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Male Violence

Male Violence


A great many of the problems that plague our nation and the world are rooted in a propensity for violence. The vast majority of these problems are created by or perpetuated by men. Men who turn too easily toward violence.

A partial inventory:

An unmitigated epidemic of gun violence
A brutal attack on Israel
An even more brutal response by Israel
Threats by MAGA against anyone challenging Trump and Trumpism
Violent kids requiring police in schools
Violent police killing and assaulting innocent folks
Russia’s unprovoked and criminal invasion of Ukraine
Violent assaults on LGBTQ+ folks
Violent assaults on AAPI folks
Rampant sexual assault – affecting at least 13% of all women in the U.S.
Genital mutilation – WHO estimates that 140,000,000 women and girls have been victims

Add your own examples and review the entire list to estimate the masculine percentage.

One might well identify various rationales for each category: Religious zealotry; racism; sexism; social maladaptation; greed; power . . .

But while each of these rationales exists within all genders, the predominant male expression is through violence. Why is that so? Testosterone is properly cited, but its effect is partial. Testosterone is universal, but male violence has a high degree of cultural variability.

Researchers at Oxford University suggest dual sociological factors:

Sexual-selection theory says that males are competing for reproductive success, so are more aggressive generally and especially to other males. It’s human nature.

Social-role theory says that differences are sociological, based on traditional divisions of labour. Socialisation shapes gender specific identities, expectations and behaviour. So it’s nurture – how we’re brought up.

It is the latter point that inspires this post. I will be specific to Western societies, particularly our own.

In response to a recent piece, Uncomfortable Truth, my cousin Pat Schenck, a life-long peace activist, wrote: “Amen, Steve. I have given much thought to how we change the perception that what works is violence. Perhaps the best answer is teaching kids to deal peacefully and effectively with conflict. If people don’t know any alternatives, they will, of course, rely on brute force to make them feel safe.” Amen, Pat.

There are some advances in offering conflict resolution training to kids and adults. It is, quite ironically, most likely to be found in communities and schools of privilege, where the conditions fueling anger and violence are less likely. But I wonder if any such sincere efforts can overcome the utter saturation of popular culture with violence, for sport and entertainment.

Researchers equivocate about the link, for example, between violent video games and violent acts by game players. It seems intuitively certain, or at least highly probable, that one makes the other more likely, however infrequent the direct linkage. But the debate is irrelevant, as the violent games are but a subset in an overwhelming number of indirect causal factors.

Even the youngest boys are exposed to brutal mixed martial “arts” fighters with angry tattoos, angry scowls, angry scars and angry fans. There is no subtlety to their resolution of conflict. They see a former and aspiring leader exhorting his followers to violence and intimidation. TikTok and other social media show street fights and rumbles in school. Fighting sells tickets at all levels of hockey.

Most boys are raised with the notion that “getting even” is a nearly noble achievement. “Take it outside,” “Settle it on the playground,” and “Stand up for yourself” are typical directives given boys, often by both men and women, in and out of school.

As the overused but apt saying goes, “If your only tool is a hammer, every problem is a nail to be pounded.”

There appears to be no national appetite for monitoring or prohibiting violent content in any form. The measures that exist are intentionally pathetic and unenforceable. My 8 year-old grandson, for example, is 24 years-old on Facebook (an account I think he never uses, thank goodness). Video game manufacturers cater to young boys and build massive loopholes into all rating and enforcement mechanisms.

I agree with cousin Pat’s hope for widespread teaching of alternatives to force. I hope, but am not hopeful. Even boys exposed to such programs in school will exit to the “real world,” where yielding is derided, compromise is weakness, and winning is the only true virtue.

The primary impact any of us can have is to gently counter the cultural messages whenever possible. Boys don’t need video games, but if restriction is impossible, at least comment on how ugly it is – and perhaps have a discussion. Turn off a violent ad on television. Don’t watch martial “arts” and think your small son is not absorbing it. He is. Don’t buy toy guns, even though boys will find another implement as surrogate. But your gentle disapproval will be imprinted.

We can provide kids with examples of conflict resolution in our own lives.

Perhaps we older folks can’t change the world. But we have to try – one boy at a time.






Steve Nelson
Steve Nelson is a retired educator, author, and newspaper columnist. He and his wife Wendy moved to Erie from Manhattan in 2017 to be near family. He was a serious violinist and athlete until a catastrophic mountain bike accident in 2020. He now specializes in gratitude and kindness.

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