By Sanya Jarvis
In light of recent events, and events that have long passed it is evident that men are more prone to be engaged in acts of violence. From time immemorial violence has been indoctrinated as a core principle of masculinity- hegemonic masculinity to be exact. This is a type of masculinity that inhabits power and wealth; reproducing the social relationship that generates dominance over subordinate men and women. In the absence of hegemonic masculinity, subordinate masculinity would be those that don’t live up to the rigid traditional characteristics of masculinity.
Violence can broadly be defined as behaviour that either physically, emotionally or mentally harms others and oneself. Feminist scholars have argued that violence is indeed gendered, as it is performed differently by men and women. This is indisputably seen when observing statistics and trends of criminal activity; including but not limited to; murder, theft, rape, domestic violence, gang warfare etc. which are mostly committed by men. It should be noted that the strong relationship between violence and masculinity is not an unfamiliar or recently developed phenomenon. It is a result of gender socialisation which Kate Young describes as the process of gendering by which we acquire the social characteristics of masculinity and femininity (1988). It is not by accident that most young boys and men are drawn towards violent video games and media, why toy guns are typically gifted to young boys over girls, it is not by accident that the statement ‘boys will be boys’ is oftentimes used to pardon any disruptive behaviour portrayed by young boys. Therefore it is not by accident that the majority of violent crimes are committed by men. So how do we begin to dissect how these constructed notions of gender and gender relations have proven to be harmful to both men and women?
Micheal Kaufman has suggested that male violence which can be understood through the triad of violence, is a result of their surplus repression of their sexual and emotional desires(1987). In other words, some men have used violence as a type of coping mechanism to manage their stress, emotional distress and feelings of inadequacy by society’s standards, hence violence is sometimes experienced as an emotionally gratifying experience for them. Moreover, repressiveness is a characteristic of masculinity that has been romanticized by society’s patriarchal ideologies as one of the identifying features of being a man. It has therefore stripped men of the ability and/or willingness to process and understand their emotions as those are actions predominantly associated with femininity which has been blindly associated with weakness. This repression has led them to release a surplus of aggression from the frustration of their perceived ineptitude. This surplus of aggression is then released through acts of violence against women, other men and themselves, this continuum is referred to as the Triad of violence. Please note that it is understood that all men aren’t inherently violent, this article simply focuses on the origins of male violence, as proposed by Micheal Kaufman.
The first corner of the Triad of violence speaks to men’s violence against women. This form of violence is very common and its long lasting existence reflects the power relation between men and women where women are in a position of subordination. When some men are not able to maintain power through access to resources, wealth or status- all factors of hegemonic masculinity. They attempt to validate their dominance by inflicting their perceived power over women which oftentimes have resulted in gender based violence. This form of violence is not only performed by men who lack power in the eyes of traditional masculinity, but also by the men who are aware of their privilege and who seek to maintain gendered power relations. In 2020, alone Trinidad and Tobago has recorded a grotesque amount of murders and sexual assaults that have been committed by men, onto women. These actions are inflicted by the men we have raised, men who we have sat in the same classrooms with, cried with, partied with, the men we call our ‘bredjins’, the men who have existed in the same social environments as us. Violence against women has therefore been perpetuated through learnt social behaviours.
The second corner of the Triad of violence is violence against other men, this type of violence has been particularly normalized, because as mentioned before violence is seen as innate to masculinity. It is important to note that different types of masculinities hold different reasons for violence against men; for example subordinate masculinities resort to crime and violence in an attempt to gain resources. The idea held is that the inability to provide for themselves or their families are characteristics that makes them less of a man, thus in order to perform their masculinity they use their surplus of aggression as a means of obtaining it.
The third corner of the Triad of violence is men’s violence against themselves. Similar to the other corners, violence against themselves is a result of the repression of their emotional distress due to the fear of being seen as a ‘soft man’. Notwithstanding the fact that men also suffer from chronic depression and other mental illnesses. The question is why do so many of our men choose to suffer in silence? It can be said that the masculinity, specifically toxic masculinity that is superimposed by socially destructive patriarchal ideologies have undoubtedly negatively affected men’s mental health. Think of your mother’s pressure cooker for a second, ever looked at it and thought omg is this is gonna explode? Well repression works in a similar manner, only after the cooker reaches maximum pressure without any release the weight lifts to release the extra pressure causing a very loud whistling sound. Therefore inability to create positive avenues and safe spaces for men to emotionally express themselves has inadvertently made way for healthy catharsis to be replaced with anger and violence towards themselves and others. This violence does not necessarily have to be physical action, as with both men and women repression often puts a burden on our mental health which can be seen as harmful to oneself and can be released through interactions with others that can be hurtful and others. The issue at hand is that men are more likely to repress than women.
Now that the basic origins of men’s violence have been understood, the question posed to ourselves and our leaders is how do we atleast attempt to create effective solutions to these issues? How much longer would we ignore the fact that the social systems which we have come to be a part of needs to be re-evaluated? Re-evaluated in the ways in which we have educated our girls and boys about the issues that have plagued our everyday lives for generations. Re-evaluated in our constraints to hold men accountable for their actions, and to pacify the severity of how harmful maintaining a power relation between men and women has been to us as a people. Also re-evaluated in the very rigid manner in which we have socialized our men and boys which has not equipped them to proficiently manoeuvre in contemporary society that demands them to be more accountable.
Allan Johnson, “The Gender Knot: What Drives Patriarchy?” Sheila Ruth, Issues in Feminism: An Introduction to Women’s Studies, 5th Edition, Mayfield Publishing, 2001, pp.94-105.
Kaufman, Michael. 1987. “The Construction of Masculinity and the Triad of Men’s Violence.” In Beyond Patriarchy: Essays by Men on Pleasure, Power and Change, edited by Michael Kaufman, 2-29. Toronto & New York: Oxford University Press.
Young, Kate. 1988. “Notes on the Social Relations of Gender.” In Gender in Caribbean Development, edited by Patricia Mohammed and Catherine Shepherd, 97-109. Trinidad: UWI Press.