This was the disturbing response of Mike, a sophomore at Portland State University, in one of Michael Kimmel’s workshops on gender and sexuality. Other responses from guys around the country shared in his book “Guyland: The Perilous World Where Boys Become Men” included:
“I would lose my friends”
“Get beat up”
“I’d be ostracized”
“Lose my self-esteem”
“Take drugs or drink”
“Become withdrawn, sullen, a loner, depressed”
So what prompted these alarming and violent statements? The young men were asked how they would react to having their masculinity questioned by being called gay or faggot by their peers. I know it seems so arcane to suggest that a man’s level of homophobia would prompt him to casually refer to reproducing the deadliest shooting in an American high school, but, this only appears so because of the extreme nature of his comments. Violence between men is a rarely contested affair.
Sharon Marcus claims that according to the gendered grammar of violence–rules which assigns people power and status within a dominant script–men are predicated as legitimate subjects of violence and the rightful operators of its varying tools. In other words, violence between men is treated as subject VS. subject violence which “signifies a competitive pact between potential equals” . Thus, in the views of guys defending your masculinity in front of the gender police (aka other guy friends) by ‘pulling a Columbine’ is an extreme form of a spectrum of legitimate violence. It’s worthwhile noting that, within this context, Marcus is referring to intra-racial violence where race isn’t activated as meaningful in the script.
This notion of young men feeling empowered by a hegemonic patriarchal script that grants them patronage over violence sounds absolutely incomprehensible until you note that 16-20% of male respondents, in a survey conducted at UCLA, said they would “commit rape if they would not be caught”. The survey sought to understand “causes of rape proclivity” in male college students and their attraction to “sexual aggression”. In a startling display of the power of language, when the wording of the question changed from “rape” to “force a woman to have sex”, the range jumped to 36-44% of men that would do so as long they could not be caught.
That survey was conducted in 1981 and in 2015, “25 percent of young women and 7 percent of young men say they suffered unwanted sexual incidents in college”. Worst of all, the Center for Disease Control’s national survey on intimate partner and sexual violence revealed that 1 in 5 women are raped over a lifetime and 44.6% experience non-rape sexual violence. These frightening statistics show the prevalence of sexual assault and contextualize violence in a much less elusive frame.
Violence is the ramification of an unhindered culture of entitlement in Guyland intersecting with an indoctrinated penchant for physical force/aggression.
Violence is saying “I’d probably pull a Columbine”.
Violence is embodied by this timeline of mass shootings in the US since Columbine…
There’s a symbolic violence done to your thought process when you first notice the pattern in that timelines..that same pattern identified by anti-sexist and anti-racist activist Jackson Katz or Tim Wise.
What do the disproportionate majority of shooters have in common? What do the disproportionate majority of sexual assault perpetrators have in common?
They are predominantly men and representative of the dangers of the very gendered narratives of violence saturated in dominant American culture.
“We were born into a society that not only predicated men as legitimate subjects of violence but also granted us as status as the rightful operators of its varying tools. Only through humility, vulnerability and radical truth can we stay on the path of healing and adopting new, healthier, peaceful, and more loving traitorous identities.”