Thursday 1 July 2021

We’re Too Scared To Stop Them.

Dangerous Apes: That there is something profoundly anthropoidal about male-on-male aggression is a very difficult idea to shake-off. Thoughts of dominant male chimpanzees overawing their less aggressive male competitors for access to fertile females only serve to reinforce the overwhelming feelings of inadequacy which the experience of “backing down” and “caving in” evokes in human males. The admiration/fear of male physical prowess is hard-wired into the mutant Y chromosome of the human male.

LIZ GORDON deserves our thanks. Not only for her most recent posting on the shocking findings of the Christchurch Girls High School sexual harassment survey, but also for her contribution to the collation of its results. By her own frank admission, this was not a painless process. Clearly, what these young women reported does not make for easy reading.

Whenever the results of surveys like this one from CGHS are made public, shocked parents and teachers demand action. Entirely appropriately, the finger of responsibility is pointed at “toxic masculinity” and “rape culture”. Males are the problem – which can only mean that males must also be the solution. Men must be persuaded to change their behaviour. Parents must raise better sons. The male friends, acquaintances and workmates of toxic males and rapists must intervene whenever the ugly face of misogyny surfaces. The offenders must be told: “It’s not okay”.

But many men, when they hear this call for intervention, quietly shake their heads in despair. Why? Because unless they have the fighting skills of a Jack Reacher, most of them wouldn’t dream of criticising and/or reproving the sort of man who mistreats women. In the presence of violent and predatory misogynists, the ordinary man’s instinct for self-preservation will keep his head down and his mouth shut. “Maledom’s” dirty little secret is that most men are extremely wary of other men – especially those who hate women.

Misogyny is a marker no less pungent than the result of a dog’s cocked leg. It signals a male’s readiness to use verbal and/or physical violence to secure compliance with his wishes. More than that, it tells those males around him – most of whom are neither comfortable with, nor proficient in, the use of violence – that they are in the presence of someone highly experienced in the infliction of pain and suffering. In short, these sort of men frighten other men. No, that’s not true. They terrify them.

What’s more, their terror is entirely justified. On God’s green earth there is nothing – absolutely nothing – more dangerous than a group of human males possessed of a common purpose to do harm. Packs of young males are particularly dangerous. Their aggressive urges are not as well-controlled as those of older males, making them much more prone to recklessness. Young men forget that actions have consequences. Ask any non-violent man to tell you the five words he fears the most, and if his reply is anything other than: “What are you looking at?” – he’s lying.

When I was a student in Dunedin – many years ago now – I dabbled in amateur dramatics. I still remember fondly one of the stalwarts of the local theatre scene: a gentle bon-vivant of a man, getting on in years, but with an encyclopaedic knowledge of plays and playwrights, who gave generously of his time and knowledge to a younger generation of aspiring actors. One night, on his way home from the theatre, he was set upon by a group of young males who beat him senseless and left him bleeding in the street. He made a physical recovery, of sorts, but psychologically he was broken. Terrified to venture out, he immured himself behind drawn curtains and locked doors. Within a few months he was dead. His suspected assailants were never brought to trial.

Men’s entirely reasonable fear of violent men is compounded by the deeply entrenched cultural belief that any man who cannot, or will not, defend himself is weak and worthless. When challenged, a man is expected to confront his challenger. Usually, such confrontations involve not much more than a lot of shouting and a little bit of pushing and shoving. Nine times out of ten, the combatants are separated before any real damage is done. “Honour” is satisfied.

In the case of violent men, however, the dynamics are radically different. Violent men recognise instantly those who, being intelligent cowards, will not risk a physical confrontation. They know they can bully and humiliate such men with impunity – wreaking havoc upon their confidence and self-esteem. Significantly, these tormentors often call their victims “bitches”: confirming both their habitual conflation of weakness with womanhood, and how very deeply they despise both.

That there is something profoundly anthropoidal about all this is a very difficult idea to shake-off. Thoughts of dominant male chimpanzees overawing their less aggressive male competitors for access to fertile females only serve to reinforce the overwhelming feelings of inadequacy which the experience of “backing down” and “caving in” evokes in human males. No matter how many times women tell their male friends that “clever”, “kind” and “funny” rank well ahead of “violent” and “intimidating”, the weak and inoffensive male never quite believes them. The admiration/fear of male physical prowess is hard-wired into the mutant Y chromosome of the human male.

There is a reason why the six-foot-plus street-fighter, Jack Reacher, is one of the most popular heroes in contemporary popular fiction. The same reason, one suspects, that the unvanquishable knight, Sir Lancelot, was admired by the young men of centuries past.

In the male imagination, standing up to the bullies, the foul-mouthed abusers of young women on their way home from school, the vicious gang-rapists of their female friends and sisters, is what they should do. And would do, if, in the all-too-real and bloody world of fist and boot, telling misogynists that “It’s not okay” to abuse women would get them anything other than a damn good kicking – or worse.

Women are not the only victims of male violence. Men hurt and terrorise other men with equal relish.

This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Thursday, 1 July 2021.


Mark Wahlberg said...

I have always been a man of strong opinion. In my youth I stood 6' 4' and weighed 18stone and when I gave a smaller man his pedigree, I was called a "Bully."

When I did the same to a larger man, I was called a "Fool."

little was achieved as only a few ever understood my verbal punchlines.

In my twilight years, I live in a world surrounded by people fluent in the oriental art of Chinese Whispers.

There is much to be said for confrontation.

Nick J said...

Very brave Chris to tell a males story as you see it, and I concur. We males aren't the noble creatures we pretend, we are all the alpha chimp, and the omega victim chimp. And dare say it but the female of the species is no different.

There seems to be an aversion to team and contact sport amongst our more middle class types, funny however that they too watch our rugby players enact controlled violence. My boys when deprived of a game on Saturday would spend the rest of the weekend bashing one another.

Id note the popularity of extreme violence on screen, GOT etc for both male and females. Then there are video games.

If you want to see verbal and psychological violence look no further than blogs, Twitter etc. I work on the limiting principle of saying what I would say directly in a public forum. Others who might not be physically alpha seem to use it as a bullying platform. Noboby now is immune from anonymous violence proving our primate instincts.

Geoff Fischer said...

Human beings are related to apes, but are not apes.
For a number of reasons they have been able to successfully form much larger and more resilient social groups than the apes. One of those reasons has to do with the way that relations between men differ from the relationships between male apes.
To put it bluntly, human beings have learned to base their relationships on morality rather than raw power, and that is particularly true of the relationships between men. In the current age, the rise of liberal ideologies based on self interest and self-gratification has undermined the moral structure of society and as a result humanity has partially reverted to its primate origins. Those who still cling to a moral order can be relied upon to do the right thing, which includes confronting the bullies.
The outcry over the reports of sexual assault emanating from Christchurch Girls High School is nothing less than a frantic appeal to that old moral order from the very people who consider it to be a gross infringement on their freedoms.
We cannot have our cake and eat it. Either accept that this kind of scandal, like child poverty and gross economic inequality, goes with the territory of liberalism, or take a good hard look at all the economic and social reforms of the past half century. Moral and economic regulation also come at a price of course. Society just needs to find a point of balance where it feels comfortable. I am not sure that we are at that point at this moment.
Most of all, we need to be honest about our attitudes to freedom of action of the individual. We need to stop pretending that things like the Marriage Equality Act and all the other legislative, administrative and social changes around marriage and sexuality can have no adverse social consequences.
Many men nowadays don't even know if it is right for them to try to control the behavior of other men. In a previous era it was a given, a duty more than a right. That duty still exists, but is mainly exercised within intentional communities such as churches and sporting clubs. It is largely, though not entirely, absent from society at large.

Shane McDowall said...

God created all men equal, but Sam Colt made them equal.

Recently a thug was sentenced to four months home detention for a serious assault on a police officer. Home detention!

If our judiciary will not protect the police, what chance does Joe and Jane Average have against violent thugs?

Of course the offender probably had a rat shit childhood, so he has an excuse to be a violent thug.It is society's fault that he is a violent thug.

Today I read that a maggot got a pitiful 16 year sentence for bashing a woman to death and inflicting severe brain damage on a one year old baby. He will be out in eight years.

Of course the maggot probably had a rat shit childhood, so he has an excuse to kill women and bash babies. It is society's fault that he is a violent thug.

The problem is our justice system rarely delivers justice to the victims of violent crime.

Longer sentences do not deter thugs. They tend to lash out with no thought for consequences. And our prisons are overflowing anyway.

What the law abiding citizens need is the right to carry a concealed .38 pistol. Or a 9mm, I am not fussed.

Better judged by 12 than carried by six.

Over time the number of violent males will be decrease through Darwinian selection.

John Hurley said...

I don't agree with that at all. I'm not sure of the circumstances here but (mostly) young males get into trouble because of ineptitude.

I observed older students in the school bus and High school corridors in the 1960's and they (from what I saw) sorted it out themselves. We live in different times now where victimhood is a badge of honour.

What's more hormones have salmon swimming upstream to their death and young men are similarly driven by young women.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

It wasn't too long ago that conservative commenters on this site were claiming that women had achieved total equality and their problems were all solved right? Just sayin'.

Barry said...

The worst thing that could be done now is to lump all men in together as being all evil. Its being done in schools overseas. In Australia at one school ALL boys had to stand up and apologisefor being a male.
Those who have never had an evil thought in their lives get pissed off about being blamed for the worlds evils and will develop very negative feelings about women.

Patricia said...

I, and it seems most of the commentators of this site, are of an age when men did control other men. It wasn’t a perfect time but older men did do that. Maybe the compulsory military training of the day (not that I approve of that) reinforced such behaviour from other men. But some sort of compulsory social training might be needed for men. How to talk for instance! Most violence is done by men but most men now just want to back away from intervening. A very dear young friend of mine was constantly physically abused by her husband. Her family found out and removed her and the children. My reaction was her brothers should have taken him behind the bike shed and beaten the hell out of him. But no they did it the ‘proper way’ and went to court. Now six years later it is still before the courts. She is a nervous wreck and he is loving it.

greywarbler said...

Barry and Patricia good points.
I have watched young men in 'classrooms' being made to feel uncomfortable because they were the token men in a discussion on sexism. Very taken aback to have such things sprung at them/

Boys at secondary school have said that they preferred the caning, when it was limited, to being given other non-physical punishments. We need to learn the basics, how to talk, make conversation, how to take an interest in others' interests and then they get enthusiastic about their latest project. There is a knack, but mainly it is just getting to know others, different views, and not being wholely centred on oneself.

It has to be learned and practised, shyness and social inability drop away. I remember from film Remains of the Day? Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson I think. They are in service in an English house. He is confused when changing to an unaccustomed American boss - 'he wants to talk all the time, ask me what I think, I don't know what to say.' She says Americans do chat more, they call it 'banter'. And that's what we need more of - bantef - even just commenting on the bad/good weather at the supermarket checkout; it is acknowledging the other people we meet in our world. We can learn to like people in just brief greetings, and end up understanding them more, helps community feelings. It also might help women to see any dark side to their loving men while they are still single, as once they fix on you as theirs, it can be curtains ifthey get upset.

greywarbler said...

Only 9 comments on this important topic for our civilised, happy, organised but respectful of individuals and their personal attributes. I am noticing an increase in maliciousness, malevolence, callousness and withdrawal from ideas of community. Thinking people need to step up and defend the good in humanity in some way, spread the 'lerve' if one is feeling facetious or perhaps sarcastic, but give it a go. Religion can't do it well, it has too many precepts and moral junctures.

This is what religion could do to increase goodwill and good behaviour in the community:
Google -
earnestly advocate (a belief or course of action).
"my parents have always preached toleration and moderation"
or - advocate, recommend, advise, urge, exhort, teach, counsel, champion, inculcate, instil.
or most importantly - 'model'. But religion over the centuries has been hooked into establishing doctrine which can be overturned by another, and money,land and class positions have become important, adding pressures on the beliefs and practices, and also a patriarchal bias that has chosen to connect females with animal fertility, and that with ancient practices and worship of naturism, and sexuality as a route away from God and higher thoughts!

So a new attitude was called for, and arose I guess in humanism. It becomes essential now for us to increase the teaching of human values and worth, before the increasingly grey men and women who are in positions of authority conform entirely to destructive theories and algorithms.

Nick J said...

If you want some interesting reading on human sexual identities get Sexual Personae by Camille Paglia. She utilises the ancient concepts of Dionysian and Appolonian, my initial reaction was yeah yeah b.s etc, on second thought I see her genius.

Patricia said...

There is a very good website called Future Crunch which gives information on the good things that are happening in the world. It provides a relief from the never ending bad news that is spread in our media.

greywarbler said...

In a book by Anne Perry where she is thinking about how Christmas could be explained to a child of nine who had been rescued from being a street urchin. It is being attempted by a man who had been often dishonest and a brothel keeper and knows all about life at the low-end of society; she puts his thoughts about his experience of the religious. (A Christmas Revelation by Anne Perry.)

'He had a generally sour view of religion. In his opinion, it made people self-righteous, lacking in humour or kindness, and very prone to sit in critical judgment of just about everyone else.'

He talks to the boy about the baby in the Nativity scene and why he was important.

'He was so...gentle...he could understand everybody.' Oh.. 'How could he do that?'
I told you, he was very special. When you get to like people, you listen patiently and try to understand. And when you really understand, you don't always agree, but you like them anyway.'

I have read about the intensity of religious experience among all the people, not just women, in the Middle Ages. Since science has explained so much about what constitutes the world, religion and spirituality have been sidelined. A Rio Tinto engineer recently dynamited a sacred place to Australian aborigines in Western Australia, knowingly, and so it is lost to them, their connection with the past and their ancient human learnings.

That is what science and method and desire for efficiency is doing to us, demolishing our culture, denigrating our way of living, our humanness and our quest to achieve a personal goal of self-respect and strength, standing and ability in the world. The latest effort is Treasury questioning the value of local Councils, 'Are they up to it' questioning. And from overseas, criticism of the diversion of opinion of judges, which implies that there is one answer only, and we can't look to humans for definite, good decisions. Rule by machine in mind, more algorithms. See review of Noise by USA authors; review by 'By Robert Sutton
Robert Sutton is an organizational psychologist and professor of management science and engineering at Stanford. He is the author of seven books, including “Scaling Up Excellence: Getting to More Without Settling for Less,” written with Huggy Rao.'

(Incidentally there is an article in New Scientist 19 June 2021 on the role of algorithms in our lives already. It's on loan from my library so I will have to keep trying for it. It is hard to keep up in this fast-idea world, throwing away our past like empty take-away cartons.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

"To put it bluntly, human beings have learned to base their relationships on morality rather than raw power, and that is particularly true of the relationships between men. "

Nonsense. Morality has always served the interests of the ruling class. For a couple of thousand years the Catholic Church was intertwined with the governments of Europe. Peasants were encouraged to believe in a better life after death, rather than changing things on earth which might lead to an upset in the power structure. And of course power comes in different forms, but the ruling class has always been able to purchase the "raw" (presumably physical) power that you mention.

Tauhei Notts said...

This has been one of our host's most brilliant essays.
But "Bouncers" tell me that young women still have an animalistic craving for the young male animals; the sort that anybody with a room temperature intelligence quotient could tell them that it will end badly. The strongest thought in the universe is the thought to procreate the species, and whilst women crave those sadistic animals, we will see no progress.
My feminist friends loathe my comments.

greywarbler said...

This thing about girls being attracted to those who overdo the he-man is hard to fathom, and I agree that it is a fact with a fair number. I think they are looking at males in a new way, driven in part by their hormones and part by talk, scenes about sex on tv and now perhaps on their hand-devices. It's all very grown-up and mysterious and exciting, and they are drawn to the opposite of them, to the more muscled body, rather than the quieter guy who might turn out to be nicer than the other.

And don't pay a lot of attention to feminists, they seem incapable of looking at the matter from a social anthropological view, they tend to concentrate on power and male domination in society blah blah. They don't seem to take an overview, which would include all aspects affecting females and males in society,

Unknown said...

This blog was very relevant to me as I move into my third month in a rest home. For many years I had fought for the right of women to be treated as women, with respect and consideration, as we should treat all people. I had felt comfortable in the current world as most of my friends, colleagues and casual acquaintances behaved well.
Until I entered a new life. We are a small unit of eight elderly people, five men and three women. Most are on Zimmer frames or are in large bulky electric wheelchair. Two are the most appalling bullies who moan whinge complain and blame all the time. Non stop. It is horrible as it takes away any pleasure for anything. Old age is bad enough without this. I decided to atempt to reduce their continual complaining about the food by asking them for one complaint only per meal per person. And I tried to prepare interesting topics for mealtime discussion. For some days it was going well so we (the women) decided to try adding please and thankyou for things like passing the salt. Progress was being made until the gentleman with a zimmerframe started screaming at me to shut my face, and stabbing at me with his fingers. He kept shouting that he had the right to say and do what he pleased and nothing was going to stop him. He and the wheelchair driver continued to attack me for everything they could think of at lunch time including calling me a bitch. I calmly took my lunch into my room. At tea there was a stroppy NZ nurse who read them the riot act, and everything settled down. Until a couple of days ago when I disagreed with him on some minor matter. Wheelchair joined in as they continued an attack on me because I was trampling on their rights to say and do as they please. It was just like an attack in the playground except it no longer scares me. Next morning wheelchair apologized which I accepted but said I was not prepared to accept the bullying. His answer surprised me. He asked me also in a surprised tone was that bullying? He just thought it was an argument he was having with Mr Zimmerframe and I got in the way and his anger slipped over as he tried to prove he was more right. Currently Mr Zimmerframe has been behaving very well and long may it last.
The real reason I intervened was that the two women said that they were always like that and I should learn to live with it. They said sometimes they were scared to come to meals. That is so wrong and we all have the right to feel safe in our homes. One by the way is 94. So the bullying is going to stop.
I know it sound comical, Zimmerframes at dawn etc. But I find it profoundly sad that two men believe they have the absolute right to behave like that. By the way Mr Z worked for IRD and Mr W was a business man.
It could be asked where were all the nurses in this. The NZ nurse deals with them energetically but all the other staff are meek gentle Asian women who are even more easily bullied than old ladies.