#Genderweek: Why are men violent?

By Editorial Team

Click here to read all #GenderWeek articles.

We sent all our #GenderWeek contributors this brief:

Prof Jesse Prinz (Author, Beyond Human Nature)

If biological sex is not binary, if the current trend is towards trans inclusion in feminism and non-gendered charities for domestic violence – how in this context of a gradual break down in “gender norms”, can you explain why men continue to be much more violent than women? And what repercussions does this have for the discussions we’ve been having in #GenderWeek?

  • What do you consider the reasons behind men being more likely to being violent – is it culture, society, or evolution?
  • If the latter, how do you then deal with the idea that biology of sex is not binary – people assigned male and female at birth may not have XX/XY chromosomes?
  • And how do you deal, in an empathic and caring way, with the real threat that some women feel when with someone who was assigned male at birth in their space?

Here are their responses:

Dr Finn Mackay is a feminist activist and researcher.
Male violence against women is epidemic, it is a symptom of patriarchy and also maintains it. Male violence is not due to biology, it is made and not born. This means it can be unmade through the dismantling of patriarchy, which would liberate all of us, women and men. Not all men rape or abuse women, this means there’s no genetic excuse for those who do. Masculinity is wedded to violence, displayed through domination at any cost; leaving women and children to pay the price. We need to create an equal world, where we can all be the human beings we are, not brutal and limiting stereotypes.

Karen Ingala Smith is the Chief Executive of nia, a charity supporting women and children who have experienced sexual and domestic violence.
Gender kills. Sexual inequality is structural and based on biological sex. Gender is a social construct, a means of maintaining and reinforcing men’s oppression of women, sexual inequality. Gender is neither natural nor innate. Gender is a critical enabler of male violence against women. For me, feminism is about the liberation of women from male oppression. This does not mean that as a feminist I do not recognise or seek to end other forms of oppression, such as those based on class, race and disability; but it means that I see eradication of socially constructed gender as vital for the liberation of all women.

Lynne Segal is a feminist writer and activist, and Anniversary Professor of Psychology & Gender Studies at Birkbeck, University of London.
I am suspicious of what is meant in trying to sum up, or wrap up, gender contrasts – seeing problems with all binary reductionism, gendered or otherwise. My basic feminism has never been Manichean: men equals ‘bad’; women equals ‘good’, when many women are not feminists in any way I can recognise (that is instinctively egalitarian and inclusive of all women); while some men do support women in all the ways they can think of, however privileged their gender position. But of course gender remains a hugely, multifaceted, hierarchical structure, which affects us all, so here is what I would say:

Some forms of gender polarisation are foolish. Men do not start all wars, women often condone, assist and more recently fight in them – was Margaret Thatcher a man? We need boys and men to support feminism. Some do. But I can laugh along with Barbara Ehrenreich: “Of all the nasty outcomes predicted for women’s liberation… none was more alarming, from a feminist point a view, than the suggestion that women would eventually become just like men.” Some have!

CN Lester is a musician, writer and activist.
I don’t feel that there’s any simple answer to this question, and that trying to reduce it to a sophistic “nature vs. nurture” argument distorts the research already carried out. It hampers our future efforts at reducing violence, and examining and trying to solve the myriad reasons why violence happens.

I think a multidisciplinary approach is needed – we need research and ideas for action from a range of activists, psychologists, neuroscientists, social workers, anthropologists (I could go on) – and while it’s necessary to remember that men commit the majority of violent acts, we can’t afford to ignore violent acts committed by women. The idea that men are somehow tainted and irredeemable and women are innately virtuous helps no one.

Natacha Kennedy is an academic, former primary school teacher, political and transgender activist who identified as a girl from a young age.
I believe that if one accepts that male violence is the result of biology then one has effectively given up on any idea of human self-determination either for men or for women. In the same way that Cordelia Fine has demonstrated that women are culturally influenced in terms of behavioural expectations and self-perception, so men are also influenced by a culture that expects certain things of them. This has probably come about largely because the ruling class needs to maintain a reserve of potentially violent people to use to protect their power and economic interests, consequently it needs to promote a culture that encourages men to develop violent dispositions.

Ruth Greenberg is a UK radical feminist, involved in RadFem UK, Abolish Prostitution Now and local feminist activism.
Male violence against women and girls, and other men too, is a socialised phenomena. It is understandable that some women, overcome with the horror of male violence, seek a biological explanation for this violence but the scientific evidence does not support that (Cordelia Fine, Delusions of Gender).

The prevalence of male violence presents a challenge to women who do not want male socialised people in women-only spaces. Trans women are socialised as boys and sometimes as men, depending on when they transition. So for many there is a concern that violence is not reduced by transition.

That is why I think we need women-only spaces that include trans women, and also spaces that are for women born female only.

Roz Kaveney is a member of the Feminist Times Editorial Board. She is a trans woman, novellist, poet, critic and activist.
Patriarchy is a system of social organisation and control dedicated to ownership and the transmission of ownership. To this end it makes use of violence and the threat of violence to control women’s reproduction and to police everything which might threaten bloodline transmission, e.g. sexual and gender variance, or exposure to other cultures. Subordinate groups are taught to fear: recruits to the dominant group are taught to value violence. Socialisation into violence is accordingly linked to systems of expectation particularly, but not limited to gender and sex assigned at birth.

Louise Pennington is a radical feminist writer and activist who founded A Room of Our Own.
Women are oppressed by the biological reality of sex as is so clearly highlighted by the Everyday Sexism Project and Women Under Siege. Radical feminism is a political theory that recognises this sex-based oppression (Patriarchy). As a radical feminist, I do not believe that men are biologically programmed to be violent. I believe that male violence is encouraged and perpetuated in order to maintain wealth and power within a select group of, mainly white, men. We need women-only services that recognise gendered patterns of violence because violence is both a cause and a product of socialisation and sex inequality.

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6 thoughts on “#Genderweek: Why are men violent?

  1. TheRealThunderChild

    Look. It may well be true that many , if not most, transwomen are totally innocent of the violence and rape inherent with the socialisation of their gender assigned to their sex at birth, ie “man” because male, but this does not ameliorate that socialisation , and however much many protest that they did not invite such socialisation and it’s concomitant privilege, they nonetheless have to acknowledge that , as a group the aforesaid exist to their benefit at the cost of females.
    Unfortunately, there are too many incidences of transwomen carrying the worst of this socialisation and privilege along in their lives post transition, and endangering females.
    While it’s hard for the rest, they would greatly reassure females of their “sisterly” intent if they admitted this twist on “Schrodinger’s rapist” and afforded females the courtesy of understanding why we prefer some spaces to remain exclusively female.
    Now, this is not to say females bear them any mal-intent. It’s just that we’d like transwomen to tackle patriarchy rather than females, and discuss honestly amongst themselves , how many of their number perpetuate said patriarchal paradigms.
    Don’t attack feminists. Attack patriarchy .
    Don’t tell females.
    Tell each other*

    *i know many do…..I converse with them all the time , and they too come in for a lot of hate from the more patriarchally privileged of the “activist” milieu .

  2. Lil Z

    I note that all the responses to this probing and necessary question fall back on socialisation. It seems that the idea that male violence might be at least partially based in biology is too politically sensitive for feminists to broach. Feminists are called man-haters simply for pointing out the fact of male violence, so this leeriness is understandable.

    However, studies of non-human apes show that violent behaviour is widespread among males (except for bonobos), and rare in females. Male scientists who study ape behaviour have no qualms about admitting this, nor about evaluating its implications for human society.


    This does not mean we should accept that male violence is inevitable. Clearly, the evidence that rates and intensity of male violence vary considerably across cultures and through time, as well as the obvious fact that many men manage not to be violent, shows that men are well able to control their behaviour when violence is strictly discouraged by social norms. But being in denial about the biological roots of male violence doesn’t help either.

    Neither does admitting that male aggression might be at least partly biological prove gender is ‘real’. Gender (‘the socially constructed roles, behaviours, activities, and attributes that a given society considers appropriate for men and women’ – WHO definition) is a system of behavioural norms enforcing male dominance and female subordination that men have imposed on women through their violent control of almost all human societies. Both men and women would be better off and better able to express their full humanity without gender.

  3. Lil Z

    ‘males are more violent because males as a class are physically stronger’

    Demonstrably untrue from the fact that female apes rarely commit infanticide, despite being obviously physically stronger than infants, whilst this is common behaviour for male apes.

    Women are also physically stronger than children but don’t target them for rape like men do.

  4. Hannah

    “The prevalence of male violence presents a challenge to women who do not want male socialised people in women-only spaces. Trans women are socialised as boys and sometimes as men, depending on when they transition. So for many there is a concern that violence is not reduced by transition. That is why I think we need women-only spaces that include trans women, and also spaces that are for women born female only.”

    Have there been any incidents of trans women being violent to non-trans women within women-only spaces (whether that’s a bathroom or a domestic violence refuge)? If so, can you provide further details and/or a source for when, where, etc?


    1. Lil Z

      Serial rapist Christopher/Jessica Hambrook sexually assaulted women in a Toronto women’s shelter after gaining entry under gender-identity protection laws:


      Serial rapist-torturer Richard/Sherri Masbruch managed to get himself transferred to a women’s prison in California by claiming to feel internally like a woman, where he assaulted the female inmates.



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