Video : Tough Guise
After the Columbine shootings, I was really mad. I was mad at it happening at all, but I was also mad at those that did not allow memorials to Dylan and Eric. They didn't want to have the murderers mourned by the victims. Yet Dylan and Eric were also victims. Not in the same way, and not as immediately evident when viewing a tragedy such as this, but they were victims. Not of a gun, but of the way that we want men and boys to be. They weren't the way that they were 'supposed' to be. They didn't fit the jock culture. They were teased and pushed around by those who did. Unable to wear the mask they cracked. I'm not saying that what they did was right. I'm not saying that it wasn't their fault. I am however saying that they were also victims.
We say that we want our boys to live full lives. Yet, we place them in boxes, making them hide their true feelings so that they can be 'real men'. We consider (according to the video) a real man to be tough, physically strong independent - someone who shields their vulnerability and hides their weaknesses. If they don't they are called 'Queer', 'Wimp', 'Weak' and other such terms. But where does this come from? How can it be that those who are themselves are the ones that we call not real? Where does this paradox originate from and how can we change it?
The statistics are frightening. Males commit 85% of the murders committed. Males commit 90% of the physical assault, 95% of the domestic violence, 95% of the dating violence, 85-90% of the sexual assaults and 90% of the rapes committed. Is it any wonder that we have, as Jackson Katz states, gendered violence male? When women commit violent crimes it gets attention. I guess that's because we pay attention to the things that are unusual. When boys commit crimes, then it is 'teens committing violent acts'. When girls commit the crimes, then it is 'Girls Committing violent acts'. Speaking as someone with a women's studies background, this is interesting to look at and something that I'd never really considered before.
Its interesting that as the submissive gender gets smaller and smaller, the dominate one gets bigger. Women have been setting lower and lower sizes of dress as the standard. Men are also setting standards. However, for them, it is setting standards for muscle size and strength. While women are becoming smaller and taking up less and less space, the men are getting bigger and becoming more and more threatening, taking up more space. As Barbie gets smaller, G I Joe gets bigger. Movie stars go from carrying a small gun to their full bodies becoming killing machines. Just as it has become harder and harder for a girl to become the perfect woman physically, its harder and harder for a boy to become the perfect man.
We ignore the rights of the white, heterosexual male. Between the Civil Rights Movement, the Women's Movement, the Gay and Lesbian Movement and the Anti-War Movement, we have become aware of the rights of so many. But not the rights of the dominant group - the white, heterosexual male. This can cause backlash. When comics like Andrew Dice Clay and Howard Stern spout their sexist routines, people listen. They are said to be representative of the new man - those who won't take anything from a woman. But that's a regressive movement. They are representatives of the traditional man. The traditional man. John Wayne's kind of man.
But John Wayne was a character. Even John Wayne didn't like John Wayne. So why choose him as an icon of manhood? Because he offered traditional security for everyman. A dominance that has been unsettled by all of the different rights groups.
A real man is invulnerable. A real man is independent. A real man is emotionally and physically strong. And for those that aren't then a gun can make them strong. If you don't have the body for respect, then a gun will command it. 'Varsity Blues' has a speech in it where the boys are told, "The only pain that matters is the pain you inflict". Be strong, suck it up and command respect however you can.
There is some hope. There are strong males who have proved to the world that they are vulnerable. That they can hurt and cry and feel worried about their bodies and about where their life is going. They lift the mask to show that you don't always have to "suck it up". You don't always have to pose your way through life. People like Mark Maguire, Christopher Reeve, Mohammed Ali and John Lennon show that its ok to be sensitive. Its ok to cry, to hurt or to feel scared. Successful movies such as 'The Full Monty' (which is now a musical) and 'Saving Private Ryan' show the other side to being the strong man. The images are out there. We just have to point our boys towards them.
I feel so bad for boys and men. They have as many expectations of them as women do. But when women break out of the mold they become stronger. What does that mean for men when they break out of the mold? Some would say that they become weaker. But I think that it means they become themselves. For some it is too late - some people will not change their ways. And for some it is too late. Dylan and Eric will never be able to break the mold. They do not have that chance. But hopefully, if we can educate other young boys how to be strong and tough, but sensitive and vunerable at the same time, they'll have a chance. A chance to be a man.