Tuesday, July 19, 2016

"Real Men," Control and Gun Violence -- Facing Reality


“The key to understanding gun violence and the fact 
that all these shooters are men is this: an obsession 
with control forms the core of our cultural definition of 
what it means to be a real man. 

"A real man is one who can demonstrate convincingly 
an ability always to be in control. Because violence 
is the ultimate and most extreme instrument of control, 
then the capacity for violence—whether or not individual men 
may actually make use of it—is also central to the 
cultural definition of manhood.”

--Allan Johnson

The perpetrators of gun violence in mass shootings are men.

This is a very simple fact that is commonly dismissed because of the political fear of making male policymakers upset about the connection between males and guns and violence.
Sociologist Allan Johnson, author of The Gender Knot: Unraveling Our Patriarchal Legacy and the domestic violence novel, The First Thing and the Last, says government agencies “tiptoe around men’s anger, men’s ridicule, men’s potential to withhold resources (such as funding for battered women’s shelters and sexual assault programs), men’s potential for retaliation, violent and otherwise, men’s defensiveness, and the possibility that men might feel upset or attacked or called out or put upon or made to feel vulnerable or even just sad. In other words, anything that might make them feel uncomfortable as men.”

I believe the combination of “men + guns + the aberrant need for control” is responsible for untold incidents of deadly violence in America. I believe we must address the components of this equation and change the concept of what it means to be a responsible, caring man who eschews dominant control.

And, yes, in concession, I certainly understand that guns and violence are not ends in themselves.
Allow me to use Allan Johnson's rather long explanation. He says ...

People are not attached to guns because of guns. Nor is violence glorified for itself. Guns and violence are used for something, a means to an end, and it is from this that they acquire their meaning and value in the culture. It is that end that we must understand.

Guns and violence are instruments of control, whether used by states or individuals. They otherwise have no intrinsic value of their own. Their value comes from the simple fact that violence works as a means to intimidate, dominate, and control. It works for governments and hunters and police and batterers and parents and schoolyard bullies and corporations and, by extension, anyone who wants to feel larger and more powerful and in control than they otherwise would....

Men’s acceptance of the cultural association of manhood with control makes them complicit in its consequences, including the use of violence. Acceptance need not be conscious or intentional. Individual men need not be violent themselves. Mere silence—the voice of complicity—is enough to accomplish the effect, and to connect them to the violence that other men do.

When a young man who is feeling wronged or is insecure in his manhood straps on body armor and takes up a gun, he is pursuing by extreme means a manhood ideal of control and domination that has wide and deep support in this society, including among men who would never dream of doing such a thing themselves.

That our culture is saturated with images of violence—from television and video games to the football field—is not the work of a lunatic fringe of violent men. Nor is the epidemic of actual violence. All of it flows from an obsession with control that shapes every man’s standing as a real man in this society.”

(Allan Johnson. “Fatal Distraction: Manhood, Guns, & Violence.”
Male Voice Magazine. January 07, 2013.)

Please, do not take this argument out of context. Let's face it: violent shootings occur because deranged or criminal males attempt to take control – control of a government, control of an issue, control of other human beings. With the gun(s) – often assault weapons in the case of mass shootings – they turn their uncontrollable urges for control into unspeakable rage.

So, the question is this: “Does the male obsession for control include an element that firmly believes 'a real man' has the right to use violence to achieve his objectives of dominance and intimidation?”

I believe this is so. We can argue about the warrior mentality, the inevitable natural influences, and the evolution of the species forever, yet the fact remains that men continue to be considered biologically stronger than women, and the old standards of “being a superior male” linger. So, in the large majority of cases of gun violence, men use the gun as an extension of unbridled physical intimidation.

Jesse Prinz, author and Distinguished Professor at the City University of New York Graduate Center, says, “With this, men become the sole providers, and women start to depend on men economically. The economic dependency allows men to mistreat women, to philander, and to take over labor markets and political institutions. Once men have absolute power, they are reluctant to give it up. It took two world wars and a post-industrial economy for women to obtain basic opportunities and rights.”

(Jesse Prinz, Ph.D. “Why Are Men So Violent?” Psychology Today. February 03, 2012.)

Over and over again, people point to the disturbing violence among young black boys and men. Is it any wonder such Afro-American community violence is present? Historical factors have helped form the communities and created the conditions for violence. After all, every level of government has employed society itself and used every means of power for centuries to create the conditions in black communities that now make fertile ground for violence.

Charles M. Blow, author and New York Times Op-Ed columnist explains …

This is not to say that personal choice plays no role, but rather that human beings make choices within an environmental context, which at its base level is affected by state and federal policy.

Our society treated black bodies as disposable, if not bound for eradication. Generations of educational, employment, housing, lending and criminal justice policies form the substrata roots of this problem, and they are deeper and more complex than the visible weed of community violence that is so tall and tangled....

Our policies, disinvestment and avoidance have created a sort of perpetual motion machine in which violence has become increasingly difficult to stanch.”

In summary, the male – White, Black, Hispanic, and every other race – finds an acceptable means of control in a weapon. The weapon of choice for those seeking unacceptable dominance has become the gun, and the need for employing the firearm has become a national standard.

I understand that a weapon can be used in self-defense and that it must be used in situations demanding control; however, the sick mentality of “real men can use firearms to intimidate and to force violence” is turning our nation into a war zone. This has prompted people like Professor of Anthropology at Webster University and Board Member of the American Men’s Studies Association, Don Conway, to say: “We say that violence is a bad thing, and yet our culture lives and thrives on it. Classes that focus on analyzing cultural notions of masculinity could help us fuel the national discussion on masculinity we need to have.”


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