Uncomfortable truth about men
WHY are men violent?
Men are overwhelmingly the perpetrators of violent crime in Australia, committing the overwhelming majority of rapes, murders and assaults.
This is consistent with worldwide statistics showing that men are responsible for the vast majority of violence globally.
But what causes men to commit horrible acts, while women rarely do the same? And can anything be done to change this pattern of violence?
THE AGGRESSION DIVIDE
It's important to note that although there is a clear delineation by sex when it comes to violent crime, men are certainly not destined to be killing machines.
Most men are not violent, and we also have plenty of examples of women committing atrocious crimes.
Nevertheless, a clear sex difference has been documented cross-culturally in the way men and women display aggression.
Men are far more likely to express their aggression directly: through physical violence or verbal abuse. Women are more likely to be indirectly aggressive: to focus on damaging someone's social standing or spreading rumours to hurt someone's reputation.
This points to a very clear reason why men are overrepresented in violent crime statistics: male aggression is almost always in a form that is criminalised.
However, noting this difference doesn't tell us why men act out violently. For this, we have to look at the research on complex biological and environmental factors impacting male violence.
No other hormone has such a bad reputation as testosterone - responsible for horny, sweaty teens and grumpy, risk-taking adults. However, many of the effects of this little hormone are commonly misunderstood.
You have three main life stages of experiencing testosterone as a male. Firstly, before birth the hormone helps generate the male sex organs, then - at puberty - it kicks those organs into gear. Finally, once matured, circulating testosterone plays a role in stimulating sperm production and sexual arousal.
The role of circulating testosterone in relation to aggression and violence is complicated.
Testosterone spikes when men are in competitive or challenging situations with other men, however only among men with a history of violence do we see this boost in hormones result in violence.
This is consistent with other studies, which show that among men known for their aggressive behaviour, testosterone has a clear effect in provoking hostility and violence, an effect that has also been documented in women.
However, the effect of a testosterone boost is not consistent across the male population, with studies showing a myriad of responses in men in response to testosterone in a competitive environment: some aggressive, some caring. Clearly, testosterone is no silver bullet to understanding male violence.
Other theories focus on the role of the testosterone exposure before birth, noting the masculinisation of the foetus's brain. However, such hypotheses are notoriously difficult to test and there are no good studies showing whether this model holds water.
Ultimately, biology provides a partial but ultimately incomplete picture of why men commit violence.
So if biology isn't the whole answer, what about social norms?
The American Psychological Association recently issued guidelines that caution against the impact of "traditional masculinity ideology" on mental wellbeing. This ideology was defined as "upholding the values of anti-femininity, achievement, avoidance of the appearance of weakness, adventure, risk and violence".
Some of these values are not inherently harmful, but can be when not properly balanced or when given undue emphasis in the daily lives of men.
Although the APA guidelines are not without their critics, it has been well documented that certain patterns of male violence - particularly against women and gender nonconforming men - are strongly correlated with a belief in strict gender roles.
When men hold onto a fairly narrow view of what it is to be a man, challenges to this masculine identity - such as when a partner who doesn't wish to play the housewife or a gay man who doesn't act as a man "should" - can lead to feelings of intense anger, ultimately resulting in violence.
We also know that some features of masculinity - stoicism, toughness and self-sufficiency - can be a barrier for men with mental health issues or troubles with aggression seeking treatment.
The result is that some men, because of their limited view of masculinity, are far more likely to act violently towards the vulnerable and to fail to seek help when they need it.
The aggression divide is complicated by the predisposition of men to certain mental disorders, in particular anti-social personality disorder (ASPD), which is defined by a pervasive and persistent disregard for morals, social norms and the rights and feelings of others.
It is not a mental illness, but a set of characteristics that correlate strongly with violence, risk-taking and crime. Symptoms of ASPD include being callous and unemotional, immorality, deviancy, deception, irritability, aggression, impulsivity and recklessness.
There are many factors involved in developing ASPD but sex is clearly one of the key ones, with men three times more likely to have the disorder than women. It's unclear how ASPD develops or why men are more likely to have the disorder, but studies indicate a complex set of genetic and environmental interactions.
Ultimately, the sex-difference found in ASPD diagnosis probably doesn't explain all forms of male violence - but it does give a good indication of why the worst of the worst offenders are likely to be male.
If some men reading this article are offended by the findings above, there is something that can be done about it.
Although biological predispositions are difficult to change, many key factors in male violence, including traditional masculinity ideology, can be challenged and changed for the better.
Moreover, recognising that violence is largely a male problem allows society to orient its efforts toward catching potentially violent males early and to attempt to change the risk factors that cause such shameful gender statistics.
Only by looking honestly at the causes of male violence can we hope to decrease the rate of violent crime in the community.
QUEENSLAND DOMESTIC VIOLENCE SERVICES