Friday, December 21, 2012

The Darkest Day of the Year

Today in England, the sun set at about 11:25 am. Okay, seriously: the sun set at 3:30 in the afternoon. (Though it sure felt like 11:25 in the morning.) But it rose at about nine o' clock, and for those six and a half hours, we looked up at a sky that drizzled us with mocking rain and then laughed through a thick layer of clouds.

For other reasons than the fact of absolute minimal sunlight, today--and this past week--has been very dark. I grew up in Connecticut, and hearing the news about Sandy Hook rattled me. Like many people, I found myself weeping.

In the flurry of articles that have come out in this past week, none is able to articulate exactly why this kind of tragedy is pepetuating itself over and over again. But one area that continues to go unexamined by most social theorists and also those in the media is the area of gender. Jackson Katz and Byron Hurt are doing their part to discuss why of the 62 mass killings on American soil, 61 of them have been commited by men. Katz powerfully reasons that if the opposite were true, and 61 of the 62 mass killings had been perpetrated by women, all we would hear and read would be about the gendered nature of the crimes.

As a society, the way we socialize men is dangerous and we see this over and over again. The 61 mass murders are the highest form of the tragedy, but every day we see lesser versions--no less horrendous to the victims, however--of gendered violence: we see men killing men in gang warfare; we see men fighting men for pride, revenge, or to prove their masculinity.

In essence, we see men learning repeatedly--from father, from film, from heroes and mentors--that the only way to be a man is to be tough, violent, and aggressive. Men are not revered for their compassion, gentleness, empathy, and their tears.

I think one reason why Harper Lee's Atticus Finch stands so tall after all these years is that Lee artciluated through fiction an idea of what genuine strength in masculinity could look like.

It could look like going against the bullying culture so many men are bred into and indoctrinated towards. It could look like self-reflection rather than blame. It could look like an end to attacks and harassment (whether through words or actions) and a commencement of authentic listening--asking what it's really like to walk in the shoes of other people, whether minorities, females, homosexuals, or transgendered people.

Until we come face to face with a fraction like 61/62, we are going to be missing an underlying cause of the violence we continue to see in every city of every state of our country. Masculinity does not have to be defined by aggression, violence, tough-talk, and lack of empathy.

After the sun had set today, Jennifer and I watched Tyler run back and forth through our kitchen and hallway as we blasted Enya's Winterland CD. He was laughing, running, laughing, running, giggling.

Tyler is four years old.

He is my son.

The question I am faced with as a father, and the question we are all faced with as members of an American society, is this: How we can we teach boys that to grow into men does not mean to lose one's ability to giggle, to weep, to show compassion, empathy, tenderness, and vulnerability?

It is time we make heroes not only of those who hold a gun--whether in films or in real life--but also of those who hold a hand. If we can learn, as men, to move forward hand in hand--vulnerable, honest, authentically strong--rather than as aggressive lone rangers, I think American society will see massive shifts. Our darkest days--no matter when the sun sets--may yet transmogrify into our brightest possibilities.