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Masculinity and Violence

November 27, 2013
AUTHOR’s NOTE: Because I want to get this blog started again, before I start writing I would like to add a few blogs from my university Gender and Conflict class blog. This one was written on Dec. 21, 2012.
Since the horrific shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, there has been much discussion about gun control, and especially an emphasis on mental illness and how an unstable mental state drives people to commit horrible crimes. However, there is little or no discussion about the type of people that commit these crimes: mainly white males.
The reason that masculinity needs to be discussed is because violence has become a legitimate and in some cases, only method for men to assert power over others. Judy Hilkey argues in A History of Gender in America that during the Gilded age, masculinity was transformed from the traditional role as “protector” and “breadwinner” of the family to a more success and power-driven role. Additionally, by placing manhood rather than wealth as the ultimate marker of success, argues Hilkey, this gave middle and working-class men the ability to establish themselves, as men, as the ultimate judge of his masculinity. Wealth remains to this day a mark of success; however,  this age is when the idea of power and masculinity as a form of success was born. Violence can be a valid means of achieving this success – it has historically been a valid and in fact honorable means of achieving power. In many cases, this power was achieved through bravery in war; however, realistically we know that power can also be achieved on a smaller scale, through a man-to-man brawl, gang violence, violence against partners, or even (could it be?) violence against large groups of innocent people.
We need to answer the question “why is violence such an integral part of what it means to be a man in American society?” This question of masculinity and violence is not of course, the only important problem to address. American society would greatly benefit from easier access to mental health and more regulations on firearms. But the United States also sees between 93,000 to 3 million cases of domestic violence per year, and over 10,000 gun deaths per year. I think we can all agree that this needs to change.
The trouble with crime perpetrated by men is that throughout life, men are excused for acting violently. From “boys will be boys” to “normal teenage brawl” to “men being unable to control themselves” society continues to make excuses and assume that this behavior is something that is “innately male.” But as soon as this behavior gets blown out of proportion, instead of looking at how masculinity shapes violent behavior, we are quick to say that that particular man was “mentally ill,” “crazy” or “disturbed.” But the fact of the matter is that ordinary men commit violence and sexual violence every day. We need to start talking about the role that violence plays in masculinity, and how we can change it.
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