“It’s women’s fault that we’re terrible men”

Even before the recent Gillette ad (and the backlash it sparked from angry “men’s rights activists” who felt personally attacked by the assertion that some men are not good role models), I was seeing this little gem being copied around on twitter:

“In America 43% of boys are raised by single women. 78% of teachers are female. So almost half of the boys have 100% female influence at home, and 80% female influence at school. Between 2009 and 2011 children from single parent households (overwhelmingly single mothers) accounted for 80% of rapists motivated by displaced anger. Toxic masculinity is not the problem. Lack of masculinity is. Meaning, we need more intact families.”

This has appeared on my twitter feed dozens of times, and now it is also being propagated on Facebook.

Let me first summarise what it’s saying, then debunk the stats, and finally expose the motives behind it.

I guess the argument here stems from a kind of biological essentialism. “Boys will be boys” so to speak.

The logic seems to go like this: Boys are naturally angry, and they need to have an outlet for their innate rage and violence. When boys are brought up by women, those mothers don’t understand this fact, and stymie the righteous fire of manhood that lies within their child. This means the boy grows up without understanding how to release his anger, and therefore rapes and abuses women because they are the easiest targets.

There are some flaws here. And we’ll return to it.

But first, the stats. In researching this, the only places I saw these same numbers parroted were on “mens rights activism” or far-right websites. Not an encouraging start.

The statistics on the number of boys raised by single women are nonsense. Only 23% of children in America are raised by single-parent families, as of 2016. I have no idea where the “43%” came from and have not been able to find any evidence of it.

That “80% of rapists” stat comes from a paper from 1987 (the 2009–2011 time range seems to be fabrication) which actually states that 80% of rapists (from a sample of 108 rapists from one correctional institute in Massachusetts) are from single parentfamilies, and says nothing about what proportion of those are from single mother families. What’s more interesting in this study is that most of the rapists had been abused as children. But “men’s rights activists” aren’t interested in abuse, because most of it is committed by men, and it’s too hard to blame women for that.

So, the motivations behind people sharing these falsities:

It’s easy for men to fall back on this kind of thinly-veiled misogyny, because 1) they don’t have to question themselves, 2) it justifies any feelings of uncontrolled anger they have as “natural,” and 3) it was women’s fault all along (I fucking knew it).

One tweet (now deleted) that sums up this viewpoint most efficiently went along the lines of “If you prod the mighty lion too many times, it’s not his fault if he roars.”

I’m gutted I didn’t think to take a screenshot.

Instead of a majestic lion being pestered by nuisance females, here’s what’s really happening to men:

Patriarchal standards of masculinity run so deep that despite there being no solid science to suggest that boys are angrier or more violent than girls, we assume it’s the case. In reality, we are all being beamed these messages of men being inescapably and essentially more violent from birth, all the time, from every corner of our society.

Here’s the kicker — women are capable of reinforcing patriarchal standards of masculinity too. Many women are complicit in the patriarchy and will enforce these patriarchal standards since it’s the only version of masculinity they’ve been exposed to.

Boys are encouraged to be angry, to fight, and their emotions are not fostered. It is an ouroboros: boys are not taught to regulate emotions, so they get angry and fight, the biological essentialists say “boys will be boys”, and the boys never learn to control their anger or deal with their emotions in a mature way.

It doesn’t just happen with anger. It happens with intelligence, and focus, and creativity. All of these things are downplayed in boys because we all enforce these patriarchal standards of masculinity that say that a real man is not vulnerable; a real man sacrifices his emotions for his family and for success.

We are all victims of the patriarchy — the boys who are told not to cry, the single mothers who subconsciously enforce patriarchal standards, the fathers who pass on their own emotional disconnect to their sons, and the women who are raped, abused and killed by failed men.

I think the response to this copy-pasted “men’s rights activist” line is this:

IT. IS. NOT. THE. FAULT. OF. WOMEN. IF. YOU. ARE. A. RAPIST.

It is the failure of society. It is the perpetuation of patriarchal masculinity that has meant you have grown up without being able to regulate your emotions, and you have ended up as a toxic, abusive excuse for a human that doesn’t understand compassion and empathy.

Saying that the problem with male violence is a lack of masculinity is like saying racism is caused by a lack of white supremacist politicians. It’s propaganda, pure and simple, and we shouldn’t be falling for it for a second.

For an excellent (and short) book about the damages that patriarchal standards of masculinity do to all of us, read The Will To Change by bell hooks.

If you truly happen to be a majestic lion and it really is the fault of the lionesses for provoking your god-given fury, please let me know on twitter @rjpatricksmith.

Biologist, writer