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We’re as sick as our secrets: rapes, shootings and ‘real men’

January 17, 2013

The New Delhi gang rape and murder seemed to give a lot of Americans an opportunity to practice denial, national elitism, and perhaps even a little racism all at once. By focusing on how in need of change Indian men/society were, we were able to allow our ‘boys to continue being boys’ and avoid the discomfort of owning our own epidemic of male violence. There was, after all, someone worse.

We’ve (US) had numerous gang rapes with adolescents in the past few years, even on school grounds, sometimes with audiences of up to 40 or more peers watching/participating (FOR HOURS as girls were brutalized), students sharing video and texting their friends to participate. Do you remember the big uproar about those? Probably not: as there wasn’t any. I was often frustrated, well before these two particular incidents occurred, that earlier cases didn’t get much coverage and seemed to be glossed over by media. Steubenville certainly wasn’t the first time.

While American press was curiously in an uproar (c’mon, how often do we really care about heinous sex crimes of ‘less-industrialized’ countries, not to mention our own?), over two individual rapes, the Violence Against Women Act, created to help protect millions of American women against the plague of rape/violence, seamlessly and silently disappeared. (Don’t forget that for all the millions of women raped, there are millions of men raping.)

The crimes (but for the details) hadn’t changed, in either country, but the press coverage certainly had: “Why then?”

The India and Steubenville rapes also provided a distraction from the horrific shootings we were still reeling from. Committed by young, white affluent males, these crimes reflected entitlement: entitlement over other people’s bodies and entitlement over other people’s lives. (If being a ‘real man’ infers power and control, they certainly reclaimed theirs – at least temporarily.) Yet, the over–riding social context, in which there is a desperate need to maintain authority and control, at all costs, is never mentioned. While ‘masculinity/manhood’ (as in socialization, not as in natural condition of male born humans) has always been the one thing miraculously left out of the mainstream media maelstrom; this time, there was a hum:

Social media isn’t regulated to the degree that conventional ‘media’ has been; people are talking, revolutions are sweeping and paradigms shifting: threatening, threatening, threatening status quo. Even if mainstream media has a vested interested in Sociological blind spots, social media has become a vehicle for outing the interests of the people, regardless.

Articles started to circulate in social media, putting words to those ‘things-that- must-not-be-named’ in conventional media. Rather than the mainstream media’s old, tired routine of, “Why is violence in America so out of control?’ some in social media actually dared to flat out state, “WE NEED TO ADDRESS THE WAY WE CULTURE OUR MEN.”  <Gasp!>

In fact, some even had the audacity to suggest that we should use terminology, which squarely calls out the violator: “Men’s Violence Against Women”, rather than the violated, “Violence Against Women.” While we all know men are the main perpetrators of crime: sexual, violent, white collar, or otherwise, we’re hard pressed (v-e-r-y  u-n-c-o-m-f-o-r-t-a-b-le) to use the word ‘men’ as part of the equation. (Did your hair rise when I said, ‘young, affluent, white males’ above?) Just articulating those demographic facts, is tantamount to male ‘bashing’ – threatening a fundamental belief system. Danger!

Even the proposal of analyzing the concept of ‘masculinity’ is challenging entitlement of male authority and runs strikingly close to questioning the entitlement of global dominance and institutionalized violence and discrimination: to be avoided at all costs. And let’s be clear, preserving this type of system through silence is creating great costs – for everyone. But, apparently, publicly naming the culprit and discussing ‘manhood/patriarchy’ is a greater threat.

Bottom line: These acts are not pathological, if they are born in a culture, which condones violence/dominance as the be-all-end-all of reclaiming masculinity.

By skirting around accountability and putting the focus on labeling the victims, mental health, guns or the crimes instead, we can guarantee unchallenged ‘manhood’ and expression of that in continued entitlement, violence and control. But do we really want to, at the expense of more outbreaks of ‘masculinity’, paralyzing and terrorizing society/humanity as a whole?

If we really do want peace for our children, for our future, as we say, we need to get clean on the reality of the situation and own up: The current definitions/expressions of masculinity are killing us.

We need to look at all the ways these underlying belief structures advocate violence, dominance and control. Why should our boys be denied this anymore than anyone else? Let’s start to create a new dialogue, challenging concepts that limit men’s value to dominating and using violence as the final instrument of control and ‘manliness’. Let’s start putting out the r-evolutionary idea that being a ‘real man’ doesn’t need to be contingent on power-over and control, or the potential threat thereof. How about promoting messages like, “Real men don’t harm,” and in fact, they can be really amazing nurturers! Certainly, there could be many positive applications.

We need to make structural analysis of Gender part of the open dialogue of dealing with violence; we’re only as sick as our secrets. Onward human evolution!


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  1. I am with you one hundred percent on this. Real mature masculinity can be forceful and resolute, but it is never mean or hurtful or violent. That is boyhood. At some point, the real men of the world have got to start showing the boys of the world how we love our wives, how we handle anger and resentment, how we forgive no matter how hard and how long it takes. Our current debate should not be about guns and the second amendment, but about how we have failed as a culture to address the root problems of our masculine perceptions. I hope and pray that we can find the voice in social media and in our neighborhoods and our communities to take a stand and offer something better. Thanks for the great words and the inspiring article.

  2. This article reflects a problem experienced in all public sectors which are concerned with stopping violence. This problem is political and anti-feminist. The dominant discourses about bullying and violence in education systems are around approaches such as mental health care, developing resilience, coping and protective behaviours, behaviour management policy, and a generic cultivation of values such as kindness and friendliness. In the US there is much focus on gun control. Such approaches have value, however they fail to directly address the cause of most violence – the social construction of masculinity.

    As educators we need to step up and assert the significance of this analysis. Bring such articles to the attention of your colleagues. Break the silence. Share these AWE Links to readings and resources for addressing bullying and violence through schooling.

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