Michael Eriksson
A Swede in Germany
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The more aggressive sex

A common claim, in particular from women, is that men are much more aggressive than women. This is another issue where I am highly skeptical: When I look at my own experiences so far, I have a very strong impression that women are more likely to become angry (in particular over nothings); more likely to let their anger out on others; and, possibly, even more likely to actually become violent (although this is rare in adult members of either sex). Reading e.g. http://notalwaysright.com/e and observing the high proportion of women among the customers who display anger is also illuminating.

My characterization would be: Women are much more likely to become angry fast and over trivial matters; men, once angry, could possibly be more prone to take physical action (but because this state is rarer, the overall occurrence is likely still be lower than for women); if physical action is taken, women are more interested in hurting their opponents, and men more in defeating their opponents; women are much more likely to engage in various kinds of non-physical violence than men are; the sum (including non-physical) of all acts of violence/abuse against others is definitely larger for women.


The statement about hurting, respectively defeating, an opponent also applies in factual discussions: A good argument for a man could be “X looks good at a casual glance; however, X leads to Y, and Y is really bad.”; while a woman prefers attacks with an ad hominem aspect, usually combined with varying other intellectual fallacies, e.g. “You never take my side!” (in a relationship), “I have been doing this longer than you! You are wrong!” (in the office), “You are a sexist pig!” (in a discussion of men, women, and related issues).

(Notwithstanding that some men err in this regard too.)

For many women, it appears, an argument is won when she either gets the last word, because the other party gives up, or when she feels that she “dealt out” more than she received. For a man an argument is won if and when the other party concedes the point.

A few observations:

  1. Modern research on domestic violence shows that women are at least as likely to be the aggressors as men are (cf. e.g. http://www.csulb.edu/~mfiebert/assault.htme, http://www.mens-links.net/showlinks.asp?category=4e, http://hereticalsex.blogspot.com/2007/10/domestic-violence-scientific-evidence.htmle, or Domestic_violence_statisticsw); I have seen numbers were as much as three quarters of all incidents are perpetrated by women. Then there is the issue of lesbian vs. gay violencee.

    Notably, this is often in reference just to physical acts. If we include various kinds of emotional abuse, including verbal belittling and provocation, women will stand out as the unequivocally more aggressive party.


    Older research showed the opposite picture (as does some poorly done or feminist controlled newer). Among the explanations: Men tend under-report violence commited against them. At least in the US, false allegations are deliberately raised by many women. Many researchers in the area have strong feministic interests (an interesting read on thise). Research not clearly indicating men as the perpetrators has lead to repercussions for the researchers at the hand of feminist groups, including defamation, harassment, and, ironically, physical violence. If a man hits a woman back, later records will often neglect to mention that she hit him first; often (again, at least in the US) the police arrests the man in any case of domestic violence, irrespective of who has done what—even in cases, where he called for assistance.


    I have later stumbled upon a list of murderers by victimsw. While it contains fewer women than men, the number of women is still considerable. This includes a strong contender for the number one spot (Amelia Dyerw)—two, if the infamous Elizabeth Báthoryw, whose deeds may have been invented or exaggerated, is included. Further, seeing that the women on the list often killed in a manner leaving no obvious reason to suspect foul play, it is possible that there are a number of overlooked cases.

  2. If we look at animals, there is a very strong connection between ability to do damage and strong inhibitions against using violence against members of the same species. Notably, most of the “fights” that occur between males of the same species are largely ritualistic and aimed at determining who would win a fight, without actually going through with the fight. By analogy, it would be unsurprising if men have greater inhibitions against using physical violence than women do—almost certainly, they have stronger inhibitions against all-out violence. Notably, statistics on domestic violence indicate that women are more likely to use implements, throw things, and similar.


    Humans are more likely to kill members of the same species than most other animals. A plausible hypothesis, that I have seen repeatedly, sees this as the result of a mismatch between capability and inhibition: Our inhibitions correspond to our built-in destructive capabilities, which are small compared to e.g bears’; OTOH, our actual capabilities, through access to weapons and other potentially deadly implements, are disproportionally large. This is particularly obvious in wars: A soldier with a machine gun is a much more dangerous opponent than even the fiercest grizzly.

  3. Females of other species can often be extremely aggressive (noticeable more so than the males) in situations where their off-spring is under threat. This almost certainly applies to women too (evolutionary reasons, some anecdotal evidence). Generalizing this to other situations than threats to off-spring would be too far-going; however, I note that aggressive behavior in women often have a similar quality (if not quantity) of “do harm to the enemy; no matter the consequences”.

  4. At least during their menstruation women are indisputably (even by women) more prone to irascibility than men. I can e.g. recall the couple who had the room next to mine in my first dorm: For a few days, she would loudly badger him over nothings several times a day; then spend roughly four weeks without ever raising her voice; then loudly badger him for a few days; etc. (Admittedly, this is not a typical case—yet, any man who goes through those few days without being harangued at least once gets off easy.)

  5. From a game-theoretical POV, compensating for a lesser ability to do damage by giving the impression of willingness to exercise that ability, can make sense: There is no reason why a bear should take a fight with a wolverine over small stakes—he would likely win, but would not be likely to win unharmed. Correspondingly, a greater amount of aggression among women could be an evolutionary product, giving them advantages. (Cf. e.g. my own experiences with BA2.) This strategy would be particularly successful in societies like the modern western ones, where a condemnation of violence against women is often instilled in men from their youngest childhood.


    This also can explain why men fight to win and women to cause hurt: For men the chance of winning a physical fight against another human are noticeably higher than 50 percent; for women, it is noticeably lower than 50 percent. Correspondingly, it can make sense for men to go for a victory, while women may be better off causing as much deterring harm as possible.

    An interesting analogy is the defense policy of Sweden during the cold war: Because defeating a hypothetical Soviet invasion was more or less ruled out in advance, the stated goal was to have sufficient military strength that it would deter the Soviet Union from invading based on cost/benefit considerations—victory would be extremely likely, but so costly that the benefits would not justify the attempt.

  6. From my readings of forums, I have the impression that some women either do not recognize that some of their abusive behaviors are, in fact, abuse; or that they tend to rationalize their behaviors in a self-righteous manner. This could obviously distort the female opinion on the subject. Example: I have read a few threads where a man has complained about constant emotional abuse from his wife, and mentioned that there have been times when he has been inches away from slapping her (or actually has slapped her, after a massive and prolonged provocation; or similar). There has typically been at least one woman who spent the rest of the thread making statements (of disputable truth) like “You must never hit a woman.” or “There is never a valid reason for hitting your partner.”, and so on. This disregards that emotional abuse is a greater sin than physical violence (of the same degree), and that the abuse described was of a considerably worse degree than a slap.

    I have also, once or twice, seen the claim by a woman that her hitting her husband would not be a big deal, because of the difference in strength and/or size. It could, conceivably, be a lesser deal, but it is certainly not something to trivialize.

    Generally, it seems to be very common for women to think that when they are abusive, it is because “he deserves it” (often for a highly subjective reason); but look upon the reverse case as “he is an abusive bastard”.

  7. Women can react with anger or tears in many situations where a man would almost always react with anger (assuming that he is pushed above a certain threshold). Which occurs, will be highly dependent on the woman, and a “crier” (or someone disproportionally exposed to criers) could understandably develop a view of women and aggression that does not match the behavior of the non-criers—and vice versa.

  8. Men are much more likely to engage in physical fighting of various kinds in their childhood and teens; however, most of that fighting is not done with a serious intent, but is “roughhousing” with an intent to be playful, measure strength in a sport-like character, or demonstrate superiority. Another sizable part falls into the category of bullying, which (while worthy of condemnation and often a symptom of emotional problems) is not directly related to the topic at hand. With adulthood, such activities usually cease (although non-physical bullying may continue). Corresponding behaviors exist in women, but take a non-violent form of trying to “out-attract” other women, verbally putting them down, etc. I have the impression that many women continue these behaviors long after men have ceased theirs.

  9. Men occasionally use physical force without anger and without any wish to hurt anyone. Consider e.g. someone (outside of police officers/security guards) physically restraining a drunk who is about to engage in violence, or who guides an unwanted person of the premises using the minimum amount of force necessary. These instances have nothing to do with aggression in the sense used here, but may be misinterpreted by someone who judges the objective situation differently (or has a radical anti-violence stance).

  10. Many cases of male violence occur under influence of drugs: To include such cases in a comparison of natural tendencies would distort the results, because many drugs lower inhibitions. (The same applies, obviously, to female violence under drug influence; however, I would speculate that the effect on the male statistics is larger, due to men’s greater inhibitions.)

  11. Looking at e.g. street and domestic violence, it is my distinct impression that male aggressors are limited to a small subset of the overall male population; and, after correcting for these extremes, their is little evidence that men would be particularly prone to violence. (Generally, non-trivial criminal acts tend to be made by a small minority of repeat offenders, rather than being single acts by the majority or a large minority.)

    To take an extreme example: If one man per thousand spends sixteen hours a day, day in and day out, to go from (physical) fight to fight, he could accumulate thousands of fights per year; and move the overall number of fights per man into several per year. If we now assume that the typical woman instigates one fight per year, and no man ever fights anyone outside the belligerent one-in-a-thousand’s, it would be entirely correct to say that women are more prone to physical violence than men—although a naive look at the statistics would give a different impression. (Note that this is just an illustration of principle—not a claim about the actual statistics.)

  12. At least some instances of violence are caused by deliberate (misguided) attempts to adhere to the stereotype (as opposed to naturally adhering to it). In particular men with low confidence and in a group with a “macho” profile, can be prone to violence (or crime, various dares, ...) to prove that they are “cool”, “real men”, or similar—I would even speculate that the lower their natural propensity for violence is, the more likely they are to (over-)compensate in this manner. Women in a similar situation (m.m.) would strive to prove different things and live up to a different stereotype, with no artificial increase in acts of violence.

  13. Similarly, violence and aggression is very often a result of underlying insecurities and fears. Humans, in general, are often plagued by such even at an adult age; however, I have a strong impression that the insecurities of the typical male grow smaller at an earlier age than those of the typical female. This could explain both why women are more aggressive overall, and why the reverse can be true in children and teenagers.

  14. When reading blogs by women, statements like “I felt like punching her nose, but I was afraid to because [...]” occasionally occur. (Where the ellipsis could be a variety of things, including being hurt, getting a reputation, looking uncool.) The interesting question is how these cases should be divided into categories like e.g. fear, prudence, “doing the right thing”, ... This is significant, because it could (depending on the proportions) distort how aggression manifests itself in the respective sexes. Consider e.g. man A and man B getting into a heated argument, ending with A punching B, on the one hand; and, on the other, the same scenario with woman A, where she only refrains from the punch because she has a strong emotion of fear (of getting hurt herself, if it came to a fight)—but where she would have punched a female opponent.

    The important distinction is whether the aggression is controlled by conscious or unconscious inhibitions (e.g. prudence), or whether it is “out-powered” by another emotion (typically fear). At this stage, I can only speculate.

  15. External circumstance could possibly skew the view I have of women’s natural aggression level. In particular, many people (including me) become more irritable when hungry; and the greater tendency of women to be on a diet or (even on a normal day) eat less than men relative their size could well make a difference. I note, however, that I have not noticed any correlation between irritability and amount of fat in either sex.

  16. It is hardly a coincidence that the saying “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.” has no correspondent for “man”—be he scorned or not.