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