“Boys are rarely told that their virginity is a gift, or indeed that their sexuality is about “giving” something to another person – lightly or not. Boys “get laid”, “get lucky”, “get some”. They “take a girl’s virginity”, “take advantage”; if they’re thoughtful, they “take their time”. Boys are not taught to think of themselves or their virginity as something to be offered up, unwrapped and enjoyed.”
— The thoughtful words of Emily Maguire in ‘Like a Virgin’ for The Monthly.
“Men are taught to colonize
at the age of 5 through
games like cops and robbers
cowboys and indians
at the age of 8
we are given helmets
and told to hit each other on the head with it
bleed but do not bleed
cut but do not cry
be a man, join the military
die for your country
and if death comes to you
look it in the eye and say:
bring it on, mother-fucker, I fear nothing
When it comes to intimacy men quiver like fault linescrumble like cities.
What walking contradictions are we called men.”
“Here's something you may not realize: Gun ownership has been declining for decades. According to the University of Chicago's General Social Survey, in 1977, 54% of American households had guns. By 2010, the number had fallen to 32%. Yet gun sales are at record highs. That means that existing gun owners are buying more and more guns. It's not enough to have a hunting rifle over your mantle; you need an entire arsenal, just in case the government falls, society disintegrates, and you have to protect your cave -- sorry, your home -- from the marauding hordes.
That's exactly what the gun manufacturers want you to think, so you keep buying. They know that hunting will never again be the pastime it once was, and as more Americans move from rural areas to the suburbs and cities, their natural market withers.
That "responsible gun owner" politicians talk about, the one who reverentially passes down to his son the bolt-action rifle his father gave him? That guy isn't good for business. The manufacturers need the other guy, the one who fears he may not be all the man he could be.”
—Paul Waldman, discussing masculinity and gun ownership in his piece, “Not man enough? Buy a gun.”
“Tragically we are witnessing a resurgence of harmful misogynist assumptions that mothers cannot raise healthy sons, that boys 'benefit' from patriarchal militaristic notions of masculinity which emphasize discipline and obedience to authority. Boys need healthy self esteem. They need love. And a wise and loving feminist politics can provide the only foundation to save the lives of male children. Patriarchy will not heal them. If that were so they would all be well. ”
“When you take into account the images of the acceptable roles of the Asian nerd-slash-social outcast and Asian clown that are appreciated and contrast them to the Asian male pop stars that seem to have no cachet with the Western mainstream, one of the most obvious differences is that the Asian male pop stars exude sexiness whereas the clowns and the geeks, even though they are completely able to be cool–like PSY–do not. Even the most dangerous of the Asian male stereotypes, the martial artist, is denied any notable sexuality in the movies that become mainstream popular in the West.
Bruce Lee’s most popular movie in the US is Enter the Dragon. He doesn’t get the girl. When Jet Li was still someone that people were trying to make a star in America, he starred in Romeo Must Die and, rather than Aaliyah’s romantic counterpart, he is merely a platonic friend at the end. Apparently pre-screening audiences booed the interracial kiss version which was screened. The producers must have known since they had already prepared an edit without a kiss.
Thus, even when the power of the Asian martial artist or the gunplay of the cop and gangster is appreciated by the white heterosexual male hegemonic power structure that rules the mainstream, the potential threat of Asian male sexuality is clearly not and, therefore, for heterosexual Asian and Asian American men to see mainstream success, it genuinely helps not only to fit one of the pre-ordained acceptable Asian male roles (nerd, martial artist, gangster, and clown), but also to avoid any positive displays of sexuality and presenting yourself in a manner that can be seen as desirable to heterosexual women.
The male vanguard of K-pop–with polished music, image, and music videos, dressed in high fashion and with hard bodies that they aren’t shy in showing off–fit none of these prescribed stereotypes and definitely exude sexiness, as well as frequently contesting the sexiness of hyper-masculinity prevalent in the West (especially North America). And the confident display of Asian male sexuality from these pop stars might simply be enough for Western audiences to find reasons in those cultural differences–whether the fashion, the style of music, or the differences in acceptable masculinity–to reject that particular image of Asians. And that might be one reason why Asian pop keeps losing its bid for a place in Western mainstream music.”
—Guest contributor refresh_daemon says just about everything I think about the popularity of PSY’s “Gangnam Style.” Check it out on the R today (if you haven’t already)!
“Toxic masculinity is damaging to men, too, positing them as stoic sex-and-violence machines with allergies to tenderness, playfulness, and vulnerability. A reinvented masculinity will surely give men more room to express and explore themselves without shame or fear.”
“[I]t's not that all men — or even most straight white men — genuinely prefer skinny women. It's that for a great many men, having a thin, conventionally pretty girlfriend is a way to win status in the eyes of other men. It's not actually about what they themselves want. Put simply, men and women alike confuse what it is that men are attracted to with what it is that men imagine will win them approval...so much of our cultural loathing for women's fat (to the extent that it exists) is rooted not in sexual desire but in men's sense that skinny women are trophies...whose function is to impress other dudes. It's not that straight men aren't physically attracted to women; they obviously are. It's that the longing for thinness has little (if anything) to do with sex, and everything to do with status.”
—From “Are Men Attracted to What they Think Other Men Will Approve of?” (X)
“1. Teach young men about legal consent: Legal consent is number one for a reason. Without it, sexual contact with someone is rape whether you intended to rape or not. A woman who is drunk, unconscious, sleeping cannot give legal consent. And it’s not about a woman simply saying “no,” it’s really about making certain she’s saying yes.
2. Teach young men to see women’s humanity, instead of seeing them as sexual objects there for male pleasure: There is a reason why women are shamed into silence and teenage boys in Steubenville, Ohio are caught on camera laughing about gang raping an unconscious girl at a party. The dehumanization of women spans all areas of American life.
3. Teach young men how to express healthy masculinity: The question that’s being asked about what women can do to prevent violence against them is the wrong question. It’s not what can a woman say or do that can prevent being attacked. We need to turn that paradigm.
4. Teach young men to believe women who come forward and not to blame the victim: The vast majority of women do not report their rapes to the police and many more only tell one or two people in confidence.
5. Teach young men about bystander intervention: Both Men Stopping Violence and Men Can Stop Rape have bystander intervention workshops for men of all ages. “It’s about community accountability,” says Pandit, “We require men to talk to other men in their lives and tell them about these programs. It is important that we have community networks that hold men accountable.”
“But what about the men?” It’s a question that’s been avoided by the mainstream within the context of mass shootings.
The recent tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut sparked thousands of conversations across the continent about gun laws, mental illness, and violence. And sadly, we’ve been here before.
We’ve had conversations about access to guns – the victims would still be alive today, after all, if there were no gun. We’ve talked about the need to better address mental illness in North America – about how people need access to services and treatment. With proper support, potential perpetrators could get the help they need before it’s too late. And what about the media? We see violence all the time in movies, video games, and on television. Have we become so desensitized to violence that mass murder has become par for the course? Or, worse, a way to achieve fame in a culture obsessed with celebrity as a goal unto itself?
All these factors are relevant. All of these conversations should be had. But no one is asking what is, for once, the single most important question: What about the men?
In 1984, a 39-year-old man opened fire at an upscale nightclub in Dallas after a woman rejected his aggressive sexual advances. The man, Abdelkrim Belachheb, went out to his car, retrieved his gun, and returned to the bar, shooting the woman to death. He then reloaded his gun and killed a total of six more people. Capital punishment quickly became the center of the national conversation. In fact, Belachheb’s crime is most remembered as it lead to the passage of House Bill 8 in Texas —the “multiple murder” statute, which made serial killing and mass murder capital crimes.
That same year, James Oliver Huberty, a man whose ‘volatile temper’ and history of domestic violence is documented, opened fire at a McDonald’s restaurant in California, killing 21 people before being shot dead by a police officer. At the time, this shooting was the “largest single-day, single-gunman massacre in U.S. history.” Shocked, liberal politicians used the incident to lobby for stricter gun laws. Others wanted to know why he wasn’t able to access the mental health services he needed.
We all know about the tragic day in 1999 when Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold opened fire at Columbine High School, killing 12 of their classmates and teachers. Since, many have claimed the two boys were psychopaths. In 2004, an article in Slate commented, based on entries in Harris’ journal that: “These are not the rantings of an angry young man, picked on by jocks until he’s not going to take it anymore. These are the rantings of someone with a messianic-grade superiority complex, out to punish the entire human race for its appalling inferiority,” also noting a “lack of remorse or empathy—another distinctive quality of the psychopath.”
Others viewed the Columbine shooting as a ‘revenge killing.’ Some speculated that fame, or infamy, rather, was the driving force behind Harris’ and Klebold’s actions. We began a national conversation about ‘bullying’. ‘Bullying’ as the number one cause for every youth-related problem in North America is another exhausted conversation.
In 2007, 23-year-old Seung-Hui Cho opened fire at Virginia Tech, killing 32 people before taking his own life. Cho’s behaviour at Virginia Tech, prior to the shooting, was said to be ‘troubling’. He had been harassing female students and taking pictures of their legs under desks. Cho had been accused of stalkingfemale students on three separate occasions. Supposedly he left a note “raging against women and rich kids.” After the Virginia Tech massacre, the national conversation turned, once again, to bullying, to mental illness, and to gun laws.
As we are all aware at this point, 27 people were shot and killed in Newtown, CT on December 14th. The gunman, Adam Lanza, killed his mother first, before driving to Sandy Hook elementary school, where he proceeded to take the lives of 26 students and employees before killing himself. Some have speculated that Lanza suffered from mental illness. Others want to know why he had access to guns, pointing to his mother, Nancy Lanza, apparently a gun enthusiast.
In the midst of all this horror, we are, understandably, up in arms, demanding change, grieving all the while. But within all this righteous anger, we are very carefully tiptoeing around the common denominator.
Jackson Katz, an author, filmmaker, social theorist, and anti-sexist activist, whose work has focused on manhood and masculinity, is baffled: “The gender of the perpetrator is the single most important factor, and yet it’s not talked about in that way in most mainstream conversations.”
So liberals have, once again, jumped on the gun control issue (and I won’t deny that guns are an important issue here) and the right have reached for their handguns, arguing that the only way we can protect ourselves is to be armed (as Ann Coulter tweeted, mere hours after the shooting: “more guns, less mass shootings”). Others still, want to talk about mental illness and the health care crisis in America. It should strike us all as more than a little odd that, amidst all of these conversations, whether it’s the progressives, the right, or the mainstream media – no one is talking about gender.
“Imagine if 61 out of 62 mass killings were done by women? Would that be seen as merely incidental and relegated to the margins of discourse?” Katz asks, “No. It would be the first thing people talked about.”
In the U.S., where health care is privatized, it’s true that many people don’t have adequate access to mental health services. Racial and ethnic minorities are even less likely to have access to health services, as well as, more generally the poor and unemployed. But not only are these mass shootings committed largely by white men, but by middle class white men. If this were primarily an issue of people not having access to mental health services, it would stand to reason that far more mass shootings would be perpetrated by poor minorities, particularly women of color.
But we’re talking white, middle class men — the members of this society who have the most privilege and the most power. The question everyone should be asking is not: “Where did he get the gun?” or “Why wasn’t he on medication?” But: “What is happening with white men?”
This isn’t to say that men are somehow naturally inclined towards violence. It isn’t reasonable to argue that men are born angry or crazy. Masculinity, on the other hand, is something worth thinking about.
“It’s hidden in plain sight,” Katz says. “This is about masculinity and it’s about manhood.” Other factors are important too, for example, how masculinity intersects with mental illness or emotional problems or with access to guns. “But we need to be talking about gender front and center.”
Even the gun debate needs to be gendered, Katz points out. “So much of gun culture in the U.S. is about masculinity but it’s unspoken.”
What is it about masculinity that leads to these kinds of tragedies? Katz argues that violence is a gendered way of achieving certain goals. Femininity simply isn’t constructed in a way that teaches women to use violence as a means to an end.
“One of the ways we can understand violence is as an external manifestation of internal pain” Katz says. Men, according societal expectations and norms, are only allowed to experience certain emotions – one of those being anger. Violence and anger are accepted and expected forms of men’s emotional expression. “Men are rewarded for achieving certain goals and for establishing of dominance through the use of violence,” Katz says.
Just look at war.
Of course war is yet another factor that is left out of these conversations. The U.S. is a militarized state. America, as a nation, establishes dominance through the use of violence and war is distinctly a male domain. Men wage war and men fight in war. Men run countries that go to war. Men make decisions about whether to continue drone strikes and about where to fire missiles. War is a man’s game. Winner takes all.
“Militarism is, in a sense, a projection of force and power as the assertion of national manhood,” Katz says. There is no way we could live such a militarized culture and not see that manifested in our understandings of manhood and culture at large.
And what of revenge? We often talk about revenge as a reason behind these kinds of attacks. “ Violence is a form of revenge. So often men are enacting violence as a way to take back something they believe as been taken from them,” Katz says.
“Often these shooters are harboring resentment — they retreat into themselves and then develop these revenge fantasies,” Katz says. “Most of the school shootings over the past couple of decades have been revenge killings.” The innocent victims are just “props in the shooter’s theatrical performance of his anger and his resentment,” he says.
When men commit violence, they’re fulfilling expectations of their gender.
“Caring, compassion, and empathy aren’t innately feminine characteristics. Those are human characteristics,” Katz says. Yet men learn the opposite. They learn to shut up and take it like a man. They also learn that they are entitled to certain things in this world: financial success, access to women, power – when they can’t acquire these things, what happens? Well, sometimes, apparently, they seethe. And without any other tools to deal with their anger and resentment, some men resort to violence.
“As a white man, the assumption is that you are the center of the world. Your needs should be met. You should be successful,” Katz says. When that doesn’t pan out men will often end up seeing themselves as victims. “This explains the cultural energy on the right in this past generation – so many of these men see themselves as victims of multiculturalism and of feminism,” he adds. “It’s undermining the cultural centrality of male authority.” Katz points out that we can see this worldview manifesting itself in the Men’s Rights Movement. “They are at the front line making the argument that men are the true victims.” All this isn’t to say that all men who feel they are losing grip on their perceived entitlement to power and authority will become perpetrators of mass shootings. But these broader patterns are something to consider.
Are these shooters psychopaths or sociopaths? Maybe. But what’s a sociopath? It’s a person who lacks empathy. “Well,” says Katz, “we socialize empathy out of boys all the time.” If we aren’t allowing boys to experience and express vulnerability, pain, and fear because that’s somehow connected to weakness (a feminine quality), then how are they going to be able to relate to the experiences of others? “Sociopathy is the extreme manifestation of the way we socialize boys in our society,” he says.
The question of not only: “What about men?” But “What about white masculinity?” should be, according to Katz, on the front page of every newspaper and on every talk show.
Somehow, people seem more comfortable seeing these shooters as twisted psychopaths. We’re more comfortable blaming objects – guns – than we are asking: “Who’s behind the gun?”
After the Aurora shooting, Erika Christakis wrote that “The silence around the gendering of violence is as inexplicable as it is indefensible.” And here we are again.
“Although women with class privilege such as Susan Faludi or Susan Bordo who write about men express surprise that most men do not see themselves as powerful, women who have been raised in poor and working-class homes have always been acutely aware of the emotional pain of the men in their lives and of their work dissatisfactions. Had Susan Faludi read the work of feminist women of color writing about the poor and working-class men whom we know most intimately, she would not have been 'surprised' to find masses of men troubled and discontent. Women with class privilege have been the only group who have perpetuated the notion that men are all-powerful, because often the men in their families were powerful.”
—bell hooks; The Will To Change: Men, Masculinity, And Love
“As the months passed by and my body further masculinized, my confidence was slowly displaced by strong feelings of anger. My sense of pride became muddied by the societal expectations of black masculinity. Specifically, the racist assumption that black men are full of rage and prone to violence. This became extremely evident in the new ways my body was policed by others. Whenever I spoke up, asserted myself, or failed to make those around me feel safe through complacency, I became the physically threatening angry black male. This realization intensified my anger but I quickly learned to contain my rage in ways that I never had to before, lest I became the dangerous stereotype in which I knew that I wasn’t.
Beyond the unexpected racist assumptions of my identity from acquaintances and strangers, my personal relationships experienced their own type of transition. I remember when a friendly debate about politics with a friend turned into a tense disagreement. As prideful intellectuals, we both vehemently defended our beliefs but our differing views quickly turned ugly as I was taken aback with my friend’s reminder “that testosterone is really making you angry.” Although I wanted to inform my friend of the fallacy of her statement, the conversation ended quickly thereafter but not before I profusely apologized and shamefully agreed that perhaps my anger was displaced and unnecessary.
While I had already learned that as a black male I had little room to express anger in fear of the potentially harmful repercussions, what became even more clear to me is that as a black transgender male, I have even less room to be angry. Simply put, because black transmen have to deal with the unfortunate disposition of carrying the racist baggage of an assumed brute masculinity and the damaging myth of aggression as a result of synthetic hormone use, our expressions of anger and frustration are sometimes interpreted by others as inauthentic. In effect, preventing potentially healthy and constructive uses of anger in our on-going process of self-fashioning.”
masculinity will gut you like a fish, keep your insides for nutrition while tossing your body back lifeless and bloodied to drown among the others like you who must swim past your carcass to avoid the hook just one day longer.
“So yes, I understand that men are taught to not feel. Yes, I understand that the cult of masculinity is all about not feeling. I understand that must be hard. But honestly, I don’t give a shit about understanding the emotional state of members of the cult of masculinity, except insofar as that understanding might help stop them. It’s a bit late in the game to be worried about the feelings of perpetrators.
The ones I care about are their victims, because the man box isn’t about putting men in a box, it’s about putting everyone else in a box, the box of other, of less than, of trophies, the box of the violable, the box of targets, the box of victims, the box of the violated, the box of proof of the men’s own manhood.”