digging up the roots of gender-based violence

No Pop Culture Wednesday: Newtown and Hegemonic Masculinity

by Cristy

Content notes for guns, gun violence, childhood trauma

We usually do a post on some aspect of pop culture mid-week. Not this week.

I have been vacillating on writing about the tragedy in Newtown for many reasons. The first is one that is often a struggle-many people have already written about it, and most of them are better informed about it than me, for reasons that will soon be evident. The second is self-care. I am a sensitive person, one who is prone to weeping often. This isn’t generally a problem, as I am long over fearing being seen as weak for crying, or just another “emotional” woman, and I have cried at my desk, among other places, many times. But sometimes, in the interest of self-care, I check out just a little bit. I stop consuming media about a particular subject, even writers I know and trust, because it feels like too much to bear.

This is one of those times. I haven’t paid close attention to the news since Friday, and I’ve only read a headline or two. I’ve said a few things on Facebook, and have had a few conversations too. But overall, I have been putting a great emotional distance between myself and what happened in Newtown.

Several people I work with were saying yesterday that they are unsure why this particular school shooting, out of the dozens that have happened in the last 30 years, is affecting them as strongly as it is. Is it because it’s the holiday season? Is it because most of the victims were kindergarten and first grade students? Is it because only a select few in the (and certainly not mainstream) media are actually talking about hegemonic masculinity, and those that do are getting virulent backlash?

I don’t know. I don’t what’s true for other people, I can only speak for myself.

When I was five years old, I saw my fourteen year old brother accidentally shoot my nine year old brother while investigating strange noises outside of our house one night when our parents weren’t home. The shot being fired was an accident, but the gun, a high powered rifle, being in the house loaded was no accident. Picking it up, taking it on the recon mission to the front yard was no accident. My brother was aspiring to grasp hold of his birthright: dominant, hegemonic masculinity that entitled him to fear-based respect and control of his surroundings. He was an awkward fourteen year old boy with a domineering and abusive father, the gun was his “man up” card.

I wasn’t shot, but I could’ve been.

I have three kids, one of whom is the same age as most of the kids who died in Sandy Hook Elementary. In fact, she has a very similar name to one of them. I’ve blinked my daughter’s name off of that list hundreds of times in the last four or five days.

My daughter wasn’t gunned down, but she could’ve been.

That’s why this one feels so different, somehow. I can see, have seen, this happening right in front of my eyes. I know the impact of witnessing/experiencing gun violence at five years old, and my heart aches for all the kids who now have a shattered lens through which to see the world. The kids who may or may not get good counseling, who may or may not have parents who can help them cope, who may or may not understand what’s going on in their broken hearts.

One of the therapy techniques that helped me was imagining that I was seeing it all again, but through the windows of a train. The train would speed up and slow down as I needed it to, but the violence could never board the train. Knowing that no matter how many times I remembered seeing the gunshot, it couldn’t hurt me, was very helpful.

But the truth is that men with guns can board the train whenever they want. Men who wish me harm, who wish you harm, can board the train and shoot at us with violent language, with fists flying or with loaded weapons. While I have addressed my personal trauma with a good therapist and lots of agonizing emotional work, it didn’t change that I live in a world hostile to me, where men, even men who claim to be a part of feminist community, feel justified in telling me to “shut the fuck up” when they don’t like what I have to say.

I am telling you, as a survivor of gun violence, that addressing hegemonic masculinity is imperative in the wake of massacres like the one Adam Lanza brought to Sandy Hook Elementary School. Addressing the mental health needs of our communities is important. Talking about access to weapons is important. But they are, in reality, small parts of a much bigger problem to solve.

Let’s mourn, let’s cry and heal. But let’s also ask ourselves, collectively and individually, “What does it mean to be a man?” It’s the least we can do for the kids and adults who survived in Newtown, and for all of us.

“We only fetishize violence in relation to gender. It isn’t a glorification of violence per say [sic], but a glorification of authentic masculinity BY WAY OF VIOLENCE. So this really becomes an issue SOLELY ABOUT THE HATRED OF FEMININITY.

Our lives are dictated by a cult and aesthetic which believes the ultimate manifestation of pure masculinity is the unbridled, unrestrained, self-actualized masculine self. Conversely, this (and accompanying) cults treat the ultimate manifestation of pure femininity as the restrained, plastic, and compliant female body which exists to extend and make legitimate that pure masculinity.

Violence, then, becomes glorified when AND ONLY WHEN it is in relation to that unbridled, unrestrained, self-actualized masculinity—and the successful realization and consumption of the objects of masculine desire. Violence as an ethic of this pure masculinity, seeks to exist hegemonically—to be the biggest fish in the smallest pond; to defend, coerce, cajole, obligate, obliterate and retard the self-actualization of other bodies.

To perform this ethic is to be understood as masculine, and rewarded as such: “The Tough Guy,” “The Rebel,” “The Soldier” and our cultural fetishization of this ethic, manifested in the sexualized gansta, the Mandingo warrior, the powerful white actor (Fitzgerald Grant, Prince Charming, Neo [of Matrix fame], etc.).

Failure to perform this ethic is to be understood and denigrated as illegitimately masculine—faggot, sissy, sweet, etc.

If our conversation principally involves gun control and mental health (these are largely chimeras), but doesn’t involve our deep-seated lust of hegemonic masculinity, then we fail to understand the true culprit. We fail to inspire cultural and systematic change related to violence.

We fail ourselves.” – Darryl the Griot, via Son of Baldwin

19 responses to “No Pop Culture Wednesday: Newtown and Hegemonic Masculinity

  1. Graham Phoenix | Male eXperience December 19, 2012 at 5:22 pm

    Yes, this, like most shootings, was by a white male. As such there is a serious issue about how men, particularly young men, face a society that they feel lost in. Yes, there is an issue about masculinity. But I think you confuse the issue by linking it to gender violence.

    This is not about hegemonic masculinity but about a boy.man not adjusting well to the world. When you add the availability of guns… BAM!!

    Thank you for sharing the story of your brother. His act was one of being a protector, a typical male role. He was not being dominant but protective. Don’t turn his mistake into something it wasn’t, an act of gender violence.

    • HAVEN December 20, 2012 at 10:44 am

      The point, you missed it.

      For starters, auditing my lived experience is unacceptable, from you or anyone. Men often do this to women: tell us that our experience of the world is somehow not valid because it’s different from theirs. I call bullshit on that. Don’t tell me what my experience was or wasn’t. You weren’t there, and you certainly don’t have more information about it than I do.

      Secondly, hegemonic masculinity directly predicates all violence, including gender-based violence. While my brother didn’t target women or girls, his assumption of dominance (which is not separate from what you call “protector”) was only possible because of hegemonic masculinity.

      Thirdly, I don’t need or want a man to protect me. I want men to stop beating, raping and killing women. I want men to stop putting women on pedestals and presuming we are delicate. If those things happen, the perceived need for protection would disappear.

      Lastly, using a word like, “BAM”, reminiscint of a gun shot, was unnecessarily graphic. Especially given that you were speaking to a survivor of gun violence. What a crystal clear example of my point that men use violent words and actions to assert their cultural dominance.

      • t December 20, 2012 at 11:01 am

        Very true. Case in point indeed. If your brother would have been female, I would bet money the general response would be “why was she even handling a gun?” or “why wasn’t the gun locked up?” or even “who taught her to handle the gun?” All of course, assuming an older sister has less of right to handle a gun than an older brother. Meaning, sisters aren’t supposed to be protectors. In fact, quite perfectly, case in point.

    • Kristopher K December 20, 2012 at 12:02 pm

      Graham, I don’t think that it’s confusion of the issue when folks link this type of violence to gender violence. They are inseparable and directly influence one another.

      Your comment that this is not about hegemonic masculinity directly contradicts itself in my opinion. If this person was having difficulty adjusting well to the world because he was lost within what you refer to as being a “boy.man”, that is directly a result of the rigid enforcement of hegemonic masculinity. This is directly a result of male entitlement. Directly an issue of men using violence to engage and seek retribution for perceived slights and the loss of entitlement. Directly a result of how we socialize men and boys to be stoic monoliths who deal with emotional dissonance with a glorified externalization of violence and dominance. Sometimes this externalization is directed at anyone in his path. Often times it is directed at women and girls. I’m not going to presume to know what it was in this case because I wasn’t there and don’t have enough information. What I can say is that this is much more than young men feeling “lost” in society.

      You go on to say that the writer’s story isn’t about being “dominant” but about being a “protector”. These two conceptualizations are inextricably linked to one another. In order to assume the role of protector you have to also assume the role of dominance. You thank the writer for sharing her story and then go on to tell her that her lived experience is false. You then, basically tell her what to do, “Don’t turn this mistake into something that it wasn’t”.

      You were not there, man.

      I would ask you to sit with that for a moment and ask yourself, “Is there a way that I can express disagreement with someone without telling them that what they think and feel is wrong?” Dude, especially if it is something that you in fact have never experienced yourself.

      Jus’ sayin’

  2. t December 19, 2012 at 7:36 pm

    There is no doubt masculinity glorified through violence is at the core of gun violence. It is also the reason for the outcry against gun legislation. I will prove it too. There are many ways an individual can “bear arms” other than brandishing a gun….knives, baseball bats, bare hands, to name a few. So why not an outcry against baseball bats as horrible weapons? Or more likely, an outcry against the legislation of knife control? There is in fact a reason. As someone who has fired a gun, I can relate to Ms. Lanza’s description of firing a gun to be a “single-minded task”. For her, probably relaxing in that she could “detach and decompress” through her hobby. Well, it’s exactly that detachment that is the issue. Firing a gun at someone or something is nothing like close combat, physically and psycologically. It is harder to detach from your actions when you have to think directly about what you are doing to someone in your face. Guns, I believe are a way for men, primarily, to take command of their society-perscribed masculinity without getting up close and personal with what society is really saying. If violence prevention was actually the issue, we would have a whole lot more regulation on who gets to take karate or own a baseball bat.

  3. Beth Morrison December 20, 2012 at 8:26 am

    Very nicely said. Thanks for sharing your personal story.

  4. sam arkin December 20, 2012 at 11:39 am

    I am not so quick to dismiss what Graham Phoenix has to say. You are telling him that he cannot audit your life (which i don’t think he was trying to do) while it seems that you feel like you can audit the lived experiences of men and their own sense of growing up with these messages/catch-22′s. They have something to say about this and I think if we are to find a solution, their voices need to be included. You are quick to fight, not so quick to listen and engage.

    There are lots of other factors here that you seem unwilling to consider. Was your brother’s “assumption” of dominance” because he was male, or because he was the oldest and left in charge of younger siblings?

    You seem to see everything through the lens of gender violence and I think that is overly simplistic. When the only tool you have is a hammer, everything begins to look like a nail.

    • HAVEN December 20, 2012 at 2:01 pm

      I am incredulous. Your response to me telling someone to stop auditing my lived experience is to DOUBLE DOWN, further trying to explain to me something I lived through? That’s ridiculous.

      You know nothing about the event I shared other than what I wrote. I lived it, and I am the expert. This is not up for debate, and attempts at debating it further are outside of our commenting guidelines. Future comments in this vein will not pass moderation.

      This blog is about the root causes of gender based violence, of which hegemonic masculinity is primary. OF COURSE that’s the lens we use. That’s the entire point of UpRoot. Gender based violence is not simplistic, it is complex and woven through our entire lives. As a woman, I am acutely aware of that. Men, generally, do not have to pay attention to gender based violence because they are not the ones marginalized by it. Check your privilege.

      • Sam Arkin December 20, 2012 at 2:13 pm

        No privilege here, as I am a woman, a lesbian at that. Check your assumptions.

      • t December 20, 2012 at 2:31 pm

        Dude, few things are more off than misogyny from a lesbian. Yes I am female-bodied and I’m gay, so I’ve had my share of experiences with this type of oddity. So backwards.

      • HAVEN December 20, 2012 at 2:55 pm

        Very few people are void of privilege of some sort. I shouldn’t have assumed you were a man, and for that I apologize. But that doesn’t negate my point at all, or even water it down.

  5. Graham Phoenix | Male eXperience December 20, 2012 at 2:06 pm

    So we can’t ‘audit’ your story, but you can ‘audit’ our lives….. How AGGRESSIVE is that….

    • t December 20, 2012 at 2:38 pm

      Ouch! Somebody got his feelings hurt. I’m always the villian when I stand up for myself on this issue too. Women are so heartless when they have the bravery of a man (or five).

      • Sam Arkin December 20, 2012 at 2:54 pm

        I would hope you would take Kristopher K’s advice as well: “Is there a way that I can express disagreement with someone without telling them that what they think and feel is wrong?”

    • HAVEN December 20, 2012 at 2:52 pm

      It’s not auditing anyone’s life to expect kindness and respect from them, to expect them to not use violence or assert dominance. Again, the point: you missed it.

  6. camilla robarts December 20, 2012 at 10:15 pm

    thanks for sharing your story cristy, I believe it was very clear and well written and made perfect sense to me.

  7. Alexandra December 21, 2012 at 12:42 pm

    Cristy, I just read this article. Thank you for sharing your personal story of trauma from gun-violence. The connection between masculinity (black masculinity in my own family’s case), guns, and gender-based violence is clear to me, and clearer to me now. It’s interesting that you’re getting backlash for theorizing about masculinity, considering that white man have historically dominated political, philosophical, scientific, and legal discourses about sex, gender, etc. I think that it’s an aggressive act for a man to tell a woman how to interpret her own experiences using violent language. It is not an aggressive act for a woman to give a feminist cultural critique of hegemonic masculinity, and we need those very theories to challenge aggressive male dominance and make it visible. So, thank you for your theory. It really resonates with me.

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