Gun violence is far more than what one might think. It is conditioning, indoctrination and cultural upbringing in the eyes of Canadian author, Helen Forsey.
Don’t let boys grow up thinking violence is manly
The proliferation of terrorism and other bloody attacks has spurred speculation on “root causes,” in the hope of finding ways to slow or stop this terrifying international phenomenon
Racism, mental illness, gun culture, generalized anger, poverty, marginalization – all these have been highlighted, and rightly, as probable contributing causes.
Gender is the elephant in the room
But missing from the discussion is another crucial factor, one we must acknowledge if we are ever to find remedies. The elephant in the room is gender – more specifically. the link between masculinity and violence.
Hidden in plain sight through the careful use of gender-neutral terms like “shooters,” “perpetrators” and “suspects,” is the stark fact that almost all of the agents of these attacks – terrorist or otherwise – have been male.
If any other statistic was staring us in the face like that, surely we would all be taking note.
Facebook and Twitter would be full of controversy over the significance of gender in the escalating epidemic of attacks. The mainstream media would be highlighting the question in their interviews and reporting; universities would be incorporating the debate into their courses.
Governments would be setting up public inquiries into the links between male violence, militarism, pornography and other elements of sexist culture. Terrorism research institutes would be retrieving from obscurity the extensive work that feminist scholars have done on these issues, studying their analyses and promoting their recommendations.
Violence is the new normal
But I don’t see any of that happening. Even as the incidents of public violence multiply into a “new normal,” those seeking to understand the growing madness seem resolutely oblivious to any gendered connection
“The suspect had been radicalized,” they say. “This individual was alienated, marginalized.” “This person had a history of mental illness.” They almost never say, “This man.” And yet it almost always is a man. Why?
I have sons and grandsons, and I know in my flesh that our male babies are not born violent This is not about biology. It’s about what our cultures tell boys as they grow: that to be male is to be violent, that a “real man” is always ready to put up his fists or pull out his gun, that it is “manly” to use lethal force.
Down through the centuries and around the world. boys and men have been saddled with this insulting sexist assumption. They have been taught to want the kind of power that comes from the use or threat of violence, while girls and women are told that this kind of male power offers us protection from other dangers (as long as we behave). This false linkage between male sexuality and violence has wreaked unfathomable harm on women, children and men themselves, and it continues to do so today.
Males learn to be violent
Terrorist violence is often portrayed as a recent phenomenon But terrorism is not new, it just takes new forms. Modern terrorism adds new methods to the age-old practices of rape, battering and war, new weapons to the old arsenal of daggers, fists and cannons. Male-on-male violence in warfare, pogroms and brawls has been matched throughout history by the brutality routinely inflicted, though seldom acknowledged, on women and children.
The terror felt by all those victims has always been every bit as real as the terror we see on television and social media in these frightening days.
If we are going to stop this horrific history from repeating itself, we must learn from it. That requires us to stop ignoring the gender-related evidence and start actively delinking violence from maleness. The hopeful thing is that because that link is based in culture, not biology, it caN be broken. And that’s something we can all do — young people, parents, grandparents, teachers, musicians, community leaders, everyone.
Let’s make sure that no little boy grows up thinking violence is manly, that no man is tempted to assert his maleness by hurting someone else. Let’s dig out gender from among terror’s roots and allow hope to blossom anew.
Helen Forsey is an author who splits her time between Ontario and Newfoundland.