Category Archives: anti-gay bullying

What happens when you don’t trust your gut

A few weeks ago, I got an e-mail message from the Family Matters coordinator at the San Diego LGBT Center, inviting me to do a storytime and book signing at San Diego Pride. I wasn’t sure, however, if I wanted to make such a long trip, and I was also uneasy about the expense. The next day, I got an e-mail from Southwest Airlines advertising their $69 specials. If there’s such a thing as a “sign,” this was it – I immediately clicked on the link and booked my super-cheap flight. Easy-peasy.

What was not so easy-peasy, though, was finding a broad selection of books to bring for the storytime. I’d read my own book, of course, but I wanted to bring in other books to share – ideally, a wide range of books with diverse characters and themes. A challenging task, as it turns out.

There’s Heather Has Two Mommies, the landmark publication that launched the genre of LGBT children’s picture books. There’s And Tango Makes Three, a sweet tale (based on a true story) of two male penguins who care for an egg and ultimately father a baby penguin hatchling. There were only two stories I could find that had any kind of multicultural content: Antonio’s Card, a story about a boy celebrating Mother’s Day with his two mommies; and Best Best Colors, a story about a boy with two mommies who can’t choose his favorite color – so he chooses all of them, in a rainbow spectrum. Both of these books were written in English and in Spanish.

However, most books follow a predictable pattern. As you might imagine, there are lots of books about two mommies and two daddies. There are a fair number of books about same-sex weddings – Donovan’s Big Day and Uncle Bobby’s Wedding are two examples. And, increasingly, there are lots of books about gender-nonconforming boys (or transgender children) wearing dresses: 10,000 Dresses; Jacob’s New Dress; Morris Micklewhite and the Tangerine Dress. All of these books have similar storylines, and all of them bother me immensely – not because of the gender nonconformity (this is a hugely important topic, and one that I embrace), but because all of the protagonists in these books are bullied (in 10,000 Dresses, the bullying and rejection comes from parents as well as peers). Obviously, there’s a lot of social policing that happens to gender non-conforming boys, and I understand that the bullying themes in these books are a reflection of reality. However, I often wonder if these books inadvertently teach bullying to children who might not otherwise question gender flexibility. I needed to decide whether to include any of these books, and if I did choose one of them, which one I should pick.

My gut said don’t pick any of them. My brain, however, overrode my gut. (If you’re thinking, Oh, I bet this doesn’t end well, you’re right.) This is what my brain said:

You need to include a story about gender nonconformity. 

You need a book that’s contemporary – not one that was written fifteen years ago. (Many of the books I found were, in fact, written fifteen years ago.)

The bullying really isn’t THAT bad! 

I ended up reading, along with a range of other books, Jacob’s New Dress, which I felt was the most positive of the three options I was considering. This story, written by Sarah and Ian Hoffman, is based on their experience raising their gender nonconforming son. The bully in this story is a boy named Christopher, who just can’t wrap his head around the idea of boys wearing dresses. However, Jacob’s parents are supportive and loving, and his mother even helps him sew his own dress. Jacob’s teacher is also supportive, standing up for him when Christopher gives him a hard time. I figured that exposing kids to affirming adult characters could mitigate the bullying element. And, in the end, Jacob finds the strength to stand up to Christopher, which was another plus.

Well, here’s what happened. The story opens with Jacob and his friend Emily playing dress-up. Jacob chooses the princess costume. And Christopher, the bully, says, “Jacob, why do you always wear the girl clothes? Put on the knight armor. That’s what the boy wears!”

We’re thirty seconds into the story, right? After I read that line, a little boy interrupted and said, “Yeah!!! He shouldn’t wear the girl clothes! He’s a BOY!!! EWWWWWWWWWW!!!” (Remember, this isn’t just your garden-variety storytime at the library: This is at a Pride celebration.) I stopped reading and gently challenged his opinion, but his mind was made up. As Christopher continued to bully Jacob, this little boy’s comments continued to escalate, and another child joined in. (As an aside, the more severe Christopher’s bullying became, the more my heart hurt – reading the words aloud actually made me feel like I was bullying Jacob.) After trying to create conversation around this, I eventually had to ask both of them to stop commenting, to be respectful of others, and to listen. It felt necessary, but it also felt punitive, which was the exact opposite of what I wanted to convey during the storytime. I should have trusted my gut, I thought to myself.

Obviously, the fact that this little boy voiced this opinion so strongly confirms that reactivity against gender nonconformity in boys is alive and well – which is why these themes are in these books in the first place. However, I also think that this little boy said what he said because Christopher said it first. And even though he heard the whole story, the fact that Jacob’s parents and Jacob’s teacher supported him did absolutely nothing to change this little boy’s opinion. Bullying often happens that way – children don’t engage in the behavior until they see another child doing it (or they see a character bullying on TV, or read about a character bullying in a story), and then, having been effectively granted permission, they jump onto the bandwagon.

Fifteen years ago, most LGBT children’s books contained clear and obvious themes of oppression. Gloria Goes to Gay Pride, for example, a book written back in the early 1990s, features a scene with a group of anti-gay protestors. (Interestingly, this is the only other book, besides This Day in June, that’s been written about Pride.) This can be helpful – reading children’s books that contain these themes can serve as conversation-starters and help prepare children to deal with these realities. However, so much has changed in the last two decades. The LGBTQ rights movement has gained considerable traction, and we have more visibility than ever before. And yet, we still don’t have many LGBT-themed books that are affirming, celebratory, and radically and inclusively accepting. If we’re going to end oppression, then we need to stop embedding oppression-reinforcers in our narratives – and start to reflect, affirm, and celebrate the beauty of who we are.

 

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Valuing “women’s work”

Two weeks ago, I wrote a blog post titled, “This Day in June is released TODAY!!!“, which explored the reasons people tend to downplay and dismiss their creative instincts. (To state the obvious, my post also announced the release of my new book.) Several people posted comments, which was great – when no one comments, I’m left wondering, Is anybody out there? Is my post like the socks in the dryer, lost in the world of cyberspace, never to be seen?). But one comment struck a chord in me. The commenter, in a nutshell, said this:

When I was 13 my mother and aunt taught me how to do embroidery (more like stitching and cross-stitching). . . . [E]ver since then I’ve grown a passion for embroidery and I always look for clothes with embroidery because I’m fascinated with it. . . . I never told anyone about it because I was afraid people would criticize me for doing something that seems “boring” or “not for my age” (emphasis mine). 

Ever since she posted this, I’ve been thinking: Is this just about hiding our creativity in order to protect our fragile egos? Or is there something more to this? The possibility of “something more” has been rolling around in my brain ever since – but I couldn’t quite put my finger on what it was.

Now, fast-forward: The other night, I had a parent meeting at my daughter’s kindergarten. Her school is hosting a fundraising auction in a couple of weeks, and, per tradition, each class creates a gift to be auctioned at the event. Our class gift is a collection of puppets, and the parents’ job at the meeting was to sew them. I was thrilled, frankly, because I LOVE to sew. Most of the parents, however, did not seem thrilled – in fact, several looked panicked, and at least one looked as if she’d try to bolt for the door when no one was looking.

It was at that moment, in that parent meeting, that I had my “a-ha!” moment, realizing what the “something more” was. Most public schools don’t teach sewing anymore – or cooking, or anything related to “home economics.” And why not? Because they’re “frivolous.” It’s traditional women’s work – and modern women just don’t do that sort of thing. That viewpoint – that modern, liberated women just shouldn’t have to learn those skills – is dangerous, in my opinion, and downright sexist, because it equates “feminine” with “bad.” I think the person who posted the comment feared criticism not only for being creative, but for being too feminine.

Before I go any further, let me say this: I am a dyed-in-the-wool feminist. I was a first-generation Title IX kid, and in early adulthood I strongly identified with the third-wave feminist movement. Largely because of Title IX (and other feminist achievements), I had a broad-based public school education. I played sports. I went to college, and then to graduate school. In contrast, my grandmother, who in 1925 was privileged enough to attend college, was allowed to major in one of two things: teacher education or home economics. When you compare the options available to women today, we’ve obviously come a long way, baby.

Before the second-wave feminist movement of the 1960s and 1970s, home economics was a mainstay in schools for girls – but not for boys (NEVER for boys!). When I was in the seventh grade in 1983, home economics was still a requirement – but because of Title IX, everyone was required to take these classes. Girls took wood shop, drafting, and computer classes (remember the TRS-80?) alongside the boys, and boys took sewing and cooking classes with the girls. This was equality, liberal-feminist style.

But somewhere along the way, home economics started to disappear. Some schools did away with it altogether, reacting to the sexist ways home economics had been presented in the past. (Read “How to Be a Good Wife,” an excerpt from a 1954 home economics textbook, and you’ll see what I mean.) Others replaced “home economics” with the less fluffy-and-feminine term “Family and Consumer Science.” (Calling something a “science” places it squarely in the “not-feminine” arena.) Courses in “interior design” or “apparel design” replaced the homely sewing classes; courses in nutrition, with a strong emphasis on chemistry, replaced the more humble cooking classes. Home economics was for housewives; “Family and Consumer Science” was for scholars and aspiring professionals. There’s even a sizable body of academic literature in Family and Consumer Science, with journal article titles like, “Establishing a research base for the expanded food and nutrition education program.” The bottom line was this: Either home economics disappeared entirely from schools, or it morphed into something more slick and professionalized – into the “not-feminine.”

Sewing is not bad. Cooking is not bad. Learning how to clean your house, iron your shirts, develop a household budget, sew a button, create embroidered designs – none of these are bad things. But in a society that loves to categorize things into boxes, all of these activities go in the feminine box.  If we’re banishing the feminine, and telling girls (and boys) that these feminine pursuits are frivolous, unimportant, and unnecessary, we’re contributing to a very dangerous cultural climate. Think about this: We live in a culture where:

  • Women are more likely than men to be victims of rape, sexual assault, and intimate partner violence;
  • Lesbians who identify as femme commonly experience in-group discrimination, or femme-phobia;
  • Men who are effeminate (whether they’re gay or not) are more likely than their more masculine counterparts to have been bullied in school, and are at a higher risk of being the victim of a hate crime;
  • Transgender women are at a staggering risk of being physically assaulted or murdered (particularly transgender women of color, according to statistics from the Transgender Violence Tracking Portal);
  • Transgender women, largely because of their feminine presentation, continue to experience various forms of oppression, largely at the hands of radical feminists (a group often referred to as TERFs).

What’s the common denominator that’s under fire? The feminine. Garden-variety sexism, reaching its evil tentacles into various queer communities  – and elsewhere. Anytime we denigrate the feminine – even if it’s something as inocuous as home economics – we begin the slippery slope to a far more dangerous form of oppression.

If we truly valued the feminine, men could cry without feeling like their man-card was about to be revoked. Same-sex attracted women could adorn themselves however they want without being told they’re “straight-acting.” Transgender women could live with a reasonable degree of safety. Imagine the possibilities.

All this from a comment about embroidery.

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Playing it safe

This past weekend, I was invited to attend a performance of Eve Ensler’s play The Vagina Monologues. Since 1998, The Vagina Monologues has been performed around the world as part of V-Day, a global activist movement intended to raise awareness and stop violence against women and girls. Some of the monologues, such as “My Angry Vagina,” “Because He Liked to Look at It,” and “The Little Coochi Snorcher that Could,” are raucously hilarious. Others, like “The Flood,” are funny, but they’re also kind of depressing. And a few are so painful that they’re hard to listen to – that one, for me, was “My Vagina Was My Village.” Horrible, painful stuff.

For me, the most powerful monologue was the one at the end, titled “ONE BILLION RISING” (deliberately printed in all caps). According to statistics compiled by the United Nations, one out of every three women on Earth will be raped or beaten in her lifetime – a number that is equivalent to one billion women and girls. “ONE BILLION RISING” was a call to action – to get up, stand up, and fight to end the violence. It was the monologue with the strongest political message. And at the end, the woman performing the monologue raised her voice, and said:

“Raise your fist in the air!”

Almost no one did. Then she said it again, her voice louder, reverberating off the walls:

“RAISE YOUR FIST IN THE AIR!”

I raised my fist. Then she screamed, as loud as she could:

“RAISE YOUR FIST IN THE AIR!!!”

I looked around, my fist still held high above my head. Among the several hundred people in the audience, only a handful had raised their fists.

This is The Vagina Monologues, I thought to myself. Why the hell isn’t anybody raising their fists?

Maybe the audience was confused. Is she saying “raise your fist in the air” as a metaphor, or does she REALLY want us to raise our fists? It’s not typical to be at a theater performance and be asked to raise your fist in the air – in fact, it’s kind of a norm violation. But frankly, it’s a benign norm violation – by breaking the norm of sitting with your hands in your lap, you’re certainly not hurting anyone. And anyway, if the audience really wasn’t sure how to respond, you’d think that yelling at the top of her lungs so the walls shook would have cleared up any remaining confusion.

So why, then, were people so hesitant to raise their fists?

Because they’re scared. It’s easy to sit quietly in a dark theater and enjoy the performance. Merely watching The Vagina Monologues is playing it safe. Speaking out against violence, taking action, being willing to be the lone voice in a crowd – that’s much harder. So often, we’d rather be accepted by the majority than stand up for what we believe in.

Picture this: You’re a participant in a research study, and you’re seated in a room with seven other people. You are each given a card that looks like the one below:

You are then asked to look at the test line (Exhibit 1) and identify which of the three comparison lines is the same length. This is easy, you think. Obviously it’s Line A.

“Line B,” says the first participant, with confidence in his voice.

What? you think. They must not be able to see straight.

“Line B,” says the second participant, with equal conviction.

Hmm.

“Line B,” says the third participant. And the fourth, fifth, sixth, and seventh.

Now it’s your turn. What do you say? Are you worried about sticking out like a sore thumb if you give a different answer? Are you starting to doubt yourself? Maybe I’m the one who can’t see straight, you might think.

And then you hear yourself saying, “Line B.” You decided to play it safe.

The seven other participants, as you’ve probably figured out, weren’t real participants. They were confederates in a classic study conducted by Solomon Asch, a social psychologist at Swarthmore University. Asch had coached these individuals in advance to deliberately give the wrong answer. Among the “real” participants – the ones who were in Seat #8 – 75% conformed to the group and gave the wrong answer at least once during the many trials that were administered. Almost one-third (32%) conformed every single time. They wanted to fit in and be accepted, and they were willing to give the wrong answer in order for that to happen. They, too, played it safe.

If you think about it, conformity is a powerful social tool. It’s the Great Enforcer – if social norms are going to be created and maintained, then you need some kind of social policing system that maintains law and order. Conformity is part of the arsenal of weapons that prevents – and punishes – any norm violations that might occur. Because, in our collective groupthink, nonconformity is analogous to disruption and danger – and the conformity police help to keep us safe.

But guess what?

Playing it safe is not safe.

Because playing it safe just reinforces oppressive, marginalizing, dehumanizing social norms. When we stay silent, or fail to take action, we’re essentially saying that the status quo is just fine with us. If, on the other hand, we want to end oppressive attitudes, behaviors, and institutional practices, we have to speak out and take action. And that, by definition, involves challenging and violating social norms.

If violence against women is the norm (and one billion female victims of violence sounds frighteningly normative), failing to take action to end the violence reinforces that norm.

If racism is the norm, and we choose to laugh at a racist joke rather than call out the person who made those oppressive comments, we act as co-conspirators in the service of status quo maintenance.

If homophobia, or biphobia, or transphobia are our collective norms, then remaining silent in the face of homo/bi/transphobic behaviors just maintains and reinforces those oppressive attitudes.

Lines on a card. In many ways, they’re so simple, even trivial. But they speak volumes about the powerful drive for social acceptance – and the challenges we as social change agents face. The famous essayist and poet Audre Lorde once said, “Oppression is as American as apple pie,” which is about as conformist as it gets.

But she also said this:

Your silence will not protect you.

 

 

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Freaks, geeks, and queers

High school. Ahh, high school. For some, it holds the fondest memories. For others, high school was a complete nightmare. High school can be one of the most complicated and challenging social landscapes that exists in American society. And our ability to navigate that landscape depends largely on whether you can plug yourself into a social group.

Back in the day, when I was in high school, we had the jocks, the cheerleaders, the drama/chorus crowd, the “brains” (that was me), the deadbeats, the rich kids, the computer techies. Those of us who were able to find our people generally did okay. But there was no identifiable place for The Queers. Although there were quite a few gay and lesbian kids at my school, nobody was out. Nobody. And with good reason. I know one kid who got taunted and beat up regularly by some members of the football team – and he wasn’t even gay. He just fit the part – he sang, he was part of the drama group, he didn’t do sports, and he hung out with quirky, creative people. In my high school, unless you had that kind of winning personality that made you popular no matter what (and there were some people who were like that), if you were queer, you were doomed to be an outcast.

What’s amazing to me is that, despite the fact that gay and lesbian kids at my school were in Deep Closet mode (at least in public), they managed to find each other and form their own social group. There was no such thing as a Gay-Straight Alliance, at least not in any official sense. But The Queers found each other – and a high school subculture was born. And that seems to be at the core of human nature – find others who are like yourself and stick together, and you will be okay.

Besides being called “gay,” or “queer,” or “faggot,” or “dyke,” what’s the worst thing you could possibly be called in high school?

Nerd.

Dork.

Dweeb.

Geek.

These are the kids who are socially awkward. They like really uncool things. They’re obsessed with computers and technology. They read science fiction, and they like gaming. Back when I was in high school and college, they would have played D&D; now it would probably be World of Warcraft. Their clothes are decidedly unfashionable. Nowadays, a lot of these kids get diagnosed with Asperger’s disorder, a syndrome that’s considered to be part of the autism spectrum. (With the publication of DSM-V, it looks like the diagnosis of Asperger’s disorder will disappear, and be subsumed under Autism Spectrum Disorder.) Regardless of whether or not these kids qualify for a psychiatric disorder (that’s a whole other discussion), being a geek also gets you ostracized, shunned, and potentially beat up. A worst-case scenario in high school.

As I’ve been reflecting on this, I’ve noted three interesting things:

Interesting thing #1:  Like queers, geeks have developed a “culture.” People now talk about “the geek lifestyle” and “geek culture,” and the word “geek” itself has been culturally reappropriated – reclaimed as a positive identifier, rather than used as a tool of verbal harassment. Geek fashion, with horn-rimmed glasses, high-water trousers, and collared button-down shirts, was a trend for a while there. But geek culture is more than a fashion trend – it’s a constellation of identifiers that allow geeks entry into a social network. Find the people who enjoy sci-fi and fantasy, computers and technology, comic books and Renaissance fairs – the common interests that bind people together – and you will get a glimpse of geek culture.

Interesting thing #2:  Almost no psychological research has been done on geek culture. Which, given the prevalence of the Asperger’s disorder diagnosis, and given the rates of victimization against geeks, is really surprising to me. There have been a few articles written in cultural studies journals about geek culture, and several general-audience books have addressed the subject, including Benjamin Nugent’s American Nerd: The Story of My People. UCLA’s Center for Mental Health in Schools has even developed a comprehensive fact sheet titled “About ‘Nerds’ and ‘Geeks’ as an Identified Subculture.” Although the list of references at the end of this fact sheet is extensive, almost none of those references come from the psychological empirical literature. If anyone in psychology wanted to study and learn more about a historically marginalized subculture, here’s a golden opportunity.

Interesting thing #3:  Geek culture and queer culture intersect at various points. Since I began conducting interviews for my upcoming book, Fringe: On the Edges of the Mainstream Gay Community, I have noticed this over. And over. And over again. Bisexuality and geek sometimes intersect. BDSM and geek sometimes intersect. Polyamory and geek often intersect – an anecdotal observation Janet Hardy talks about in her book, The Ethical Slut (and which she also brought up during our interview). A colleague of mine recently introduced me to the concept of object sexuality (where the target of one’s attractions is directed towards objects, rather than towards males and/or females) – noting that object sexuality (and other non-mainstream sexualities) is not uncommon among people who are on the autism spectrum. An interesting form of intersectionality, this combination of “queer” and “geek.”

In many ways, this isn’t surprising, the overlap between geek culture and queer culture. Even the words “geek” and “queer” bear similarity to one another. “I’m a geek,” said Dany Atkins, a writer who also identifies as bisexual, kinky, polyamorous, and genderqueer, during our interview. “And I’m queer. I was queer before the LGBT community took the word ‘queer.’ I’m ‘queer’ in the sense that I’m weird, different, not like everybody else.”

And yet, Dany has survived by finding her people, both within geek culture as well as in queer circles. Janet Hardy has found her people as well. (If you’re looking for other polyamorous people, it obviously helps if you write what many consider to be the Bible of polyamory.) Whatever you are, no matter how marginalized you are, it helps immensely if you can find your people. We look for allies and bind together. And we find ways of empowering ourselves in order to disarm those who hold power over us.

Even in high school.

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Naming the obvious

Thursday, December 13, 2012. It was the last day of my Psychology of Women class. The topic of the day was “Men and Masculinity,” and the movie of the day was a documentary called Tough Guise.  Narrated by anti-violence educator Jackson Katz and directed by Sut Jhally, Tough Guise links the increase of male violence, misogyny, and homophobia to the way we define manhood and masculinity in American culture. Over the course of the film, Katz examines violence in professional sports, sexualized violence in the media, homophobia-driven violence towards men who violate gender norms – and the role of masculinity in school shootings, including the tragedies in Littleton, Colorado and Jonesboro, Arkansas. It’s a powerful film, never failing to spark thoughtful discussion among my students.

Friday, December 14, 2012. I got to my office, turned on the computer, and did what I always do – scan the headlines from the New York Times, the Huffington Post, and the Sacramento Bee. And what was the first headline I saw?

SHOOTING REPORTED AT CONNECTICUT ELEMENTARY SCHOOL

Twenty-seven deaths – twenty of them children. How on earth do you wrap your head around something like this? My first reaction was disbelief, followed by an intense desire to protect my own child. And the fact that I’d just the day before shown a film that, in part, examined the reasons behind school shootings was more than a little chilling to me.

Here’s what else was unnerving to me. After the shootings at Columbine High School, the New York Times published a number of front-page articles that attempted to unpack the reasons why Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold would open gunfire on their classmates and teachers. Among the reasons cited included the usual suspects: video game violence, social ostracism, lack of mental health prevention and services, overly permissive gun laws. And yet, as Jackson Katz pointed out in the film, the one obvious factor was completely overlooked. “It’s not just ‘kids killing kids,'” says Katz. “It’s boys who are shooting boys, and boys who are shooting girls.” Naming the obvious – the fact that boys are almost always the shooters – opens the door for a discussion about masculinity, power, and violence.

Within hours after the news broke about the shooting, the media began to speculate about the underlying causes of this most recent tragedy. And guess what they focused on? Gun control. Mental health. Media violence. School security. And yet again, the fact that a man was the shooter isn’t even a part of the discussion.

I want to make very clear that I’m not trying to be a male-basher. The vast majority of men do not engage in violence. However, it’s important to note that the men who do engage in violence are responsible for most of the violent crimes in the United States. Check out these facts:

  • Over 85% of people who commit murder are men (and the women who commit murder often do so as a defense against their male batterers);
  • In 90% of homicides, both the victim and the perpetrator are men;
  • Men commit 95% of serious domestic violence;
  • 99.8% of those in prison convicted of rape are men;
  • 84% of hate crime perpetrators are men.

These statistics are staggering. And yet, it’s important to clarify that merely being a man isn’t the primary factor associated with violence. The “X” factor, according to the research, is masculinity in men – and the threat of losing it. For many men, getting your “man card” taken away is the worst possible thing that could ever happen to you – and some men will do whatever it takes to salvage whatever shred of their “man card” they can hold onto. According to sociologists Rachel Kalish and Michael Kimmel, in a 2010 article published in Health Sociology Review, this is exactly what motivates boys to engage in school shootings:

These perpetrators were not just misguided ‘kids’, or ‘youth’ or ‘troubled teens’ – they’re boys. They are a group of boys, deeply aggrieved by a system that they may feel is cruel or demeaning. . . . What transforms the aggrieved into mass murders is also a sense of entitlement, a sense of using violence against others, making others hurt as you, yourself, might hurt. Aggrieved entitlement inspires revenge against those who have wronged you; it is the compensation for humiliation. Humiliation is emasculation: humiliate someone and you take away his manhood. For many men, humiliation must be avenged, or you cease to be a man (Kalish & Kimmel, 2010). 

“Aggrieved entitlement” – now there’s a whole different lens through which to consider violent crimes. Numerous studies indicate that, among men who perpetrate violence, masculine identity (or the threat of losing it) is a primary motivating factor behind rape, sexual assault, intimate partner violence, and hate crimes – particularly those crimes targeting the LGBTQ community. It makes perfect sense, if you think about it.  Expressing violence towards the feminine (or, more appropriately, the “not-masculine”), is a powerful way of reinforcing one’s manhood. No wonder women are far more likely than men to be victims of rape. No wonder the highest rates of LGBTQ-related hate crimes are perpetrated against gay men and transwomen – two groups that fly in the face of a traditional masculine identity.

Many people (New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg being one of them) are hoping that the Connecticut shootings will be a call to action to implement stricter gun regulations. This is my hope as well – the number of gun-related deaths in the United States far outnumber those in other highly industrialized countries around the world. However, I also hope we can engage in conversation about what it means to be a man in our culture – and how, by definition, being a man means acting violently towards anyone who might threaten that masculinity. What if a new definition of manhood didn’t center around strength, power, and violence, but rather on having the courage to show love, compassion, fear, sadness, vulnerability? What if we considered a “real man” to be someone who has the courage to stand up for the rights of all people, and who won’t tolerate any form of oppression, discrimination, or violence?

 

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