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It’s easier to blame men than to see men as victims

by Dr Tania Reynolds

A cursory glance through recent news articles surrounding gender suggests women are struggling in modern society, and uniformly have it worse than men. Indeed, there are many contexts where women are disadvantaged, such as the pattern of fewer female world leaders, CEOs, and full professors. At the top of the societal distribution, men are overrepresented, which is certainly worthy of attention and concern. However, if one were to take a careful look at the bottom of the societal distribution, they might be surprised to see men are also overrepresented. For example, compared to women, men are more likely to be homeless, suffer from substance abuse, commit suicide, drop out of high school, never attend college, be imprisoned, and even die 5 years sooner on average.

Why is it that the social discrepancies whereby men are disproportionately afflicted receive significantly less attention? A reader might espouse the argument, “well these are issues under men’s control”. Perhaps that is true, to some degree. However, there are some cases where these discrepancies are at least partially the result of active biases. For example, legal research demonstrates that men receive longer prison sentences than do women, even when they commit identical crimes (Mazella & Feingold, 1994; Mustard, 2001). Why then, do we fail to recognize these cases where men are suffering?

Researchers in cognitive moral psychology have discovered that when people evaluate situations in which harm occurs, they instinctively cast the involved parties into one of two roles: intentional perpetrator and suffering victim (Gray & Wegner, 2009). That is, the human mind naturally perceives moral actions through a dyadic template, such that we assume those involved are either the harm-inflicting agent or the harm-experiencing patient. Moreover, once we cast a target as a perpetrator, it is incredibly difficult to subsequently view them as a victim, and vice versa.

In our research, we tested the hypothesis that the application of this cognitive template might be biased by gender (Reynolds, Howard, Sjastad, Okimoto, Baumeister, Aquino, & Kim, 2019) Specifically, we predicted that people more readily place men in the role of perpetrator and women in the role of suffering victim. If so, this tendency might suggest it is challenging for us to perceive men as victims and respond compassionately to their suffering.

To test this hypothesis, we had participants evaluate situations involving workplace harm, such as a surgeon bullying their surgical trainee.  We manipulated whether we referred to the targets in the scenarios as either victim and perpetrator or more neutrally, “party A or B”. We asked participants to recall whether the harmed target was male or female, even though the scenario never mentioned this. Across the different scenarios, we found that people overwhelmingly assumed the harmed target was female, but especially when we labeled the targets as perpetrator/victim. This finding suggests we more easily place women in the victim role. Moreover, when participants assumed the harm target was female, they felt more warmly towards her and perceived her as more moral, compared to when they assumed the harmed target was male.

In another study, we had participants evaluate an ambiguous joke made in the workplace. This time, we manipulated the sex of both the employee making the off-colored joke and the recipient of the statement. Participants assumed a female employee who heard the joke experienced more pain than a male recipient of the identical statement.

Moreover, participants also shifted their perceptions of the employee making the joke. When a man made the joke, participants were more willing to punish him, less willing to forgive him, less willing to work with him, and less willing to nominate him for a leadership position, compared to a woman who made the same exact joke. These patterns suggest we not only more easily recognize harm to women, we also more strongly desire to punish men, a response typical to those placed in the perpetrator role.

We then wanted to explore whether this pattern holds for groups of men or women. We had participants evaluate a scenario where a managerial team needed to make the decision to fire a group of employees whose jobs were redundant. We manipulated whether those fired employees were male or female, but kept everything else identical. Participants assumed the fired female employees suffered more pain than the fired male employees, even though real world data suggests men who lose their job suffer worse outcomes (Wang, Lesage, Schmitz, Drapeau, 2008).

Moreover, participants also differentially judged the managerial team based on our manipulation. Managers who fired women were assumed to have inflicted more harm, to have made a more unfair decision, and to be less moral. This pattern suggests we not only more easily recognize female suffering, but also more harshly judge those who inflict suffering onto women than those who inflict suffering onto men.

Altogether, this body of findings indicates that our application of moral typecasting is biased by gender. We more readily place women in the victim role, which makes us more sensitized to their suffering. We also more readily place men into the perpetrator role, which makes us more inclined to punish and blame them.

This gender bias in moral typecasting has many important implications. It suggests that when we encounter men’s suffering, we will be less inclined to notice it, perceive it as unjust, or feel motivated to alleviate it.

Our findings may help explain the asymmetric discussion surrounding gender differences in social outcomes. It is cognitively easier for us to detect women’s suffering and respond with sympathy and aid. However, when we learn these statistics about the negative outcomes suffered by men, we are less inclined to view men as victims, and might instead, either overlook the suffering or just blame it on men themselves.


Dr Tania Reynolds will be giving a talk on this topic at the Male Psychology Conference at UCL, 21-22 June 2019.

About the author

Tania Reynolds received her PhD in Social Psychology from Florida State University under Dr. Roy Baumeister and Dr. Jon Maner. Her research examines how pressure to compete for social and romantic partners asymmetrically affects the competitive behaviors and well-being of men and women.

Through a joint appointment with the Gender Studies department, Reynolds offers courses on human sexuality and sex/gender differences. As a collaborative research team with Justin Garcia and Amanda Gesselman, Reynolds hopes to examine the dispositional predictors and physiological correlates of individuals’ romantic relationship experiences, as well as how these associations may differ across gender and sexual orientation.



Gray, K., & Wegner, D. M. (2009). Moral typecasting: divergent perceptions of moral agents and moral patients. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology96, 505-520.

Mazzella, R., & Feingold, A. (1994). The effects of physical attractiveness, race, socioeconomic status, and gender of defendants and victims on judgments of mock jurors: A meta‐analysis. Journal of Applied Social Psychology24, 1315-1338.

Mustard, D. B. (2001). Racial, ethnic, and gender disparities in sentencing: Evidence from the US federal courts. The Journal of Law and Economics44, 285-314.

Reynolds, T., Howard, C., Sjastad, H., Okimoto, T., Baumeister, R. F., Aquino, K., & Kim, J. (invited revision). Man up and take it: Gender bias in moral typecasting.

Wang, J., Lesage, A., Schmitz, N., & Drapeau, A. (2008). The relationship between work stress and mental disorders in men and women: findings from a population-based study. Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health62, 42-47.



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Why we need to change the attitude that ‘men are the criminals, women are the victims’

Recently, Justice Secretary David Gauke MP announced community services supporting vulnerable women have been awarded £1.6 million funding as part of the government’s commitment to reduce the number of women entering the criminal justice system. Further, the government has committed to investing £5 million over two years in community provision for women in the justice system & those at risk of offending and an initial allocation saw £3.3 million awarded to 12 organisations providing a range of specialist support. The funding follows the publication of the government’s Female Offender Strategy in June last year. As it stands, no such strategy exists for male offenders save for the announcement further prisons are to be built.

The current UK prison population is not a diverse mix of men and women; for every 1 woman in prison there are approximately 22 men and this has been the case for over the past decade. Do men commit 22 times as many offences than women? Is our offending behaviour 22 times as bad as that of women’s?


As an analysis of data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) and the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) shows, men are not committing 22x as many offences, nor are men’s offences 22x as bad as women’s. In fact, men are arrested, prosecuted & sentenced around 3-4x more often as women despite the fact that the offending behaviours of men and women are largely the same.

So, why are so many more men in prison and why are government strategies being employed to lower the female prison population but not the male? Well, it’s to do with gamma bias, the cognitive distortion that impacts our perception of gender.

In terms of crime, when if a criminal is male the fact of their gender typically is magnified, and if a criminal is a women the fact of their gender typically is minimised. Conversely, when a person is a victim of crime this pattern is typically reversed. In short, men are typically seen as perpetrators and women as victims.

This template receives support from research by Dr Tania Reynolds, discussed on the podcast Heterodoxy. Using vignettes of shapes ‘harming’ each other, Dr Reynolds found “participants more often assume that the harmed target was female but especially when we used the terms ‘victim’ and ‘perpetrator’… Moreover, what we also found is that when people assumed the harmed target was a woman, they responded more positively towards her… So they were forced to choose male or female and we found that on average, people assume a female victim. So about 76 percent of the time. But this likelihood was even stronger when we used the terms ‘perpetrator’ and ‘victim’.” People automatically assume a victim to be female and, when they do, will be much more supportive of her – this does not happen for men. Instead, they are perceived as the cause of the harm because, according to the template, men are the perpetrators.

This template of men as perpetrators and women as victims manifests quite noticeably in the criminal justice system, as found by Dr Samantha Jeffries in her 2002 paper. She notes, of female offenders, they “challenge appropriate ideas of “femininity” through their criminality and involvement in the criminal justice system, both of which are traditionally the domain of men. Thus, when confronted with criminal women, it was found that the justice system tended to see them as either “not women” or “not criminals”. Women were constructed within dominant ideals of femininity in relation to the family and mental illness, and this provided a way to reposition offending women as “real” women and not really criminal after all.” When female offenders are passing through the criminal justice system, those processing them cannot reconcile the gender of the offender with their criminality, thus minimize their perception of the perpetration. Women cannot be perpetrators and perpetrators cannot be women. Instead, they are victims because they have to be.

For men, however, Dr Jeffries found there is another story, that of maximizing perpetration. She writes “[A]n analysis of judicial discourses surrounding male offenders revealed discussions bound by dominant masculine assumptions which usually made punitive sanctions more, rather than less, likely. Dominant judicial discourses of masculinity were focussed on badness, disruption, and criminality. There was no need to reconcile men within dominant gender ideology because criminality is consistent with “manliness”. Thus, judicial sympathy was rarely extended to men because most were seen as a threat to the social order and in need of state-controlled regulation.” The very nature of men being men means they must be criminal, the aspect of their gender is maximized and they are, inherently, perpetrators.

This psychological template is why government policy is to treat women as victims (thus, not criminals) whereas men are discarded and treated as criminals (thus, not victims). Various guidelines (The Female Offender Strategy, Corston Report, President of the Supreme Court Baroness Brenda Hale OBE’s influential 2005 Longford Trust Lecture and the Equal Treatment Bench Book) all say that female offenders’ life histories must be considered when they are passing through the criminal justice system. Have they endured abuse? Do they suffer from adverse mental health? Ultimately, are they victims? This line of enquiry is not extended to men. By considering the negative aspects of their life histories, female offenders are awarded softer sentences and treatments to support & accommodate them. The template of women as victims and men as perpetrators is applied, leading to a massive sex discrepancy in the prison population.

This template is why, at every step of the way, men are treated far more harshly than women in the criminal justice system. The idea of perceiving women as criminals or men as victims is alien to those whose jobs it is to administer justice. They work with a sex-discriminating template which places men & women onto different paths through the criminal justice system, causing this massive sex discrepancy.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. Imagine the Criminal Justice System did treat men and women the same. Let’s fantasise, just for a moment, that male life histories and extraneous variables were considered by the Justice System as they are for women. They could start with the fact men and women process mental distress differently, ergo, will behave differently in times of mental distress.

Men and women typically process distress differently. Men are more likely to externalise their feelings, become aggressive, abuse substances and become prone to suicide; women show classic signs of anxiety or depression. No surprise then that distressed men are more likely to be dealt with by the prison services, where any therapy is likely to be directed towards the need for behavioural change rather than emotional distress. In these conditions, men might be less inclined to seek help if they fear that their anger might be interpreted as a sign of criminality.

Because male psychology is so poorly understood and misrepresented, men can find themselves falling through the criminal justice system when, in fact all they require is therapeutic attention. Thus, I find myself asking some serious questions. How many men are in prison when they should have been given help for adverse mental health? I do not know. How many men have suffered adverse mental health (or, mental distress) and have acted out, only to be sent to prison? How many men have suffered mental distress (lost their children because of the family courts, lost their jobs, are feeling suicidal) and, in acts of desperation & loss of control, find themselves involved with the Police and Justice System and are imprisoned because they are seen as a ‘bad man’ when, really, they just need help?

But how many men in the Criminal Justice System should be receiving psychological help instead of punishment? At the Male Psychology Conference 2017, Dr Naomi Murphy from the Fens Offender Personality Disorder Pathway Service at HMP Whitemoor spoke of her work with offenders in her care. She found:

• 66.1% reported childhood sexual abuse
• 72.6% reported childhood physical abuse
• 80.6% reported childhood neglect
• 66.1% reported childhood emotional abuse
• 59.7% reported parental antipathy
• 43.5% reported parental domestic violence
• 54% of the men who were sexually abused were victimized by a woman

Thus around 65% of the men she worked with had suffered some form of childhood abuse which, if it had been caught sooner by the system, could have resulted in these men being directed away from incarceration and towards the help they need.

It’s not just emotional trauma but, physical as well which can set a man on a dark path. A review in Lancet Psychiatry suggests that bumps to the head from accidents, road traffic collisions, assaults/violence, etc – things guys suffer from more than women – can lead to neural injuries which affect how the brain operates, and may increase the risk of violent offending. The authors show that of people in the criminal justice system, around 20% have had a moderate to serious Traumatic Brain Injury and another 30-40% had something less serious. Thus at least half of the prison population (around 40,000 inmates) have suffered a Traumatic Brain Injury. When we compare this to the 0.5% of TBI in the general public, we see a vast discrepancy.

Speaking of the effects of identifying these injuries early, lead author Professor Huw Williams of the University of Exeter said “[A]ddressing traumatic brain injury offers a means to not only improve the lives of those who offend, but also to reduce crime. A range of measures could reduce the risk of crime following traumatic brain injury. These could include any form of neurorehabilitation, and better links between emergency departments, community mental health services, GPs and school systems that might lead to early identification and management.” Imagine that: if their head injuries had been properly addressed both by the Criminal Justice System and the Health System, up to and beyond 40,000 men today could potentially not be in prison.

These are not numbers to be trifling with. Around 65% of men seen by Dr Murphy suffered some form of childhood abuse which, if extrapolated to the whole prison population, is over 50,000 people and an estimated 40,000 have suffered some form of Traumatic Brain Injury.

How many men would not be in prison today if these factors were considered? How many men could instead be receiving the help they need and be healing their injuries (both physical and psychological) rather than being behind bars? How many lives could truly be turned around if male life histories were considered rather than dismissed?

Remember, because of the psychological template applied: at conviction, women are more likely to be awarded a community sentence, they are more likely to be awarded a suspended sentence, yet men are far more likely to be subject to immediate custody – and, their sentences will be longer. Also, mitigating factors will be more accepted for women than men and aggravating factors will be accepted more for men than women, despite them being present. Think how much better the system would work if all the measures which have been introduced for women were also made available for men.

This serves the interests of not only the men in the Criminal Justice System but society at large as the cost per year per prisoner in England and Wales in 2016/17 was £22,933. Let’s say the prison population was halved because these men were correctly redirected to therapeutic measures rather than punitive, such a reduction in prison population could save the Criminal Justice System an estimated £917,320,000 every year in prison costs alone. Yet, because of the template of ‘perpetrators are men and victims are women’, this prospect seems far off in the horizon.

The prognosis, however, is not all doom-and-gloom. For example, as a preventative measure, the charity JourneymanUK helps troubled young boys & men pass through a rites-of-passage, teaching them how to be good men who will contribute positively to society. They provide therapeutic measures to help craft them into healthy men and fathers of the future. The charity A Band of Brothers works with young men & boys in the criminal justice system, providing for them guidance and support as they transition into manhood. Both of these charities recognize men & boys have their own methods of emoting and behaving which requires care and attention, not scorn and contempt. If only the Criminal Justice System could see this too.


About the author

Jordan Holbrook is an Honorary Research Assistant with the Male Psychology Network. His key area of interest in the sex-of-target empathy gap, how it evolved, why it did so and how it manifests in today’s society. He is also interested in sex differences and male mental health.


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What men need for a good nights sleep

by Sara Westgreen


Sleep is different for men and women

Sleep needs, circadian rhythms, and performing well on sleep deprivation are not the same among men and women. Learn about the unique needs men have for sleeping well.

Women tend to fall asleep earlier than men. That’s because in women, circadian rhythms run earlier than men. And women have shorter circadian cycles than men, with some women running internal clocks with a full cycle under 24 hours. Women naturally need to go to sleep earlier than men, and men may have trouble falling asleep earlier. Men tend to have an easier time sleeping in, assuming they have time to do so.

Overall, men tend to sleep less than women. A study of gendered sleep time found that women get 507.6 minutes of sleep per day compared to 496.4 minutes of sleep for men. However, women are more likely to report interrupted sleep. Men are less likely to nap than women and more likely to go to bed after midnight.

Men can handle sleep deprivation better than women. Although both men and women need adequate sleep each night, women struggle more when sleep deprived, experiencing more difficulties with depression and irritability when they’re short on sleep than men do. However, both men and women experience a greater risk of diabetes, heart disease, and other chronic conditions when sleep deprived.

Men are also less likely to suffer from sleep disorders. Typically, women are more likely than men to experience sleep disorders that result in daytime sleepiness. But male snoring can be severe — severe enough to force bed partners to sleep in a different room.

Men experience more deep sleep than women, with more NREM stage 1 and stage 2 sleep, and tend to dream more. Men may experience more aggressive dreams than women.


What men need for a good nights sleep

As men and women sleep differently, men have different needs for getting healthy sleep. Use these tips that can be helpful for men who need better sleep.

  • Set a later wake up time. Women have an earlier circadian rhythm than men and will start to feel sleepy and need to go to bed earlier than men. With a later bedtime, men also need a later wake time to get sufficient sleep each night.
  • Get more time to sleep. Although men can handle sleep deprivation better than women, that’s not to say they should. Men tend to sleep less than women, possibly due to their later bedtime. But the average adult needs between seven to nine hours of sleep each night to get enough rest and maintain good health.
  • Be consistent with sleep. Going to sleep and waking up at the same time each night and day can help you stay on schedule and sleep better. It’s a good idea to sleep and wake up within about an hour of your usual time each night and day, even on weekends and on vacation.
  • Go through a bedtime routine. Bedtime routines aren’t just for kids, they’re for everyone. A bedtime routine signals to your brain that it’s time to go to sleep once you start going through the motions of getting to bed. It can be simple, such as dimming the lights, putting away electronics, and putting on pajamas.
  • Avoid sleep pitfalls. Men may go to sleep later, but it’s not a good idea to push your bedtime further than it should be. Screen time, caffeine, even exercise and late night snacks can interfere with getting to bed on time. Avoid screen exposure at least one hour before bed and don’t drink coffee after 3 p.m. Make late night snacks light, and finish exercising at least three hours before bed. If you struggle to get to sleep at night, consider using a natural sleep aid.
  • Make your bedroom dark and quiet. Men need deep sleep, which means avoiding sleep interruptions. Darkness and quiet can help you stay asleep so you can get the deep sleep you need for a restful night.

Men and women may sleep differently, but everyone needs a good night of sleep to feel well and be healthy. Make sleep a priority and cater to your unique sleep needs.


About the author

Sara Westgreen is a researcher for a sleep science hub. She sleeps on a king size bed in Texas, where she defends her territory against cats all night. A mother of three, she enjoys beer, board games, and getting as much sleep as she can get her hands on.



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Internet dating: rated #1 for men, but for women… meh. Why the difference?

by Hasna Haidar


Many of the things we enjoy in life we enjoy online. Playing, laughing, learning new things, connecting with friends and building new relationships.

It’s the same for both the sexes; we seek a combination of simple and complex pleasures: the hedonic, instant highs of consumerism through online shopping, the mood boosting properties of listening to music and watching funny YouTube videos, and the longer-term pleasures of interaction and relationship building over social media.

As for what yields the most “happiness”, however, it can be highly subjective. Exploring the nature of internet happiness, Carphone Warehouse carried out a survey of 2,002 UK adults (mean + SD age 47 + 17 years old) in November 2017, asking them to rank the online activities that make them most happy.

Overall, activities associated with entertainment and shopping (which offer more hedonic pleasures, gratifying the basic urges of the primal brain) had the biggest impact on our happiness across the sexes. However, when male and female results were separated, there were stark differences.


Men enjoy online dating above all

While the most gratifying online activity among women was “winning an eBay bid”, men stated that “online dating” gave them the most pleasure. Interestingly, among women, meeting a potential partner online didn’t even make the top ten. For women, online dating came in twentieth place, behind ordering a takeaway and managing money online[i].


Top 10 activities that make men happiest online Top 10 activities that make women happiest online
1. Online dating sites (79%) 1. Achieving the winning bid on eBay (80%)
2. Obsessing over a new music video on YouTube and replaying it 100 times over (79%) 2. Instant messaging with friends and family (80%)
3. Achieving the winning bid on eBay (76%) 3. Discovering online discount codes for your favourite retailers and saving lots of money (79%)
4. Finding the perfect meme/gif and sharing it with everyone (74%) 4. Looking things up that interest you (78%)
5. Looking things up that interest you (73%) 5. Discovering the best deal through price comparison sites: from booking hotels to finding a great insurance deal (77%)
6. Getting a message from an old school friend on Facebook who you haven’t heard from in years (73%) 6. Discovering cheap fun days out from websites like Groupon (74%)
7. Discovering online discount codes for your favourite retailers and saving lots of money (73%) 7. Finding the perfect meme/gif and sharing it with everyone (71%)
8. Browsing new bands/tracks through Spotify (71%) 8. Browsing new bands/tracks through Spotify (71%)
9. Discovering the best deal through price comparisons: from booking hotels to finding a great insurance deal (70%) 9. Obsessing over a new music video on YouTube and replaying it 100 times over (70%)
10. Reading funny tweets about a TV program you’re watching (70%) 10. Getting your comment retweeted or liked by someone you love or admire (69%)


Why do men enjoy online dating more than women?

While the study didn’t delve into the thinking behind the respondents’ choices, one reason men might enjoy online dating significantly more than women could be down to the way the different sexes approach dating.

For example, men and women don’t use Tinder in the same manner. A 2016 study into user activity on Tinder showed that men tend to cast their net a little wider, in the beginning at least. They’re more likely to ‘swipe right’ than women and tend to filter their preferences after establishing a match rather than before.

Why do men take this blanket approach? A January 2016 literature review might have uncovered the answers. The review looked at the gender differences in online dating[ii] and found that men “exhibit a positive attitude” towards it, seeing it as an efficient way to meet people. Their interest is in being as productive as possible, even when it comes to something as personal as dating, which could explain their catch-all behaviour.


Short-term goals

The researchers also found that men preferred “short-term romantic relationships with a low level of commitment” within the environment of online dating, while women used the sites to find friends or a potential marriage partner. They also found that men are more active users of online dating sites than women – although it should be noted that the researchers attributed this gender imbalance to the fact that men outnumber women in most IT contexts anyway.

While men are prolific users of online dating sites, and prefer to pursue short-term opportunities within them, The Harry’s Masculinity Report[iii] found that men felt mentally more positive if they were in a steady, long-term relationship, concluding that “relationship stability is an important anchor for many men”. It would seem that while men do value enduring relationships, online dating is not where they ultimately go to find them.


Old-school beliefs

Even in modern-day dating, old-school stereotypes [Editor: or perhaps ‘archetypes’] prevail. When it comes to the ideal type of person they’d like to commence a relationship with, both sexes look for one that can provide the biggest chance of success and fulfilment. For men, this means prioritising physical attractiveness and, specifically, a youthful look (with the logic that female fertility is affected by age, and therefore older women reduce the chance of children). For women, this means prioritising socio-economic status and older men (with the logic that older men are more financially stable and therefore more able to provide for a family).

In their quest to secure a partner – whether in the short-term or in the long-term – both sexes are known to adjust their profiles (even to the point of fabrication) to cater for what the opposite sex might be looking for. Men emphasise their personal interests and assets, overstate their height and misrepresent their online dating goal (aligning their short-term goal closer towards women’s longer-term goal), while women enhance their photos and underreport their weight and age.


Winning online dating

Interestingly, while the sheer number of men on the sites might suggest men gain more romantic success compared to women, the review was inconclusive. Some studies suggested women fared better; others said men were better off; and some felt both sexes were equally successful. In the world of online dating, it turns out the chips are stacked in no particular way at all.


So why do men rate online dating far higher than women do?

When you consider the short-term, commitment-free approach men take to using online dating sites, it’s clear they’re giving themselves a deliberately pressure-free experience. In comparison, the quest for finding a viable long-term partner means women have more at stake.

It would seem that, when it comes to online happiness, everything hinges on mindset.


About the author

Hasna Haidar is a digital researcher and writer, exploring the impact of online activity on happiness and wellbeing.



[i] Managing money online rather than in person or over the phone







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