Why Does So Much Hate Mail Come From Men?

I’m sure that most academics are used to the following: Occasionally I write a scientific paper, an OpEd, or a blog entry in which I wade into some controversy or another, and in the ensuing few days receive some fairly vitriolic messages in my personal inbox. I’m not objecting — after all, it seems that I’ve had my chance to inflict my analysis on others.

But here’s the interesting observation: In all the hundreds of such pieces of hate mail I’ve received, not more than a handful have come from women. (It may even be zero.) And the sample size here is large enough that this is a statistically significant difference.

Moreover, the male dominance of my hate mail holds pretty steadily across both masculine domains (issues like race and the NBA, the death penalty), and more stereotypically feminine topics (happiness, gender, and the family).

Yes, I’m re-discovering that men are more aggressive than women. Duh. But why? Here are a few possibilities:

1. Preferences: Men find writing hate mail to be more enjoyable (or perhaps therapeutic).

2. Hormones: Aggression and testosterone are no strangers. See #1.

3. Cost of time: Typically we think about the wage as a marker of the marginal cost of time, but men have higher wages, which makes this all the more puzzling. Perhaps writing hate mail is crowding out ten minutes of SportsCenter for men, versus something more important (like childcare) for women.

4. Perceived productivity: Men are more likely to believe their missives will be closely read, leading the reader to nod slowly as they realize the error of their ways. Women are a bit more realistic.

5. Overconfidence: When there are competing views, men are often certain that they are right and I am wrong. Again, I would like to say that women are more realistic, but perhaps it is safer to simply say that they are less likely to be overconfident.

6. Value of anonymity: People are very rarely rude to me in person, suggesting that the anonymity of the internet is an important factor. Perhaps this is valued differently by men and women.

Other ideas? I look forward to your responses (vitriolic and otherwise).


Marian

I'm going to agree with Kate. Define "hate". Is attempting to correct a stupid opinion "hate"? If I give up and write that person off, is that an example of my femininity?

armchair respondent

Dear Jen;

Is there not a difference between thinking and knowing. I bet that if you ask the right questions, you will find out that women know the value of economies (as far as the expediture of energy). The problem is that our general focus has been on child bearing and rearing which requires unlimited amounts of energy expenditure rather than an expedient expenditure. Working women (mothers) sure are angry because we are in the impossible situation of being forced (expected as workers and mothers) to expend both sorts of energy. No wonder the mommy blogger finds women so angry. -

Jen

Um...because you haven't written about knitting yet?

Perhaps you missed the brouhaha right here in our very own Liberty City when Philly Weekly writer Stephen Wells wrote a brief piece attacking the urban knitting revival, and was completely pilloried by women he had not-so-gently labeled "knit-Nazis".

His opening salvo:
http://www.philadelphiaweekly.com/articles/16125
His subsequent follow-up:
http://www.philadelphiaweekly.com/articles/16367

After being the recipient of so much American bile, Wells (a British expat) astutely took his message over the pond:
http://music.guardian.co.uk/rock/story/0,,2285562,00.html

You should take him out for a beer sometime to learn a little more, and report back.

********

In all seriousness, I think the gender discrepancy reflects, in no small part, a gap in self-perceived levels of domain-specific expertise. Wells's story is illustrative: a great deal of the vitriol aimed at him was of a "How-dare-he, he-doesn't-even-knit" variety.

Women are not ranting at academic economists -- but check with any so-called "Mommy blogger" and you'll find ad hominem attacks that will make the worst rejoinders you've ever received look like child's play. Heather Armstrong of dooce.com reprints occasional samples of the hate mail she regularly receives, and it's some of the most vicious stuff you could possibly imagine. When women think they really know a topic well, they can be relentless and unforgiving.

So perhaps a different way to parse the question is to ask, "Why do so few women (and so many men) think highly of themselves as armchair economists?"

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Becky

I occasionally write hate-email. Once I was reading a website and the ad for an architectural firm was on an endless, annoying loop. It bothered me so much I wrote to them and said I hoped the ghost of Daniel Burnham would rise up and punch them in the taint.

Not my proudest day, but I stand by the imagery.

lidia

I submitted a negative comment to one of Mr. Wolfers' recent Freakonomics posts. It didn't appear.

La La La .. I can't hear you!

David McRaney

According to a recent study, women also do not go into math and science as often as men do because they find a lack of social contact unsettling.

I think women are simply less likely to engage in behavior that has the potential to ostracize them, even if that behavior is buffered by anonymity and is completely virtual.

Men, on the other hand, have no problem with this and actually seek out to defend their egos and lock horns at the drop of a hat, especially if protected by anonymity in a virtual world.

Matt

I would agree with Post #1. When I worked for a women's home-decorating magazine, there was PLENTY of hate mail from women. (Nearly al the mail was from women.)

Peter

Answer: Because men are competitive/vitriolic/violent/insecure with respect to other men, especially men outside of their clan. It's biology and sociology, but more biology, unfortunately.

This has been another edition of Simple Answers to Simple Questions.

Sophie Hirschfeld

I'm the only woman I know who reads about economics (other than the post by the handful of women right above this comment box) - I'm guessing that at least one factor is that there are very few women who are reading your blog. I'm also the only woman prone to debating - however, when I debate, it is rarely hate-oriented, it is more likely very direct in pointing out a fallacy that an individual used in what they said. I'm sure that there's multiple factors, though, that affect the gender demographics of those who are responding to you.

Gabrielle

I think I agree with some of the comments above, which say that women may be less likely to comment even if they do read. (I'm a woman and I read regularly but have never felt the urge to comment before!)

From a totally anecdotal point of view, it's my experience that women are less likely to speak up in group situations unless they feel they have something really valuable to say - while men are more likely to throw a lot of initial ideas around in public and discuss them until they evolve into something more fully-formed. There are advantages to both methods - it's good to throw ideas around and interesting things often come of these discussions, but, on the other hand, it can also be refreshing when people don't talk for the sake of talking and only comment when they have something valuable to add.

I think there's been some research on how girls/women are less likely than boys/men to contribute to discussions in a mixed-gender academic setting.

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Miss Middle of Manchester

Ohhh, interesting question.

I just feel compelled to post a comment because I've been told not enough women contribute!

Maybe this is a hotel towels scenario? If you had a note saying 'most readers contribute a comment' then as women tend to be more conformist you may get more women commenting.

At the moment if we (women) do comment, we're either in the 'I'm not a real girl' category or we just know we're outspoken hussies already :)

__

Even if there are less women reading this blog, even if we 'hide' behind male names (why do we want to do that? My name is just a desire to be anonymous!) - the statistics surely cannot account for the fact that he's received almost NO hatemail from women.

I agree with the poster who pointed out that I might start a letter, find just writing it down therapeutic enough and not have to send it.

Jean

I read the blog often and I'm plenty confident in my views. I just don't need you to agree with me. It doesn't bother me at all that there are differences of opinion. It wouldn't occur to me to attack someone personally for not agreeing with my views. Frankly, I don't care that much what other people think to become incensed over it. (I wait to become incensed about what people do.) If someone takes the time to make thoughtful, measured comments, I am more apt to take their views into account.

The screamers are just loud and controlling (or attempting to be). Whether male or female, their comments don't interest me, because they choose to present them rudely.

The exchange of ideas and information is what makes following your blog interesting, to personally attack someone for what they think is absurd and counterproductive.

Erica MM Yuen

competitive people who have narrow minds tend to send out hate mails to the people who they think don't deserve their reputations/honors/credits.

HOW IT WORKS...

When those people read your articles, they tend to hate you for being "real smart" or "trying to look smart." Either way, they still want to "beat" you by sending hate mails (in whatever content) to hurt your feelings. this makes them feel superior and proud.

SO WHY MORE MALE...

because male are born more competitive than women. but when it comes to Hong Kong or Seoul, where male 'sand female's average income are almost the same, both genders are more likely to get competitive with each other,therefore the hate mails "mix" would be more even.

MY POINT IS...

i don't see why a non-working housewife would send you hate mail at all.

Steve - Calgary AB

Posted by Kurt O "I often get caught trying to give my wife advise concerning a difficult situation she has just described to me, when what she is really seeking is positive reassurance (or at least a sign that I am listening). Perhaps this advice vs. reassurance (objective vs. subjective?) paradigm has something to do with it?"

This is the best post. Basically, this phenomenon is a continuum of responses to the fact that men are just expected to not complain and just suck it up.

In contrast, women seem to have an endless number of outlets for airing their frustrations, and can continuously complain, if they wish. Like many men, I find that much of this complaining is misdirected, at best. The worst is just self serving BS. For some men, this drives them over the edge and they are therefore ready to pounce on the first thing that pisses them off.

mokscren

Al Copone and Adolf Hitler and Bush"W"Jr. had this same problem. Its common among Dictators and Tyrants. The problem mainly is that People are unaware that these people will become what they end out to be.

Judy

I was recently involved in a protracted argument with a merchant. After several frustrating phone conversations with the store manager, I went to the store to speak with him. My husband tagged along. Afterwards he said "Wow! You were so NICE to that guy while he was acting like such a big mean jerk! I was so tempted the whole time to just explode, to just let it rip and let him have it. I mean, I just wanted to jump over the counter and start throttling that bozo, yelling 'Who ever thought you could make a decent store manager!'" I told him that if he had he wouldn't have left the store with an apology and the return of his money. My husband's reply: "I wouldn't have cared about the return of my money. It would have felt so good just to tell that guy he was acting like a jerk the loss of my money would have been immaterial." Honestly I don't know any woman who would have said that.

Rachel in Iowa

I generally concur with most of the points made above. (e.g.: women readers are underrepresented in comments; men are more aggressive on average than women; men have greater variance in aggression than do women and thus have a larger absolute number of hate-mail writers).

To this, I'd also add that lots of research indicates that women are, on average, more adept at using language than men are. (See here for one example of such research: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/03/080303120346.htm) If this is the case, we might expect that angry female correspondents would be more able than at least some of their male counterparts to write letters eloquent enough to be categorized as "criticism" rather than "hate mail." Testosterone, in addition to its established role in promoting aggression, has been shown to have a negative correlation with vocabulary size in children (Luchtmaya et al., [2001] Infant Behavior and Development 24(4):418-424). Perhaps male hate-mail authors are relegated to "F**k you, a**hole" because they really, truly, don't know what else to say.

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searchfemme

I have as strong a reaction to written opinion as men I know. The reason I don't typically respond in a hateful manner is that I respect the fact that the person writing the commentary comes from a different perspective but also, and this is the important factor in why I don't respond hatefully (even when I'm offended at what's been said or written): reading a hateful response doesn't promote understanding, it repels. It repels not because it's not "nice" but because it has the opposite effect of its intention, which is to be persuasive. A well reasoned and restrained (in terms of anger) comment is so much more powerful. Ditto for a witty response.

Logan

I spent a while working as a delivery driver for a sandwich shop. During my time there, I'd say 95% (seriously) of the complaints we got from customers were from women. I don't know why, and the only explanation I could come up with was that the men in my community just didn't care as much if their soup wasn't molten lava hot or we forgot to put the pickles on the side.

Barbara

Men are often vane and overconfident. They think they personally deserve the best in women, jobs, prestige, etc. When I was single, I couldn't get over the number of creepy guys who would ask me out. (Probably every woman has had this experience.) And they often won't take no for an answer! I swear they appear totally blind to reality.