Psychology Today: Jesse Prinz on “Why Are Men So Violent?”

Jesse Prinz writes in Psychology Today on the subject of evolutionary biology. The article is refreshing in its rebuttal of gender essentialist arguments about human evolutionary psychology.

A historical explanation of male violence does not eschew biological factors, but it minimizes them and assumes that men and woman are psychologically similar. Consider the biological fact that men have more upper-body strength than women, and assume that both men and women want to obtain as many desirable resources as they can. In hunter-gatherer societies, this strength differential doesn’t allow men to fully dominate women, because they depend on the food that women gather. But things change with the advent of intensive agriculture and herding. Strength gives men an advantage over women once heavy ploughs and large animals become central aspects of food production. With this, men become the sole providers, and women start to depend on men economically. The economic dependency allows men to mistreat women, to philander, and to take over labor markets and political institutions. Once men have absolute power, they are reluctant to give it up. It took two world wars and a post-industrial economy for women to obtain basic opportunities and rights.

This historical story can help to explain why men are more violent than women. The men who hold power will fight to keep it, and men who find themselves without economic resources feel entitled to acquire things by force if they see no other way. With these assumptions, we can dispense with the male warrior hypothesis…

Jesse Prinz is a Distinguished Professor at the City University of New York, Graduate Center. His work focuses on the role of perception, emotion, and culture and their influence on human human thought and values

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