After the Oregon Shootings
Again. This time, the scene was a community college in Roseburg, Oregon, 175 miles south of Portland. This time, nine people were murdered and the shooter committed suicide. This time, President Obama spoke out more forcefully than he did after Sandy Hook. This time, stronger alliances are forming to lobby Congress to pass stringent new gun laws. This time, there are louder calls to improve services for the mentally ill.
Here is one thing not happening this time: the shooter’s gender is not central to the story; is not the big news. This time, few are demanding we start taking seriously the fact that the shooters are always men. That has to change.
In the days after the shootings at Umpqua Community College, if you watched television, listened to the radio, or read news online or in a newspaper, you heard nothing about 26-year-old shooter Chris Harper-Mercer’s gender being among the most important aspects of the story. Why? Like fish not recognizing the water in which they swim, the media, the politicians, and most of the rest of society takes for granted that, of course, mass shooters are always male. This has to stop. (Imagine if a woman were the mass murderer. Wouldn’t her gender be at the center of the ensuing conversation?)
Activist-colleagues and I have written tens of thousands of words in scores of op-eds and blog posts going back to before Columbine. And those killings happened in 1999. Our message could be boiled down to a single phrase: “It’s the masculinity, stupid.” We cannot afford to wait another minute to move the gendered aspect of mass killings to the center of the national debate.
In recent years, the media has occasionally made note of the killers being male, and the topic of how boys are raised in this society made the news for a cycle or two. Then it has been back to gun control and mental health. Where is the sustained inquiry into how boys are socialized in deserts of emotional constriction? Where is the Frontline report on a society regularly producing crops of psychologically stunted, angry, isolated men? Where are the clergy sermonizing about men growing up in emotionally arid soil without exposure to the sunlight of compassion or the waters of connection?
Imagine if things were different. Imagine if right now school nurses were charged with tracking moody eight- and nine-year-old boys; if homeroom teachers were trained to spot them as alienated middle schoolers; if guidance counselors identified shut-down high school age young men; if university health center staff counseled loner male college students; and if community social workers and human resources staff helped unemployed and underemployed 20-something at-risk men. Imagine all of those groups working with nurses, doctors, and mental health professionals in a coordinated campaign at the Centers for Disease Control. Isn’t this particular strain of men’s violence a public health crisis the CDC should confront as seriously as it did the Ebola outbreak?
If we take all these steps, our hazy, confused picture of sad, angry, lonely young men will come into sharp relief and we will recognize we have to begin cultivating boys’ emotional intelligence beginning in preschool—and we have to make doing so as high a priority as we make teaching reading and math.
Our vision will be so clear we will be able to see inside troubled men’s souls before their time bombs of discontent explode.
From Analysis to Action
Here is the hard part. Even if a critical mass agrees with this analysis, how are we going to effect change? As important as curbing access to guns is, lobbying Congress for stricter gun laws will never be enough. Nor will securing additional funds for mental health services, as vital as those services may be. President Obama is right: it’s up to individual citizens to band together to put pressure on Congress. But he hasn’t gone far enough: he hasn’t uttered the “M” word. That’s okay; that’s our job. As Gandhi taught us: when the people lead, the leaders will follow.
Since men are perpetrating these mass killings, it’s only right that we men are our brothers’ keepers, working to prevent our brothers’ violence, beginning with promoting efforts to raise sound boys and men. Our experiences learning from and collaborating with women and women’s organizations will be invaluable in all we do.
Imagine if men across the spectrum band together in a Let’s Build Sound Boys and Men campaign working with early childhood educators, nurses and doctors, school administrators and counselors, parent-teacher organizations, and, especially, sports coaches—from those in weekend soccer leagues to Division I football.
Who could fund such an effort? Who could underwrite a national media campaign? Who could cover the costs of field offices in all 50 states? The single largest men’s organization in the U.S.—the National Football League. If the NFL wants to work on restoring its sullied reputation—albeit late in the game, and after a series of fumbles involving domestic violence—it’s time for the league to put its money where its mouth is. (To be fair, the NFL has of late begun funding domestic violence and sexual assault prevention trainings league-wide.)
Former NFL defensive lineman Joe Ehrmann has been a driving force nationally, mentoring coaches by the thousands to guide boys to grow to become good men. Recently honored with a lifetime achievement award by representatives of several national men’s antiviolence organizations, and the NFL, Ehrmann believes what makes a good man is 1) his capacity to love and accept love and 2) being of service to his community. What better description could we ask men to consider at the outset of a new campaign to raise healthy boys? Mothers Against Drunk Drivers showed us what a force women banding together could be. Now it’s up to men—fathers, grandfathers, mentors, all males—to step up. What are we waiting for?
Rob Okun is the editor of Voice Male, a national magazine chronicling the transformation of masculinities. His anthology, VOICE MALE: The Untold Story of the Profeminist Men’s Movement was published last year. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Voice Male magazine, a publication chronicling the profeminist men’s movement, reports that it has come into possession of a memo from God to Kim Davis, the Rowan County, Kentucky clerk who has refused to issue marriage licenses to any couples since the Supreme Court ruling affirming gay marriage more than two months ago. She was jailed for her refusal, claiming she was acting on God’s authority. What follows is God’s memo to Ms. Davis, made available by the magazine’s editor, Rob Okun.
To: Kim Davis
Re: My Authority
I’m writing to clarify my position on your citing Me as the reason you refused to issues marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
From my perch on high, I watched you refusing to issue any marriage licenses as a way to thwart same-sex couples. There’s no way I can sugarcoat this, Ms. Davis: your argument is flawed. For one thing, in addition to the gay couples you denied, you trampled on the rights of all the heterosexual couples who wish to wed—most, no doubt, brother and sister Christians like you. Invoking My name as the reason for your actions didn’t keep you out of jail, and now all of your deputy clerks are issuing the licenses, anyway (except, of course, for one, your son).
When that prospective gay groom shouted at you, “By whose authority…” were you denying issuing the licenses and you said, “God’s”—I woke up. (Sometimes I take a Sabbath on a weekday; I think it’s good to spice things up once in a while.) I checked my inbox and Twitter feed and saw there was absolutely nothing from you—nada. (Note to Mr. Trump: I’m taking a point of personal privilege here throwing in a little Spanish). When I heard you were using Me to justify your actions, I have to admit the first words that came out of my mouth were, “WTF!” (Some of the more prudish angels around here shot me dirty looks.)
I have been following the gay marriage debate since, well, forever (actually, I’ve been following everything since forever), and would like to enlighten you about a few things to know, including—but not now—my thoughts on biblical David’s and Jonathan’s “friendship.”
In the United States, clerks like you started issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts on May 17, 2004. A lot of people who share your convictions said, “The sky will fall” and, “Marriage will be irreparably harmed.” Didn’t happen. Just to be sure, over the next several weeks I frequently circled over Boston—(Fenway Park, actually; you may remember that 2004 was a heavenly year for the Red Sox). If the sky did fall, I wanted to be there to protect the Prudential Center. Again, nada. And, last I checked—a millisecond ago—there’s been zero impact on heterosexual marriage one way or the other. Some marriages are going strong; some are troubled; some are just bumping along. (I did hear from some straight couples who opined, “Why the hell do gays want to get mixed up in the marriage racket anyway?” I chuckled so loudly the heavens shook.)
Not to pull rank on you with the old parental “Because I say so,” I did a little research for your benefit. Consider: Denmark gave equal rights to same-sex partners in 1989 (if not the right to marry per se), the first country in the world to do so. Norway was second, in 1993; Sweden followed in 1994; and Greenland in 1996; the Netherlands in 1997, Catalonia in 1998, Belgium in 1999, and, Germany in 2001. Holland’s Queen Beatrix signed the first same-sex marriage bill on December 21, 2000. So, depending how you count, it’s been 26 years or 15 years and, although climate change has significantly made the planet’s future more precarious, the sky is still up there, fragile ozone layer and all.
I know you’ve been putting up a good fight, Ms. Davis, but it’s time to face the music—to listen to the heavenly choir, so to speak. When you said you were denying couples’ marriage licenses on My authority—without actually talking to me—I had to intervene.
From inside your jail cell you probably couldn’t hear the happy supporters of the gay couples outside the courthouse when your deputy clerks began issuing licenses. I could hear them, though, loud and clear. They boiled this whole sorry affair down to two words—two words that guide all I do: “Love wins.”
Let me know if you’d like to meet. My door’s always open.
By Rob Okun
He’s gone. He’s gone. I kept repeating those unreal words on the half-hour drive home that rainy Thursday night. Since I’d been at a meeting, my wife was alone when she answered the door for the police officer who’d come looking for me. He had bad news: my older brother Stuart had suffered a heart attack and was dead. It was March 26, just a few days after we’d returned from New Orleans where we’d gone to meet our recently born second grandson.
Less than 24 hours later I was in the Tampa airport meeting my 27-year-old son Jonah who had flown down from New York to support me on what I came to call “a brothers’ journey.” I was walking the familiar but strangely new path of the mourner.
The sun was shining brightly Saturday morning when Jonah and I arrived in Stuart’s neighborhood. It hardly seemed like a place of death, this lush landscaped community on Florida’s west coast. Even though he’d died at home, when we stepped inside his cottage apartment, I could have easily convinced myself that Stuart was simply away for the weekend. “Sure,” he might have said, “you and Jonah can stay at my place.” Continue reading »
Major league baseball beginning domestic violence prevention workshops at Spring training. The White House launching the It’s on Us initiative to prevent sexual assault. Emma Watson and the United Nations spearheading the new HeforShe movement.
Men promoting gender equality and decrying violence against women is “suddenly” the next new cause. Except it’s not. The issue is, though, finally getting some sustained media attention. That’s good news. Continue reading »
On the Road to Equality
By Rob Okun
The inaugural conference of the Center for the Study of Men and Masculinities is one sign. The global MenEngage symposium in India was another. The movement of men promoting women’s rights and men’s transformation is not just growing, it’s linking up in greater numbers than ever before. That two major international gatherings—one in New Delhi, the other in New York—took place within four months of one another is a welcome development. Some 2000 delegates—from every continent on the globe—convened in India in November and the U.S. in March for symposia with similar names: Men and Boys for Gender Justice in Delhi and Men and Boys for Gender Equality in Manhattan. Continue reading »
Standing in a sunny courtyard of the India Habitat Centre in New Delhi, I am surrounded by a sea of delegates streaming into day one of the global symposium, Men and Boys for Gender Justice. Organized by MenEngage, an international network of nearly 700 NGOs operating on every continent, it is day one of a symposium that has attracted more than 1000 people from 93 countries. I am one, a member of the North American MenEngage Network (NAMEN). Continue reading »
From New York to New Delhi
By Rob Okun
Entitled menchildren in the National Football League spark renewed attention to the epidemic of domestic violence and child abuse. Brave young women speaking truth to power demand action to halt sexual assaults on college campuses. Pioneering profeminist men from around the world gather in India to engage men and boys to promote gender equality.
In the ongoing effort to transform manhood, the pace has been accelerating. From the White House to the 50-yard line, from Kolkata to Cape Town, the call for men to change, to be allies with women in the work of ending gender-based violence and redefining manhood, is growing louder. From the Obama administration’s ItsOnUs campaign to the Emma Watson–supported United Nations’ HeforShe, opportunities are also growing for men to add our voices to the global conversation about men and masculinities. By the time summer ended, I was feeling the need to slow down, to reflect on what’s been unfolding on the dizzying, windy road to gender justice.
I got my wish to decelerate on the weekend of the autumn equinox. I had been invited to participate in a weekend gathering at the Omega Institute, whose women’s leadership conference for the first time in its 12-year history included men. Continue reading »
“Women want a men’s movement. We are literally dying for it.”
It’s way past time to put on the pads, guys. We’ve got to put our shoulders to the wheel of change if we’re going to stop domestic and sexual violence. Are you ready to suit up for the big game? Except, of course, it ain’t no game; the lives of our daughters and sisters, wives and mothers are on the line. Continue reading »
“A man’s got to do, what a man’s got to do. And a country’s got to do what a country’s got to do.” —Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, July 21, 2014 interview on NBC News
Amid weeks of horror and unconscionable suffering in the Gaza Strip there is a truth hiding in plain sight: Wild West manhood is being played out in the Middle East. Shoot first; ask questions never. Tough talkin’ man up bluster, both from Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu—poster boys for a strain of masculinity so toxic it’s infected thousands of young men on both sides. Continue reading »
At Father’s Day this year, it was hard not to think about the fathers whose children were murdered in mass killings. My thoughts turned to the fathers—and mothers—of those slain in Isla Vista, California in the aftermath of Elliot Rodger’s misogynist-fueled rampage. Just as the Sandy Hook fathers felt the ache in their hearts, so do these men. Continue reading »
I’ve long believed that those of us committed to social change—whether achieving gender justice, restoring a threatened democracy, or healing an endangered planet—have greatest success when we accentuate the positive. The bad news seems to take care of itself. At the same time, every day there are committed people around the world advancing a counternarrative—promoting what David Korten years ago dubbed “the great turning.” I’m not suggesting we ignore bad news—Steubenville and Sandy Hook, for example, make that impossible. Still, the media (Voice Male included) have a responsibility to strike a balance and for the most part good news is too often still under the radar.
In the years I’ve edited Voice Male, I’ve seesawed back and forth in search of that balance. As much as the magazine has reported on the bad news (a year ago we devoted half our pages to Sandy Hook), in every issue we’ve worked to incorporate the vision and values of a new possibility for men and masculinities as reflected in the work of the profeminist men’s movement. It is in that movement that I have long seen not just a “hope” to transform conventional ideas about manhood but concrete action to realize it. It’s what motivated me to write and edit the new book VOICE MALE: The Untold Story of the Profeminist Men’s Movement.
There’s something happening here
What it is ain’t exactly clear
There’s a man with a gun over there
Telling me I got to beware
I think it’s time we stop, children, what’s that sound
Everybody look what’s going down
—Stephen Stills, “For What It’s Worth”
Is the U.S. population so psychically numb that news of another “school shooting” barely registers? The day before the first anniversary of the gut-wrenching Newtown massacre, an 18 year-old male shot another student and then killed himself as a sheriff’s deputy closed in on him, foiling his plans to use a backpack full of weapons and ammunition on students and staff at a Colorado high school.
I was already on edge about last year’s Connecticut tragedy when the Friday the 13th shooting happened. Continue reading »
By E. Ethelbert Miller, Voice Male contributing editor
By the time you read this, the incident I describe would have happened some time ago. By the time you read this another similar incident could occur.
It was a Sunday and I was on a bus going up 16th Street in Washington,D.C. It wasn’t a crowded bus. There were a few Ethiopian women dressed in beautiful white garments and returning from church. Two men got on and went to the back of the bus. I was reading A Poet’s Craft, a new book by Annie Finch, and was engrossed with where poems come from and how things turn into poems. Behind me I heard the voice of a black man; the angry black man rage that often reminds me of how middle class I’ve become. Continue reading »
One of the awful facts of our age is the evidence that [the world] is stricken indeed, stricken to the very core of its being by the presence of the Unspeakable…[that] too few are willing to see.
When we speak, we are afraid. But when we are silent, we are still afraid. So it is better to speak.
“What if?…” All of us have uttered those two words at one time or another as we contemplated what might have been. Often our focus is personal. “What if mom or dad had lived long enough to meet the new grandchild?,” for example. Sometimes the focus is global.
In the case of Project Unspeakable—a political meditation on truth, morality and secrecy as much as a compelling new play—the “what if” has profound implications for our times. “What if JFK, RFK, MLK, and Malcolm X had not been assassinated?” the play asks. “What would the world look like if they had lived?” That all four were gunned down within a five-year period—1963–1968—remains a life-altering backdrop to the lives of many who came of age in the sixties. Continue reading »
“I don’t know why people are so reluctant to say they’re feminists. Maybe some women just don’t care. But how could it be any more obvious that we still live in a patriarchal world when feminism is a bad word?”
—Ellen Page, actor
“If the word ‘feminist’ has negative connotations, running away from the word won’t fix that. Whatever new word you come up with will eventually take on the same negative connotations. Because the problem isn’t with feminists; it’s with those who demonize feminism.”
—Rebecca Cohen, cartoonist
With such an onslaught of pressing issues facing those concerned about gender justice today (for starters consider the recent actions to severely restrict women’s reproductive rights by the legislatures in North Carolina, Ohio and Texas, and by Clear Channel in Kansas), the current debate about whether it’s still appropriate to call oneself a “feminist”—or in the case of the magazine I edit, Voice Male , a “pro-feminist”—seems to me to be a huge, politically divisive distraction. Continue reading »
VDay.org invited Voice Male editor Rob Okun to write the newest V-Men column where this editor’s blog first appeared.
In a world where too many men stay silent in the face of discrimination against women—from sexual harassment to domestic and sexual violence—the public statement of a chorus of young Massachusetts male athletes not long before Father’s Day offers a sliver of new hope.
Twenty-two graduating senior athletes from prestigious Phillips Academy in Andover, Mass. signed a letter to the editor of the school newspaper on May 30 that explicitly endorsed feminism. Continue reading »
I suggest putting a teacher in every gun store.
The National Rifle Association’s public face, Wayne LaPierre, woke me up the other night. No, it wasn’t a midnight phone call; it was a dream. He wanted to know what I’d thought of “the speech.” You know, the insensitive one he delivered last December 21, just seven days after Adam Lanza shot his mother in her bed and then went to Sandy Hook Elementary School and murdered 20 first graders and six school staff before turning one of the weapons in his mother’s arsenal on himself. Continue reading »
WHAT ABOUT THE MEN WHO ARE TRYING TO DO THE RIGHT THING?
That was the thought I had the other day after hearing what was intended as an innocuous joke. “If you took a vote on which is the better gender,” a female friend said, “men would come in second.”
The wry smile that crossed my face quickly faded. Society is so often poised to castigate men that even those working to transform manhood and old school, conventional masculine culture are mostly invisible. Continue reading »
For me, Valentine’s Day is a teachable moment more than a holiday. It’s a perfect time to promote healthy relationships more than romantic gifts and candlelight dinners. Don’t get me wrong. I like a sweet evening out with my honey as much as anybody. I just have a hard time being dreamy-eyed if I’m simultaneously turning a blind eye to the outbreak of domestic and sexual violence still plaguing us. It’s a disorder very difficult to treat. Continue reading »