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The Biology of Gender: violence, victim-blaming, and the Real World

June 26, 2009

Trigger Warning(especially for the videos)

I struggle a lot with analysis of how male and female brains make men and women act differently. (Here and here are examples) This article which describes how male brains, after viewing images of sexy women, are activated in the same ways that they are when anticipating using a power tool, was really interesting. It was linked to by this post from the fabulous Vegans Against PETA, as an example of why sexualized images of women, especially those conflating sex and violence are so negative for women. But I am worried how this information seeks to explain violence and normalizes this reaction. I have such a hard time with anything that lets someone off the hook for committing violence.

Maybe it’s just my female brain; I react to things with anger, but rarely aggression. I rarely yell, I never get in fights, I can’t even get to that “get your anger out” place in kickboxing classes. I remember once when my brother and I got into a fight, he got so angry he punched a wall; I got so angry I burst into tears. We both needed a physical outlet for our anger. While we are both pretty passive, violence is just not a part of the way I operate, but I saw it come out of him, just once, when he was pushed to the limit. So maybe it is unfair for me to critique others’ aggression because I don’t understand the feeling of blood rushing through your veins making you want to release your tension physically.

But when I saw this clip from the Real World/Road Rules challenge (The full episode is here), I was completely terrified by the most gruesome fight I’ve ever seen on television. This man is out of control and unrestrainable, with only one mission: to hurt. While there is a back story, which I’ll explain in a minute, the show of violence from this man seems mostly for violence’s sake. It scares me because I am completely physically incapable of doing this same act; both because I don’t have the muscle strength, but also because I don’t have that type of aggression in me. There’s some people I’ve been that angry at, but I still was never urged to that sort of violence.

This does seem to support biological differences in the way people operate aggressively. However, what worries me most is the way this conception of biological difference is used.

Let me give you some background on the fight (real quick, I’m sorry I watch such ridiculous TV):

1. CT and Diem dated, they break up before the show starts.
2. CT allegedly sleeps with Shauvon during the show and Diem finds out.
3. CT decides Adam was the one that told her about Shauvon.
4. CT brutally assaults Adam.

Now I hope, like me, you find this whole series of events horrifying. Diem has clearly gotten herself out of an abusive relationship with CT (documented on past seasons), although she unfortunately has too many feelings for him to not stay out of his life. CT assaults Adam, and criminal charges should be pressed. Shauvon has nothing to do with anything. But lets watch how the cast reacts on the reunion show, in a segment they call “A Mike Tyson Moment”. This might be the worst things I’ve ever seen on TV.

Now, they never explicitly condone CT’s behavior, but referring to this event as a “Mike Tyson Moment” and making jokes about his aggression very much normalizes it. CT’s fighting is considered part of his character, he’s aggressive, looking for a fight, and an “animal”. This animal trope is not uncommon in describing masculinity. Take Wolverine, (who oddly has also been compared to Mike Tyson), his whole character arc involves him fighting his animalistic nature. These descriptions support that naturally (biologically) men are violent, they have urges that they are fighting off. Which leads to two conclusions about male violence: (a) They couldn’t help themselves, they’re trying so hard to fight off their nature, it’s going to come out sometimes. (b) It’s someone else’s fault for setting them off. And these norms are exactly what’s expressed in this video.

CT’s violence is joked about and considered part of his nature, so it is someone else’s fault for aggravating him towards violence. We have two candidates:

Shauvon:

Aneesa: She knew what was going on…
Kim:She’s a dirty dirty whore, and we all know it.

Ok, so clearly Shauvon is very much to blame for having sex. It was definitely her responsibility to not seduce a man who she knew once had a girlfriend, but I think it was probably someone else…

Oh right, Diem:

Evan: And it’s all cause of Diem
Host: Well, since they brought it up, I mean, it kind of puts you in a bad position because it make it look like it’s all your fault
Men (chanting): “It’s all your fault, It’s all your fault”

While I understand why MTV aired the fight, it makes “good tv”, I think it’s absolutely inexcusable and disgusting to allow this victim-blaming to be the televised reaction to the fight. Treating male aggression as biologically natural, allows for this victim blaming – because it means that they are simply violent time-bombs waiting to be set off by women.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. June 26, 2009 7:59 PM

    Treating male aggression as biologically natural, allows for this victim blaming – because it means that they are simply violent time-bombs waiting to be set off by women.

    Yes! I’ve encountered people using biology as a justification for all sorts of obnoxious behaviors that men engage in. It serves as a multipurpose excuse to justify the status quo and refuse the possibility of change.

    I’m a trans woman. I’ve lived on both sides of the gender divide and frankly, I’m unconvinced that biology serves as the explanation behind men’s greater tendency to be violent. Here’s a post that I wrote about my own experience with male socialization and violence.

    The thing is, even if some degree of violence and aggression originates in biology, why does society do so little to discourage this behavior in boys and men? Other kinds of behaviors receive tons of social sanction and it’s just as easy to argue that they arise out of natural human tendencies. Take theft, for instance. It’s easy to argue that theft is a behavior that arises from a desire toward self preservation and survival. That is, people steal resources that help them to survive out of a desire to continue their existence. It’s also quite easy to argue that greed comes from the same origin. The more resources you have, the more likely you are to survive.

    In spite of the possibility that these tendencies are natural behaviors, theft and greed are strongly discouraged when we raise children. In contrast, violent play and aggressive interactions are often dismissed as normal, masculine behavior in boys. The operative phrase in dismissing this behavior as harmless is “boys will be boys.” I remember my father encouraging me to solve conflict through violence. Why is this? Presumably, if you ignore a child’s tendency toward greed and theft, or even worse, you encourage it, your child might very well grow up to be a criminal. So, if you ignore a child’s tendency toward violence and aggression or if you encourage such behaviors, would he not be more likely to grow up to be a violent asshole?

    Think of movies and books. How often is greed and theft portrayed in a positive way? Now, how often is violence—particularly violence as a solution to conflict—portrayed in a positive way?

    Why are violence and aggression—behaviors that are widely viewed as the province of men—deemed acceptable when other negative behaviors are not? Could it be that those behaviors have traditionally been used as effective tools in amassing and maintaining power, particularly men’s access to power?

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