We are all Will, even if we don’t care to admit it too often. We are wandering blindly in an effort to grasp what great purpose might lead us forward into becoming men, husbands, fathers, mentors, or in our deepest dreams, heroes. We, cocky in an effort to hide our uncertainty, waiting for someone to pull us aside and whisper in our ear, “you passed, you’re a man now.” – Chris Cantoni, “Who We Choose To Be”
When first describing the mission of this blog to friends and colleagues, I often used the word “facade” to talk about the conformist masculine disguise men in Western society are encouraged to wear. My premise is that boys and men themselves are not aware of their dutiful following of this compulsory code of behavior and posing. Similar to the way in which females are rewarded for performing the role of femininity ascribed to them by men, society, and other women to the point where they cannot tell their own identities apart from the cultural costume, males can also be blind to the their daily performances of manhood.
“One of the ways dominance functions is through being unexamined. . . We focus always on the subordinated group and not on the dominant group. And that is one of the ways that the power of dominant groups isn’t questioned–by remaining invisible. . .” -Jackson Katz, Ph.D
Jackson Katz, the filmmaker and educator behind the 1998 documentary Tough Guise: Violence, Media and the Crisis of Masculinity, attempts to lay bare the culture of toughness (impenetrability, a silent acceptance of physical and/or emotional pain, no outward expression of feeling, a cultural comfort and almost expectation of aggression, etc) that surrounds and defines men’s relationship to women, other men, and themselves.
While the pop culture references to characters in ’90s movies like Can’t Hardly Wait and Boyz in the Hood feel a bit dated, the issues that Katz discussed in 1998 are far from being just a part of our past. Katz brings our attention to the fact that when the media covers violence, there is almost never a focus on the gender of the alleged criminal. With the majority of violent crime being committed by men, there is a nefarious and detrimental effect in leaving this obvious and critical element out of the conversation.
Use of the passive voice when we talk about crimes against women tends to shift our focus off of the male perpetrators and onto female victims and survivors….the media de-genders the discussion of violence… When girls commit violence, that’s always the subject. The gendered nature of the crime is always part of the discussion. What’s happened is because violence has been gendered masculine, we think it’s unusual only when women do it. When men do it, its masculine character is so normal that it’s unremarkable. In fact, it’s invisible.
Making masculinity visible is the first step to understanding how it operates in the culture, to how manhood has been linked to dominance and control.”
Earlier this week, the noble and inspired cultural crusade that is the Good Men Project Magazine published an article on America’s continued love affair with firearms and asked leading voices on both sides of the gun control issue to contribute. Among them was Jackson Katz, with the same plea he had 13 years ago in his documentary.
“Much of what needs to happen is an honest conversation about issues related to masculinity and violence. Many people have circled around this subject, especially in terms of the intensifying debate about guns. The Tucson massacre has revived debate (for the moment) about our country’s gun laws, and the astounding power of the NRA to block commonsense regulations. . . But few, if any, voices in mainstream media have discussed the connection between guns, violence, and American ideals of manhood.
Amazingly, this connection has not been part of the mainstream coverage of Tucson or any of the rampage killings in recent years. The trouble is, you can’t change a social phenomenon until you can at least identify and name it. Each time one of these horrific acts of violence occurs, commentators and editorial writers hone in on every relevant factor they can identify—mental illness, the availability of handguns, the vitriolic tone of talk radio and cable TV—and leave out what is arguably the most important factor: gender.”
Have the guises and facades really changed since then? Or is the language that describes the entanglement of masculinity and aggression just another kind of cloak? And who does it really protect and shield? My answer: certainly not women, but also not men.