realising this.

My response to his views is part of furthering the discussion which Brennan so clearly saw is needed.

A noticeable feature of Smith’s article is a strong reluctance to engage with the statistically far greater violence engaged in by men (despite the impact of it on men themselves, which he does appear to care about). He continually scurries away from this basic dynamic in order to distract attention by focussing on the anecdotal and the variations of how this manifests itself in individual men – all in a way which seems positively phobic of analysis about these variations:

I do not believe there is a single answer as to why some men are violent or why more violence is committed by men than by women, but everyone is a product of their upbringing and some were conditioned to be violent and some were not, and some are more capable of controlling their aggression and anger than others. Of course, men are responsible for the violence they indvidually [sic] commit when they are adults, but not for anyone else’s violence unless they let it happen or encouraged it.

We will not understand how many factors are involved in men’s greater violence, and the relative weight of each, until we acknowledge that it exists – and that is what Brennan’s article was urging us to do.

Yes, males are the perpetrators of most violence. The fact that they are also the majority of victims of certain types of violence (while women are the majority of victims of many other types of male violence) does not change that.

Moreover, the fact that racism was indubitably the cause of Trayvon’s murder and of many other recent extra-judicial executions does not give us free rein to ignore the fact that women are managing not to murder nearly as many people, despite many of us also being quite racist.

There are a whole host of offensive and distasteful aspects to this article. First is that she picked an incident of male-on-male violence which was motivated principally by racial and class prejudice to launch a diatribe about “male violence” [….] Violent racism is something which disproportionately claims black male victims, and it is much less likely that Zimmerman would have killed a woman walking through his neighbourhood, even if she had been young and wearing clothing that suggested she was of low class. Brennan classifies Zimmerman as a “male adult” and Trayvon Martin as an apparently genderless “child”, even though he was 17 and probably well past puberty. He was killed because his blackness, physical adultness, maleness and low-classness combined so as to lead Zimmerman to regard him as a threat, despite no evidence that he was armed (as he wasn’t), before he had even made a move.

It is important to recognise that his ‘maleness’ was perceived as a threat in this instance precisely because of Zimmerman’s racism. Part of racist ideology (which obviously isn’t limited to Caucasians) is perceiving men of African descent as inherently criminal/violent. These same people often perceive women of African descent as rape targets. The point is, Trayvon was largely victimised by racism, rather than by being a man.

Furthermore, I am disturbed at the attempts to insist that Cathy Brennan was wrong in seeing the 17-year old Trayvon as a child and in contrasting him with the adult Zimmerman (who is 28). 17-year old boys usually have not reached full physical maturity (Trayvon did not appear to have), and in any case, a basic decent response is surely to be cut up that a boy who is not even considered to have reached legal adulthood has been deprived his life. (I know that Matthew is indeed concerned by this, but I think recognising and verbally acknowledging Trayvon as having been deprived of adulthood is important.)

Looking at this bit:

Furthermore, “the weapons males choose” are not always a reflection of their maleness but of the necessity [sic], because if you are running a police force and you are dealing with criminals who are armed with guns, you will not be able to defeat them if you arm your officers with water pistols, and the same is true of anyone who has a firearm to protect their property. In many parts of the USA, women own guns in their own right, and are seen in videos and news reports which promote gun ownership and the rights to carry guns in various public places. She claims that the “stand your ground” state law that Zimmerman relied on was “promoted by the American Legislative Exchange Council (with an overwhelmingly male board of directors) that ensures that prosecutions in cases where the perpetrator asserts self-defense will decrease”. The law was also voted into existence by legislators (probably mostly male, but not exclusively) who were voted for by men and women, who no doubt rewarded them with more vote.

It seems to be a justification of men’s violence on the bases that (1) the state orders it in some cases, and (2) the US voters have not mainly elected politicians supporting non-murderous policing policies and gun laws.

I think these justifications are unserious because they ignore not only the fact that the capitalist state is fully behind gun culture (and has linked it firmly to macho culture), but also the realities of how the US political system works. The choices presented to voters hardly represent a ‘choice’, especially as the capitalist media that presents the case of the main parties presents them as the only options. Indeed, most social ideology is developed by the capitalists’ dominance of mass media, the education system, the judicial system, etc. And, as we know, those most disenfranchised in the US are the least likely to vote at all. And the capitalist class requires an ideology of misogyny and machismo-adulation in order to secure broad acquiescence to its policies.

As one example, when pushed to consider ‘the weapons males choose’, Smith immediately identified with the US police force. Not with an oppressed social sector fighting back, much less with a nationally oppressed people fighting for independence. He immediately associated himself with an authority force. This is part of how this macho culture works; it socialises males to see themselves as dominant and aligned with those in power, to *like* that idea, and to work to perpetuate that status.

In any case, it is disingenuous to imply that the greater usage by men of more dangerous weapons is due solely to their occupation. Women are far more likely than men to die from domestic violence, and men’s suicide attempts are more likely to be lethal. These are just a few examples of the consequences of this.

Finally on that section, it is not at all ok to write off this phenomenon of greater male violence (or any other manifestation of sexism) by looking at whether a few women are also involved in endorsing it. It is well known that women usually find themselves able to get to the top (or to stay there) only by going along with standard power arrangements (in the broader societal sense).

Later in the piece, after a long and patronising paragraph on how many women also endorse the culture of male violence (a rather inappropriate response to Brennan’s observation of how women are reluctant to name male violence and more likely to express guilt for actions which they have not directly undertaken), Smith adds:

Women need to make their disapproval known when men close to them display violence against anyone, not just females, otherwise they do share in the blame for their male friends’ and relatives’ violence. As for expecting women to confront their “Nigels” about violence they personally do not commit, I fail to see what this would achieve, and she does not give them any suggestions as to what they might ask (for example, “is any of your friends a thug?”).

Just as well we have Smith around to suggest this for us, eh? Let’s avoid the point that women around violent men are often in immediate danger because of the power imbalance, and unable both to stay near them and to speak out.

Also, should we, like Smith, carefully avoid the question of where power lies and who is most empowered to speak out, and eschew the important discussions of basic dynamics, in favour of anecdotes which don’t need to be representative?

Perhaps that’s not at all helpful, and we are better off taking note of Brennan’s important points (including the societal acceptance of male violence that she herself pointed out we’re all socialised to accept), and her point that we all need to “fight structures that perpetuate racism”.

In contrast to Smith’s distressed cry that “I am not responsible for my abusers’ actions or those of any other violent person”, well – how about, rather than acting as though you’ve been accused of being intimately linked with such behaviour – engaging with the point of the article, which is the need for society to acknowledge male violence in order to address it, in addition to fighting racist structures?

The history of fighting oppression demonstrates that broad movements against injustice do have the power to achieve change. Engaging with such movements also makes it easier to move beyond concerns about oneself and engage in uncomfortable realisations about how socialisation works.


It is a great shame that this response falls into the typical feminist-bashing responses of:

1. Implying that in identifying males’ greater violence, and the fact that male violence towards women is a tool of women’s oppression/ male privilege, feminists are therefore asserting that no females are violent and males can never be the victims (‘there is a huge element of victim-blaming and erasure of the experience of male victims and survivors of violence’). A strawman argument of absurdity. [One wonders why Smith thinks Brennan mentioned that ‘Males are almost four times more likely than females to be murder victims’ and cared about Trayvon’s murder. Oh, of course. It was merely an excuse to have a go at men.]

If Smith wants to feel better about being a man, he should help himself by avoiding the real victimhood mentality that leads men to conclude that they are all being called murderous by articles which merely point out that a certain percentage of men are murderous, and a certain percentage are violent. Having a go at women trying to address a serious issue, and ignoring what they have actually written, does not promote social justice. Brennan has not engaged in “victim-blaming”.

Another nasty example of male-pattern victimhood mentality was this:

A female victim of male violence (or a female activist who has heard plenty of tales of male violence against women) can identify the abuser as an other, a privilege which male victims do not have.

The violence which women experience from men is disproportionally sexual. This means that female victims do not have a “privilege” in naming the other, but rather face the usual reaction of being treated themselves as the accused (which is why such a tiny percentage of rape accusations result in a conviction). Attempting to portray this as a “privilege” is nothing short of misogynist.

And the nasty dig about “a female activist who has heard plenty of tales of male violence against women” (who is presumably making accusations based on little evidence) seems a fairly blatant attempt to ignore the absolutely authoritative stats on male-sector violence towards women.

These include the WHO’s 2002 ‘World report on violence and health’, which explains that:

Studies from Australia, Canada, Israel, South Africa and the United States of America show that 40–70% of female murder victims were killed by their husbands or boyfriends, frequently in the context of an ongoing abusive relationship []. This contrasts starkly with the situation of male murder victims. In the United States, for example, only 4% of men murdered between 1976 and 1996 were killed by their wives, ex-wives or girlfriends []. In Australia between 1989 and 1996, the figure was 8.6%[]. (p.93)


Studies in Canada and the United States have shown that women are far more likely to be injured during assaults by intimate partners than are men, and that women suffer more severe forms of violence (5, 34–36). In Canada, female victims of partner violence are three times more likely to suffer injury, five times more likely to receive medical attention and five times more likely to fear for their lives than are male victims (36). Where violence by women occurs it is more likely to be in the form of self-defence (p.94)

This is partly also why this later paragraph is so disturbing:

The victim blaming on display is a sickening irony given that feminists are often very quick to allege this, sometimes in response to perfectly sensible advice regarding personal safety, such as the campaign by the transport authority in London not to use unlicensed minicabs (taxis, although this term is reserved in London for the “black cabs” which charge a premium fare). The posters often emphasise the risk of rape The adverts did not say it was stupid to get raped (or get your neck broken in a car accident); they were aimed at those who are not victims who presumably do not want to become victims. Yet, here we see a feminist characterising males as a more violent class than females, demanding that women should hold their men accountable for it, ignoring the fact that they are more likely to be the victims than the perpetrators.

Right, so advising males (including via public education campaigns) not to rape has no valid point, and women taking issue with the fact that we’re the ones usually receiving advice about altering our behaviour likewise have no valid point?

And in what way are males as a sector not more violent than females?

2. Giving feminists so little respect that you not only criticise them for something they haven’t said, but also disdain to follow links in their article which rebut or debunk some of the criticism you’re making.

For instance, Cathy Brennan’s article linked to a wonderful piece by Jennie Ruby (which coins the useful phrase “male-pattern violence”). It begins:

There seems to be a kind of statistical dyslexia that people get when 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. [‘Male-Pattern Violence’, off our backs]

Kinda relevant, huh? Frankly I’d love to repost the whole thing. Instead, I will encourage people to follow the link and read it.

3. Endorsing the idea that criticism of the male sex is “bigotry”. Criticising patterns of sexist behaviour amongst men is very far from the expression of attitudes which endorse and perpetuate (even if implicitly) the withholding of rights and conditions to a social sector which is materially oppressed. Males are not oppressed as a sex (although they may experience oppression as members of the working class or as a demonised ethnicity). When males express prejudiced views about females (such as that  feminists have poor motivations), they are aggravating the situation by endorsing the current situation of oppression, and from a position of relative privilege, which means their expressed opinion might well to do real damage. There is no comparison between this and the situation of women simply wanting to be treated fairly.

And acting as though feminists are ‘mean’ in raising these concerns (or the sneering that Brennan introduced her thoughtful piece with Trayvon’s murder “to the credit of her own sex”) doesn’t even help men in the long run. Because violent males do sometimes – although not nearly sufficiently – get punished for their crimes, in unpleasant ways.

4. Presenting the issue as a problem of a feminism which encourages women not to be autonomous, and generally encourages women to be arsewipes:

Brennan’s article displays a common fault of modern feminism: an emphasis on women’s victimhood and a complete denial of women’s responsibility for their own choices and for the effect their behaviour has on other people.

Simps. Fail to give any evidence, and ignore the vast amount of evidence of feminists encouraging women not to believe they have to accept the life path laid out to them, that encourages them to be leaders. And gets behind women’s refuges so that women can get away from their abusers. And campaigns for better laws and protections against abusers. And campaigns for equality and against sexual harassment in the workforce, to give women more equality.

What this stereotypical view of feminism is, of course, is a conservative view which denies that material oppression of women exists; that seeks to scapegoat women for their own situation, while portraying them as using feminism as an excuse to stay bullied, underpaid or raped. (Yup, it’s convincing, isn’t it.)

“Most of my friends are women as are most of the relatives I see regularly.” They are very lucky.

I could never classify myself as a feminist because I associate it too much with selfishness, responsibility denial and bigoted nonsense like this.

Yes, fighting for women to have the vote, against being sexually assaulted and killed primarily by men known well to the victims, to have equality in the workforce, for even male victims of violence to be considered, for racism to be taken seriously (and that’s not even going into Cathy Brennan’s activism for queer rights). All extremely selfish. Fortunate, however, that Smith is not claiming to be a feminist.


Wouldn’t it be better if we could discuss these issues reasonably and reach a situation where these problems no longer exist? We need to be mature enough to recognise that criticism is often as it appears – a constructive attempt to deal with a problem by initiating frank discussion on it.

Sadly, Smith’s belief that “I am not responsible for my abusers’ actions or those of any other violent person” will be illusory, so long as he perpetuates these misogynist views about women, particularly those who acknowledge and oppose women’s oppression (feminists). Male violence is neither a consequence of men merely happening to be disproportionately employed by armed state sectors, nor mainly biological. The very differing expressions of ‘masculinity’ by men around the world, depending on the way they are expected to behave, is testament to that.

Violence by men is strongly correlated with acceptance of machismo, and when it comes to victimising females, it’s even more strongly correlated with the view that women are a threat to men, have to be kept down, lack men’s leadership qualities, are unfair to men, deserve few rights, have not had to fight for all the rights they have so far, etc. (These ideas are contradictory, but so is the magic of sexist logic.)

Male violence towards women does not exist parallel to other sexist views towards us. Men who consciously detest violence of any sort may still perpetuate the misogynist culture which results in other men assaulting women. There is no such thing as benign sexism, but unconscious sexism is huge.

Furthermore, we cannot adequately challenge male violence without looking directly at the history of male privilege. Throughout various sorts of class society, and in modern-day capitalism, men have been privileged in comparison to women, and have wielded their power as a sex to keep women ‘in our place’. (Late capitalism encourages this for various reasons, most significantly to maintain, via the hetero family unit, women’s performance of unpaid domestic labour.) This is a historical reality. Feminism (that nasty thing) has driven back this power differential to an important degree (with varying effect around the world), but it is still the case that even where much formal (legal) male privilege has been eradicated, the reality is still that of men having significantly more power within the hetero family unit, the workforce, the political sphere and in non-institutional spheres. (Some immediate demonstrations of that are the restrictions that are still common on abortion access, the fact that few rapists are ever convicted, the terror wielded by some men against the women who are their ‘partners’ or have dared to leave them, the fact that most employers and managers are male.)

And this male privilege is the other reason why male-sector multiple murder directed specifically at women is frequently unacknowledged.


Further great reading matter:

Strongly recommended: – ‘Why Are Anti-sexist Men Confronting Violence Against Women?’ by National Organization for Men Against Sexism

Features an excellent overview of the research. And this tidbit:

‘The authors of the American CTS studies stress that no matter what the rate of violence or who initiates the violence, women are 7 to 10 times more likely to be injured in acts of intimate violence than are men [Orman, 1998]. Husbands have higher rates of the most dangerous and injurious forms of violence, their violent acts are repeated more often, they are less likely to fear for their own safety, and women are financially and socially locked into marriage to a much greater extent than men.’ – ‘Final Memories: Trayvon Martin 9 Days Before His Death (PHOTO)’ – The Myth of the “Battered Husband Syndrome”

Copyright © Virginia Brown April 2012. Feel free to repost for non-profit purposes and without alteration so long as my authorship is noted, and this article URL is included: