Why Are Some Men So Angry?
There’s a Margaret Atwood quote that I can’t get out of my head these days: “Men are afraid that women will laugh at them. Women are afraid that men will kill them.”
Last Friday, a young man from Washington state walked into his high school cafeteria and shot five people, killing one young woman. Early reports from other students indicate that the shooter, who reportedly shot himself, was upset over a girl. In early October, Mary Spears was shot to death in Detroit, allegedly by a man whose advances she rejected at a social club. In April, a Connecticut teen stabbed his classmate to death when she rejected his prom invitation. Turning men down is a risky business.
But the madness doesn’t stop there. From Gamergate to mass shootings todomestic violence and the NFL – the common denominator is male rage. Women are not committing most acts of mass and individual violence, nor are women lobbing out most death threats online or raping most college students. Violence – and the threat of it – remains a decidedly male domain.
But why are men so violently angry?
According to Harvard researcher Ronald Kessler, explosive anger – defined as a response “grossly out of proportion to the situation” – is two to three times more likely to occur in male teens, and twice as likely in adult men. Men are more likely to kill and be killed than women, and more likely to commit suicide: men’s anger hurts men, too.
[C]ountless men deal with their vulnerability by transferring vulnerable feelings to feelings of anger. The anger then serves to ‘prove’ that they are not, in fact, vulnerable, which would imply they are not man enough to take the pressure.
Women do get angry, but experts say we just handle the emotion differently. Psychologist Sandra Thomas, who conducted a large-scale study on women’s anger in 1993, told the American Psychological Association 10 years later, “Men have been encouraged to be more overt with their anger,” while women direct it inwards. Little has changed since then: we’ve still taught to be “nice”, that lying is often preferable to open conflict and that anger is unattractive and unfeminine.
But it’s hard to look at the continued violence and violent speech directed at women by men and not wonder: what is it about women that makes some men so angry?
Is it the fear that women’s progress means a loss of all that shiny male privilege? That our society is a zero sum game and power can’t be shared? Maybe some men’s anger stems from good old-fashioned misogyny, which is then stoked by political, social and cultural forces that say there’s nothing lower in this world than a woman so how dare she ... well, anything. Or perhaps that anger at women comes from straight-up entitlement: the men who believe that women are meant to be there for them, whether it’s to wash their toilets or warm their beds, and that denying them access to us is an unthinkable affront.
But it’s no coincidence that anti-feminist backlash happens most often when women’s rights are on an upswing. And male anger towards women isn’t going anywhere – if anything, it’s gaining steam. Online forums that provide anonymity are creating spaces for men to say the things they no longer can in “real life”, police and courts that disbelieve and blame women for the violence done to them give men the impression their bad behavior is acceptable and a conservative movement that refuses to let go of traditional gender roles teaches our children that being a man is synonymous with being “tough”, having guns and, yes, being violent.
If we want to put a dent in male anger and the chaos it creates, we need to stop looking at problems like sexual assault, harassment, domestic violence and even violent threats online and assigning their solutions to feminists. We need to stop calling them “just women’s issues”. We have to address men and men’s behavior together - not just their direct violence against women, but their propensity to protect their own. Not the outcomes of their rage, but the causes. Because, until we do, we’ll continue to be afraid. All of us.