Thursday, October 19, 2006

There's Something About The Men

by Sara Robinson

Excerpted from Wikipedia:

September 13, 2006, Montreal, Quebec, Canada; A 25-year-old man started firing at the entrance to Dawson College, and proceeded on a rampage to the college's cafeteria. One victim died at the scene. Another 19 were injured. The gunman later committed suicide by shooting himself in the head, after being shot in the arm by police.

September 14, 2006 Ottawa, Ontario, Canada; A 22-year-old university law student fired a pellet gun at one of the buildings of the University of Ottawa in a drive-by shooting. He was quickly arrested at his home and was subsequently banned from the University. No one was injured.

September 15, 2006 Green Bay, Wisconsin, USA; Two 17-year-old boys and one 18-year-old boy were arrested on suspicion of a possible shooting attack at Green Bay East High School. News reports said they were depressed and were fascinated with Columbine. Numerous weapons were found in their homes.

September 16, 2006 St. Louis, Missouri, USA; A senior student of Westminster High School, Austin Vincent, reportedly text-messaged his friend, saying he would commit suicide. This was later forwarded to a counselor, who called the police. He did not attend school on September 16. School got out at 3:00, and he arrived around 3:45. He got out of his mother's car holding a rifle. Police were already on the scene. Vincent reportedly pointed the rifle at his head, then waved it at the police. Officers took 3 shots, and he was hit in the leg by at least one. He was taken to a hospital in stable condition. He would later be tried as an adult.

September 18, 2006 Hudson, Quebec, Canada; A 15-year-old was arrested after uttering death threats via the same Internet site as Dawson College shooter Kimveer Gill. He was planning a similar type shooting at a high school west of Montreal.

September 27, 2006 Bailey, Colorado, USA; Duane Roger Morrison, a 53-year-old man, entered Platte Canyon High School, reportedly saying that he had a bomb. Morrison took six female students as hostages, later releasing four of them whilst keeping two. One of the remaining hostages was shot, wounded critically and taken away by air ambulance. The other was not wounded. Paramedics at the scene confirmed that Morrison shot and killed himself.

September 29, 2006 Cazenovia, Wisconsin, USA; At Weston High School, 15-year-old Eric Hainstock shoots his high school principal, who then managed to wrestle Hainstock to the ground. The principal died later in hospital from multiple gunshot wounds.

October 2, 2006, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, USA; A gunman took hostages and eventually killed five girls (aged 7–13) and himself at West Nickel Mines School, a one-room Amish schoolhouse.

October 2, 2006 Cincinnati, Ohio, USA; A 15-year-old freshman was arrested at his home when he sent a text message threatening to bring his gun to a local high school. The school was locked down while police arrested the suspect, but re-opened in time for classes.

October 2, 2006 Las Vegas, Nevada, USA; An ex-student of Mohave High School went on campus with a gun, his motive unknown at the time. Students recognized him as not being a student anymore and notified school police immediately. The suspect ran from the school and ditched his gun behind a church close to Mohave. Mohave, as well as 3 middle schools and 1 elementary school were placed on lockdown while police searched for him.

Militia members, gun nuts, hate criminals, fundamentalists, Minutemen, high-social dominance authoritarian leaders, submissive authoritarian followers, guys like the one below, guys like the ones above. Over the years, we've had a lot of conversations here trying to figuring out what makes them tick, where they want to take us, how we can keep from going there -- and perhaps most plangently: why do we seem to have so many of them? Often, if we talk about it long enough, the conversation always seems to come back to one place. And there it stops, as if on the edge of something vast and terrifying that we simply cannot bring ourselves to grapple with.

Something is not right with the boys. Something in the way Americans look at males and manhood has gone sour, curdling into to a rank, toxic, and nasty brew that is changing the entire flavor of our culture. Men everywhere seem to be furious. Some turn it outward against women, against society, against the institutions that no longer seem to nurture them. Some turn it inward against themselves, putting their energies into bizarre self-destructive fantasy lives centered around money, violence, and sex. Some, more disenchanted than angry, check out entirely, abdicating any interest in making commitments or contributions to a family, a profession, or a community to spend their lives as perpetual Lost Boys. Together, all this misdirected, destructive energy has become a social, cultural, and political liability that we can no longer afford to ignore.

As the old preacher asked in the opening scenes of The Big Chill: "Are the satisfactions of being a good man among our common men no longer enough?" Given the number of men who seem to be completely disconnected from the very idea of the greater good, let alone the thought that they have any responsibility to it, the answer seems to be: No. They're not.

The facile answer, of course, is to blame feminism. Many of these angry men will eagerly tell you that that’s exactly right, brother. If our mothers and grandmothers had simply kept in their places and not stepped forward in the 60s and 70s, none of this would have happened. And they'd have been just fine. It's those damned pushy women, taking away our jobs and our private spaces and our guns….

This is a fruitless argument: in retrospect, there were dozens of inarguable reasons that feminism had to happen. And in most of the ways that matter, we're a better, stronger society because it did. Forty years later, we women are well along in the process of re-defining our social roles. It's still rough in spots, but we're starting to see the outline of what our new, more equal world is going to look like when it's done. We’re not OK yet, but we can believe that we are going to be.

But maybe what we are seeing here is a loose end, a leftover bit of unfinished business that hasn't even begun to be addressed yet. Maybe, for the men, the process of re-creating their place in our culture has hardly even started -- and their confidence in the enterprise is far less certain. While the shift has generally worked out well for men who had the education and resources to process and adapt to it, there are apparently a great many men who are still deeply grieving the loss of our widely-shared traditional assumptions about what makes a man, and what men are supposed to contribute to the larger society.

Without those assumptions to give their lives structure and meaning, these guys are drifting -- not sure how they fit in, or what they're supposed to contribute, or what separates the men from the boys in this rearranged new world. And some of them, as we've seen here, are drifting off in very dangerous directions as they try to express a little manhood in a world where it doesn't seem to mean much any more.

The right wing has very aggressively stepped forward with all kinds of answers to salve their souls. The military. NASCAR. Promise Keepers. The Boy Scouts. And, more ominously, the KKK and the militias and the Minutemen. The conservative Cult of Maleness is full of tradition and ritual, conformity and hierarchy, the stuff of which male cultures have always been made. (Social psychologists now think the last two are actually a direct function of testosterone. In other words, men can't help acting that way: it's hormonal.) Say what you will about all this puffed-up patriarchal posturing, but the fact remains: these made-for-men bonding ops seem to be channeling some powerful energy, and fulfilling some yawning emotional needs.

The left, on the other hand, hasn't given them much at all. And we probably won't be able to until we finally come around to admitting that men and women are different -- perhaps not to the acute degree that the traditional sterotypes once enforced so strictly, but also not as superficially as the forced androgyny of liberal culture has tried to pretend. We come equipped with different physiology and different hormone sets; and we still get different messages from the culture about gender expectations. Denying that has led to some widespread assumptions and social choices that have been unfair to both men and women. It has also brought us to this impasse where so many men are disengaging from the common good altogether, because they don't believe there's any upside in it for them.

Perhaps, after four decades, a little realism is called for. It may be time for the progressive community to have an honest discussion about why these guys are angry; what they feel like they've lost; and how we're going to rebuild a new definition of manhood that meets their deepest emotional, social, and spiritual needs without also bringing on the resurrection of the late-but-not-lamented macho asshole. It may be time for women to figure out how we can encourage men to complement us -- not by suppressing the things that make them different from us, but by expressing those different (and, to most of us, delightful) qualities in ways that we can genuinely celebrate and value -- and that will benefit us all.

We have been here before. Detached, disaffected, angry boys with guns were a national scourge during and after the Civil War. Gangsters made city neighborhoods violent in the years just before and during the Depression. I'd like to think we're going to get through it this time, too.

But we will not stop it -- nor prevent its reoccurrence in the years ahead -- until we come to grips with the deeper reasons so many men are angry, and start figuring out how we are going to address that rage at its root. It's time for that discussion to begin.

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