“Men and boys commit the preponderance of gun violence,” Steve Nelson [above] writes at huffingtonpost.com. “According to the National Institutes of Health, women commit only 14.7 percent of homicides. A great many of these women’s shootings are in defense against an abusive or aggressive male. Many folks surmise that this gender-skewed expression of violence is essentially biological and therefore inevitable. It is neither biological nor inevitable.” Well it’s good to know that someone’s settled the nature vs. nurture debate. ‘Cause there I was thinking that . .
testosterone had a little something to do with gang bangers’ banging. An activity that accounts for the majority of non-suicide firearms-related homicides. Come to think of it, I was also laboring under the impression that firearms-related suicides – which account for more than half of all firearms-related fatalities – may have something to do with an individual’s genetic inheritance. But nope, it’s all social conditioning. Let The War On Boys commence!
Masculinity in this culture is defined in a peculiar and dangerous way. Boys are raised to suppress feelings. “Don’t cry!” Athletics are an important currency in social status. Toughness is rewarded. Qualities like deference, compassion, empathy and cooperation are considered feminine characteristics. Boys who express such things are told, “Don’t be a pussy!” “Sissy!” “Fag!” Despite the biological diversity of boys’ temperaments, physicality and emotional sensitivity, the cultural milieu rewards those boys who are aggressive, physically capable and stoic.
It is wired into our assumptions and therefore an explicit and implicit context in schools and homes everywhere. Boys play with trucks and girls play with dolls. Boys play cowboy and girls play nurse. How many little boys have camouflage shorts and T-shirts? I’ve seen camo onesies for goodness sake! Camouflage is a military fabric, associated with guns, particularly on film and in video games. It’s not just a fashion choice. How can it not influence a boy’s subtle sense of his world and his gender?
Oh I don’t know about all that. Deference and cooperation are so football team it hurts. As for the “biological diversity of boys’ temperaments,” I have to disagree. Boys are more alike than dissimilar. Tens of millions of boys around the world prefer playing soccer to writing poetry because that’s the way their brains are wired – objects moving through space! – not because their schools aren’t as PC as the elite Calhoun School in Manhattan (with Mr. Nelson as its head). Where “the old-fashioned notion of academic rigor is, well, old-fashioned.”
Like most old-fashioned elitists (does elitism ever go out of style?), Mr. Nelson’s dietribe [sic] reveals a fake egalitarian. Like this:
This skewed cultural understanding of masculinity harms the “winners” and the “losers.”
On the “winner” side, some of those who navigate the male culture through sports, as one small example, internalize the male qualities that helped them succeed. The endless stream of violence, including spillover domestic violence, in college and professional football, should be no surprise. It’s like pit bulls, trained for a lifetime to be aggressive through taunting, punishment and being rewarded for viciousness. Like men, the pit bulls weren’t born to this life. They were trained for it.
These athletes’ aggression is too deeply conditioned to be confined within the field’s boundaries. I suggest that the same process accounts for business bullies (can you spell Trump?) or males in any situation where aggression and lack of empathy are rewarded with material or social success. Because of male conditioning, the “winners” believe they are entitled to their success and will become even more aggressive when threatened or challenged.
At the risk of making this personal, I wonder how Mr. Nelson faired in his childhood athletic endeavors. Sissy! Just kidding, Steve.
I don’t suppose it ever occurred to the Big Apple educator that the nature of college and professional athletes is determined by a Darwinian process that selects individuals biologically suited for the task in terms of size, speed, deference, cooperation and yes, aggression. As well as poise, coordination and mental toughness (to use my hockey coach’s term). Help me out here: why aren’t these individuals entitled to their success?
The “losers” suffer a different, perhaps more dangerous fate. Wednesday’s killer may have been among them. He was a black man, reportedly gay. The sketchy record thus far reveals a man who felt serially humiliated, victimized, rejected and alone. Of course none of this justifies his heinous acts, but the cultural milieu in America inarguably humiliates, rejects and victimizes black and gay men.
If we develop young boys into testosterone-fueled, entitled “winners” who succeed by suppressing real feelings and behaving aggressively, we shouldn’t be surprised when they act as they have been conditioned to act. If we humiliate and bully young boys for not being sufficiently “masculine,” we shouldn’t be surprised when they eventually act out with anger.
Sure, I blame society for the Virginia TV killer’s mindset. Because society never offered him a chance at an education (graduate San Francisco State University) or a highly prized career in television ( WTWC-TV, WNCT TV and WDJB) or a good job outside of the media (customer service for Bank of America and Pacific Gas and Electric Company).
Vester Flanagan may have felt “serially humiliated, victimized, rejected and alone” – as a gay man raised by a Jehovah’s Witness might – but whose fault is that, exactly? More to the point, how does his [alleged] suffering at the hands of society translate into a need for gun control? Mr. Nelson is glad I asked.
We must come to grips with the easy availability of guns and the political cowards who bow and scrape to the NRA. But we must also come to grips with the perverse notion of masculinity that drives our men and boys to take matters, and guns, into their own hands.
There are a lot of variables that “create” spree killers and gang bangers and suicides. Nature is one. Nurture is another. To suggest that we can disentangle the two, ignoring the role of biology in determining behavior, is preposterous and useless. It’s almost as deluded as arguing that the NRA is culpable for the amoral, illegal actions of a minority of American males. But not quite.
NOTE: There’s an excellent back-and-forth between Nelson and commentators underneath his article.