I'm excited to be on @lewishowes 's book launch team for #MaskofMasculinity- Check it out at maskofmasculinity.com
Many of us whose work touches on the subject of masculinity and violence have long been frustrated by the failure of mainstream media — and much of progressive media and the blogosphere as well — to confront the gender issues at the heart of so many violent rampages like the one on December 14 in Connecticut.
My colleagues and I who do this type of work experience an unsettling dichotomy. In one part of our lives, we routinely have intense, in-depth discussions about men’s emotional and relational struggles, and how the bravado about “rugged individualism” in American culture masks the deep yearning for connection that so many men feel, and how the absence or loss of that can quickly turn to pain, despair, and anger. In these discussions, we talk about violence as a gendered phenomenon: how, for example, men who batter their wives or girlfriends typically do so not because they have trigger tempers, but rather as a means to gain or maintain power and control over her, in a (misguided) attempt to get their needs met.
We talk amongst ourselves about how so many boys and men in our society are conditioned to see violence as a solution to their problems, a resolution of their anxieties, or a means of exacting revenge against those they perceive as taking something from them. We share with each other news stories, websites and YouTube videos that demonstrate the connection between deeply ingrained cultural ideas about manhood and individual acts of violence that operationalize those ideas.
And then in the wake of repeated tragedies like Newtown, we turn on the TV and watch the same predictable conversations about guns and mental illness, with only an occasional mention that the overwhelming majority of these types of crimes are committed by men — usually white men. Even when some brave soul dares to mention this crucial fact, it rarely prompts further discussion, as if no one wants to be called a “male-basher” for uttering the simple truth that men commit the vast majority of violence, and thus efforts to “prevent violence” — if they’re going to be more than minimally effective — need to explore why.
Maybe the Newtown massacre will mark a turning point. Maybe the mass murder of young children will force the ideological gatekeepers in mainstream media to actually pry open the cupboards of conventional thinking for just long enough to have a thoughtful conversation about manhood in the context of our ongoing national tragedy of gun violence.
But initial signs are not particularly promising. In the days since the shooting, some op-eds and blog posts have spoken to the gendered dynamics at the heart of this and other rampage killings. But most mainstream analysis has steered clear of this critical piece of the puzzle.
What follows is a brief list of suggestions for how journalists, cable hosts, bloggers and others who will be writing and talking about this unbelievable tragedy can frame the discussion in the coming days and weeks.
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.
by Jackson Katz
This originally appeared here.
As I watch the divisive intersection of athletics, nationalism, corporatism, and politics around the issue of the national anthem at NFL games, I’m saddened to realize that we are reaping what we have sown.
Men in our society have abdicated their responsibility to lead their families and communities.
Instead they are sitting around with a beer and a wing, health spiraling, families failing, faith waning and allowing athletes, CEO’s, media, and politicians to set their life’s agenda and manipulate its message.
Before you begin to tell me that the misinformed, malcontent, man-child, athletes are showing leadership, let me remind you that their only function or “job” as an athlete is to entertain. The NFL is simply a form of entertainment. The same as a movie, book, video game, or other medium through which you and I seek a hopefully small amount of time enjoying within the context of our greater life endeavors.
However, our society is obsessed with athletics and it is unhealthy.
Athletics at its root is meant to be a device through which we cultivate our physical bodies in healthy balance with our mental, emotional, and spiritual development. It is currently a national obsession out of balance with each of the aforementioned modalities of life.
I have some insight into this as I once was an athlete. An athlete that reached an elite level of competition, won national championships, was scouted and recruited, and lived a false life and identity.
You see when you are born with a unique athletic talent or in my case when you work really hard to develop one you are put on a pedestal. You are treated differently. You are told and shown that the rules don’t apply to you. That you are better. And you start to believe it.
But it is not rooted in reality.
The reality is that as an elite athlete you have no damn clue who you are, what you believe in, or how to be a Man. Even less so than the “average” male.
So Men STOP putting athletes on a pedestal. STOP worshiping their athletic abilities. STOP empowering them. STOP making them your hero.
Instead...BECOME THE HERO OF YOUR OWN LIFE.
You may not know how to do this until you take some time to really reflect. But the NFL players and owners (along with the media and politicians) have provided you with this wake up call. It doesn’t matter whether you believe in standing or kneeling or any particular side of this distorted argument...Seize This Opportunity.
Love football and can’t live without it on Sunday? Start by taking your son, daughter or neighborhood kid out to play. Form your own neighborhood league. Teach the skills and techniques for playing. Demonstrate sportsmanship and the true meaning of competition.
Spend the time cultivating your leadership within your life and your community. As a Man you were born to do this. See where it leads. I’ll bet to a more meaningful and impactful existence that will soon have YOU as the hero of your own life!
The Only Time You Are Actually Growing is When You’re Uncomfortable
If everything is too good, you’re probably stuck not being awesome.
Don’t join an “easy” crowd. You won’t grow.
Many people are so comfortable they’re miserable.
Breaking a habit, trying something new, taking a risk, making new connections, or putting yourself in a totally new situation won’t be easy, but it’s worth it. It’s exhausting but rewarding.
Calvin Coolidge says “All growth depends upon activity. There is no development physically or intellectually without effort, and effort means work.”
Comfort can lead to self-absorption, boredom, and discontent.
You can either be comfortable and stagnate or stretch yourself — become uncomfortable — and grow. Choose the latter.
Go where the demands are high. Go where the pressure is to perform.
Dr. Elizabeth Lombardo, Psychologist and author of “Better Than Perfect, says people who regularly seek out fresh experiences tend to be more creative and emotionally resilient than those who remain stuck in routine.
“Breaking your own mold can only make you stronger and more confident to reach higher levels in your professional and personal life,” she says.
To grow, you have to embrace the discomfort. The transition will be uncomfortable and scary, but that’s the nature of the beast.
Stretch yourself. You might just like what’s possible.
Peter McWilliams once said “Comfort zones are most often expanded through discomfort.”
Discomfort is a catalyst for growth. It makes you yearn for something more. It forces you to change, stretch, and adapt.
The secret to success lies in the very thing you’re avoiding. Those things that seem to break you down and humble your spirit.
Seek out discomfort. Be deliberate about doing things that push your limits magnificently. Difficulty helps you to grow.
If you want long-term success, stop avoiding what’s hard. If you’re truly pushing yourself to improve — in any capacity whatsoever — you are uncomfortable.
When you are challenged, you are asked to become more than you were. That means creating new perspectives, acquiring new skills and pushing boundaries.
In other words you have to expand your understanding in order to be able to overcome the obstacles facing you.
Learning to be comfortable with discomfort is one of the most important skills you can ever have to live a truly fulfilling life. If you learn this skill, you can master pretty much anything.
Getting out of your comfort zone from time to time challenges your mental skills. Mentally active people are constantly building dense networks of connections between their brain cells.
Scientists call that “cognitive reserve.” Continuing to learn new things builds and maintains these connections.
Mentally challenging tasks have the biggest impact on the health of your brain. Be open to new experiences that cause you to see the world and do things differently.
If you master discomfort, you can master just about anything!
Discomfort can be the joyful key that opens up everything for you. You can beat procrastination, start a new habit, learn a new language, make it through challenges and physically grueling events, explore new things, speak on a stage, and even embrace the minimalist lifestyle.
Jonathan Lethem says, “Discomfort is very much part of my master plan.”
These tasks may seem more ‘painful’ at first, but you’ll achive more that can impact your end result. And that will be just the start.
Repetition expands your comfort boundaries. If you practice your discomforts enough, with different activities, your comfort zone will expand to include discomfort. And then you can master your personal bubble.
Think about it. How many things were once uncomfortable for you which you now accept without difficulty?
Unfortunately, many people avoid discomfort. They do everything they can to avoid it. They are just too comfortable to be pushed or bothered to make a change or improve their lives.
This is perhaps the biggest limiting factor for most people, and it’s why you can’t change your habits.
But the good news is, whatever you are feeling discomfort about, there is someone else out there, feeling exactly the same thing. You are never really along in your discomfort. Sometimes just knowing that can make us feel more comfortable in pushing beyond the obvious.
Discomfort is a catalyst for progress!
Think of the mind as a muscle that naturally tightens up over time unless it is consciously worked upon. Your personal growth significantly depends on new challenges and activities.
Tackle the fear that has kept you from living your best life. Your mind has a way of rising to the occasion. Challenge it, and it will reward you.
Jerry Dunn once said “Don’t limit your challenges; challenge your limits.”
Challenge your mind — even making it a little uncomfortable by pushing yourself to learn tasks that may not come naturally. Most things seems impossible until they are done.Give yourself permission to think and act beyond the usual.
Stepping up when it’s annoying or painful or draining builds character.
Be good at making time for what matters to you — especially when you don’t feel like it.
By Thomas Oppong and originally appeared here at medium.com