My motivation to blog about masculinity has been severely curbed by the national and world wide tragedies that have dominated the media and deeply affected our collective sense of well being. At first glance, the problems of men redefining masculinity seems acutely trivial compared to the larger issues of hate crimes, terrorism, racial unrest and a polarized electorate. However, one might ask if there is a relationship between these larger issues and masculinity? Some disturbing facts come to mind. The Orlando killer was a man. The terrorists and suicide bombers in Belgium, France, Bangladesh and Iraq were all men. The Dallas and Baton Rouge cop killers were ex-military men and the cops who shot suspects in Baton Rouge and St. Paul were also men.
Clearly one can make the case that men are far more prone to violence and martyrdom than women. This is obviously not a new revelation. Historically, as feminists are quick to point out, men have been responsible for most of the wars, genocides and overall savagery since recorded time. Few would argue that the tendency to physical violence is significantly greater for men and this is often coupled with a sense that a cause is worth killing and dying for. Not that women do not have strong beliefs and a firm moral compass but that they seem to be far less willing to put on a suicide vest to express their outrage.
To answer the earlier question, it appears that the larger issues are related to masculinity. The warrior archetype or aggressive aspect of masculinity can be expressed by violent acts and a need to achieve goals only through zero sum outcomes. In addition, martyrdom as an off shoot of heroism, also appears to part of the masculine zeitgeist Drilling down other factors emerge. Terrorists tend to be in their 20’s and many have been marginalized by their larger societies. They tend to be disaffected, under employed and lack a sense of purpose other than the cause they adopt to rationalize their destructive behavior. When violence and martyrdom combine we are dealing with a truly dangerous force.
Recognizing and understanding a problem are the first steps in finding solutions. Unfortunately the all too common tendency to find simple solutions to complex issues is fraught with the consequences of polarizing rhetoric, band aid approaches and wrong answers. Men will not become less aggressive if we just advocate gender neutrality and shaming. Aggressiveness modeled as assertive, non-violent and purposeful for the common good by Martin Luther King, and Gandhi needs to be reinforced by the media and the educational establishment. Economic opportunity, education and connection with the larger society are essential for young men to give them a sense of purpose and mission that counters the appeal of radicalization. These are not easy or quick fixes. Unfortunately, if we do not act deliberately, thoughtfully and with a broad consensus the horrors of violence and terrorism will only get worse.