The male hormone Testosterone has been found to be associated with “dominant” and “aggressive” behavior and as men have higher levels of Testosterone, many assume that their “aggressive” behavior is linked to their biological make-up. However, there is no conclusive evidence to prove that its the testosterone which counts. Environmental factors play an important role.* And even when it comes to biological factors, I doubt whether its just the testosterone. Women are aggressive too, without loads of testosterone.
I personally believe (even if both biological and environmental factors play a part) that levels of aggression depend on the individual and not on gender. Let me explain what I mean.
Women are not less aggressive than men
I never really believed that women are less aggressive than men. It’s just that they express their aggression differently. Having studied in an all-girls convent school and later brought up in a society where one tended to come (predominantly) in contact with people of one’s own sex, one gets to know people of one’s sex quite well. From what I have seen, aggressive women reveal their aggression in indirect ways.
As we all know, the term aggression means far more than just physical aggression. So, if we leave out physical assault and murder, and consider only interactions in daily life, we will see that men and women are almost equally aggressive. Or let us say equally soft and gentle. It depends on the individual, not their gender.
Take bullying, which can take place in school, at home and at the workplace and can involve yelling, constant criticism, nagging, putting the other person down, withholding information, acting difficult and uncooperative. In a workplace study, more women are found to be bullies than men – 58 percent vs. 42 percent. Though ofcourse victims were also usually women – women targeted other women 80 percent of the time and men targeted women 70 percent of the time.
But why am I leaving out physical violence where men are the main perpetrators? Well, I think that if more criminal minded men commit violent crimes (as compared to criminal minded women) one of the reasons is that because they can get away with it…because they have more physical strength. Now physical strength itself is linked to testosterone so there goes my theory!! As testosterone affects physical characteristics like muscle strength, this superior physical prowess could give men (if they are so inclined) the nerve and confidence to commit physical assault. So testosterone is linked to physical aggression, but I don’t think it is linked to indirect aggression.
In fact, it is interesting to note that although women overall are not prone to violent crime…they are the same as men when it comes to murdering their own children.
Men express their aggression differently
When it comes to minor (not criminal) aggression incidents in our daily life, a man’s aggression is more likely to be expressed in physical ways (as compared to women) and I see it that as a result of a societal conditioning. Pushing and shoving someone for example. Its considered unladylike for girls and women to do, but tolerated if a boy does it. Pushing someone or throwing a punch is a negative expression of aggression, but its important to note that it’s tolerated in men.
Men’s expression of aggression changing?
In ancient times physical aggression was necessary just to survive, but in modern society there is no need to be physically aggressive to survive. In fact it might even be detrimental. A boy who gets into fights becomes the bad boy. He is forced by civilized society to channelise his aggression into other forms of expression.
Sophisticated and “civilised” men with aggressive tendencies learn to exhibit their aggression in different ways. They could adopt indirect methods.
These are just a few of the things which are manifestation of indirect aggression:
- Ostracizing a person
- Public ridicule and making fun of others
These are also negative methods of expressing one’s aggression, as negative as hitting someone. But many of these methods, being associated with “female aggression,” have far more negative overtones than blatant physical aggression. But at the end of the day, they are just as undesirable as hitting someone.
Here are some more examples…filing of trivial court cases…or even honking or driving rashly. Positive ways to channelize aggression are sports activities…or competitiveness in one’s profession.
It can’t be just testosterone!
As aggression exhibited in daily interactions is equally dispersed between both sexes, I am not sure of the role of testosterone. Why is so much importance given to this hormone specially when there is new research which says that estrogen has a role to play in increased aggression? And it’s also an acknowledged fact that social conditioning plays a very important part. True, the administration of female hormones such as estrogen and Progesterone has also been shown to reduce aggression in men but then aggression levels in men do not match with their testosterone levels! There are men with high testosterone levels who have been found to have low levels of aggression.
There has to be some other undiscovered biological factor which influences aggression levels, if one has to find a biological link. If aggression is found to be equally distributed in both men and women then it surely has to be so?
If at all one wants to relate aggression levels to biology, there is news that another hormone, Serotonin, is linked to levels of aggression, playing an important role in regulating aggressive behavior in animals and people.
…the lower level of serotonin, the more are the chances that an individual will show hostility or act in aggressive and anxious manner. The high level of serotonin will contribute to feelings of happiness, emotional gratification and be an effective stress killer.
As research is ongoing, I am sure in another few years, more such chemicals, genes and hormones will be discovered which play a dynamic role in a person’s aggressive behavior, alongwith environmental influences. Something tells me that scientists will relegate the hormone testosterone to a lesser role and its influence will be considered more important in defining physical characteristics.
The future of aggression
I see physical violence gradually reducing in this world. I know this idea sounds a little shocking if one looks at the level of violence in the world today. But I feel if one compares the level of violence in the world today to the level of violence say 100 or 200 years ago, its much less. The further we go back into our history, the more violent it is.
Violence has no place in modern, liberal, cultured and civilized societies. But a human being’s level of aggression is not going to go away! The manifestation will become indirect. I see more and more men (those who have an aggressive streak) using indirect means to exhibit their aggression, something that women with aggressive tendencies have been doing down the ages. A kind of gender balance to so to speak.
*(Social Psychology by Robert A. Baron and Donn Byrne)
(Note: I wrote this post as I personally believe that women are as aggressive as men. I have tried to explain why I think so, and have taken the support of some authoritative articles. But I am no scientist, and nor am I a psychologist so do excuse the lapse in my understanding of this complex subject! Thank you for reading.)
(Photograph is copyrighted to me)
Related Reading: Television violence and its affects on children
Aggression in children can lead to tragedy
Depression, nervousness, anxiety and irritability? Blame it on the food!
Why men rape
Filicide – both men and women kill their children