men, masculinities and gender politics

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Raising Rogue Warriors

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At the end of the twentieth century it is hard to hold up a yardstick for progress, and say confidently that the human race is advancing in the face of the cruel reality of masculine barbarity. Throughout this planet we see the specter of men gone amok--loners massacring children in school yards, Serbian men raping Bosnian women, Tutus warriors slaying Hutus, military officers committing war crimes, a lone maverick in Australia shooting innocent citizens, male commanders running concentration camps, greedy developers destroying the environment, angry leaders of hate groups waging race wars, aggressive fathers terrorizing homes, and male criminals dominating the news with assaults and felonies. And hence we face the postmodern dilemma: Although we have invented technology that permits instantaneous communication throughout the world, cured many diseases, extended our lifespan, and walked on the moon, we have not solved a fundamental dilemma, the problem of excessive male violence.

Classical warriorship has both good and bad aspects. A positive male warrior protects the hearth. A negative warrior lives outside social conventions, fiercely imposing his own views upon the world. Warrior mythology has deep roots in cultures throughout world where males use their strength to overcome hostile forces and provide security. Male warriors have molded history, ordering their counterparts into battle. Such courageous acts are heralded in myths, poems, novels, and works of art. Brave men countered violent threats to forge homesteads out of the wilderness. These tough guys protect boundaries. They don't let others push them around. They are stoical. They neither show their feelings nor admit vulnerabilities. These frontiersmen have carved homes out the wilderness. Traditional warrior roles--where men love adventure, the thrill of overcoming difficult challenges, and the camaraderie of other males--have protected us from evil and played a valuable role throughout human history, but in the postmodern world they cause pain and misery in the twenty first century global village.

We have not figured out how to transform classical forms of masculinity into roles that promote civilization. The rugged pioneer has become a rogue warrior in an information age. Throughout our planet militia are arming themselves, living outside social conventions, and destroying their perceived enemies by taking the law into their own hands. In hate groups killing is glorified and war becomes a desired way of life. Where classical masculinity had important roles to play in agricultural societies, the traditional warrior has become a despised criminal in technological societies.

Vestigial images of male warrior culture still dominate popular depictions of men. Media stars promoting violence in such movies as Red Dawn, Terminator II, Rambo, Missing in Action, and Lethal Weapon 3, become cultural icons. Young boys exposed to a steady stream of adventure stories see belligerent heroes, like James Bond, earn the sexual favors of attractive women. Pugnacious sports heroes capture the imaginations of youth trying to figure out how they, as men, ought to behave. For many teenagers, acts of aggression become a rite of passage into the adult world. However, many others, raised in the same violent culture, neither become violent in their careers nor in their private lives. In spite of being surrounded by violent images of masculinity most men live within the confines of the law and promote peace, choosing to become standard bearers, healers, nature lovers, scholars, and faithful husbands.

Why is it that so many men continue to follow the path of a rogue warrior in a technological society? Obviously, we cannot just blame cultural images because all little boys are exposed to these depictions of violent male superheroes, but not all little boys become killers. Why are some men so violent? Male violence comes from many different factors: We raise boys in a culture that expects them to be supermen; social organizations reward male barbarity; we make no effort to teach positive ways of channeling anger; and we wound men.

Through a process of socialization we drum the gentleness out of little boys. I was raised on a farm. When I was 6 I witnessed my first pig slaughter and threw up at the sight of my favorite pigs getting their throats cut, hung upside down, and carved open. All the adult men in my community, including my father, teased me, saying things like, "Little Harris, he's not a man! He can't take it!" In a similar manner parents tell their sons not to cry, not to express weakness, and not to show vulnerability. Through a lifelong process of social conditioning men learn to become tough warriors who refuse to admit they have problems and don't show compassion for the suffering of others.

Specific social institutions train males to be killers. Many members of modern day militias are veterans. Taught how to be warriors in the armed forces, they learn to glorify warrior culture and do not receive training at the end of their military careers that could help them become Good Samaritans in civilian society. Organizations expect their male leaders to make tough decisions. Executives who downsize their firms are rewarded with huge bonuses. Police are promoted for being tough. Corporations reward employees who pillage the environment. An elaborate set of reward structures embedded in social institutions teaches men that violence pays.
Men learn dysfunctional ways of expressing their anger. Life will always have conflicts. What do you imagine when you think of a man getting angry? I imagine Clint Eastwood pulling out a 357 magnum and blowing everybody away. Popular culture is full of negative depictions of men expressing their anger with their fists or with weapons. Being enraged becomes acceptable for males faced with difficulties because so many other men model that way of responding to conflict. We should teach little boys positive anger management techniques, so they will not destroy the tender communities of care they need in order to support them through the challenges they will face as they mature.

The most powerful factor contributing to a rogue warrior culture is the pools of inner rage men have stored inside them because of the various ways they have been violated. Little boys who are whipped at home, who are neglected or abandoned have deep inside themselves large reservoirs of pain that are often released in destructive ways. Dexter Manley, an all-pro football player, was kicked out of the National Football League in the United States for drug problems. When interviewed, he admitted that his father had locked him in a closet for hours as a time when he was little. As a grown man, he anesthetized his pain with drugs. Jeffrey Dahmer, the most notorious mass murderer in history, was raped in prison. (Every hour 1000 men are raped in U. S. prisons.) Sixty percent of male rapists were themselves sexually abused.

Prisoners doing life for manslaughter have scars on their bodies from wounds they received at home from their caretakers. Vietnam Veterans suffer from post traumatic stress disorders continue combat with those around them. Studies show that children who are spanked have a greater danger of becoming depressed, abusing drugs or alcohol, and being sexually promiscuous. Battered boys grow into malicious males who wreck havoc against "others" different than them who threaten their sense of security. These paranoid warriors, who arm themselves against a world that has deeply injured them, have within a desperate little boy who needs to be loved, who wants to be held, and who desires security. The high prevalence of violent behavior among males indicates that we have done a poor job in providing these tough guys with love and comfort. Abused and angry men are joining gangs, forming para-military groups, expressing their rage through punk culture, and voicing despair in rap songs. Punitive laws designed to punish these guys fans their hatred pushes them into deviant rogue warrior gangs, where they get comfort from others who share their angry perceptions of a world they see is out to destroy them.

Instead of using corporal punishment to discipline our sons, we should set clear expectations and reward positive behaviors. Our contemporary world requires a global citizen who can build bridges between different cultures, advocate for the poor, provide loving homes, and promote ecological security. Instead of constructing garrison states, with enough nuclear weapons to destroy all the enemies in the world, we need to teach little boys how to build a beloved communities based upon equity and justice for all. This heroic task can draw on the best aspects of warrior culture as men learn how to become emotionally expressive, resolve conflicts peacefully, and become compassionate towards the suffering of others. The postmodern world needs positive warriors, like Robin Hood, who bravely confront injustice. Like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr,. who used the power of love to confront the evil of racial hatred, we must learn how to heal the wounds that cause so many males to rage against a social order that thwarts their dreams. To change the expectations of a culture that requires brutality of males will require appropriately channeled anger at a patriarchal culture that compels men to dominate. The primitive aspects of masculinity that create rogue warriors out of rugged individuals must be focused upon creating partnership social relations based upon standards of justice. This necessary process of social change will be a great adventure, requiring bravery and courage.