Research and daily evidence show that nowadays very few men in a developed country are ever required to fight in war. War has changed both in its demands on society, its format and its technology. https://caygin.wordpress.com/2011/04/27/are-we-programmed-for-war/ Despite this, we unthinkingly continue to rear boys to have soldierly characteristics.
There are many down-sides to the linking of masculinity to war. https://caygin.wordpress.com/2011/05/11/suckered-into-sacrifice/ In this post, I want to look at some of the most damaging – to society, to men themselves, and the effect of this link on the decisions of politicians.
What is the cost for society as a whole? What is the cost for the individual? And is it too high a price to pay?
First up, let’s look at one side-effect of linking masculinity to war – social violence. By training boys to be pawns for war, have we made our world a dangerous and painful place?
War requires aggressive violence. War requires risk-taking. War is masculine. The military benefits from soldiers who have the capability to be violent, aggressive and risk-taking. These are regarded as masculine characteristics – proof of manhood. Nobody assumes we are talking about women when we speak of violence, aggression and risk-taking. As writer Rosalind Miles* says in ‘The Rites of Man’, “What makes a man violent? That which makes him a man.” The problem is that the violent capabilities of men cannot just be turned on and off like a tap. In times of peace the same violence, aggression and risk-taking flourish among boys and men, and are used against the very society that produced the link between masculinity and war. It is beyond question men who make our societies violent.
But most men are not violent, you may say. True. But that does not take away from the fact that society suffers from an unacceptable amount of male violence – one of the down-sides of how we raise boys. Many men can choose not to be violent, by proving their masculinity to themselves and others in different ways. Refusing a violent solution is easiest for men when they feel secure in their skills, power and authority. But the choice not to be violent is more difficult for a young male living with poverty and hardship, with very few opportunities and a feeling of hopelessness and disempowerment. Or for a man who has a low self-esteem hidden behind an aggressive shell.
Many young men kill themselves in a violent way trying to prove their masculinity – by driving recklessly, by drinking and drugging to excess or risking their lives in dangerous competitiveness. Competitive showing off through alcohol and drug use increases violent behaviour. Being male, in itself, brings physical risk. Being male and young raises that risk. Most violent assaults and murders are committed by men against each other – one man’s need to prove his masculinity over another. Suicide is frequently the option chosen by young men who feel inadequate in their masculinity. The link of manhood and violence also leads to the tragedies of school or family killings.
For every one women assaulted there are approximately three men assaulted. Men make up 63% (Germany) to 77% (USA) of murder victims. Brent Staples*, journalist and educator, puts it this way, “killing is only machismo taken to extreme.” Men beat each other up, seriously injure each other, kill each other or rape each other in places of relaxation, in the streets, in the army and in the prisons. Men hunt each other in packs, preying on those who are different or weaker than them. They continue the cruelty of the initiation rituals and the games where fear and pain and even death are part of the introduction into masculinity. The need to prove their masculinity by being part of a gang or through risky criminal behaviour puts them into prison where other men violate them further.
Women and child victims are the ones caught in the fall-out of male violence. Being connected to a man is almost as risky as being a man. Women are more likely to be murdered by the men in their lives than by strangers (FBI, Statistics 2008). Statistics Canada reports that more than 25% of all women have experienced violence at the hands of their current or past marital partner. In more violent countries the percentage rises to over 50% of women in relationships who suffer abuse from their male partners. 90-95% of domestic violence victims are women (Bureau of Justice Statistics; USA2008). Child sexual-abuse is common. Rape and gang-rape are on the increase.
Men, especially young men, react with aggression and violence when they feel insecure about their masculinity, when they feel rejected, weakened, challenged, or criticised. Men, especially young men, choose activities like drinking, drugging, risky behaviour, stealing, or killing to show the world they are ‘real’ men.
Society has created these men because of a primitive and unquestioned fear that men will be needed for a future traditional war. Men are brainwashed into accepting that it is cowardly and non-masculine to refuse the violence and killing of war. Link post 4 So how can we expect men to put aside their psychological training to be willing to kill in peacetime? Society has created these men to be killers. It has let them loose on a society where their violence and aggression is incredibly damaging, totally inappropriate and unwanted. The price that society pays for linking masculinity to war and violence is way, way too high.
In my next post, I want to look at some of the effects of this link on men themselves. And is our psychological preparation of boys succeeding in protecting men during war?