Are boys naturally more aggressive?

We live in times when boys and men have had the freedom to reinvent the boy / man code – or do we?  Some fathers stay home and raise children, many contribute to the caring for their little ones, feeding, rocking to sleep, picking up from school, cooking and dinner together.  My neighbourhood is filled with men carrying their babies in slings and snugglies – a beautiful sight!

In the west, at least, women have apparently benefited extensively from the ‘feminist revolution’, everything from gaining career and economic positions once only reserved for men, to grappling with ideals of attachment parenting and ‘being there’ for our kids.

In other words, the confines of traditional gender roles have been stretched a little, and so children are growing up with a wider variety of what it means to be a boy or girl, a woman or a man.

Still, the questions arise, what do we want to teach our boys / girls?  Are boys naturally more competetive, aggressive, and prone to war play?  Is it only natural to acknowledge this as fact, and by doing so, encourage it?

There is no doubt that media, and mass market toys play a massive role.   In most cases, males and females are cast in diametric roles, more black and white than ever before – compare many Disney Versions of classic fairy tales with their original stories if you don’t believe me.  Movies, TV shows, news, video games are filled with images of violence, massive warfare.  The boys and men are almost always tougher, while the girls and women need the hero to save them.  This is not always the case, but most often, the exceptions see women cast as tough and ruthless as well.

Questioning gender roles has been important for me.  During the first years of mothering, I was sure there couldn’t be any difference between boys and girls – it was all social conditioning, nurture, not nature.  Now after 6 years raising my own boy, and caring for and hanging out with many other children of all ages from families that differ in many ways: economically, marriage status, sexual orientation, life-style values etc., many of whom are trying to raise their children in less gender-stereotypical ways, I think I can say generally speaking there is a difference between boys’ and girls’ play needs and physical energy.  Yet, yet, yet, there are too many exceptions, and in the final analysis, it is really hard to separate the influence of biology, individual temperament, family values, social conditioning and mass media.

I do not have answers, but rather endless queries and a desire for more dialogue.  What I have to offer is a great deal of observation.

So, here we go:

Are boys more prone to or need more aggressive play?

Are they more physical, less able to sit still, more likely to be hands-on or kinesthetic learners?

What, in fact, is aggression?  Is needing to use the strength of your body and will (mind, ideas, choices) the same as aggression, competition?  Or could these apparent drives be used or named differently?

What do you think?  I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Tune in for more tomorrow,


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6 Responses to Are boys naturally more aggressive?

  1. Stephanie Ondrack says:

    I lean towards socialization, possibly the insidious and invisible kind that begins as soon as we know its a boy. I remember some study in the 80’s finding that people use different tones of voice, different words, and different forms of physical affection with infant boys than infant girls, a difference which only increases in expression as children age. Is it possible that even in babyhood, a certain kind of physical energy is encouraged, or at least expected, in boys, and discouraged, or downplayed, in girls? I wonder if the sum of these subtle messages, over a series of years, adds up to slightly different behaviours, even if all children began with gender-free potential? Or if similar levels of energy are directed along different gender-ascribed channels? I am hesitant to assume biology is major cause, when ‘gender’ can be such a socially determined, and culturally relative, concept. But since my own small children include two girls and a boy, I will be curious to see if I change my mind as they get older.

    • Belinda says:

      Thanks for chiming in Stephanie! Yes, socialization starts so young. So if we lived in a society that aimed to raise our girls for hard physical labour or warriordom, we would likely speak or behave physically differently with them even as babies….so here’s the question, what do we really want to encourage in both boys and girls? Are there innate drives that we would be fools to criticize or repress in either gender?

  2. Anika says:

    I have to think the way we treat boys and men in our society plays a major part; however, I find it hard to believe that just about every traditional culture independently came up with women doing more indoor and close to home tasks while men doing more outside and physical work without male/female being inherently different. On average, men have stronger muscles than women, and are thus suited to being more physical. HOWEVER, boys are told ‘not to cry’ and all the rest of it as they grow up, so it all seems to be amplified by the way they are treated… the main thing I try to keep in mind raising my own kids is to inspire them to respect all around them and seek happiness, and I hope this will serve my daughters and sons well so they will each find the role in the world that best fits them.

    • Belinda says:

      Tjhanks for your comment Anika. And, I think I agree that biologically, physically, boys and girls are generally suited to different roles yet teaching respect and encouraging them to seek happiness and their own roles is the ideal.
      Perhaps, boys are told ‘not to cry’ because the more physical labour or defense roles can involve more risk of pain and need to keep emotions under control…more ‘cool’….?

  3. Ryan says:

    It’s true that boys and girls are constantly reinforced to conform to gender roles by their environment, but boys and girls are both aggressive. They just tend to express aggression in different ways. Boys are usually more physical and like to play rough. Girls tend to express aggression more passively or socially. Examples include, but are not limited to teasing and gossiping. Aggression is present in both sexes, but the medium for it usually differs.

  4. Robbyn says:

    I think it is a nature versus nurture argument that leaves me wondering. For instance, boys are spanked 3x more often than girls. We know that spanking, particularly young children, has a neurological effect on the development of the child (makes them more aggressive, for starters). And we know that boys have 8x more learning disabilities, which makes me wonder about how not just physical violence toward boys, but also just a generally more aggressive attitude toward them may be altering (and interfering with) brain development. So the “epigenetic” factors are pretty strong. A lot of people want our boys to be aggressive, because culturally we equate that with strength and the ability to protect.

    I’m reaching out to parent education sites in an effort to share a project that is incredibly important for children and mothers. I’m wondering if you would you be willing to “like” our Facebook page called “stop spanking” to help prevent child abuse by discouraging spanking? Or even go to our website, and vote and blog your opinion!

    We are working on producing a documentary on the negative effects of spanking and what we are learning from the neurosciences on brain development that makes it clear, we should never spank a child. Thank you and please spread the word!

    Robbyn Peters Bennett

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