No to Toxic Masculinity

The recent mass shooting in Orlando, Florida that killed at least 50 people is another example of how domestic violence is a predictor of community violence.

The shooter, Omar Mateen, has a history of domestic violence and disrespecting women, according to reports.

Using Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) data and media reports, Everytown for Gun Safety developed an analysis of mass shootings that took place between January 2009 and July 2015. FBI defines “mass shooting” as any incident where at least four people were murdered with a gun.

It was revealed that for that seven-year period, there were 133 mass shootings or almost two per month. In at least 76 of the cases, the shooter killed a current or former spouse or intimate partner or other family member, and in at least 21 incidents the shooter had a prior domestic violence charge.

At 57 percent, there was a noteworthy connection between mass shooting incidents and domestic or family violence. It means that men who are eventually arrested for violent acts often began with attacks against their girlfriends and wives. They rehearse and perfect their violent crimes against their families first.

Not only that, about 70 percent of mass shootings occur in homes with women and children as victims. Media rarely cover these incidents because it is treated as “domestic disputes.”

The Orlando mass shooting is being labeled as violence induced by homophobia, racism, and religion. Not much is being said about gender issues, especially toxic masculinity.

Amanda Marcotte, a politics writer for Salon, in her article about how toxic masculinity drives gun violence, wrote: “Toxic masculinity is a specific model of manhood, geared towards dominance and control. It is a manhood that views women and LGBT people as inferior, sees sex as an act not of affection but domination, and which valorizes violence as the way to prove one’s self to the world.”

She added that toxic masculinity aspires to toughness but is, in fact, an ideology of living in fear — the fear of ever appearing soft, tender, weak, or somehow “less manly.”

Stanford University anthropologist Tanya Luhrmann said that violence is learned and it is gendered. She explained that women in distress turn their anger against themselves while men in distress turn to violence.

Our general cultural ideas tend to think of emotion as “more feminine.” So it is much more difficult for men to seek help or to recognize that they need help. Needing help is viewed as a sign of weakness. And when men experience confusing emotions such as anger or shame, they express themselves through violence. Because violence, in a patriarchal society, is used as a measure of a man’s strength and proof of his manhood.

Related to that, using harassment, coercion, and violence against women has long been considered “normal” way for men to behave in romantic relationships. Deeply ingrained gender norms teach men that they are entitled to women’s bodies.

Toxic masculinity encourages violence in many ways. By dictating that men must be strong, have no feelings, and dominate women, it leads to a lot of problematic attitudes and behavior. For one, suppressing emotions can lead to aggression. Second, it teaches that violence is the best way for men to prove their strength and power and discourages them from expressing their feelings in other, nonviolent ways.

Toxic masculinity also promotes rape culture as it teaches men that their identity depends on their ability to exert control and dominance over women. And one common way to assert their dominance is through sexual assault and harassment. That is why rape is not about sex, it is about power and control.

Toxic masculinity essentially teaches us that men are in charge, women are not; that men lead and women should just follow and do what men say; that men are superior and women are inferior; that men are strong and women are weak.

Guns are favorite symbols of masculinity in our patriarchal society and that is why most men are obsessed with them. Guns are almost treated as extensions of their penises. The longer and more powerful it is, the better.

So much of violence in the world — from wars to mass shootings to violent street crimes to violence committed in our homes and intimate relationships — are mostly perpetuated by men. These are rooted in conflicts that could have been resolved in nonviolent ways, if only our men were taught differently.

There is something very wrong about our society if a man would rather kill his family than lose control. That a man’s ultimate demonstration of his power and dominance over others is by killing them. That is how toxic the kind of masculinity our society is promoting and it has to stop.

We need to start thinking about manhood and masculinity differently. Violence is a logical outcome of relationships of dominance and inequality. So if we are to stop violence, we must begin to challenge the patriarchy and work to build a more just and equal society.

First appeared on Mindanao Times, June 16, 2016.