Since I heard of the California tragedy, I’ve debated whether or not to write about it. But, the more I hear it being discussed, the more I feel an obligation to talk about it here. I’ve commented on other forums I have a huge problem with the current “hashtag” discussions going on. This blog isn’t about “not all guys” or about discounting random acts of violence against women or an over abundance of misogyny in our society.
No, this blog entry is about an issue I’ve spent many years of my life fighting. It’s about why I’ve made a whole series of decisions that led me to where I am. And it’s at the core of the tragedy on pretty much every level. Let me start by saying something to the “Every Woman” crowd in relation to this event:
The male domination of mass murders in the past 30 years has NOTHING to do with misogyny.
I know the killer posted a very long diatribe of hatred about women. I also have no doubt that this particular rampage killing reflected misogyny at its worst. But, immediately before he committed these actions, he openly acknowledged the EXACT reason why. Now generally, when feminists talk about rights and fighting sexism, I try to take a back-seat and listen. But lately, some well meaning women have started posting conversations we should be having with our children. These conversations may help gender violence in the future. But in trying to prevent a future rampage killing, it comes across about as useful as me explaining menstrual cramps.
From reading “the manifesto” (ugh! what fun), I’m fairly certain that the perpetrator of the California tragedy heard that talk. Not only had he heard it, there’s a fair amount of reason to believe he took it to heart. But then, something happened. The world began to look different, and hatred spewed forth with ugly, disastrous results.
In many of the earlier rampage murders, the reasons have been murky. But, this last character felt the need to inform us all of EXACTLY why he was doing it.
“You will finally see that I am in truth the superior one. The true Alpha Male.”
Or, to simplify:
Oh yes, it does come all down to sex. Just not in the way that anyone is giving it credit. Now, there’s a discussion going on about how women are objectified in the media. But, let’s take a look at something we DON’T hear talked about.
Quick – what negative messages does this image send to our children? Ol’ Duke took a lot of justified heat from feminist groups over the years. He was the quintessential male chauvinist fantasy. I can’t argue with the objectification of women in this picture. But, that’s just the start of our societal baggage rabbit hole. What’s the general description of Duke?
Befitting an All-American hero, Duke is supremely physically fit and completely confident in himself and his abilities, accomplishing sometimes superhuman feats through sheer aggression and ruthless combat skills. He is quick to a wisecrack and frequently speaks his mind, but cares little for his detractors, as he knows his heroic physical accomplishments speak for themselves.
Duke is 6″4″ and is able to bench press at least 600 lbs.
Duke has a big penis. Large enough to make most porn stars say “Damn”. Oh wait… They didn’t say that. But… you know it’s true. 6’4″? No way he’s not packing something. The latest rampage killer wrote his whole life story, and yet, we ignore his stated purpose. “Alpha Male”. He was working to show he had a large penis.
Ok, yes, I’m definitely using some hyperbole here. Yet, I hope it gets the idea across. Penis size has long been symbol or… “measure”… of a man. Hopefully, as we grow older, our ideas of ‘value’ become far less juvenile.. But, there’s always a child somewhere deep inside of us. Whenever a woman is being turned into a sex object, men receive a message indicating the reasons why they aren’t the subject of that woman’s affection. Why they are inadequate. Flawed. Worthless. Don’t believe me? Take a trip over to any major “free” porn site, and look at what the ads are for.
Penis pills! Make her orgasm in 10 seconds flat! Gain muscle fast! All messages indicating that people are objects, not just the women involved.
Occasionally, modern fiction hits some hard realities. In an episode of Firefly, a father obsesses with making his son a man and hires a prostitute to do the job right. After, the son is confused, wasn’t this experience supposed to grant adulthood? Is he different now?
We’re starting to circle a root cause now. In the case of misogyny, David Wong does a good job describing how hatred of women can form even in a modern man. If I throw a quarter on the internet, I’ll probably hit 3 people debating the misogyny of the killer. I won’t hear anyone talking about manhood, or how nastily pervasive entitlement interacts with ‘manhood’. Or how men obsess with trying to prove their ‘self-worth’.
The Problem of Self-Worth and Coming of Age
Years ago, a college professor started a class with a simple question. “How does one become an adult?” This particular professor had a knack for opening up discussions in the class, and then discussing the philosophical issues surrounding them. And this particular discussion was life-changing for me.
How do I know I’m an adult? What does it mean to be a man?
Our society has something of a “TODO” list to turn oneself into an adult. And at the top of this list? Sex. Virginity is not seen as a socially viable option anymore. It implies weakness and immaturity. As a society, we mock and embarrass men who haven’t ‘gotten any’. Other elements of adulthood form in our psyche early on. A certain amount of physical ability. Creation of wealth. Work. Completing education. What’s more, there’s an underlying agreement that adults are “productive members of society”. Then, we tie the adult “TODO” list into our self-worth. Women have seen some fairly amazing opportunities for growth in how they determine self-worth. It wasn’t long ago that going to college was strictly for the “MRS” degree. While this move has been positive for all, we’re seeing a burgeoning new set of issues form before us.
Society is a lot more complex.
“Coming of age” ceremonies are common in multiple cultures and tribal customs. They give children and adults clear knowledge of their advancement into adulthood. Yet, as modern convenience and technology replaces the need for basic lifestyles, previously obvious measures of worth and value are lost. Worse, we worked to identify bad substitutes based in inequality and power. As those substitutes diminish, males (particularly white males) have something of an identity crisis going on.
Now, returning to our subject of rampage killings, there’s a multitude that revolve around sex and unrequited love. The theme, while common isn’t all inclusive.
The San Ysidro McDonald’s massacre, for example, would appear to themed around loss of income and envy of the wealthy.
The oft-discussed Columbine murders centered around retribution against bullies and “jocks”, attempting to prove physical prowess.
Boys are taught a lot of conflicting messages growing up. Old vestiges of long-past standards an society and new values not always fully formed. But, critically, boys are not often given the encouragement they need. We, as a society, do a poor job teaching what it means to be an adult. As we become adults, we have an idea of the things adults do, but not the why or how or meaning. Some grab onto a core set of values and advance them. Others live in an adult world, almost as if children trying on their parent’s clothes.
Prevalence of Male Suicide
School was rough for me, and making connections even moreso. I’ve struggled on a fair number of occasions with my own self-worth. But, even with those struggles still continuing, I decided during my college years that I would take the banner of helping children. That, I, as a personal mission, would do my best to be there if someone needed me to. If only because, I never felt like anyone was there for me.
My constant value, the thing I want to do… Is help people. While working as a disability services tutor, it clicked as what I wanted to do with my life. I worked to become a teacher. I’d be there for students that needed an ear. I was young, idealistic. While life led me in a different direction, I still try to spend a fair number of volunteer hours in mentoring students through a few different programs.
It’s important to me.
The current gender ratio of all male to female suicides in the US is 4:1. Suicide is the 3rd leading cause of death for ages 15-24. Male teenagers are 5x more likely to commit suicide. While women do report as more likely to think about committing suicide or attempt in a non-violent way, men tend toward violent methods, and occasionally kill others as well.
In the past few days, I’ve seen a lot of anger floating around. Immediately after this latest rampage killing, multiple teenagers took to the internet and vented their frustrations about their similar ‘poor luck’ on the dating scene. Others collected these messages, and passed them around, as advertising of how misogynistic our society is. Some mocked the posters and even posted messages indicating that these people were “doing a good job weeding themselves out of the dating pool”. Or worse, subtly indicated it might not be a bad thing if they ‘ended the problem’.
Yes – please poke the already troubled youth into yet another frenzy so we can have more dead bodies. One of the hardest lessons I’ve learned in my life – Broken people will potentially latch onto some very negative, damaging things. You can point out to a broken person the damage their doing, attempt to show them the negativity. But, if you don’t address the underlying issues? You’ll drive them even further into that thought pattern, or into potential despair.
Solutions aren’t that easy
I’d love to end this discussion for some grand plan of ‘how to make things better’. I don’t think it exists. The basic issues of defining adulthood and ‘what it means to be a man’ aren’t going anywhere easily. Others far more intelligent than I have written about them. And, the discussion is anything but new. Philosophers have been pontificating about ‘our place’ since before Socrates and Plato.
For a long while, I’ve believed in the need for men to be more active and engaged in gender equality and justice. Even the most well meaning of “Mens Rights” activists, will often find themselves besieged by movement toward misogyny. Even though these groups have a few good points (Men have a right to be stay-at-home fathers!), I’ve never felt them to be overly healthy. Looking at the demographics of these groups, and their literature, we see a lot of anger over ‘loss of privilege’.
I do believe that ‘telling your story’ for women will help reduce misogyny in our society. Hearing the viewpoints of others is critical toward development of empathy. That empathy will likely help people consider their choices in a different light before acting like an ass. Or, realize how wrong a situation is when alcohol is involved. I know that Fin has taught me a lot over the years to better understand the female perspective. I’ve slowly learned to only mostly make people uncomfortable. Realize though, stories are powerful, and how you tell the story can be more powerful. At some point, telling ones story can be cathartic. If it comes from a desire to be heard? You’ll help women gain confidence. Feel that they aren’t alone. But largely, you’re helping women here.
Now… if you start speaking to men, thinking this will help us ‘see’ what’s going on. Well, you get the response that’s going on and the flame throwing / back biting on the internet. Those of us that care largely enough to hear the story, don’t need to be told we need to hear it. And those that don’t?
Well, let’s flip the coin over to my views of what men do need to do.
I can call out misogynistic jerks, all day long. While that is helping the women in my life, it’s not helping the misogynist jerk. That energy might hopefully feed into making a woman feel better about men, or at least feeling comfortable walking down the street. But contrary to all the feel-good (or let’s rage!) articles out there, I won’t be helping remove misogyny from our society. And what’s more, it won’t stop the next mass shooter or tragedy.
Children (boys and girls) need role models and an understanding of how to healthily judge and build their sense of self-worth. Adolescents need a strong transition to adulthood. Young adults need mentored to become the leaders of tomorrow.
I’ve stolen some of Fin’s general philosophy for my own. Real change comes from our everyday actions.
Instead of writing some sort of prescription or magic pill, that will “solve” everything, I’ll leave with what I’m doing to make things better.
I work with kids. I volunteer when given the opportunity. I encourage young girls to get involved with technology. I work to give young boys an example of what hard work can give. I support my wife her efforts to teach others about gardening, planting. I write this blog. I try to avoid joining angry rants and causes that exist as nothing more than flash-mobs of rage. I share my experiences with those that ask. I thank those kind to me. I muster what smile I can give on a bad day when somebody smiles at me.
It’s not much, but it’s something.