Male Violence Fueled by Toxic Cultural Narratives

This is a really good piece about mass shootings and their relationship to Toxic Masculinity:

In between Las Vegas and Sutherland Springs, came Harvey WeinsteinRoy Moore, and a growing line-up of men, exposed for sexually assaulting or sexually harassing women. What connects the shooters and the assaulters is men’s entitlement, men exerting power over others. It’s time to examine the connection between the shooters’ poisonous masculinity and the Weinstein-Moore crowd’s variety.

With these chilling behaviors in mind, men have an opportunity to look within, to be accountable for our own behavior. Congress and the media may not be ready to see gender as key to the gun debate, but thanks to the brave women in the #MeToo campatign, they and others are waking up to the truth about powerful men and sexual assault.

This is a moment both for men to engage in critical self-examination and to sit together with other men, talking honestly, openly, holding each other accountable.

Mass shooters see guns as the way to make them feel powerful. Sexual assaulters see harassment, groping, and rape the same way. Men can do better; uniting to reject both definitions, instead redefining power as collaborating with others, not exerting it over them.

As I sat over the past few weeks in the US south watching people defend gun ownership in the face of two huge mass shootings one after the other, I thought a lot about this. What is it that makes this happen?
Yes, I think that a lack of sensible gun control plays a part, but it is not the complete solution. Other countries allow guns (maybe not quite as many or as freely as the US) but have much less of a problem with gun related homicide.  Yes, there’s a mental health issue as well, but that also doesn’t seem to be the whole story.
I keep coming back to the male cultural narrative – at least in the west and especially in the US. As it says in the article, it is about power. But it is also about self control. According to the narrative, a man can be made so angry by someone’s words alone that he can hit someone. No threats required, just an insult or a bit of disrespect is all it takes to get some degree of beating from a man whether you know them or not.  This is common enough that I have heard it and even once, at age 13, believed and acted upon it, punching a kid behind me in gym who was insulting my intelligence.  
The same narrative says that if a man’s life is hard enough, or messed up enough, or they care enough about a cause, they can be pushed to a point where the traditional response is mass killing. I literally just took an online training for work about what to do when there’s an active shooter in the workplace. (How messed up is it that we live in a world where this is even considered necessary?)  One of the signs to watch out for as a sign of a coworker that is about to snap and potentially shoot up the building was that the men get really emotional and talk more and more about personal problems.
But it’s not just limited to physical assault. Because, of course, there’s also the “she dressed/talked/acted in such a way that invited sexual assault” narrative. 
These are dangerous narratives as they all imply that violence is outside of the perpetrator’s control.  Say the wrong thing, wear the wrong outfit, look at someone the wrong way and you’re now a target. This is bad for the victim, of course, but until we address it with the people actually committing the violence, we can’t effectively work against it.
We talk all the time about the power of personal narrative. If we want to be successful, we need to cut down on negative self talk. If we want to accomplish something big, we need to tell ourselves that it is possible. This is absolutely true. I’ve experienced it and know many who have as well. I’d say the majority of folks reading this can say the same thing.
The same is true for these negative cultural narratives. Our books, movies, and especially the casual stories we tell each other are filled with stories of the good man who is pushed too far. If we all think of ourselves as the protagonist in our own movie, and many of the scripts we have read have this trope, it is unsurprising that some believe the narrative enough that they’re watching for that pivotal moment when they can’t take anymore – and they follow the rest of the script that they know.
In the end it is a really bad portrayal of the potential of men that all of society is currently paying for. We are not so lacking in control that the desire for perceived revenge, justice or satisfying our idea of love or lust is uncontrollable and unstoppable. We can do better and we need to expect more of ourselves, our brothers, our sons, and our peers and it starts with calling BS on these stories we tell ourselves.

11 thoughts on “Male Violence Fueled by Toxic Cultural Narratives

  1. people should go under strict background and psychological verification before giving lisensed gun.. men are mentally strong but sometimes emotions carry them away to bad.. crime rate is increasing day by day in the world.. hope people like us take it seriously to stop it!

    1. I agree – I question the necessity of guns but I know some people seem to have good reasons for it.

      But that said, I tend to disagree. I think saying “Men’s emotions can carry them away.” is part of the problem. We used to say “Women are too emotional to lead.” as well but that isn’t true either. Just saying “My emotions can get the best of me.” gives me a pass when I really should’ve been exercising self control.

      Of course we start it pretty young. “Don’t cry – boys don’t cry.” So instead we encourage our sons to express negative feelings as anger and then say that “Sometimes, if you get angry enough, you can be violent.” It’s hard, but not impossible, to get past that with adults, especially when a whole culture encourages it. Witness what happens when some men try to avoid violence or don’t react violently to some slight: “Whoa, dude! Are you going to take that from him?” (i.e. “Why aren’t you responding with violence? That’s what we do!”).

  2. I am not an expert…mental sickness which is not visible – is more dangerous than anything. Back to Basic is the need for the time …talk to your family and friends. Don’t get arrested by your wrong thoughts and punished by your actions.

    1. I’m no expert either so I really don’t fully understand what constitutes mental illness from “cultural illness” (for lack of a better term). Are people in death cults just religious or mentally ill? Was a good portion of Germany in the 30’s mentally ill? Are slave holders or racists mentally ill? These are all aberrant behaviours but there must be some definition as to what the difference is.

      In this case, I think that there are definitely mentally ill committing crimes and sexual assaults but there are also some who have a full grasp of reality but still are making choices validated in some sick way by our cultural norms. Those norms are not shared by everyone, but enough seem to believe them that they’re causing major problems now.

  3. It is true that it is not ALL men. There are a lot of good men too.
    All of these hints make me think of my son’s father though. He never hit me, he would put holes in doors or punch his vehicle. I was happy it wasn’t me but I wished he could learn to control his anger. He finally seems to have but then again, I’m not around him all the time anymore so I could be wrong!

    1. Absolutely – “Not all men” is problematic when we use it to lessen the problem or somehow someone takes it personally. “Yeah, (creepy guy did this thing) but not all men so it’s not a cultural problem, it’s an individual problem” (I don’t think you’re doing this by the way)

      Where it’s really a useful thing to think about, though, is “Yes, not all men do this. So clearly, this behaviour is aberrant and a problem.” These past few years I’ve seen and heard so many stories both in the news and anecdotally from friends that leads me to think that this is not some sort of strange exception but a good number of folks who think that behaving this way is acceptable.

      So what I’m advocating for is this: Men need to call each other on this. We need to change our idea of what makes us violent (or sexual predators) from something external to us (stress, anger, attraction) to a choice we are making in how we behave as humans. This is not acceptable behaviour and it is not rational and yet based on the amount of violence in our culture, it is somewhat normalized. This needs to stop.

      1. I agree! I don’t believe “it’s depression, military action, etc” because men have been fighting in wars for centuries and just recent history has this popped up everywhere.

      2. Right – but only “everywhere” within the US at that rate. Other places have guns (maybe not quite so many) but not the same use of them.

        I’m a huge fan of sensible gun control , don’t get me wrong, but I think there’s a lot more at play here.

      3. I agree with you – and I’m Texan by birth! (OK, my family moved away before I was even able to sit up on my own but *technically speaking*… 🙂

Share your thoughts!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.