Violence Is a Men’s Issue

The majority of men aren’t violent, but violence is a men’s issue, and we all have a stake in reducing it.

I’m a college professor. My office sits next to a hallway abuzz with students at every class changeover, so I often overhear their conversations, whether I want to or not. Recently, I heard one male student talking to another about the poster they were perusing, the White Ribbon Campaign: “Men working to end men’s violence against women—how insulting!”

Unfortunately, this is not an unusual reaction. When I talk about the gendered nature of violence, lots of men get defensive—“Hey, I’m not violent”—and they are unwilling to continue the conversation.

So let me say this loud and clear: the vast majority of men are not violent. I am a man and I haven’t had a fight since the sixth grade—and most men I know have similar histories of nonviolence. So why should we talk about violence as a men’s issue? After all, some women are violent, too.

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While the vast majority of men are not violent, the vast majority of violent people are men. In the United States, men commit nearly 90 percent of all violent crimes, and there are similar imbalances nearly everywhere in the world. Imagine if men were no more violent than women. In the United States, it would mean a 75 percent reduction in violent crimes, which translates into about 22,000 fewer violent crimes and 30 fewer murders per day.

We are tempted to believe that men are so much more violent than women because of some biological factor such as testosterone, but research into the biological correlates of violence doesn’t support that hypothesis; besides, the vast majority of men are not violent. Research into psychological factors has been much more successful. Violent men nearly all adhere to toxic definitions of masculinity. 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.

Violence is a men’s issue, and all of us have a stake in reducing it. Men are also the most frequent victims of male violence. It is physically and psychologically damaging for victims and their friends and families, it puts perpetrators at risk for harm and incarceration or other legal trouble, it causes non-victims to live in fear, and it costs us a tremendous amount of money in law enforcement, prisons and jails, emergency rooms and health insurance, and social services like batterer education programs and rape crisis centers.

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The solutions begin with the awareness that this is largely a men’s problem—we need to take responsibility for preventing violence. Every man can get involved by refusing to participate in attitudes and behaviors that support violence and by confronting men who support violence.

A well-placed couple of words can be remarkably powerful. Express disapproval when other men say dehumanizing things about others or suggest that violence is an appropriate reaction to conflict. Men talk in these ways to win the approval of other men. If you disapprove, they will not get what they want and they are more likely to stop than if you remain silent or go along with the joke.

We can also support local services such as rape crisis centers and domestic violence agencies with donations and volunteer time. We can get involved with national organizations like Men Can Stop Rape. We can participate in or begin a White Ribbon Campaign or a Red Flag Campaign to prevent interpersonal violence. We can mentor young boys and men and help them to see that there are alternatives to physical aggression.

Make it your personal pledge to never commit, condone, support, or remain silent about men’s violence, and we will go a long way toward solving the problem that has affected so many people.

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Christopher Kilmartin is a professor of psychology at the University of Mary Washington and maintains a small private therapy practice. He is the author of The Masculine Self (4th edition) and co-author of Men’s Violence Against Women: Theory, Research, and Activism. Dr. Kilmartin has performed his one-man show, “Crimes Against Nature,” a humorous and educational look at men’s issues, on more than 300 university campuses.

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Paul Elam responds to this article here.

Andrew Smiler of SPSMM responds to Elam here.

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Comments

  1. Paul Elam and his groupies are simply women haters. It is so obvious that they hate women. I mean, it’s palpable. I really had no idea the depths to which some people harbor hatred toward my sex until looking over this site’s many many articles loathing women. How women are less intelligent, not to be trusted, and apparently we’re just as, if not more violent than men. It just doesn’t make any sense. I have read and read, and at first I thought some of it was positive; i.e. equal custody laws, same protections for men, evolving roles of men, etc. It is so transparent, at this point. They aren’t a voice for men, they are a voice for misogyny. They aren’t interested in rights for men, as they are interested in hating women. Their backward views of rape, derogatory descriptions of women, and general ignorance are disturbing to say the least. All they do is spew hate and stupid opinions. It is a forum for the same handful of sorry people reinforcing their own misguided notions, downvoting any sign of a balanced argument.

  2. Of the men who commit violent acts, how many are black, latino or otherwise non-white?

    Since you are clear that it’s not a biological thing and more likely a social thing, which I agree with and is in fact far more positive than past things said about violence being inherent to masculinity by many feminists, I’d also say that the violence committed within minority groups to be societal and not a biological racial trait. So when are we going to start telling blacks that it’s their responsibility to be “good blacks”? When are we going to start telling them that reducing drug use, theft and violence is their responsibilities as blacks?

    I know people often make it racial to build an analogy. But I don’t think this question is ever addressed thoroughly enough. What assumptions are being made about men as a class? What can we learn about respecting men as a class by contrasting it with the respect we give other classes? What assumptions are we making that on some level are really throwing men under the bus?

Trackbacks

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  2. [...] Blaming the Blameless“) in response to an article written by Dr. Chris Kilmartin (“Violence Is a Men’s Issue“). Mr. Elam notes that Dr. Kilmartin did not explicitly reference any research in his [...]

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  4. [...] The Society for the Psychological Study of Men and Masculinity (SPSMM) editor for the Good Men Project Magazine (unnamed in the article) has responded to my rebuttal of Chris Kilmartin’s blanket condemnation of masculinity in the piece entitled, “Violence is a Men’s Issue.” [...]

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