Tuesday, May 27, 2014

The Male of the Species

Men typically route their feelings toward and competition with one another through women, [Eve Sedgwick, author of Between Men] says. Women become tools through which men show their power and worth to other men. Success with women is also an important part of men’s self-image—that’s a big part of what it means to “be a man.” [...] To him, women aren't people; they're markers of who is and who is not a man. If a woman chooses someone else, the thinking goes, that means Rodger and others like him are not men.
Noah Berlatsky “Elliot Rodger and Poisonous Ideals of Masculinity
You see this dynamic at work, I think, in the stories of harassment that Amanda Hess relates over at Slate. Not having been present for any of those events, and being unable to read minds in any event, I can’t be sure, but it makes sense to me. It is logical to me that someone who needs to prove his worth and validity to himself is not going to have room for considerations of any others. In a society were men are not permitted to stray outside of fairly rigid boundaries of masculinity without a chorus of voices demanding to know what's wrong with them, it is no surprise that self-loathing often claims those who cannot compete their way within its confines.
And [Elliott Rodger] destroyed himself, too: that pitiful failed thing who was not a man.
How do we stop this? There are calls for relaxing laws against involuntarily committing people to psychiatric institutions, calls for more gun control, calls for harsher punishments for men show show abusive tendencies. I do not argue against any of these things. But maybe, in addition to them, we need a broader understanding of who a person can be, and still be a man. The desperate struggle for survival against the elements, animals and other tribes is mostly a thing of the past. While we may, in fact, sleep peacefully in our beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on our behalf, the fact remains that we do not need all men to be rough or ready to do violence. We can allow some of them be civilized, or even feminine, and not think less of them. We have that luxury. We should make better use of it. When the path for men from being “broken and wrong and failed” to feeling competent and masterful must go through obliviousness to, if not complete disrespect for, the thoughts, feelings and humanity of women (or anyone else), this situation is going to play itself out, over and over again.

To “be a man,” is, in it’s simplest form, to be the male of the species homo sapiens. Perhaps the best way to spare more people from becoming victims of another Elliot Rodger is to demand nothing more.

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