|"The bearer of this card has averted complete humiliation. Today, he is a Man. Fully entitled to all the rights and privileges duly afforded. To belch without apology. To leave the seat up without shame. The way is before you."|
Pope Benedict's recent splurge of talks condemning gay marriage, feminism, and gender as a 'new philosophy of sexuality' are in my estimation, particularly mistimed for the American public. Particularly his idea that these somehow threaten world peace. I suppose if you are the head honcho of an all male enterprise, grew up in male dominated culture, and think world peace is maintained by some form of approved male patriarchy and dominance, then these social trends would indeed, threaten your notion of a peaceful and correctly ordered society. Unfortunately in the US, our peace and security are directly threatened by our arbitrary notions of the properly gendered male. In light of the Newtown massacre there are finally voices being raised about the fact that all but one of the mass shootings occurring in the last thirty years--60 some in all--were perpetrated by males, and this does not include the number of suicide/murders that are also almost always perpetrated by males.
Jackson Katz, writing for Huffington Post, lists seven reasons why Americans need to precisely look at how we are creating an arbitrary gender definition of masculinity, and how that definition is at the core of so much of the violence in American culture. Rather than supporting Pope Benedict's plea to maintain the old status quo, Mr Katz is calling that whole idea into question precisely because it threatens peace and security, and guns make even the least macho male, utterly dangerous. I remember when I was ten asking my dad, who stood 6'2" tall and was really well built, what scared him the most. He said: "A small man with a big gun." For me now, I might say it's a small man with a global platform.
The following is the last part of Mr Katz's article and includes all seven of his reasons we might want to do exactly what Pope Benedict doesn't want us doing, changing the gender expectations for males. Ironically, this is the exact same kind of thing Jesus attempted 2000 years ago.
Memo to Media: Manhood, Not Guns or Mental Illness, Should Be Central in Newtown Shooting
.....1) Make gender -- specifically the idea that men are gendered beings -- a central part of the national conversation about rampage killings. Typical news accounts and commentaries about school shootings and rampage killings rarely mention gender. If a woman were the shooter, you can bet there would be all sorts of commentary about shifting cultural notions of femininity and how they might have contributed to her act, such as discussions in recent years about girl gang violence. That same conversation about gender should take place when a man is the perpetrator. Men are every bit as gendered as women.
The key difference is that because men represent the dominant gender, their gender is rendered invisible in the discourse about violence. So much of the commentary about school shootings, including the one at Sandy Hook Elementary, focuses on "people" who have problems, "individuals" who suffer from depression, and "shooters" whose motives remain obtuse. When opinion leaders start talking about the men who commit these rampages, and ask questions like: "why is it almost always men who do these horrible things?" and then follow that up, we will have a much better chance of finding workable solutions to the outrageous level of violence in our society.
2) Use the "M-word." Talk about masculinity. This does not mean you need to talk about biological maleness or search for answers in new research on brain chemistry. Such inquiries have their place. But the focus needs to be sociological: individual men are products of social systems. How many more school shootings do we need before we start talking about this as a social problem, and not merely a random collection of isolated incidents? Why are nearly all of the perpetrators of these types of crimes men, and most of them white men? (A recent piece by William Hamby is a step in the right direction. )
What are the cultural narratives from which school shooters draw lessons or inspiration? This does not mean simplistic condemnations of video games or violent media -- although all cultural influences are fair game for analysis. It means looking carefully at how our culture defines manhood, how boys are socialized, and how pressure to stay in the "man box" not only constrains boys' and men's emotional and relational development, but also their range of choices when faced with life crises. Psychological factors in men's development and psyches surely need to be examined, but the best analyses see individual men's actions in a social and historical context.
3) Identify the gender subtext of the ongoing political battle over "guns rights" versus "gun control," and bring it to the surface. The current script that plays out in media after these types of horrendous killings is unproductive and full of empty clichés. Advocates of stricter gun laws call on political leaders to take action, while defenders of "gun rights" hunker down and deflect criticism, hoping to ride out yet another public relations nightmare for the firearms industry. But few commentators who opine about the gun debates seem to recognize the deeply gendered aspects of this ongoing controversy. Guns play an important emotional role in many men's lives, both as a vehicle for their relationships with their fathers and in the way they bolster some men's sense of security and power.
It is also time to broaden the gun policy debate to a more in-depth discussion about the declining economic and cultural power of white men, and to deconstruct the gendered rhetoric of "defending liberty" and "fighting tyranny" that animates much right-wing opposition to even moderate gun control measures. If one effect of this tragedy is that journalists and others in media are able to create space for a discussion about guns that focuses on the role of guns in men's psyches and identities, and how this plays out in their political belief systems, we might have a chance to move beyond the current impasse.
4) Consult with, interview and feature in your stories the perspectives of the numerous men (and women) across the country who have worked with abusive men. Many of these people are counselors, therapists, and educators who can provide all sorts of insights about how -- and why -- men use violence. Since men who commit murder outside the home more than occasionally have a history of domestic violence, it is important to hear from the many women and men in the domestic violence field who can speak to these types of connections -- and in many cases have first-hand experience that deepen their understanding.
5) Bring experts on the air, and quote them in your stories, who can speak knowledgeably about the link between masculinity and violence. After the Jovan Belcher murder-suicide, CNN featured the work of the author Kevin Powell, who has written a lot about men's violence and the many intersections between gender and race. That was a good start. In the modern era of school shootings and rampage killings, a number of scholars have produced works that offer ways to think about the gendered subtext of these disturbing phenomena.
Examples include Rachel Kalish and Michael Kimmel's piece "Suicide by Mass Murder: Masculinity, Aggrieved Entitlement and Rampage School Shootings," Douglas Kellner's "Rage and Rampage: School Shootings and Crises of Masculinity," and a short piece that I co-wrote with Sut Jhally after Columbine, "The national conversation in the wake of Littleton is missing the mark."
There have also been many important books published over the past 15 years or so that provide great insight into issues of late 20th and 21st century American manhood, and thus provide valuable context for discussions about men's violence. They include Real Boys, by William Pollack; Raising Cane, by Michael Thompson and Dan Kindlon; New Black Man, by Mark Anthony Neal; Why Does He Do That? by Lundy Bancroft; Dude You're a Fag, by C.J. Pascoe; Guyland, By Michael Kimmel; I Don't Want to Talk About It, by Terrence Real; Violence, by James Gilligan; Guys and Guns Amok, by Douglas Kellner; On Killing, by David Grossman; and two documentary films: Hip Hop: Beyond Beats and Rhymes, by Byron Hurt; and Tough Guise, which I created and Sut Jhally directed.
6) Resist the temptation to blame this shooting or others on "mental illness," as if this answers the why and requires no further explanation. Even if some of these violent men are or were "mentally ill," the specific ways in which mental illness manifests itself are often profoundly gendered. Consult with experts who understand the gendered features of mental illness. For example, conduct interviews with mental health experts who can talk about why men, many of whom are clinically depressed, comprise the vast majority of perpetrators of murder-suicides. Why is depression in women much less likely to contribute to their committing murder than it is for men? (It is important to note that only a very small percentage of men with clinical depression commit murder, although a very high percentage of people with clinical depression who commit murder are men.)
7) Don't buy the manipulative argument that it's somehow "anti-male" to focus on questions about manhood in the wake of these ongoing tragedies. Men commit the vast majority of violence and almost all rampage killings. It's long past time that we summoned the courage as a society to look this fact squarely in the eye and then do something about it. Women in media can initiate this discussion, but men bear the ultimate responsibility for addressing the masculinity crisis at the heart of these tragedies. With little children being murdered en masse at school, for God's sake, it's time for more of them to step up, even in the face of inevitable push back from the defenders of a sick and dysfunctional status quo.
And unfortunately, one of those defenders of a sick and dysfunctional status quo, is Pope Benedict. There is no way to get around that as he has consistently attacked any notion that would change the balance of power between the masculine and the feminine---whether that is in the Church, in the bedroom, or in relationships. If he could actually process what Jesus taught about relating to others, that it wasn't through dominance but service, he might have a different perspective on redefining gender roles. Apparently he can't, but that doesn't mean Catholicism itself, through the laity and it's theologians have to remain silent, and more of us need to speak out.
I asked my dad that 'what scared him question' almost fifty years ago, but he was right back then and with today's assault weapons, his message is even more true. We need to seriously deconstruct what passes for masculinity in a culture that no longer needs old definitions for it's continued survival. It sure seems to me that Pope Benedict and his ideas about gender are a bigger threat to world peace than any gay marriage initiative.