“Men were responsible for all the great evils in the world”?

Recently a female co-worker mentioned Marilyn Vos Savant, (you remember her), and I said I didn’t read her column any more since she had written something to the effect that “men were responsible for all the great evils in the world”, which struck me as rather sexist.

My coworker just gave me ‘the look’[sup]TM[/sup] and said “Of course.”

Well this bothered me because:
a) I didn’t have a comeback.
b) I’m an equal-opportunity kind of guy, and I firmly believe that given the opportunity, women can be just as cruel, nasty, and despicable as men.
And c) I didn’t have a comeback.

So I decided to do some (a little) research. To date, however, the only evidence of female villainy I’ve come up with is a TV program I rather vaguely remember which claimed that Queen Boadicea of the Iceni slaughtered 75,000 of her countrymen (and presumably women) for collaborating with the Romans, and I haven’t found any independent support for that. So tell me Teeming Millions[sup]TM[/sup], have there been any particularly evil villainesses in history, or are we men truly the sole font, source, and authors of everything evil?

Countess Bathory killed about 500 young girls and bathed in their blood in order to sustain her own youth. Ma Barker directed her gang which was responsible for the murder of dozens in the 1930’s. Martha Beck probably murdered about 10 people in the Lonely Hearts scandal back in the '40s. Mary Ann Cotton killed between 15 and 21 of her own relatives by arsenic poisoning. Andrea Yates drowned her five children not too long ago, and a woman in Salt Lake City threw her seven kids off a tall building in the '70s if my memory serves me correctly…

www.crimelibrary.com has some more info.

The appropriate response to the charge that men are responsible for most of the world’s evils isn’t “Yeah, well, there have been some women who did bad things too.”

The appropriate response is, “Until very recently in history, men were responsible for almost EVERYTHING, good AND bad.”

Nuclear weapons? Yep, men invented those. Smallpox vaccine, too. Virtually every important invention in history, for good AND for ill, came from men.

Yes, men were the founders of the Nazi party. And the Democratic Party. And the NRA. And the ACLU. Men gave us Christianity AND the Communist Manifesto. Almost every social, religious and political movement in history, for good AND for ill, was led by men.

Marilyn is right to point out that men, as a gender, are primarily responsible for the state of the world today. She foolishly acts, however, as if the state of the world today is uniformly bleak.

Erzsébet Báthory is the first one to come to my mind. She had a series of young girls killed in an attempt to retain her beauty. 612 of them. I guess it isn’t really a wartime sort of atrocity, but still mighty evil.

Personally, I agree with Heinlein, who had one of his charaters say something like, “Women can do anything men can, but they’ve got more range. The brave ones are braver, and the vile ones are viler.”

I wouldn’t count Boudicca.

She led a almost-sucessful revolt against the Roman Empire, and they wrote the history.

Other than that, I totally agree with astorian.

This might be true, but it is thus far impossible to prove because women haven’t been given the opportunity to be as cruel, nasty, and despicable as men.

Erzsebet Bathory is probably the best villainess in history, and I believe she may hold the record for mass murder when it comes to personally having people killed. Still, the blood of a few hundred young women is a drop in the bucket compared to the many men in history who’ve been in a position to impersonally have people killed by the thousands or millions.

On a smaller scale, a very low percentage of violent crime is committed by women, and virtually all of that is committed against family members instead of strangers. Female serial killers are extremely rare.

Are you sure she didn’t mean humans in general? Mankind?

I read a cite that a little over 62% of of all child abusers are female.

So it says here.

So if many or most violent adults got that way because they were abused as children, women are to blame for most violence.

Sure, it’s a simplistic and exaggerated response. But so was the accusation.


Well, Queen “Bloody” Mary I had 300 people burned at the stake for heresy. All this in her drive to force the RC church back on England.

I think the thing to remember is that the most evil can be done by those in power. That has meant that so far in history men have had the greatest opportunity to commit memorable evil. If you want to find more evil women browse through histories of women in power.

I like Drew Carey’s answer to the women do no evil thing:
(pretending to be on phone)

“Hi, Germany? This is France. Umm, why are you invading me?”

Answers Germany:

“Oh, I think you know why.”

I want to thank everybody who has responded so far for their excellent cites and well-reasoned arguements. With the exception of Ma Barker I hadn’t heard of any of those women before.

It seems to me that we’re all pretty much in agreement that good and evil are not gender-specific. But men have had far more opportunity to date to act on a large scale, for good or ill.

A few small clarifications:
LaurAnge, I was kinda iffy on Boudicca myself. As you say, the winners write the history.

Lamia, I was aware that the vast majority of violent criminals were male, and have thought about that quite a lot, but I don’t really have a good theory about it. I don’t think anyone else does either, since our society seems to churn them out as quickly as ever. And yes I do think we create them. I don’t think they are born that way.

Guinastasia, No, I re-read it quite carefully because at first I thought I had misunderstood. I don’t recall her exact phraseology, but I’m quite sure that she specifically said the male gender was to blame for all the world’s evil.

Shodan, very interesting cite. Your subsequent arguement, however, could get this thread thrown into Great Debates.

Please, anybody else who wants to jump in here, please do.

But does the 62% mean that women are intrinsically more abusive, or does it correspond to the greater average time they are alone with children, compared to men?

There’s a tendency here to define evil as murder and mayhem, and in that regard there can be little doubt men are more productive. The difference is not as huge as one might think. For example, in the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report for 1998 (available on their web site), we find roughly 1 in 7 murderers are women. A distinct minority, to be sure, but not miniscule. Many folks assume these women are killing abusive husbands and boyfriends, but that is not the case: in 1998 the UCR notes only 4% of the victims of female murderers were boyfriends or husbands. Curiously, if you look at cross-sex murder, i.e. where men murder women and women murder men, the rates come much closer: 34% of cross-sex murderers are female. It turns out both men and women are about 3 times more likely to kill a man as a woman, hardly surprising given the stronger social revulsion toward the latter.

But what about nonviolent evil? Surely there are many nasty things you can do besides draw blood. Anecdotally it would seem that women pull their own weight, or more, in the nonviolent category of evil. The statistic quoted above about child abuse, much of which is neglect or emotional abuse, points in that direction.

I would be greatly surprised if a tendency to evil were sex-linked. But it seems entirely plausible that the type of evil one tends to perform is sex-linked.