The Dangerous Fragility of Men

“I have also been a victim of violence and of burglaries before… I felt a sense of terror rushing over me … I was too scared to switch a light on.” Oscar Pistorius relating his state of mind before shooting his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp four times through a bathroom door.

She “knew exactly how to press his buttons and make him angry.” Jovan Belcher complaining to his mistress about his girlfriend, Kassandra Perkins, before shooting Perkins nine times in front of their baby daughter.

“Like the spider and the fly. Wasn’t she saying, ‘Come into my parlor, said the spider to the fly?” Defense attorney Steve Taylor describing the 11-year old girl gang-raped by more than a dozen men in Cleveland, Texas.

“And it’s – all he sees are heavily tinted windows, which are up and the back windows which are down, and the car has at least four black men in it…” Defense attorney Robin Lemonidis explaining why her client, Michael Dunn, shot into a vehicle of unarmed teenagers eight times, killing 17-year-old Jordan Davis.

“Hurricanes. Tornadoes. Riots. Terrorists. Gangs. Lone criminals… These are perils we are sure to face — not just maybe. It’s not paranoia to buy a gun. It’s survival.” Wayne LaPierre, Executive Vice President of the National Rifle Association, objecting to the Obama Administration’s consideration of gun regulation.

“It’s a fear of the unknown… I’ve never seen a woman get killed or wounded. In my mind they may resemble my wife and I don’t know how I would react. It’s one thing to see a man injured or killed but a woman, now that’s a different story,” Staff Sergeant Alex Reyes, voicing his objection to lifting the formal ban on women in combat.

According to traditional gender stereotypes, men are supposedly stronger, braver, and less emotional than women. However unfair or inaccurate, this belief, along with the association of vulnerability, anxiety, and fear with women, has persisted throughout most of Western history. Once one scratches the surface of this myth, however, it becomes apparent that stereotypical “masculinity” (and “hyper-masculinity” even more so) is in fact defined by fragility. This fragility, moreover, is of a truly perplexing nature: it actually increases, rather than decreases, with power and privilege. Why did a world-renowned athlete who lives in a “fortified mansion surrounded by barbed wire” not even stop to turn on a light before shooting his girlfriend four times (if one takes seriously Pistorius’ claim that the shooting was an accident)? Because he was so intensely afraid of being victimized by burglars. Why did a popular NFL linebacker shoot the mother of their infant daughter nine times at close range? Because she did things that made him angry and scared, like staying out late at a concert. Why did more than a dozen men take turns raping an 11-year-old girl, one of them recording the rapes on his cellphone? Because they were so overwhelmed by her seductive clothes and makeup that they couldn’t control themselves. Why did a middle-aged white man with a gun in his glove compartment shoot eight times into a vehicle with four teenagers in it? Because he was so scared of the teenagers’ loud music and attitude that he imagined they must be pointing a gun at him. Why do American citizens – even those who live in gated, high-security enclaves complete with security guards, alarm systems, and identification checkpoints – need an infinite number of virtually unregulated, high-capacity weapons? Because hurricanes and terrorists threaten their very survival. Why should qualified women be denied the opportunity to be recognized and promoted for combat activity? Because some male soldiers – supposedly well-trained, experienced male soldiers – might become paralyzed by the sight of a woman in distress.

This is not the “New Age sensitive male” mocked by comedians and pundits. These men don’t ask questions or cry when they feel vulnerable: they kill, rape, and discriminate. And society largely allows, even encourages, them to do so. Instead of demanding that these men take responsibility for their own weaknesses, our society accommodates and excuses them. This is the flip side of blaming the victim: excusing (or justifying) the perpetrator. The time and energy spent criticizing a girlfriend’s supposed greediness, or an 11 year-old girl’s supposedly provocative clothing, or teenagers’ supposedly loud music could be spent challenging and marginalizing the inability of certain men to control themselves.

To acknowledge and reflect on one’s vulnerability is a good thing; to hold the world in thrall to it is not. Feeling vulnerable is often different from actually being vulnerable, and even actual vulnerabilities should not be used as a license for malicious or reckless behavior. With the supposed vulnerability of famous athletes, soldiers, and gun owners everywhere on display, perhaps we can also appreciate the vulnerability of those far more at risk.

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39 Responses

  1. Orin Kerr says:


    Perhaps I misunderstand you, and if so, my apologies. But I’m not sure what evidence you rely on for the view that society “allows, even encourages” murders and rape in these circumstances.

    You start your post with six statements, three of which are statements by criminal defendants or their lawyers giving wildly implausible or outrageous claims of not being at fault for charged crimes of murder or rape. You assert that “society . . . encourages” such murders and sexual assaults. But society, acting through the criminal justice system, is trying to put them in jail for a very long time for their heinous crimes. Two of the cases are still pending, so we don’t know what the jury will say. But in the one case that led to a verdict, the jury convicted despite the lawyer’s effort to deflect blame. In the case of those three statements, why isn’t the lesson just that people facing a severe criminal punishment for murder or rape — and the lawyers of those people — will often say whatever they need to say to try to create some kind of legal excuse for their crimes?

    As for the other three statements, one is by a person who committed suicide soon after the statement; a second is about the role of gun possession in self-defense; and the final one is about how a person would react to the death of a female soldier. I’m not sure how these examples relate to the thesis.

  2. Great discussion, Mary Anne. Did you see the recent Slate article on this? ( It was a really good discussion about how the fragility of male identity led to a perceived need to oppress other groups (for instance, gay soldiers who would threaten the fragile self-image of other soldiers).

    From the Slate piece:

    “These burdens have been built into our laws and culture for years. Recall that the rationale for the military’s ban on open gays had nothing to do with the abilities of gay people but was an accommodation to the special needs of straight men. The late sociologist Charles Moskos, who coined “don’t ask, don’t tell,” testified before Congress that because of the “sexual insecurities” of straight men, “this is exactly why we need the ban.” All-male groups have homoerotic tendencies, he explained, creating anxiety around their own unwelcome desires. “Once these homoerotic tendencies are out, the cat is out of the bag, then you have all kinds of negative effects on unit cohesion.” The solution was repression, achieved by coddling straight men.”

  3. Lawrence Cunningham says:

    I am far more inclined towards the basic question Orin asks than any sense in which this is a “great discussion.” I don’t recognize this sweeping and mean-spirited assertion about “the dangerous fragility of men.” What is this? What is the purpose of this post?

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  5. Great post, Mary Anne.

    To respond to Orin’s question, the crucial common thread in these quotations is that their speakers all expected these to be persuasive arguments. The point of making these claims, at all, is that one expects members of the audience to agree that violence is an appropriate, expected, or inevitable reaction in the face of these threats or provocations. Typically, people don’t offer justifications unless they expect them to be persuasive — here, unless they think, perhaps subconsciously, that the idea of male helplessness has some currency in broader society.

    (The relevance of the sixth quote, from the staff sergeant, comes from the immediately preceding sentence in the article, “Might men respond in ways that could endanger a mission if they tried to protect a female colleague?” and from a later sentence, “Will men involuntarily look out for the woman to their left more than the man to their right?”)

  6. PrometheeFeu says:

    Mary Ann Franks,

    Can you please explain why these quotes (except maybe for the last one) are statements about masculinity as opposed to statements about specific male individuals or something else entirely? (For instance, the vulnerability of having restrained mobility and living in a high-crime city, standard run-of-the-mill blaming the victim for having supposedly uncommon wiles in one case and for being supposedly uncommonly aggravating in the other, racism and the fear of armed men, the desire of individuals to face threats armed).

  7. This makes a lot of sense, Mary Anne. For instance, there is the use of a “gay panic” defense in some criminal cases. The idea is that a proposition or perceived proposition from a gay man is such a threat to a person’s identity as a straight man that it justifies assault or murder.

    For that matter, I think we see the same thing in the title of the Defense of Marriage Act. Why does marriage need defending? Because the existence of legal unions between gay or lesbian couples would undermine the entire (apparently quite fragile) institution.

  8. PrometheeFeu says:

    James Grimmelmann,

    The speakers expect those arguments to be persuasive, but apart from the last one and maybe the one one regarding the Cleveland rapes, I don’t see any evidence that they expect the persuasion to be helped by an idea of male vulnerability.

    Most obviously perhaps, you have Michael Dunn who claims that he saw 4 black men one of them with a shotgun and that that is why he shot at them. Where is male vulnerability? Unless the OP is trying to say that any admission that one is not bullet-proof is not masculine, I don’t see the connection.

    Kaimipono D Wenger,

    I think the gay panic defense which some people tried (I believe almost universally without success) to assert is a good example of that. Same thing with DOMA and marriage.

    But I think this is not a contradiction when you realize that those who make those arguments aren’t really defending the manifestation of the concept, but really the concept itself. (Or rather their conception of it) When I speak with DOMA supporters (or equivalent) I don’t usually hear them say that DOMA’s repeal will cause them to divorce. I hear them say that marriage is a shared institution and that while their marriage will survive, the institution as a whole is destroyed by the whole concept of same-sex marriage. In their minds, it is not the act of the same sex marriage that destroys marriage. It is the redefinition of the institution which destroys it.

  9. New Prof. says:

    Mary Ann, can you please substantiate—not elaborate on, but substantiate—the idea that society has excused and “justified” the shooting of teenagers for playing loud music? Please substantiate the claim that society has “justified” or spent “time and energy” excusing the other problematic conduct you describe.

  10. New Prof. says:

    James wrote: “To respond to Orin’s question, the crucial common thread in these quotations is that their speakers all expected these to be persuasive arguments.”

    Prometheefeu concedes this, but mounts a further challenge. But I doubt this claim even gets out of the gate. Just because the lawyers make these arguments does not mean they “expect” the arguments to be persuasive. Just they desperately HOPE they will be.

    “Typically, people don’t offer justifications unless they expect them to be persuasive .”

    Of course they do; at least, lawyers at trial do. Lawyers know that freakish things happen, and it’s their job to do their due diligence and unturn all freaky stones.

    And even if we assume that lawyers expect to find such arguments persuasive, I’m not sure I see the relevance. At the end of the day, do such arguments prove to be persuasive? All I hear now adays is that Pistorius’s defense seems implausible. So if lawyers expect such arguments to be persuasive, it’s most likely they’re just out-of-touch people, not reliable mirrors of societal norms.

  11. Hmm. Do commenters really believe that there are no instances in which society has justified or excused violent reactions to perceived affronts to masculinity?

    What about, for instance, the law of justifiable homicide (as discussed, for instance, by Eugene Volokh here) under which acts of murder or assault were justified under a theory that the man was unable to control himself? As Volokh notes, this doctrine was well established in case law and statute in a variety of jurisdictions.

  12. PrometheeFeu says:

    Kaimipono D Wenger,

    I can speak only for myself, but it appears to me that most of the commenters here reacted, not to the thesis that society has on occasion condoned and even supported violent reactions to affronts to masculinity, but rather to the flimsy evidence and inflammatory style of the OP.

    PS: Also, seriously can somebody please fix the commenting system. I suppose the necessity to post 100 times in order to get a comment through is forcing me to make sure I really want to post my comment, but this is really annoying.

  13. Huh. What exactly is happening in comments, PrometheeFeu? I haven’t had any issues myself. What browser are you using? Could you e-mail details, and we can try to figure out what is happening?

    (And, is anyone else having the same problem? If so, details are very helpful — i.e., “Windows 7, Firefox 19.0, I click on “submit” and it gives the following error message . . .” )

  14. New Prof. says:

    Kaimipono, thanks for that tidbit, but it’s responsive to a question not asked. Mary Ann is making a claim about current society. Are the laws Volokh described still on the books? Do you think that a significant number of modern-day jurors would consider a homicide justifiable in the circumstances his post described? Or could it be that Volokh posted about such laws precisely because they’re so strange by modern standards that they’re interesting? The question was: what evidence is there that society excuses and “justifies” the murders and rapes Mary Ann describes?

  15. New Prof. says:

    And no, Kaimipono, I am not, I am sure to your great relief, having problems posting.

  16. New Prof, if you’re unfamiliar with the literature, I would recommend that you begin with Steven Shatz & Naomi Shatz, Chivalry is Not Dead: Murder, Gender, and the Death Penalty, 27 Berkeley J. Gender L. & Just. 64 (2012) (empirical analysis of California death-penalty cases). You may also want to examine Joshua Dressler, When “Heterosexual” Men Kill “Homosexual” Men: Reflections on Provocation Law, Sexual Advances, and the “Reasonable Man” Standard, 85 J. Crim. L. & Criminology 726 (1995).

    If you have further questions about the factual and legal background after looking at the law review literature here, please let me know.

  17. AnonProf says:

    “This is not the “New Age sensitive male” mocked by comedians and pundits. These men don’t ask questions or cry when they feel vulnerable: they kill, rape, and discriminate. And society largely allows, even encourages, them to do so.”

    I must say, this is one of the of the more overgeneralized, vulgar, mean-spirited statements I’ve read in a long while, especially on a legal blog. It is every bit as poor a stereotype as ones made about women. As a person who has worked for women’s rights, represented the victims of domestic violence in court, and published on the subject, I find this deeply offensive; although, no doubt the author found it to be cathartic.

  18. AnonProf, I think you’re reading that sentence on the wrong level. I agree that it is a terrible, offensive stereotype. But that is precisely the point of the post: to identify a harmful stereotype in too-common usage and decry it, not to embrace it as true of men.

  19. See also, e.g., the Peacock case:

    A husband who admitted killing his wife after finding her in bed with another man was sentenced to 18 months in prison by a judge who said that such a killing was understandable.

    The defendant, Kenneth Peacock, 36, said he killed his wife, Sandra, 31, last Feb. 9 with a single shot to the head from a hunting rifle a few hours after he had arrived home unexpectedly during a storm. Mrs. Peacock’s lover escaped unharmed.

    In handing down the sentence on Monday, Judge Robert E. Cahill of Circuit Court said he was reluctant to give any prison time to Mr. Peacock, who had pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter.

    “I seriously wonder how many men married five, four years would have the strength to walk away without inflicting some corporal punishment,” Judge Cahill said.

    The judge added that he felt obligated to impose prison time “only because I think I must do it to make the system honest.”

    So the fragile husband just _had_ to kill wife; and the male judge would rather impose no sentence at all, but ended up handing down an 18-month sentence because he felt he had no other choice.

    You know, if I didn’t know better, I might go so far as to call that an example of society allowing — or justifying, or excusing — the perpetrator’s actions.

    Naw. Couldn’t be.

  20. Lawrence Cunningham says:

    I agree with comment no. 17’s point about the vulgarity of this post and wonder why James Grimmelmann and Kaimi Wenger, rather than its author, are explaining the point of the post, which remains to me (no. 3), despite their interventions, totally opaque.

  21. Because explaining things is my job.

    Because I am a man who was not at all offended by the post.

    Because some of the responses deserved replies.

    Because everyone has busy days, and can’t always respond as quickly as they would like.

  22. Lawrence Cunningham says:

    James: I wasn’t asking you.

  23. PrometheeFeu says:

    Kaimipono D. Wenger,

    I’m sending you an email with the details.

    Lawrence Cunningham,

    In my experience, Mary Ann Franks takes a sort of “en-block” approach to responding to comments responding to many comments a few times rather than a more frequent posting style.

  24. Mary Anne Franks says:

    I was not aware that there was an expectation on the part of some here that the author of a post must immediately respond to every criticism raised in the comments. Aside from the fact that guest blogging is necessarily a part-time activity for me, I don’t understand why anyone would lament the fact that commenters on a post are engaging in a lively dialogue with each other, or that an author might want to take some time to reflect rather than merely react.

    Moreover, I am skeptical that commenters who label my post “vulgar” and “mean-spirited” and “inflammatory” or “deeply offensive” are genuinely interested in hearing more about my position. They sound like they have already made up their minds to dislike what they are reading. That’s their prerogative, of course, but it is not a particularly good use of my time to try to persuade people whose reactions take the form of insults.

    But I must say, the animosity towards my post expressed by some commenters is fascinating. My assessment so far is that some commenters are, as James Grimmelman suggested to AnonProf, simply misreading the post. Of course I am not arguing that all men are fragile and use that fragility to hurt others; I am arguing that some men themselves promote this idea. I began the post with quotations for a reason: these are men themselves, and their advocates, making these arguments and expecting them to be persuasive to at least some segment of society. If commenters are troubled by the implications of men using weakness as a justification for the harms or risks they impose on other people, then I’m pretty sure we’re on the same side. Other commenters seem to think I am somehow attacking them personally. I’m not sure what else explains the deeply offended tone of some of the comments. I don’t know what to say about this except to advise these commenters to read the post more carefully. My target is the rhetoric that uses male fragility to justify harm. Unless you consider yourself a proponent of this rhetoric, I do not understand the sense of outrage.

    Prof. Cunningham, I’m sorry that the point of my post has escaped you. Let me try again: the post highlights what I consider to be a troubling phenomenon of men with privilege and power characterizing their insecurities and lack of self-control as vulnerability, and using that alleged vulnerability as an excuse or justification for murder, rape, and discrimination. The post also suggests that we as a society should use our energy to 1. marginalize this kind of cowardice and 2. become more attentive to genuine vulnerability.

    Prof. Kerr, I’m afraid I don’t understand why the fact that Jovan Belcher killed himself after murdering his girlfriend disqualifies him from the phenomenon I’ve described. Of course angry, fearful men often hurt themselves, but that is far less important than the fact that they hurt innocent others. As for LaPierre, his fear-mongering is meant to justify subjecting the public at large to the risks of widespread gun possession. Lastly, the sergeant’s fear that he may not be able perform his duties because of his own reaction to the injury or death of a female soldier is used as a reason to exclude women from positions they are otherwise qualified to hold. These are all variations on the same theme: men using their own weakness or fear as a reason to harm or disadvantage others.

    As to the requests for “substantiation” regarding society’s tolerance and sometimes encouragement of certain forms of male violence: as Kaimi has already gently suggested, there is a wealth of easily available information (case law, law review articles, empirical studies, books) on the subject. In addition to Kaimi’s suggestions, here are just a few suggestions: Castle Rock v. Gonzales, in which a mother contacted the police nine times to report that her abusive ex-husband had taken their children in violation of a restraining order, only to be told that she shouldn’t worry because “they are with their father.” Her three little girls were found shot to death in his truck following a shootout with police several hours later. You can find statistics on intimate partner violence and sexual assault in the Dept. of Justice’s National Crime Victimization Survey and studies by the Violence Policy Center. Victoria Nourse’s Passion’s Progress: Modern Law Reform and the Provocation Defense, 106 Yale Law Journal 1331 (1997) and Duncan Kennedy’s Sexy Dressing, Etc.: Essays on the Power and Politics of Cultural Identity (1993) are also good sources on these issues.

    If there is truth to the idea that a society gets the crimes it deserves, then we would do well to ask why our society (whether that be the U.S. or a broader definition) has such high rates of domestic violence, rape, and racial and gender discrimination. We should ask as well why the punishment for such behavior is often so lax (provocation defenses when men kill their intimate partners, as Kaimi mentioned; the shockingly low report, arrest, and conviction rate for rape; the frequent trivialization and dismissal of race and gender discrimination). We should ask, finally, why victim-blaming so often rears its ugly head in discussions of high-profile killings and rapes of women by men and, more recently, in high-profile murders of young black men by white men (see the vilification of Trayvon Martin, for example). My evidence is, in other words, the world we live in.

  25. Lawrence Cunningham says:

    Prof. Franks:

    The fourth paragraph of your foregoing comment is nice and clear. It would work as a good lead for a post. At last I understand the point of the post.

    Of course you can respond to comments whenever you want or ignore them. It remains frustrating, when I write that I don’t understand the point of a post, for third parties to explain the author’s meaning so confidently and unhelpfully.

    My criticisms are intended as constructive. I am open minded. I just had no idea what you were talking about. The post did not begin to enlighten. It began to inflame. That reader reaction, especially from someone who has been writing on this blog for many years, should be worth hearing and thinking about, not be a waste of time.

  26. Think About It says:

    I think we would have 10x as many angry comments on a blog post entitled “The Dangerous Fragility of Women”. I will never understand why men are generally free targets in the academy, but women generally are not.

  27. Ell says:

    Hi Mary – I found this to be a fascinating post and I don’t disagree with your premise – that certain aspects of masculinity are portrayed and perceived as incredibly delicate and brittle and this perception has been used to justify discriminatory behaviour and policy (and of course in some cases violence). From my perspective I’m not exactly sure how someone could disagree with that and not engage with language that discuses how normal, natural or inevitable these perceptions are.

    However, I also have a little skepticism about the specific examples. I think using outlandish defence claims to violent crimes is not necessarily a great way to show society approbation. On the contrary, in the rape case for example, I think that “society” (as it is represented in op eds and the blogosphere at least) was pretty disgusted at the argument, and especially with the wording. The fact that a defence lawyer may make such an argument is potentially the result of a lot of things unrelated to how many people he or she expects to persuade. I think a greater measure of social approbation would be the reaction to the argument rather than the making of it. I’m not sure society has endorsed the notion that the little girl lured in the men and the adolescents who raped her, although I certainly agree that the defence argument was definitely trying to engage those stereotypes.

    It is also certainly true that people who commit crimes draw on cultural stereotypes to excuse them – both legally and socially – and that the fragility of male sexuality and the brittle nature of masculinity is a part of that; and of course it is only recently that the legal system and society at large have started to reject these arguments (where they are rejected).

  28. Ell says:

    And I would bring to Mr. Wenger’s attention – again, not because I disagree, but because I think the persepective is valuable – that after the Peacock case the law was actually altered to exclude the discovery of infidelity from the provocation defence. While it is certainly a terrible case, and possibly a terrible judge, and one that certainly stirs my indignation, it would seem that “society’s” reaction is not approving.

    Although it is certainly an example of a case in which someone was persuaded by the argument that men cannot control themselves.

  29. New Prof. says:

    Mary Ann, I fail to see how your evidence substantiates your original claims:

    -“Castle Rock v. Gonzales, in which a mother contacted the police nine times to report that her abusive ex-husband had taken their children in violation of a restraining order, only to be told that she shouldn’t worry because “they are with their father.” Her three little girls were found shot to death.”

    Are you implying that the police department’s “don’t worry, they are with their father” response evinces their belief that it would be acceptable that a father might kill his children (“justifiable,” “excusable”)? It seems what they thought, obviously incorrectly, was that the father would not harm his own children. Do you think that the same person would be less likely to respond identically if the mother had taken the children, in violation of a restraining order? I seriously doubt it. And wouldn’t that be evidence, using your reasoning, of a systemic tendency to excuse dangerous femininity? This example only illustrates gross negligence on the part of the police department, a negligence that has nothing apparent to do with excusing harmful masculinity.

    -“You can find statistics on intimate partner violence and sexual assault in the Dept. of Justice’s National Crime Victimization Survey and studies by the Violence Policy Center.”

    So the frequency of a crime means that society thinks it generally “justified”? Remember, I’m focused on the claim you actually made, not on the gradually diluted version of that claim as the thread evolves. I take it this means that society thinks it “justified” that murder is so common? Is this why the U.S. is one of the few first-world nations with the death penalty?

    And how does it affect your analysis that domestic violence, both “minor” and severe forms of it, is committed almost as often by women as by men, according to law professor Linda Kelly?

    Would you say, then, that your own example evinces justification by society of DV committed by women? A dangerous femininity? Indeed, wouldn’t that be a stronger argument, given that society seems to care ONLY about DV committed against women despite apparent rough symmetry? Indeed (again), isn’t your gynocentric invocation of domestic violence a good example of this?

    -“We should ask as well why the punishment for such behavior is often so lax (provocation defenses when men kill their intimate partners)

    What evidence do you have of the regular success of such defenses? And can’t the same be said for women who kill their husbands (indeed, given the controversial frequency with which “battered wife syndrome” is invoked, including in very questionable circumstances)?

    Interestingly, Mr. Wenger cites to an article that seems to undermine the point more than making it. The article about chivalry argues that men receive higher sentences when they kill women, than women do when they kill men, and attributes this to chivalrous attitudes among judges and jurors. This appears to be strong evidence of a society that deems female violence as relatively “justified,” adjusting for defenses such as abuse, etc.

    And here’s an article demonstrating with empirical analysis that women regularly get lighter sentences for the same crimes:

    Isn’t this (unlike, say, the Castle Rock and the Peacock cases, which are, aside from being extremely anecdotal, very question begging) strong evidence of a society that excuses harmful conduct by women? How often do we see violence against women in popular culture truly glorified? That is, the subject of amusement? Compare that to women who assault men, often severely, on-screen, and receive applauses for it; or Bobbitt jokes.

    Regarding rape statistics, that’s a whole post in itself, but the “world we live in” reflects a very different conclusion that the one you reach. I mean, need I remind you that, for example, many states imposed the death penalty for rape until the Supreme Court ruled this unconstitutional? Need I remind you of how, in the media, alleged rapists are assumed guilty until proven innocent?

    I’m still waiting for evidence of the actual initial claim, something neither you nor Mr. Wenger have provided, despite cites to articles that beg more questions than provide answers. I’d like to see evidence that society has “justified” and “excused” the gang rape of the 11 year old girl, or the shooting of teenagers who played loud music. Remember, your post specifically claimed that society was spending too much time and energy focusing on the “bad” behavior of the victims IN THESE SPECIFIC CASES, rather than that of the perpetrators. The closest you come, Mary Ann, to providing such evidence is the Martin case, but I don’t recall “society” “excusing” Zimmerman for anything. What I do recall is people wanting to know precisely what Martin did during the altercation to Zimmerman. Such details are legally and morally relevant. Just as in rape cases, a desire to hammer out all relevant contextual details does not reflect a “blaming the victim” mentality, despite how often some may repeat the catchphrase.

    And, to respond to some others, nobody is denying the claim, per se, that vulnerabilities that allegedly or actually arise from fragile masculinity are used in certain discrete circumstances as explanations, and at times excuses, for harmful behavior (but of course the same can be said about women’s conduct). The problem is the ultimate claim that this premise is meant to support: that this is such a widespread phenomenon such that society manifestly “encourages” or at least “excuses” the harmful behavior of men generally, and conversely, that society is too busy sympathizing with male perpetrators that it is distracted from “also appreciate[ing] the vulnerability of those far more at risk.”

  30. New Prof. says:

    Oh, and sorry for spelling your name incorrectly, Mary Anne.

  31. Bruce Boyden says:

    I think this discussion is really interesting, although I’m not sure I’ve seen anything that anybody should be getting agitated about. Mary Anne’s original post raises the possibility of a trope of a lack of emotional control as a justification for violence by men. It’s an intriguing suggestion, since lack of emotional control is not something that is stereotypically associated with men, which would appear to indicate that justifications offered are particular to the situations and not just a reliance on more general views about the world. It seems worth at least exploring a little — are there particular instances in which such justifications often work, and if so, what are they? To the objection that the connection hasn’t been proven, I’d respond that that is an awful lot to expect from a blog post. Blog posts suggest, or argue; they don’t often prove.

    But I think Orin raises a very good cautionary point, which is that even given a large number of similar anecdotes, we can conclude very little just from that evidence about the cultural *strength* of this trope. Indeed, from the fact that some of the individuals were being prosecuted and at least one convicted, there’s a good chance that this particular trope is not very strong at all. There can still be reasons to study a weak trope — for example, the arguments and world-view of tax protesters are interesting — but it doesn’t shed much light on broader society. For that, we’d need some sort of evidence that a broad segment of the population finds these particular sorts of arguments persuasive, or that authority figures have acted on them, or other evidence of cultural weight.

  32. Bruce Boyden says:

    “I will never understand why men are generally free targets in the academy, but women generally are not.”

    Think, I’m not sure the length of this comment thread bears you out on that one.

  33. NewProf,

    Mary Anne _has_ explained, and you keep saying, “that’s not good enough.” Mary Anne believes that these cases show a trend in society, and you don’t agree with her substantive analysis. Fair enough.

    Being that terms like “society” have a fair amount of definitional wiggle room, we could go in circles all day on this.

    Maybe it’s time to agree-to-disagree, and find another thread in which to employ your talents.

  34. New Prof. says:

    Mr. Wenger, that’s not quite right. This is not a scenario wherein I’m expecting Mary Anne to “prove” anything. Especially when it comes to something this complicated, I agree that this is too much to ask in a blog post. What I am asking for is a serious examination of the empirical allegations that undergird the entire point. Without that, what’s the point? Argument as art?

    Although this is a blog, I would imagine, given that it’s an academic blog, that claims like Mary Anne’s would not be presented with such certitude and at once with so little interest in closely and dispassionately examining the empirical premises on which that certitude relies. Though, it could be the case—and I don’t mean this sarcastically—that I misunderstand the nature of this forum. I admit I have not posted here a lot.

    Bruce, Think used the term “generally.” I think the surprise that some are expressing here that commenter’s are offended by the OP is telling. They’re not used to men expressing such offense in the face of these kinds of ideas. Why? Because men generally don’t push back, which contributes to an academic culture wherein misandry is relatively acceptable. That individuals like Mr. Wenger mock the very concept of misandry (post that was deleted by the admins, along with my admittedly equally sarcastic response) is, itself, a good example of misandry in action.

  35. Orin Kerr says:

    Mary Anne writes: “I’m afraid I don’t understand why the fact that Jovan Belcher killed himself after murdering his girlfriend disqualifies him from the phenomenon I’ve described.”

    I didn’t say it disqualifies it: I just said that I don’t see why you think it is relevant to your view that society “allows, even encourages” such acts. Belcher’s suicide meant that the usual societal response of charging him with a crime was disabled. Can you say more about why society encouraged Belcher’s acts?

    Mary Anne next writes: ” As for LaPierre, his fear-mongering is meant to justify subjecting the public at large to the risks of widespread gun possession.”

    LaPierre was expressing the view of the NRA, a group which has many women members, and his statement was about rights to self-defense generally, which I would think generally means rights to use self-defense against men. Why is evidence of society “allowing, even encouraging,” murders and rapes?

    Mary Anne writes: “Lastly, the sergeant’s fear that he may not be able perform his duties because of his own reaction to the injury or death of a female soldier is used as a reason to exclude women from positions they are otherwise qualified to hold. These are all variations on the same theme: men using their own weakness or fear as a reason to harm or disadvantage others.”

    As I understand the story, the sergeant was talking about why he doesn’t want women to be at risk of being killed. I’m not sure it’s natural to take that as a position designed to try to harm women, but even if we read it that way, how is that evidence that society encourages murdering and raping?

    Perhaps I just misunderstand the post, but I was expecting that the idea of “society” encouraging murders and rapes meant that at least some segment of the public thought that such murders and rapes were good ideas. But I’m not aware of anyone saying that they are good ideas except for plainly self-serving and outrageous claims by individuals who committed the acts, all of whom were criminally prosecuted except for one who killed himself to avoid prosecution.

  36. Ryan Calo says:

    Mary Anne says: “Once one scratches the surface of this myth, however, it becomes apparent that stereotypical ‘masculinity’ (and ‘hyper-masculinity’ even more so) is in fact defined by fragility.”

    I personally think Mary Anne’s post is both comprehensible and interesting. But I see the underlying issue a little differently. I think (some) men have long used the supposed fragility of women as evidence that women are weak and men strong “by definition.” In other words, for some men at some times, what is it to be a “man” is to be the stronger. When such men confront a greater power still in the form of the State—when they find themselves on the “field of pain and death,” so to speak—maybe we should not be terribly surprised to see them adopt what is on their view a feminine manner of self-presentation.

    As to whether society is receptive to such narratives (i.e., finds them persuasive to the point of leniency): maybe, and maybe not. An admittedly radical way to explain, for instance, the pretty well evidenced underenforcement of rape in all male prisons is to suggest that society may at one level sympathize with the efforts of prisoners to reassert sexual hierarchy in an environment without gender. There are probably quite a few ways to try to explain the phenomenon of prison rape underforcement, of course. Maybe looking the other way on prison rape allocates goods to their highest value use… who knows. My point is that it is perfectly coherent to suggest that deep-seated psychological assumptions about gender may play a role in criminal justice outcomes.

    Anyway, I found the post thought-provoking, and commend Mary Anne on her typical originality and candor. To the extent, if any!, that Mary Anne’s is an explanatory theory, I’d personally be interested to see a prediction of how a particular unresolved scenario or future empirical study will cache out—predictive accuracy being an agreed upon means to test an explanatory theory in many quarters.


  37. Mary Anne Franks says:

    There’s a lot going on in these comments, and I thank those of you who have made important and insightful contributions to this discussion. Given the number of issues raised by this thread, I’m going to write a separate post to respond.

  38. D says:

    Retired Lieutenant Colonel Dave Grossman’s On Killing contains a couple passages about the willingness to kill women. Grossman presents several soldier’s anecdotes which illustrate – for example – that sometimes even hardened Green Berets who had killed dozens of men failed to shoot a female combatant.

    Richard Holmes states in Acts of War: the behavior of men in battle that many French soldiers’ casualties in the First Franco-Dahomean War resulted from the soldiers’ hesitating to kill Dahomey Amazons.

    The socialization of males in the Western world affects some men’s effectiveness in wartime, even in some instances making it very difficult or impossible for them to kill females even when their lives or the lives of comrades depend upon it.

    Of course some men are natural killers. Like Chris Kyle, the Devil of Ramadi. The first combatant he killed in Iraq was a woman holding a baby in one arm and a grenade in the other.

    But one should not dismiss cases of men’s societal-ingrained response to protecting women.

    Also, I concur with Orin Kerr’s earlier point that the guilt of an entire sex should not rest on the appeals of a few, especially a few for which an obvious incentive toward biased and even irrational statements exists.

    Regardless, I enjoy reading your posts. First time responding, second article reading here. Keep up the good work.