October is Masculinity Awareness Month

Not really, but it might as well be.  Domestic Violence Awareness Month in Oregon roars in with yet another public shooting, in Roseburg this time:

“The elephant in the room with … mass shootings is that almost all of them are being done by men,” Professor Kilmartin says. Male shooters often “project their difficulties onto other people…”

A friend of mine just covered the shooting in Roseburg for the AP. She said there was once this one public shooting like 10 yrs ago done by a woman:

In the majority of cases, the catalyst for the shooting was something that threatened the man’s identity as a man. The main statistic is inarguable—69 [ed: now 71] males to one lone female. Being a man is the single most common characteristic of every mass shooting in the last 32 years. – See more at: http://goodmenproject.com/ethics-values/patterns-mass-shootings-conversation-men/#sthash.TiX1QKYN.dpuf

I would go further to surmise that the vast supermajority of these men are cisgendered, meaning they fit the gender assigned to them at birth, e.g., as opposed to gay, transgendered or other queer identities, because queerness as a political identity often requires owning up to and exploring ourselves, which means shedding vs embracing patriarchal impositions of identity.  Men who do not identify as “queer” must find a similarly-effective way to accomplish this same task of owning and exploring themselves, and ultimately shedding and embracing any patriarchal impositions of identity inasmuch as they do not accurately reflect or represent their (constantly changing and evolving) person.

Banning guns to prevent male-pattern violence is like trying to prevent food poisoning by removing the food — it’s just the vector.  Guns don’t kill people. Patriarchal masculinity kills people. It terrorizes us all in both public and private ways. And it happens through a lot more means than guns.

Patriarchal masculinity represents a social embodiment of coercive control (e.g., alongside white racial and upper socioeconomic class identities) to maintain a rigid social hierarchy.  Domestic violence is a kind of private terrorism that results from patriarchal masculinity.  Please note that I’m not saying that coercive and controlling women don’t exist — they do inasmuch as they internalize and enact patriarchal behaviors (which is relatively rare though certainly not unheard of).  But the first victim in every case is the person who becomes the violent vector for social reproduction of coercive control.  It creates an internal, ongoing crisis within the person.  Like a communicable parasite, it changes the person’s attitude, behavior, their perception of themselves vis-a-vis the world.  Then, ironically, in an effort to escape the crisis, they start doing the social bidding of the controlling identity, and become agents of coercive control, first in their intimate lives…

…and later, in more public forms:

Men who commit violence rehearse and perfect it against their families first. Women and children are target practice, and the home is the training ground for these men’s later actions.

A recent study found that more than half of the 110 mass shootings in the United States between January 2009 and July 2014 included the murder of a current or former spouse, an intimate partner or a family member. Everytown for Gun Safety, the group that released the study, found a “noteworthy connection between mass-shooting incidents and domestic or family violence.”

This connection is not limited to mass shootings. An analysis of the criminal justice history of hundreds of thousands of offenders in Washington State suggests that a felony domestic violence conviction is the single greatest predictor of future violent crime among men.  (from http://www.nytimes.com/2015/02/03/opinion/to-stop-violence-start-at-home.html?_r=0)

Male-pattern violence forms a type of “aggrieved entitlement,” where masculine-type people have become “pissed off about an inability to cash in on privileges previous generations of men received without question.”   In other words, as the gender hierarchy collapses, the racial and class hierarchies intensify the pressure they exert on masculine-type people to reclaim some modicum of social privilege and repair and stabilize the hierarchy.  Men who don’t deal with their toxic masculinity will find themselves immersed in a sort of private hell (a la Eliot Rodgers) that infects their person, their relationships and ultimately their public expression of self.  The low-hanging fruit for men who walk this path involves directly imposing themselves on others.  For men who don’t have access to racial or especially class privileges (wealthy men can impose themselves using money and the economy), this often becomes a very physical imposition.  The most empowered forms of this imposition are often the least visible.   Wealthy masculine-type people like Donald Trump can stand in front of a camera while their economic clout works its magic behind the scenes, put to tasks of buying and even killing people.  My partner reminds me that the CEO of Hershey’s chocolate can live completely isolated from the slavery that supports his wealth.

I think some masculine-type people fear that the destruction of masculinity will result in a bunch of “spineless pussies unable to stand up for themselves.”  Based on my personal experience, nothing seems further from the truth.  The more I reject and abolish masculinity within and around myself, the more I feel I can act with clarity and courage to help protect and liberate myself alongside those whom I love.  For example, when I intervene in a situation, I no longer feel constrained to act within a narrow range of what masculinity accepts as legitimate, and I have access to an entire range of tactics and strategies to bring effective resolution.  When a dude is maneuvering someone who is way too drunk into a sexual encounter, I don’t need to fight as a “good guy” against “bad guys” and I don’t worry about being seen as a “pussy” or “cockblock.”   I can focus on survivor safety and empowerment and de-escalation and anything else that seems effective at maximizing the success of the intervention without worrying about whether my “manhood” is at stake.  Others in my life who have rejected masculinity in their own ways (queer people, feminists, even and especially other cisgendered men, etc) also represent some of the most courageous and effective people I have ever met.  Without masculinity, our struggles become more effective.  What does it mean (for me) to “reject” and “abolish” masculinity?  That’s something for another essay.

So to stop the terrorism, we need to target it at its root:  the toxic, patriarchal masculinity that exists in a larger, rigid social hierarchy among interlocking race and class hierarchies.  Masculinity is so fundamental to our social structure that it forms a sort of lynch-in that either enables or undermines progress toward liberation.  All people can choose to become either agents of social control or agents of liberation, and for men in a patriarchal culture, this means confronting and ultimately rejecting the masculine ego.  More and more I come to believe that people who happen to have external genitalia don’t need masculinity — rather, masculinity needs us, the people, and all forms of intersecting oppressions need patriarchy.  It represents a fundamental social unit of oppression and a primary enforcement mechanism for rigid social structures.  I do not argue that oppressions still exist, but by rejecting and sabotaging masculinity, we both greatly weaken the kyriarchy of intersecting oppressions and we vastly increase our capacity and potential for liberatory practice.

So starting this year, I will begin to think of October as Masculinity Awareness Month, or Coercive Control Awareness Month.  Domestic violence awareness suffices as a means to the same end.  However, I think it focuses on a symptom of the underlying problem, and we ultimately need to start looking seriously at the inherent pathology of masculinity alongside our efforts to render domestic violence increasingly visible and support and celebrate those who continue to survive in its midst.

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