Sunday, December 23, 2012

Sorry Pope Benedict, At Least In The US, We Do Need To Redefine Gender Expectations

"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.


  1. Thought this was interesting. Though I don't have the historical/ sociological knowledge to really argue or agree with it. It seems like an interesting start.

    "The unabashed hyper-masculine militarism he performed was, as William James suggested, a hysterical reaction formation against the “pleasure economy” we have created but denied—as if we could still locate the source of manhood in the demands of necessary labor, in the rigors of military discipline, in the sacrifice of war."

    1. Jordan, I read your link and at this point I have nothing to say except that, Adam Lanza was not your typical teen age male and assuming he was, as this article sort of does, isn't accurate.

      I find myself returning to point number six in Katz's article and that is that mental illness seems to manifest very differently in men than it does in women. We have to find out why and have to figure out how much is genetic and how much is culture. My best guess is culture is far bigger than genetics.

  2. A random thought about this pope. He is one of three children. Not five or fifteen but three. He and his brother became priests at the same time. His one sister has never married and managed his cardnial's household until her death in 1991. I can't find any other information about his mother including when she died. In short, he doesn't have any nephews, no nieces. No brother or sister in laws. His family of origin never expanded. Never welcomed new members, never had to bend and stretch and grow. As a matter of fact, his family of origin has now ended (or will when he and his brother pass away.) And this during a time of extreme pressure to repopulate Europe after the devastation of the War. Much to ponder.

    Also something I found on Wiki so consider the source: At the age of five, Ratzinger was in a group of children who welcomed the visiting Cardinal Archbishop of Munich with flowers. Struck by the cardinal's distinctive garb, he later announced the very same day that he wanted to be a cardinal.

    1. That is a really interesting insight. Wonder how much it plays into his beliefs.

    2. I've read the part about the influence of the Cardinal AB of Munich elsewhere. Actually might have been John Allen's biograpy when he was Cardinal Ratzinger, but please don't quote me.

      Your take on his family is very important. How many families have all their children dedicated to the Church in one form or another? Very very few I would guess.

  3. Very good article. Interesting comments, Sue. I think the culture that Pope Benedict grew up in was very unhealthy and this had a damaging effect on him. It was a culture in which power, control and violence were dominant and some people were considered less than fully human.

    1. Mark, I don't disagree. Benedict grew up in a very male centric fascist culture, both religiously and politically. Where I disagree is if a person is supposedly on the Christian path they are always prompted to get beyond their upbringing and knee jerk agreement with mommy and daddy's culture. That was the principle message of St Francis of Assisi, and certainly the message in the conversion of Dorothy Day. Benedict talks about conversion in a way that tells me he hasn't undergone such a thing because his talk is all head and no heart.

      I don't mean to be mean in this comment. It's an observation, not a judgement. If I was judging Benedict I would say he is the perfect man at the perfect time because he is forcing Catholics to make a choice: inclusion or exclusion.

    2. Colleen,

      Your comment that Benedict is the perfect man is interesting. I think it better to say he is the person at a great time that forces change. He is rather exclusive and a great proportion of humanity is choosing to exclude him from their realm of people that they would listen to. So many of us prefer Bishop TuTu and the Dali Lama as spiritual guides. What has happened to John XXIII. The Christ in him has been rejected by the awful leadership of this pope and his predecessor. dennis

  4. "Even if SOME of these violent men are or were "mentally ill,"...
    Of the 62 mass shootings in the United States over the last 30 years (25 in the last seven years alone), at least 38 of them displayed signs of possible mental health problems prior to the killings.

    To add that mentally ill men kill most than mentally ill women, it is as I say that women kill their babies more than men: have I to say that mothers kill their babies because they are women? do I have to blame the femininity for this?

    1. Women are not killing their babies. Take a look!! Open your eyes! There are billions of people on this planet and they were carried to term by women. Some women naturally miscarry, but you want to count that as killing. You probably want to count birth control as killing. It is insane to say that women are killing their babies. Insanity to say they are killing.

      Men are killing the women and children in all their wars and in domestic disputes. Men think they are better and more superior than women. We have our own minds, thank you. We will use them and make our own decisions with our bodies.

      Men do not want to take responsibility for the world's children. They are starving in many countries. Do you care about the living children and mothers who don't even have enough food to eat? Many women wind up single parents. The men in those situations are dream killers and life killers and women do not have the same opportunities as males do.

      That is mentally ill to have all these wars, guns and enough nuclear weapons to annihilate all of us. That will be the mass killer if we do not address that huge issue. The answer is not violence. The answer is Peace. Make peace with the women and the children and quit cheapening the value of women. We are equal in the sight of God whether you or the Pope agree with that or not. The Truth is the Truth.


    2. wait, I was referring to the mothers killing their newborn babies (filicide or infanticide). Very interesting your reaction and interpretation Fran.

    3. Domics, what is your point?


    4. Domics, re: filicide or infanticide, from what I understand of it, for example, in post-partum depression, is not mass murder and that is what we are talking about. Forgive me if I misunderstood your point. I'm used to dealing with those who kneel down in front of the Magisterium and the Pope as if they were god.


    5. Here are the stats on infanticide from the Bureau of Justice:

      Of all children under age 5 murdered from 1976-2005 --

      31% were killed by fathers
      29% were killed by mothers
      23% were killed by male acquaintances
      7% were killed by other relatives
      3% were killed by strangers

      54% were killed by men, if the last two categories split out 50/50, it's about 60% killed by men.

      Even if it were true that women were responsible for most infanticides ignoring the gender component would be indefensible. You can not solve what you refuse to define as the problem.

    6. Unfortunately, your statistics do not distinguish between their own children and the children of the partner or the wife. Obviously I was referring to the biological parents killing their own child.

      here I read:

      "Locally and nationally, children in the most danger are those under age 4, an age group that accounts for 80 percent of last year's deaths, according to data released Thursday by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Administration For Children and Families.
      The most common perpetrator -- the mother.
      Nationally, mothers were most likely to kill their children, twice as likely as fathers, according to the administration's findings."

      Again: I do not blame womanhood for this, as I do not blame manhood for other tragedies.

    7. Maybe you can afford to be blind to gender differences in violent crime, but I don't have that luxury. Post partum depression is a problem for mothers. It is not a problem for fathers. It is directly linked to female physiology. There most definitely gender based differences in how mental illness plays out in men and women. We ignore those differences at our own peril.

      The link was interesting, and doesn't actually surprise me, even though it's limited to a couple of States. What I was interested in knowing, and couldn't find, is the percentage of these murders that happened in single parent households. Because women are the primary care givers, single parent households are most likely to be led by women, which definitely reduces the number of men in the data base. It also amplifies the stated reasons for the rage explosions that result in these deaths.

  5. Thank you for the post here. I don't know what else to say except the men are on a gun buying frenzy and it is mentally ill, imo, to think that guns are the answer.


  6. IMVHO, it is not masculinity that is a problem, but a false - & utterly unChristian - identification of masculinity with readiness to be aggressive. Lashing out and hurting people (or nations) is nowhere near what Jesus teaches in the Sermon on the Mount or anywhere else. He commands things that are far harder, like patience, not retaliating, not showing off how pious one is, doing good in secret, loving enemies, forgiving people from the heart, refusing to hate or even to resort to insults, stuff like that. These are not suggestions.

    It's probably no coincidence that a lot of conservative Catholics seem to worry a great deal about "Catholic manhood", whatever that is. IMO this is ever so slightly sick - it strikes a false note. Real men (Mychal Judge is an example) just get on with being who they are, they don't feel the need to advertise themselves. And they are strong enough not to feel umanned by showing compassion and kindness & love of others. I think the aggression of many conservative Catholics may be based on fear of seeming weak. The trouble there is, that Christianity is based on weakness. You can't get much weaker than being crucified.

    1. I'm glad you wrote this Rat. I too have previously written that the teachings of Jesus most certainly call for radical redefinition of masculinity and what is considered 'strength' in our definition of 'strong men'. St Peter, in this scheme of thinking, then becomes almost a caricature of the status quo definition male, and is crippled in his understanding of what Jesus is teaching. Peter is the 'old wineskin that can't hold new wine' and John the Beloved disciple, is the 'new wineskin who can hold new wine'. Hence Peter betrays Jesus, while John stands at the foot of Jesus' cross and receives Mary into his care.