Name the Problem

In February, George Zimmerman – a male adult – murdered Trayvon Martin, a 17-year-old child. Much has been written – rightly so – raising questions about race and racism in the murder itself and the subsequent lack of prosecution. A noteworthy piece by my friend Meredith Moise takes this analysis a step further and challenges us to consider how our views of race and our internalized racism impact how GLBT People prioritize issues in the GLBT Community. Others have specifically examining the history of accepted, often state-sanctioned race-based violence by whites against blacks. Trayvon’s murder has also spawned numerous confessionals by white people professing their racism and apologizing to black people. Anecdotally, most of the confessionals (which perhaps do nothing to fight structures that perpetuate racism) appear to be from white females. It should go without saying that racism is a cancer that we all must work to eradicate – but I will say this again. Racism has no place in a democratic society. Moreover, all white people – including me – have internalized racist views and should confront and challenge those views, early, often, and repeatedly. 

These conversations are important. Remarkably absent from the conversation about Trayvon, however, is a discussion of male violence. George Zimmerman – an adult male – murdered Trayvon Martin. Why is this significant?

Statistics bear out that males commit most violent crimes, with males committing 87% of all homicides. Males are almost 4 times more likely than females to be murder victims. Significantly, males commit 91.3% of all homicides involving a gun, suggesting that lethality increases because of the weapons Males choose. New data from the National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey details the extent and effects of male violence against females.  That survey demonstrated that across all types of violence, Males commit most crimes most often.

Statistics demonstrate that males commit violent crimes at greater rates than females, and are more likely to use a weapon that will cause death. Legislation promoted by male-dominated organizations further buttresses the ability of males to commit violent acts and escape punishment. To avoid prosecution for Trayvon Martin’s murder, George Zimmerman relies on the “Stand Your Ground” law promoted by the American Legislative Exchange Council  (with an overwhelmingly male board of directors) that ensures that prosecutions in cases where the perpetrator asserts self-defense will decrease. It appears to date that Zimmerman may escape prosecution for his actions, in large part due to this law.

Given these grim statistics, why have we as a society failed to address the problem of male violence? When a lesbian points out these statistics, she is usually greeted with accusations of “man hater.” When a female points out these statistics, she is sometimes greeted with accusations of “lesbian.” If statistics bear out that males are more violent as a class and more lethal as a class of perpetrators (and they do), why isn’t this the subject of substantial inquiry?

We are averse to acknowledging male violence because we do not want to make the males in our lives uncomfortable. In addition, just as it is uncomfortable for males to acknowledge that they benefit from sexism and male privilege, it is equally uncomfortable for males to take responsibility for the disproportionate violence they commit. Try having this conversation with the significant males and Nigels in your lives and see what happens. Try pointing this out to male (or “formerly” male) GLBT Community members and watch the defensiveness fly!

Of course, it doesn’t help the conversation around violence that males are viewed as the default Human. This phenomenon makes “violence” a human problem rather than a male problem, thus placing the burden on males and females equally to address such violence.

So what do females do? We shoulder the blame. We accept individual responsibility for violence that we don’t commit and haven’t committed. We participate in the obfuscation of male violence. We fail to confront what is so glaringly obvious that it has become invisible – males as a class are violent. Your dad, brother or boyfriend may not be violent, but males as a class are more violent than females.

Humans – males and females – need to stop debating whether males are more violent. Males are by far the principal perpetrators of murder (and let’s not get started on rape, war, torture, incest, sexual abuse, and genocide). So what is it about males and “masculinity” that leads males as a class to such violent behavior? Is this something males learn? What can we do as a society to help males unlearn these “masculine” lessons? Or is male violence innate? What if certain “behaviors” (i.e., violence) that we understand as “masculine” can be  biologically traced to neurological structures? How do we solve that problem?

Whether male violence is due to masculine gender socialization or male biology, we cannot answer these questions if we continue to avoid this discussion. We cannot fix a problem that we refuse to name. Name it. Say it with me: Male violence.

Friday, 06 April 2012


  1. feral opera company · ·

    There’s a lot more to this story than what you’ve read. It’s likely that Zimmerman acted in self defense. Three witnesses saw Zimmerman on his back on the ground, with Trayvon banging Zimmerman’s head on the sidewalk. This isn’t a good example of racism, but it is a good example of otherwise intelligent people being misled by dishonest journalism. Also, Trayvon wasn’t a child. He was a thug who had been suspended from school for drug dealing and had punched a bus driver.

  2. feral opera company · ·

    Trayvon wasn’t a child. He was a known thug who had been suspended from school for drug dealing. He’d previously been suspended from school for burglary and possession of stolen property and burglar’s tools. Three witnesses saw him banging Zimmerman’s head on the sidewalk. This incident isn’t so much an example of racism, as an example of spin from dishonest journalists.

  3. I would wager, as with most nature versus nuture arguments, that an interplay of both biology and environmental effects are at play here. The question then becomes whether adjusting for environmental effects (cultural and social expectations changing) will have a large enough effect to significantly reduce the occurence of male violence.

    As a bit of a back drop, it has been studied that the high levels of testosterone make for a smaller emotional processing centre in males and thus gives them a higher chance to act on a whim with physical aggression. This would be a probable cause of the nature side of the argument.

    However, we can affect how men are being raised as a class and how individual males are raised. But again on the side of nature, due to subjective reality and how our brains all interpret the same situation or messages slightly different, it is hard to tell how much of that aggressive nature will still make it through.

    That all said, I do agree that we largely need to pay attention to what men are taught to do and remove as many of the violence-preferring things they get taught. Such as the ideas of “boys not crying” which my mother hammered into my brother, for example.

    Can anyone else think of other examples of stuff we should stop teaching or teach against?

    I bet the comments section here could become a useful bed to collect information we can use to inform conscientious parents and such. 🙂

  4. […] Read more… 875 more words Male violence. […]

  5. […] Name the Problem « You think I just don't understand, but I don't believe you. (also here) […]

  6. […] feminist activist Cathy Brennan recently wrote a piece –  Name the Problem – in response to Trayvon Martin’s murder, questioning why a common denominator in most […]

  7. My response to the Indigo Jo piece, in which I regret that Matthew Smith did not read Cathy Brennan’s article links, and save us all some trouble :

  8. angel macedon · ·

    Let’s see… where to start. I couldn’t disagree with you more and your wealth of stats on domestic violence and rape. We know and probably you know, from current balanced vetted facts, domestic violence and rape are not male crimes at all. The truth is that the LGBT community as well straight men have the same problems with domestic violence and rape. The fact that the LGBT communities were added to the violence against women act is stark testimony to that fact. Yet you and others like you continue to, for lack of a better term, deceive the public. Secondly, it is doesn’t serve the LGBT communities,( or any others) who need the support of straight males, to continue to point fingers at straight males while ignoring what goes on in their own homes. As this info on the truth about rape and domestic violence becomes common, I wouldn’t be surprised to see a backlash against feminists and others; not that I’m advocating such a thing. But one can understand how angry straight men who are constantly being held up being the only vessel of violence in America might be when it is discovered that the people, many are gay feminists women, are doing the same thing; while hiding and pointing fingers.Lastly, but not surprisingly, you point out some very weak historical stats but fail to bring in much needed context, for instance. you mention war as if everyman who has ever fought in a war, either personally stared the war or at the very least, is in agreement with the idea of fighting in a war. The reason, because he his a straight male(important distinction). You fail to mention anti war efforts lead by men. You forgot to mention that many in this government want to reinstate the draft because apparently not many young men want to fight, kill and die. You fail to mention that Margaret Thacher, who is getting all sorts of praise for a being tough and strong leader, invaded the Falkland Islands, over the protests of her male advisers; many of who had actually fought in a war. You fail to mention Cleopatra who murdered family members and sent them i to consolidate her power. You fail to mention Queen Isabella, who married her cousin,started an invasion of America, killing and turning innocents into slaves along the way. I know better than to think that women are nonviolent. I also know better than to accept simplistic arguments that are more driven by ideology than by solid facts. I invite you and others to fact check my info. There’s Lori Girshick’s book Woman to Woman Violence;there’s the movies Precious and Antone Fisher; there’s Pandora’s box; or you could simply call the Asian American women;s health center and ask them. They will tell you what you don’t want to hear. The author, Sapphire, who wrote the book that lead to the movie Precious, said it was difficult to get her movie made because she depicted women being violent; what a joke. How do you expect to be taken seriously? As a man who supports gays rights, abortion rights, family leave, etc, I find it difficult to give support when so little is given back. I would never, unless straight men were included, in the violence against women act, support it ..

    1. Dude, I am sure you are a “nice guy.” I mean, your Facebook profile says “I’m a Dad to my three children, a coach/mentor to my teenage athletes and committed to helping the next generation take their rightful place in society.” That’s nice. Do you want to ignore statistics because they make *you* feel bad?

      Oh and your activities include “Oh yeah and nekked women.” Fascinating.

    2. yeah, how dare anyone use actual statistics when you have MOVIES on your side. you are a perfect example of everything this post is about. yeurch.

    3. radicalwoman · ·

      “domestic violence and rape are not male crimes at all”

      *points and laughs*

      Really, there’s no other sane response to such a stupid statement.

    1. I detect a hashtag.

  9. […] we could end rape and sexual abuse, or maybe we could at least get the New York Times to say “males rape females.”  Maybe we’d have an Equal Rights Amendment – “Equality of rights under the law […]

  10. radicalwoman · ·

    Male violence against young boys:

    Patriarchal conditioning, yay

%d bloggers like this: