The scholars at the Society for the Psychological Study of Men and Masculinity (SPSMM), a division of the American Psychological Association, have for some time been asserting a simple philosophy about violence and all other manner of social woes. It comes in two parts.
Men are the problem. Men are the solution.
Most recently, they posted an article tellingly titled, “Violence is a Men’s Issue,” to goodmenproject.com. It is another in a continuation of efforts on their part to promote the idea that “toxic definitions of masculinity,” are the root culprit of much of our cultural violence, and that we must band together as men and confront each other till the problem is ameliorated.
All the article does, in reality, is provide a prime example of an egregiously thoughtless worldview, driven not by concern about violence, but by a mandate to promote a blind and sexist political ideology.
As you take the short trip through the conflated, convoluted and contradictory lines of that piece, penned by Christopher Kilmartin, you will need to irrevocably suspend your common sense, not to mention your sense of decency, to agree with any of his conclusions.
To begin with, toxic masculinity, as stated in the article, is defined in the most lacking and muddled of terms. Kilmartin writes, “In gender-based violence—rape, intimate partner violence, etc.—these definitions of manhood include an especially strong dose of dominance and woman-hating. And these definitions are supported by the men they associate with, and the culture at large.”
First, one must wonder, in a culture where the “vast majority” of men are non violent, where does the support from the “culture at large,” come from, women?
Furthermore, intimate partner violence is not “gender based.” And the assertion that it is can only be regarded, in the least impolite way possible, as pure nonsense. There are volumes of research that point conclusively to the fact that women are as often, or more often than men, the initiators of IPV.
While men are often more successful at causing injury than women, it does not detract from the fact that all violence, physically injurious or not, can result in emotional harm to the victim and to children, regardless of the sex of the perpetrator. As most people are aware, it is not about the bruises to the body, but to the psyche- to all those involved. Actual physical harm is serious, but treating the greater incidence of female injuries as though they encapsulate and define the IPV problem in its entirety is myopic at best, ideologically disingenuous at worst.
It is born of gender tunnel vision, where only one victim, one kind of pain and one perpetrator is visible.
Also, not even rape is gender based, particularly in the legal sense. We are currently experiencing an epidemic of female teachers that are sexually molesting – raping – their underage students. And given that we have a massive male prison population, where the probability of rape is 1 in 5, it is clear that the victims of rape are not exclusively female, and they could well represent the overall minority.
In attempting to attribute the problem of violence to toxic masculinity, Kilmartin, in moment of clarity, rightly suggests that ideas linking testosterone to violence are flawed. He writes, “[R]esearch into the biological correlates of violence doesn’t support that hypothesis.”
But then he goes on to say that, “Research into psychological factors has been much more successful,” without citing a single study. There is a good reason for that. The studies don’t exist.
Let me repeat that. The studies don’t exist; much less provide an example of enhanced success.
So rather than fabricate our ideas about social problems from within the miasma of postmodern fantasy, why don’t we just take a look at what we already know? Violence may be a difficult problem that evades quick solutions, but the root causes of it are far from misunderstood. They are, in fact, common knowledge in circles that value academic integrity.
John Monahan, Ph.D., a professor at the School of Law, University of Virginia, Charlottesville, provides a well articulated synopsis of the variety of precursors to violence that have been well studied and documented. And in his observations he also notes that men are more often arrested for violent offenses.
He writes, “We know that the overwhelming majority–close to 90 percent–of the people arrested for crimes of violence is men and that despite enormous changes in gender roles in recent decades, this figure has not budged for as long as criminal records have been kept. Indeed, there is no place in the world where men make up less than 80 percent of the people arrested for violence, now or at any time in history.”
The difference between Monahan and SPSMM is that he does not attempt to deduce, out of thin air, that these numbers have anything do to with masculinity itself, toxic or otherwise. He even honors our intelligence by sticking to what he can prove- arrest rates. They do not speak completely to the incidence of perpetration, as women are far less likely to be arrested for violent acts.
Monahan also notes that “We know that the arrest rate–and the victimization rate–for violent crime for African-Americans is now about six times higher than for whites.”
Would this information serve as motivation for Kilmartin, et al, to conclude that there is a “toxic blackness,” for which all African American’s need to start confronting each other?
Monahan didn’t go the way of bigotry, for blacks or for men as a group. Instead, he took the much higher path of enlightenment and pointed to the known culprits:
Poverty, lack of education, history of abuse, substance abuse, lack of parental supervision. (all referenced and sourced in Monohan’s article)
It’s a fascinating list, and one that points to the real common denominators shared by men with blacks and other minorities, almost all of which are rooted in poverty and disenfranchisement.
Males who are physically abused as children are more than twice as likely to eventually be arrested for a violent crime. Similar spikes in risk can be found for males that are uneducated, homeless, chemically dependent and fatherless.
Now consider that males, as a group, are substantially more susceptible to all these risk factors than women. Men and boys are falling by the wayside academically, largely due to the neglect in our education system of boys as a whole. More boys than ever are technically fatherless, depriving them of needed supervision and the positive male influence. Men are more prone to be afflicted by substance abuse and alcoholism, and they make up the vast majority of the western worlds homeless population.
And Kilmartin would have us believe that all this is a product of masculinity run amok; that it is, in essence, John Wayne’s fault.
And in doing so, he reveals a either a dangerous ignorance of what masculinity is about, or perhaps a dangerous indifference to it. He is blaming the victim, or at the very least, blaming the blameless. Yes, men, as a group, cannot be collectively blamed for anything, unless the pointing finger is on the hand of a bigot.
The common theme among men is and always has been about protection and provision, particularly for women and children. For every violent man who threatens the peace in our society, there are countless other men that will face him down to put a stop to it.
SPSMM released a statement after the Virginia Tech tragedy where a lone gunman took the lives of 32 students and faculty in 2007. Again, toxic masculinity was to blame. In a statement issued by SPSSM, signed by President Mark Stevens, Ph.D., they concluded, “Therefore, although most men aren’t violent, most violent people are men who were influenced by exaggerated notions of masculinity…”
Again, they make this claim without a single shred of evidence supporting its authenticity. And again, it was for the same reasons. It was a political statement, not a scholarly one. And it ruled out any other cause for the rampage other than what the tenets their ideology would require. It was not, nor could it have been, psychosis or other form of mental illness. It was not a deranged gunman, but a toxically masculine one.
Of course no mention was made of the many men who faced death to go on to that campus in order to stop the killings. That is masculinity for you. The only kind there is. Men who stray from the protect and provide proviso to become attackers and harmers aren’t toxically masculine. They are un-masculine, as is easily observable by anyone with unbiased intentions.
Despite Kilmartin’s assertions regarding toxic masculinity, that the dysfunctional definitions of manhood “[A]re supported by the men they associate with, and the culture at large,” the evidence in the world around us abounds with a contrary reality.
Rape and destructive violence in men is a breakdown in masculinity, not an academicians imagined perversion of it. Just like a woman throwing a newborn in a dumpster to die, out of sheer convenience, is not a form of “toxic femininity.” It is a complete failure of feminine instincts.
And were we to find anything in masculinity to fault for the violence of men, we would only do so at the expense of everything we depend on in them. Violence, or the capability of it, is a requirement for the ability to protect. Ask any soldier or police officer or husband who hears a window break at 2:00 a.m..
Ask any of the women they protect.
If we want to reengineer men to be less violent, then perhaps their role as congenitally selected bodyguards is the first thing that needs to come into question. Perhaps we should confront men about their universally common knee jerk reaction to protect others in distress, even if violence is required. And perhaps we should confront women for selecting men with such capabilities.
If we are not going to acknowledge the true causes of violence, we may well be getting on that road, with help from Kilmartin and SPSMM.
I have requested that this piece run as an article at goodmenproject.com