One in three or four women in the United States will have been raped or seriously assaulted sexually by the time they reach a few decades in age. That will have been done by one or more men. Most people who are killed by another person are killed by a man. This is true whether the killing is legal or illegal. Very few people in Western society get through their entire lives without being affected either directly or nearly directly by some sort of violent crime of some kind or another, and that crime was almost always committed by a man. Wars are mostly fought by men, and are typically started by them.
Men fight over women, they fight over resources, they fight over nothing, they fight over everything. Men fight. Women fight too, and men occasionally bite dogs.
In non-Western societies, where it is harder to get statistics, there are societies where men are less violent and less dangerous. There are also societies where men are more violent and more dangerous. When we look at patterns across societies, we see a couple of relationships that are not perfect but that are fairly predictive. When a society relies on one or more resources that can be damaged by unfriendly neighbors, competitors, or enemies, men tend to get organized to defend those resources. To facilitate defense fierceness, fighting ability or other culturally shaped and modified traits may become very important. Some societies have words that are used as labels for men who kill other men and are thus of higher status. A few studies seem to indicate a relationship between a man’s fierceness, even the number of men he has killed “honorably,” and his likelihood of being polygynous and having more children than other men. But again, there are other societies where sharing and caring, rather than fighting and killing, raises one’s status.
It has been understood for years that male and female roles, attitudes, social skills, and so on vary greatly across cultures, so that the women of one culture may well be more “fierce” than the men of another culture. But it has also been observed that within a given culture, there is usually a relationship between men and women whereby the violence, nastiness, fierceness, bellicosity, and all that is greater in men than in women. Culture and biology, and I use the word “and” here only so you will see a familiar phrase (really, I mean biosocial factors) shape this relationship between men and women (and I use the terms “men” and “women” as shortcuts for two easily defined points on an uneven spectrum of -inities and -osities). And part of that relationship involves neural development and hormonal effects that interact with each other as well as external factors.
And no, it does not have to be this way. A culture can purposefully decide to have the differences between men and women attenuated, to have less violence and less difference in bellicosity between men and women. Some subcultures within an otherwise fairly bellicose Western society have done that. Over the last month I’ve been keeping track of how many times I hear (in person) or read in an email or an IM a person say something like “Imma kill that guy” or “I’ll kick his/her ass if he/she does this/that,” and noting the gender of the person who says it. (These are always meant rhetorically; no one paying attention would consider these statements to be actual threats.) On one occasion the person making the remark was a man. On 15 other occasions by my count the person making the remark was a woman. The object of the remark was male about half the time, female about half the time. In my subculture, it would seem that the women are fierce-ish.
The problem with men, as a group, as a type of organism, as a subset of humans, is that at various points along the way on their journey from the female template on which all humans are built biologically, they have been altered in ways that make them dangerous assholes. Even when we try to reduce the male-female difference as a society, men who do not willingly participate in that often end up being fairly nasty, dangerous beasts; they may be rapists, they may be batterers, they may be some other thing. They break our efforts to have an egalitarian peaceful world. In a way, they are broken. They are damaged, if you will. Some of that damage is facilitated by what you may know of as testosterone (a word that stands in for androgens).
But whatever you do, don’t mention this testosterone caused by damage thing because it will upset them.
I did that a while back; I made the remark that men were women damaged by testosterone. That statement was picked up on a video and broadcast across the Internet and people’s reaction to it have caused a Minor Sorting. Most of the negative reaction to it was from the usual suspects, people who already hated me because I am an openly feministic male. Or because someone in their clique told them to hate me. Or whatever. Other people were more thoughtful about it and objected to the statement because it is wrong. Well, that’s good, because it is in a way wrong, because it is an oversimplification. But it was not meant to be a description of the biological and cultural processes associated with the development of individual personality, culture, and society. I am a little surprised that people thought it was such a statement, because it is so obviously a remark designed to poke certain men in the eye. Some have described this remark as punching up. If you like, it could be interpreted that way, but it was really much much simpler than that. It was poking certain men in the eye. Some people said it was wrong because it was bad pedagogy. Actually, a statement like this can be good pedagogy. But what I was really doing was poking certain men in the eye.
One thing that people who have spent way too many electrons talking about this statement of mine don’t understand is the context. This is the third or fourth time I’ve done panels at the event where this statement was made. For a good number of the audience, this would have been about the 20th time they’ve bothered to show up in a room where I’m sitting at the table in front. Some of the people in the room were actually students who knew me even better than that. The panel itself (this panel and all the other panels, for the most part) are moments when an ongoing conversation is suddenly organized and directed more than usual and for 60 minutes is carried out a certain way, then the conversation continues at the table after the panel, at other panels, in hall ways, and for several hours each night in a party room. This is the first year that some of the panels at this event were videoed and widely disseminated on the Internet. If I do these panels next year, I’ll keep that in mind and make sure I do what I always WANT to do but only actually get around to doing a little: Produce a blog post to go with each panel, BEFORE the panel, then produce an update after the panel that reflects what really went on. That I did not do this for the present set of panels is my fault, but I’ll happily excuse myself from doing that because, as I’ve just explained, the SkepchiCON track really is more of a closed, insular, and small group event and conversations like the one that has been making its round on the Internet have not happened before.
I have found the ongoing conversation about “testosterone damaged brains” to be somewhat less than interesting, full of distraction, very often little more than troll fodder and a huge waste of time. I’ve been asked to explain, to apologize, to produce copious documentation to back up may amazing claims. There are, however, only two reactions to my comment that I’m interested in. One: You go “Ouch” and put your hand up to your eye because I just poked you there. Two: You go “heh, that was funny.” All other reactions are really your problem, not mine. Sorry.
The things I say above about culture, society, males, females, etc. is all pretty well established, nothing new. I put together this list of things to read for anyone who wants to get a basic background in the theory and understand some of the classic works. In addition, see the following: