The impact of nurturing male violence
In April 2018, police finally apprehended a suspect in the case of the so-called Golden State Killer, a man believed to have committed at least 12 murders and 45 rapes over a period spanning four decades. Soon after, one of the most read online news outlets in the world published a story titled, “Exclusive—Ex-fiancee who broke suspected Golden State Killer’s heart, and ‘sparked his rape and murder’ spree, is a travel blogger who went on to marry successful accountant and is now in hiding.”
It was just the latest of an endless string of examples in which the media implicitly blames the violent crimes of men on the romantic choices of a current or former female partner.
When Lance Hart murdered his wife Claire and their daughter Charlotte in 2016, the same media outlet published an article that quoted a doctor using the word “understandable” to describe Claire’s murder, because the Harts’ marriage had broken down:
“Of course, such men are often motivated by anger and a desire to punish the spouse. But while killing their partner as an act of revenge may be understandable, for a man to kill his children (who are innocent bystanders in a marital breakdown) is a very different matter.”
The description of children as “innocent bystanders” in juxtaposition to their mothers suggests that the wives in such cases are not innocent—and that they bear at least some responsibility for their fate because of their decision to separate from their husbands.
In 2017, another article implied that women who do not have enough sex with their husbands may cause them to commit sexual assault:
“Sexually starved men are more likely to visit prostitutes, view pornography and, in the worst cases, even molest other women […] Men, as we know in our heart of hearts, will have affairs, or perhaps even worse, when faced with sexual starvation and the inevitable resentment that causes.”
This portrayal of sexualized violence as an instinctive and inherent feature of masculinity, just waiting to be triggered by rejection or romantic disappointment, is extremely widespread. What these articles have in common is the assumption that men are inherently programmed to commit violent acts, particularly when provoked by their partners. While the actions of the women are portrayed as free choices, it is suggested that the men’s reactions are almost biological or automatic, and so beyond their control.
This notion that male violence is inherent and therefore inevitable leads directly to the myth that women are responsible for protecting themselves from it, which, in countries around the world, is a common attitude that sees victims policed and blamed instead of perpetrators brought to justice.
In the UK, for example, the British Social Attitudes survey—a national survey by the UK’s National Center for Social Research—reveals that more than a quarter of the public believe drunk victims of rape or sexual assault are at least partly responsible for what has happened to them, and more than a third believe that victims bear partial responsibility if they have been “flirting heavily” before the assault.
From commercial products like “rape-prevention underwear,” to nail polish designed to test for date rape drugs, to the perennially popular suggestion of female-only train carriages, society is awash with seemingly well-meaning ideas of how women can “protect” themselves from rape and assault.
These parallel notions that male violence is natural and inevitable and something women must avoid have a potentially devastating impact on our society. For example, they play into a mindset that causes some men to feel entitled to commit acts of violence in the first place. Elliot Rodger, who murdered six people in California in 2014, wrote a manifesto citing hatred of women and sexual rejection as the driving force behind his actions. More recently, Alek Minassian, the van driver charged with killing 10 people and injuring more than a dozen others in an April Toronto attack, praised Rodger in an online posting and hailed the beginning of the “Incel Rebellion.” “Incel” is a term (short for “involuntarily celibate”) used by various online groups that share deeply misogynistic undertones.
The notion of male violence being natural also prevents us from taking necessary steps to prevent it, such as educating boys and men about gender stereotypes, healthy relationships and consent at school. And it has a major impact on the usually female survivors of male violence, who are bombarded with messages suggesting that they could or should have avoided becoming a victim if they had just worn a longer skirt, treated a partner better, had fewer drinks, taken a different route or altered their behavior in some other way. This is particularly significant in light of extremely low reporting and conviction rates for sexualized violence. A woman who receives the message that her assault was at least partly her own fault is even less likely to feel supported to report what has happened to her, or to seek justice.
In a world in which we celebrate and glamorize male violence in movies and video games while marginalizing and stigmatizing those men who dare to show sensitivity or emotion, it is difficult to dispute the fact that male violence is nurtured rather than natural. But our media seems determined to tell a different story, and its impact should not be underestimated.
More articles by Category: Gender-based violence, Media
More articles by Tag: masculinity, Sexualized violence