Sunday, May 25, 2014

Elliot Rodger, masculinity, and me.

Miri wrote about this shooting in her post: Masculinity, Violence, and Bandaid Solutions.

"The type of masculinity that young boys are taught is not compatible with mental health and with ethical behavior. Full stop. We’re fortunate that so relatively few will take it to the lengths that Rodger did, but I don’t know a single man who doesn’t suffer as a direct consequence of it."

This is so personal to me, and I don't even know where to start expanding on it.  We teach boys not only to sexually objectify women, but that their self worth rests directly on being sufficiently masculine: including being able to be with a woman.  Ideally more than one, but at least that.  Not just any woman, but a hot woman that will meet the approval of other men.  (I will never forget my father trying to tell me gently that my first real girlfriend was not pretty enough, and how my pride turned immediately to shame.  My peers were more blunt.)

We teach them that violence is strength, and crying is weakness.  We teach them to transmute pain into rage to stop the tears. 

Then, if they struggle with dating, it feels like an annihilation of self.  Self-hatred follows, the pain is transmuted to fury without any conscious thought or realization, the hatred gets projected outwards in some fashion or another.  And well, if my masculinity cannot be realized and affirmed through women, I can at least be an appropriately violent Man To Be Reckoned With™.

I have lived this.  My father was a dangerous and destructive narcissist (undiagnosed, but I'm pretty sure), a sexist, a misogynist, a racist, and all around manipulative hyper-masculine entitled douchebag who could charm or terrify as he chose with great effectiveness.  I grew up perceiving him as nearly ideal, because I was a boy, and he was my father.  I am fucked up.  I have always been fucked up.  I have also always felt a strong drive to be a good person; where I saw errors in my father's ways, I strived to do better.  This manifested initially as Nice Guy syndrome, and has evolved over time as I have. I'll be 40 this year, and I'm still untangling these things, still trying to learn what being good is, and be loved, and fill these holes in my soul.  To just be ok.  I am in counseling now, which I took far too long to do (because counseling is not masculine, amirite?).  I figured out quite a bit on my own over the years, but I have caused myself and others a lot of unnecessary suffering along the way.

And while everyone else is appropriately recoiling in horror at Rodger's actions and viewpoints, I cannot read this story without seeing a boy who is all torn up inside.  I cannot read this story without feeling empathy for the killer first because his pain is so close to me.  He was an awful person, but he was not born an awful person.  I would guess that our culture, and some other more specific someones taught him a toxic masculine identity that would ultimately lead to emotional instability and violence.  In my personal manifestation of this, I was more angry at the world in general than at women specifically, but whatever.  It's scary for me to write this: but for the grace of God go I.  And by "God" I mean: Jamie, who was my friend when I felt alone in darkness; Leah, who came into my life and loved me when I could not love myself and did not believe that anyone else could, either; and the pagan community, which introduced me to alternative ways to think about masculinity.  There have been many other guideposts and salves along my journey, but those three kept me from becoming a news story. Maybe I would have kept control of myself anyway, I really don't know, but I was a dangerously unstable young man.  I'm sorry if you're reading this and are now disappointed in me, but it's just the truth, a dark place in my arc that I did not and would not choose.

If I could have one thing for myself, it would be to have been raised by a better dad.  If I could have a second, it would be to have grown up in a better society.  When we ask what to do about these kinds of tragedies, I think we have to look at what we're doing to our boys.

Deep breaths.  Ok, I'm really going to publish this.

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