Moving Beyond Men’s Killing Fields
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
“For What It’s Worth,” by Stephen Stills
In the wake of Adam Lanza’s murderous rampage, men in particular must not stay silent. There’s an epidemic in “man culture” we can ill afford to neglect, ceding center stage to the narrow gun control debate.
It’s encouraging there’s momentum in Congress to enact new gun laws. Let’s not miss the opportunity, though, to enlarge the national conversation about better regulating guns—including ammunition—to emphasize both how we raise boys and how we address the mental health crisis facing many men. And we must pull back the curtain of denial about mainstream culture’s “patriarchal masculine obsession with control,” as sociologist-novelist Allan Johnson puts it, control “that defines ‘real’ manhood in this culture, with violence being merely its most extreme instrument. It is that control that links all men with the violence that only some men do.” As Johnson, author of?the acclaimed?Gender Knot:?Unraveling Our Patriarchal Legacy, notes, “When U.S. drones kill children, the act springs from the same patriarchal roots as the mass murder in Newtown.” An inconvenient truth we cannot ignore.
How many more lonely, alienated, disconnected, (usually) white males perpetrating murder and then committing suicide need we see before admitting the irrefutable fact that the shooters are all male? From police detectives to forensic psychologists, anyone studying mass killings in the U.S. over the past two decades cannot ignore that fact.? Still, too many, including much of the media—continue to under-acknowledge this achingly obvious truth. Is it because they don’t see the killers’ gender, just as fish don’t see the water surrounding them? A?Mother Jones?review of the last 62 mass murders in the U.S. revealed that males committed 61 of them.
Absolutely, let’s continue the guns (out of) control conversation. Let’s not kid ourselves, though; it’s the masculinity, people.? Of course there are women who own and love guns; Adam Lanza’s mother was one of them. But the NRA and its allies have defined the gun as a symbol of men’s potency and freedom. Even shooting victim former congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, who just launched Americans for Responsible Solutions, owns guns. She and her husband, former astronaut Mark Kelly’s admirable effort to engage the nation in national conversation about gun violence prevention—and “pledge to raise the funds necessary to balance the influence of the gun lobby”—have missed a golden opportunity to use their high profile to emphasize the role male socialization plays in how our sons and nephews navigate the passage from boyhood to manhood.
We need broader measures to define manhood
We need a broader set of measures to define manhood. Let’s begin by cultivating boys’ emotional intelligence, making it as high a priority as is teaching math and reading. Men of conscience across the country: it is time to speak out—as fathers and mentors, coaches and clergy members, teachers and community leaders. Among our first acts must be to take away the stigma of men undergoing psychotherapy.
Now is the moment for gun control advocates and those working to redefine masculinity to join forces, to create a new coalition that recognizes the irrefutable, long-standing relationship between men and guns, men’s mental health, and men and power. At this early stage in Mark Kelly’s and Gabby Giffords’ new organization, it is just the moment to do so!
At the same time, we can no longer ignore men’s underreporting their depression and men’s aversion to mental health checkups (indeed, all health checkups, for that matter). Too many men are at risk to themselves and others; their pain masked by a toxic rage. Nor can we turn a blind eye to a society that venerates violence—from shoot-em-up movies to kicking Afghani butt. We reap what we sow. Sadly, our thirst for Dad’s blood and guts has always trumped our love of Mom’s apple pie.
The Vice President Joe Biden–led White House commission on gun violence is the place to launch a national program to train early childhood education and care providers, prekindergarten and elementary school teachers to create new lesson plans that emphasize boys’ emotional well-being.? And, let’s put men’s mental health on the docket, too, beginning by asking the president to charge the CDC with coordinating a national campaign to raise awareness about mental health and males, focusing on creating treatment plans tailored to reach resistant males.
The passage of time has done little to ease the pain at the unfathomable murders deranged Adam Lanza perpetrated against 20 innocent children and six dedicated staff members killed at their school, as well as against his own mother. With the numbers of gun dead growing since December 14, 2012, we have dozens and dozens more reasons to come together as a nation to honor the memories of the 27 killed that awful day. The families of the dead all have the same question: What are we waiting for?
Rob Okun is editor of Voice Male. Versions of this article appeared in newspapers in California, Massachusetts, Nevada, New Jersey, Oregon, and Texas, through syndication by Peace Voice, a project of the Oregon Peace Institute.