The Trouble With Men


I sometimes think that the defects of men, and the virtues of women, are equally understated. An unreconstructed male will say that men have invented all sorts of things and built this and that, which is true. Feminists measure themselves by the extent to which they manage to resemble men, which is a mistake. Both largely overlook the gravest plague to afflict humanity: the infernal and irremediable aggressiveness of males.

When one speaks of being uneasy at having wandered into a bad neighborhood, it is solely from fear of attack by the males, is it not? If a woman’s car breaks down on a lonely road at night, she will be frightened of attack not by women or wild animals, but only by men. People do not avoid bar districts in the neighborhoods of the lower classes from wise concern about drunken pugnacious women. Men attack. Women don’t.

Physical incapacity has little to do with it. While the average woman cannot beat up the average man, three could, if accustomed to fighting. Women are neither accustomed to fighting nor interested in doing it. It is not by mere extended coincidence that nine of ten people in prison are men. The cause is their inherent aggressiveness. Theirs is the behavior of ownerless dogs living in the street.

“Hey, muthuhfuckuh, who you lookin’ at?”

Men, like street dogs, are both territorial and creatures of the pack. It starts early because it is instinctive. A boy of eleven showing up at a new school will be eyed by the other boys, tested, regarded with initial suspicion — but only by the boys. He earns his place in the pack. The girls are far more likely to say, “Hi, I’m Sally. What’s your name?” The little boys in a neighborhood form gangs, perfectly harmless in suburbs of the middle classes but gangs nevertheless, and guard their territory against intruders. They are playing, as puppies play. They are practicing for more serious times.

Come puberty and, in bad neighborhoods, things become ominous. The young males are now propelled by adult muscle and impelled by combative hormones. The Crips and Bloods in California, the Jets and Sharks of light opera, the Vice Lords, El Ruykns, Latin Kings, Black Gangster Disciples and so on of Chicago, the Hells Angels and the Confederate Angels and the Sons of Silence of motorcycledom: They are now dangerous.

They still closely resemble both street dogs and eleven-year-olds in fundamental motivation. They are intensely territorial. Members of one gang are very aware of the unwisdom of going into the territory of another. They have elaborate means of indicating membership in the pack: gang signs made with the hands, hats worn at specific orientations, jackets of particular colors, tattoos. The Hells Angels will beat you to death if you wear their paraphernalia. The graffiti sprayed everywhere nowadays in cities are precisely the territorial markings engaged in by male dogs, though the means differ. Despite the occasional stories asserting that girls are now forming violent gangs, they don’t. The appeal of hostile bands works its sordid magic only on males.

The instinctive (and sexual) foundations of all of this are obvious in other things. A young American male in, say, Asia, will find the local women willing to date him for all the usual reasons that cause women to date men. (Note the theme of West Side Story, which in this respect is perfectly accurate.) The local men will watch with hostility, however disguised. Males try to prevent access by outsiders to the women of their group. Thus they are less concerned about intrusion into their regions by white-haired men. These pose no sexual threat.

Within a society, the aggressiveness of the males can be moderated by rigorous enforcement of civility. In particular, the unshirted sexual forwardness of the male can be abated: A man in a suit seldom says, “Nice tits, baby,” or grab a handful, though both thoughts occur to him. This is why feminists are fools to deride the twin concepts, Lady and Gentleman. But even among the socially elevated, such street-doggery as dueling has often existed. The elaborate ritual of throwing down the gauntlet is nothing more than an elegant form of the gangbanger’s strut-and-holler. Hey, muthuhfuckuh….

The aggressiveness of males has wreaked unremitting havoc throughout history in the form of war. Women don’t do war, don’t like war, don’t fantasize about war. They put up with it. Lysistrata, though written by a man, captures the distaff mind well.

These days every war is said to have some justification of the most solemn import, but it’s just Crips and Bloods. Among primitive peoples a young man becomes a warrior through some curious rite, and then goes on raids to steal horses and women. With us it’s boot camp, jump wings, Ranger patch, and raids to impose democracy. The essential difference is as follows:

What we call statesmanship is, emotionally and morally, indistinguishable from gang war in South Chicago. The scale is more imposing and, under some administrations, the grammar better. Aggressive males rise to power in heavily armed countries of many millions. Then they push and shove, bark and bow-wow at others like themselves in other countries. The tribal trappings remain, particularly among the warriors: Baubles and medals and patches and different hats, talk of honor and duty and valor. Nah. Male dogs in an alley.

Women have very little use for it, though there is precious little they can do to change things. Their focus is different. In three decades of covering the military, I noticed that women thought in terms of people. To a male, a firestorm in Hamburg ignited by bombing constitutes a great victory. To a woman, it is tens of thousands of people burned alive. She is likely to ask, “Are we sure this is a good idea?” The aggressive male doesn’t want to hear about children being roasted to death and (I’ve been through this with them countless times) gets angry if you bring it up. He uses phrases like “collateral damage,” or says, “In war, s__t happens. Deal with it.” Among men, “Anti-war” is likely to be an insult; among women, a compliment.

Male aggressiveness pervades human life. It fuels the unending drive to found empires. A woman might say, “Look, Alex, you’ve got a perfectly good palace in Macedon, plenty to eat, a bar on the corner, nice women. Are you quite sure you need to conquer India? What are you going to do with it?” Men are more likely than women to favor capitalism (or “free enterprise” or “unrestricted rapine,” according to your politics) than women because it sanctifies commercial combat. Fifty billion isn’t enough, I must destroy the competition and eradicate Linux….

What to do about it? Nothing, at least any time soon.

Fred Reed is author of Nekkid in Austin: Drop Your Inner Child Down a Well and the just-published A Brass Pole in Bangkok: A Thing I Aspire to Be.