Despite misinformation campaigns with political agendas, and an increasing number of Hollywood movies and TV series over the years, in which gorgeous actresses star in roles portraying women as sadistic, conniving, ruthless killers, decades of research continue to reveal: heartless acts of violence are not gender neutral.
Neither is narcissism**, a set of behaviors associated with callous acts and heartlessness.
It’s vital for men and women alike to understand the cultural forces that promote and legitimize violence as a means of establishing dominance and status in social relationships. This is a prerequisite to neutralizing the strategies that pit men and women against each other. It’s also a prerequisite to forming relations based on common sense and mutual understanding, and to work together side by side, deliberately and consciously, to create a more humane, enriching and safe world for children and adults.
At least five reasons:
1. Most abusers are male.
Domestic violence is the leading cause of injury to women. According to the Mississippi Coalition Against Domestic Violence, it’s a myth that men are victims of domestic violence at same rate as women. Women experience far higher rate of partner violence. This means a woman is most at risk of being harmed by the man she most loves (or thinks loves her). Research shows that 64% of reported assaults, rape of women, for example, are by a current or former partner or date. In contrast, only 16% of men are assaulted by such perpetrator.
Research from stopvaw.org on the topic of myths about domestic violence shows that women are victims of domestic violence in 95% of reported cases; and only in 5% of cases, women are abusing men. Findings also show in most cases where women use violence, it is in self-defense, and the risks of harm are incomparably minimal. Reports of violence against men tend to be exaggerated because abusers often falsely accuse their partners of using violence as a way to minimize or avoid detection. Narcissists are experts at blame-shifting onto their victims. Also, men are much more likely to have resources to leave violent situations.
These statistics should not surprise us, given a cultural milieu in which male use of violence to establish power and entitlements (at minimum emotional violence or narcissistic abuse), continues to have widespread legitimacy. Furthermore, tactics such as gaslighting can render the violence of a narcissist, and the narcissistic abuse of a victim, nearly invisible to the untrained eye. (This is especially true in cases of covert narcissism.)
In many cases where police report incidents of female-to-male violence, it is not domestic violence per se, and rather a physical altercation (which 50% of couples report they sporadically engage in). According to experts in the field, unlike the type of violence used by women, a domestic violence offender methodical uses a campaign of terror, combined with a “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” type alternating with love bombing, with intent to dominate, control and tear down the sense of self and agency of their partner, to get them to participate in their own abuse and exploitation.
Of course, any violence is wrongful. The point of is, that: violence is not gender neutral.
Men and boys, by the way, are also victims of violence and sexual assault, in greater numbers than we dare to know. In most cases, their abusers are other males, family members, friends or acquaintances. (Wittingly or unwittingly, the manner in which domestic violence statistics are reported often hides the reality of male against male violence, leading journalists and the public alike to automatically assume a false equivalency.)
From boyhood, a “code of silence” is enforced on boys and men who experience assault (mostly by other men, or older/bigger boys) as a mainstream practice, for example, the practice of bullying or hazing, which are justified as “boys will be boys” behaviors. The same forces that give legitimacy to hazing and bullying for boys and men, however, also legitimize domestic violence and assault against women, and other groups “deemed inferior,” such as “weak” men, gays, children, etc.
2. The crimes committed by APDs are not gender neutral.
Make no mistake. Only one diagnosis in the DSM fits like a glove when it comes to violence as a display of dominance and rightful entitlements to status.
Domestic violence, sexual assault, rape, mass shootings, pedophilia, among other acts of violence are not gender neutral. They are displays of power to establish dominance over another, and thus, rights to entitlements to treat and exploit another with impunity.
And criminal patterns meet the criteria for antisocial personality disorder, or APD, on a spectrum, a more extreme manifestation of narcissistic personality disorder, or NPD.
An APD is energized by psychopathology of hatred for a certain person or a group of persons they deem weak and inferior. Acts of hate and scorn are like a drug; they crave to humiliate or hurt others to gain a quick-fix, fleeting false-sense of false-power. Their craving leaves them fragile, feeling powerless, desperately looking for the next fix.
For this reason, to truly understand the disordered the thought patterns that drive NPDs and APDs to intentionally act in ways that physically and, or mentally-emotionally torment another human being, it is critical to explore the contexts that condition men from boyhood to highly value and link status to these behavior patterns.
3. Male violence against women (“weak” men) is driven by misogyny.
Violent acts are not biologically driven. Beliefs drive behaviors. And abusers hold misogynist beliefs aligned with norms for “toxic masculinity.” In effect, these norms specifically link traits of male dominance and superiority and strength and status with: (1) displays of violence to prove dominance, (2) no remorse for inflicting pain to prove might and strength, and (3) callous disregard for “weak” others to prove disregard for others.
The set of behaviors linked to NPD and APD behaviors are directly promoted, indeed highly valued, in contexts and institutions that emphasize and live by an androcratic shame- and fear-based belief system, or “the cult of masculinity.”
4. Female narcissists also identify with toxic norms for masculinity.
Yes, there are female narcissists. In cases where females meet the criteria for female narcissism, the same belief system drives the behavior pattern. Female narcissists, like their male counterparts, operate and identify with the same toxic norms for masculinity, albeit in distinct ways, using violence and narcissistic abuse to enforce authority and dominance, and the “entitlements” associated with “male” status (to mistreat with impunity).
With that said, based on a 2016 meta-analysis in the Psychological Bulletin that examined three decades of data from narcissism research, there are differences between male and female narcissists. Both display vanity and self-absorption equally, however, the biggest gap is that males are more likely to feel entitled to certain benefits and exploit people.
Notably, both male and female narcissists are likely to have experienced childhood trauma of, at minimum, witnessing domestic violence and assault, and or narcissistic abuse, that is, intentional misogynist treatment of women and those deemed “weak” to get and keep them in line with cult norms (master and slave relations).
5. Many women labeled narcissists do not meet the criteria.
Yes, there are females that meet the criteria for narcissism. They are far fewer in number, however. In many cases, they are more often accomplices of narcissists, often in roles of mother, but also spouse or girlfriend.
In other cases, they are victims of a smear campaign by an NPD or APD partner. Narcissists strategize to isolate and smear their victims, especially if they are critics, They also know how to provoke a female partner to set them up in public.
Most are mislabeled based on misinformation, and a considerable amount of confusion on who is or isn’t a narcissist! Why?
In large part, wittingly or unwittingly, a large part of the confusion is related to the Narcissistic Personality Inventory, or NPI, itself!
According to one Handbook on Narcissism, for example, the NPI does not measure the criteria for narcissistic personality disorder at all! It rather confounds narcissism, stirring up the confusion.
The authors themselves note that the inventory is not an assessment of NPD. And a glance at the items on the inventory itself will speak for itself.
And yet it remains the only instrument available for use by researchers and others!
According to the authors, Robert Raskin, and Calvin Hall, this inventory was developed in 1979:
“Solely to measure “subclinical” or “normal expressions of narcissism”; more specifically the inventory sought to measure “personality” traits of “how assertive, confident, daring, adventurous, and achievement- or success-oriented one is — aiding social psychological research on the personality trait of narcissism as “excessive self-love.”
Coincidentally or not, these so-called “normal expressions” of narcissism that the NPI measures, such as assertiveness, confidence, daring, achievement or success-orientation, were just prior to the 1970s regarded exclusively “normal” only for men! Whereas women who expressed these traits were pathologized as “manly” or even diagnosed with “penis envy”; for example, Freud diagnosed his own daughter, Anna Freud, a brilliant and enthusiastic psychological theorist.
Meanwhile, in the same period, the traits of “excessive self-love” and “vanity” and “self-absorption with looks and appearance” and the like, were commonly regarded as somewhat distasteful yet “normal” for the female sex, never “real” men.
Knowingly or not, the NPI has made it easier for NPDs and APDs to hide, and to blame-shift the label of “narcissism” onto their victims, act as trolls on the internet, and so on.
Practitioners must rely on the criteria provided in the DSM to diagnose disorders, as they do with most other disorders. In this case, a narcissist makes it easy, for the trained practitioner; narcissists self-identify in counseling.
Even if a self-inventory were developed, considering the traits of a narcissist or sociopath, and their skill in lies and illusions, it would be a futile effort.
Essentially, there is no measure for narcissism! To be fair, even if there were, it cannot be a self-measure by virtue of the fact that narcissists are pathological liars. The use or development of a self-report instrument would be, well, blatantly counterproductive.
In sum, violence and narcissism are not gender neutral. Practitioners need to be better trained to identify the symptoms, in order to prevent unwitting participation with a narcissist’s abuse and smear campaigns.
And women and men in the #MeToo movement need to factor and focus on identifying abusers and identifying the traits and tactics of NPDs and APDs.
And to work together, to sidestep and avoid the divide and conquer schemes, and to remain aware of the yearnings of every human being, regardless of gender or age, race or religion, to matter and contribute meaningful, and to live and thrive and create a safer and humane world in which to raise the next generation of citizens.
** The terms narcissist or narcissism refer to those individuals that meet the criteria for either narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) — or its more extreme version on the spectrum, antisocial personality disorder (APD), which is also known as psychopathology or sociopathology.