Gender Parity in Violence? Not by a Long Shot

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CHICAGO (WOMENSENEWS)–Two things recently occurred in short order. The U.S. military opened all combat roles to women and a female predator joined her husband in inflicting what President Barack Obama is calling a terrorist attack in San Bernardino, Calif.

Could women be closing the gender gap in their inclination to violence? The answer is a resounding “no way.”

While some other countries have large-scale issues with terrorism and various forms of violent insurrection, the United States leads the world in mass killings committed by “private” individuals (as well as being a leader among “developed nations” in “regular” murders).

I have spent 20 years interviewing killers as a psychological expert witness in murder cases, as I report in my 2015 book “Listening to Killers.” As a result, I have some thoughts about this, particularly the question of why and how males are more likely to become murderers than females.

Males are disproportionately overrepresented in the ranks of all of America’s killers–more than 90 percent in fact–as they are in most forms of violence. It’s hard to ignore this elephant in the room (despite the fact that most media accounts of violence do precisely that, and speak of violence in a way that glosses over the overwhelming correlation with being male).

Years ago, while speaking in Nebraska, I was asked, “Can you tell us something specific and concrete that we could do to reduce the level of violence in our state?”

My response: “Round up everyone with a penis and move them all to Iowa.” Whatever other consequences it would have, such a radical action would most likely accomplish a highly dramatic reduction in violence in Nebraska (although it would presumably increase the problem in the Hawkeye state).

Sex-Linked Biological Factor

Why do males do most of the killing? We can start with biological vulnerability. For example, about 30 percent of males (versus 9 percent of females) have a form of the MAOA gene that reduces their levels of an important neurotransmitter implicated in dealing with stressful situations (like growing up in an abusive family).

Thus, 85 percent of males who have this genetic vulnerability and who live in abusive families end up engaging in a chronic pattern of aggression, bad behavior, acting out and violating the rights of others by the time they are 10 years old, what clinicians diagnose as “conduct disorder.” (None of this, by the way, should be confused with the controversial idea that there is an essential difference between male and female brains, a notion just refuted in a recent study.) Conduct disorder, in turn is often the gateway to seriously violent delinquency (leading to that outcome in some 30 percent of cases on average).

This is one reason why I have come to see most killers as “untreated traumatized children inhabiting and controlling the minds and bodies of scary men.” This MAOA vulnerability is part of a larger pattern of disabilities among male organism.

Males throughout history have been the primary sex to fight and risk their lives in war.

On top of that, they are immersed in a culture that glorifies and justifies violence, and particularly male violence. For example, the effect of TV violence upon aggressive behavior is about as strong as the effect of second-hand smoking upon lung cancer.

Until recently in our history, males were depicted almost exclusively as the authors of violence in these images. It is only recently that some small measure of gender equality in perpetrating violent mayhem has occurred (as I chronicled in my 2007 book “See Jane Hit”).

I have found in interviews in murder cases that virtually every act of violence “makes sense” to the killer. Therefore, in a very real sense there is no such thing as a “senseless act of violence.”

This is vitally important, because as a society, we often “promote” socially toxic cultural messages to which boys and men are exposed–racism, misogyny, extreme religious fundamentalism and the belief that “it is better to be mad than to be sad.”

These cultural messages and themes poison male consciousness, and result in dangerous behavior on the part of males who suffer from mental health problems that impair their “emotional regulation” (managing emotions effectively and realistically) and “executive function” (making well-reasoned decisions that guide behavior).

Cultural Framework

Although the mentally ill, on average, are no more violent than the sane, even “crazy people” act within a cultural framework. They respond to cultural scripts that tell them “if this, then that.”

For example, the attack on the Planned Parenthood facility in Colorado last month probably made “sense” in the mind of the deluded perpetrator in light of the long standing demonization of abortion doctors and facilities by “normal” political and religious extremists.

The capacity to “compartmentalize,” and thus act upon “relentless principles” rather than “empathically modulated responses,” is certainly sometimes evident in girls and women. But among males it is legendary.

When right-wing voices speak of a religious basis for imposing the death penalty on abortion doctors and homosexuals or religious extremists call for jihad and “Death to America,” is it little wonder that men who lack the compassion, empathy and civility that is the hallmark of sanity take these ideas to their “logical” violent conclusion.

At the same time, it does not mean that we can attack the civil liberties of troubled males through laws that are being labeled as mental-health efforts,  as some GOP politicians are attempting.

Finally, of course, there is the matter of arming troubled or “insane” males with lethal weapons. It is the access to guns that makes males in the United States so dangerous.

Despite growing gender equality in access to guns, both as a cultural and practical matter, it remains true that males are more gun-identified than females.

And, it is guns that make American violent behavior so lethal. Guns make suicide attempts particularly deadly (85 percent lethal versus less than 10 percent lethal for pills). It is guns in the hands of males that make domestic disputes–mostly violence against women–so dangerous.

It is guns that make cop-civilian confrontations so deadly (most of which involve males on both sides). It is guns that make extreme ideas in the heads of troubled males lead to dead bodies in churches, malls, Planned Parenthood clinics, movie theaters and in homes.

“Guns don’t kill people; people with guns kill people.” Or more accurately, “male people with guns kill people.”

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