- Be a Man, my Son
- Programmed for War?
- Suckered into Sacrifice?
- Result: Social Violence
- Result 2: Men after War
- Our ‘Courageous’ Leaders
- The Unemotional Soldier
- Emotional Shut-down
- Two-dimensional Men
- Difference = Fear = Aggression = Violence
- Why is the Military Male?
- Socialized into Aggression
- The Hero
- Stoicism – the Endurance of Pain
- Tough Enough
- The ‘Patriot’ who Must Win No Matter What
- The Disciplined Man
- About this blog; About me
- Raising our Sons for War
- Contact me
|Picture this. A man, armoured in tattoos, bursts into a living room not his own. He confronts an enemy. He barks orders. He throws that enemy into a chair. Then against a wall. He plants himself in the middle of the room, feet widespread, fists clenched, muscles straining, face contorted in a scream of rage. The tendons in his neck are taut with the intensity of his terrifying performance. He chases the enemy to the next room, stopping escape with a quick grab and thrust and body block that pins the enemy, bent back, against a counter. He shouts more orders: his enemy can go with him to the basement for a “private talk”, or be beaten to a pulp right here. Then he wraps his fingers around the neck of his enemy and begins to choke her.
No, that invader isn’t an American soldier leading a night raid on an Afghan village, nor is the enemy an anonymous Afghan householder. This combat warrior is just a guy in Ohio named Shane. He’s doing what so many men find exhilarating: disciplining his girlfriend with a heavy dose of the violence we render harmless by calling it “domestic”.
It’s easy to figure out from a few basic facts that Shane is a skilled predator. Why else does a 31-year-old man lavish attention on a pretty 19-year-old with two children (ages four and two, the latter an equally pretty and potentially targeted little female)? And what more vulnerable girlfriend could he find than this one, named Maggie: a neglected young woman, still a teenager, who for two years had been raising her kids on her own while her husband fought a war in Afghanistan? That war had broken the family apart, leaving Maggie with no financial support and more alone than ever.
But the way Shane assaulted Maggie, he might just as well have been a night-raiding soldier terrorising an Afghan civilian family in pursuit of some dangerous Taliban, real or imagined. For all we know, Maggie’s estranged husband/soldier might have acted in the same way in some Afghan living room and not only been paid but also honoured for it. The basic behaviour is quite alike: an overwhelming display of superior force. The tactics: shock and awe. The goal: to control the behaviour, the very life, of the designated target. The mind set: a sense of entitlement when it comes to determining the fate of a subhuman creature. The dark side: the fear and brutal rage of a scared loser who inflicts his miserable self on others.
As for that designated enemy, just as American exceptionalism asserts the superiority of the United States over all other countries and cultures on Earth, and even over the laws that govern international relations, misogyny – which seems to inform so much in the United States these days, from military boot camp to the Oscars to full frontal political assaults on a woman’s right to control her own body– assures even the most pathetic guys like Shane of their innate superiority over some “thing” usually addressed with multiple obscenities.
Since 9/11, the further militarisation of our already militarized culture has reached new levels. Official America, as embodied in our political system and national security state, now seems to be thoroughly masculine, paranoid, quarrelsome, secretive, greedy, aggressive, and violent. Readers familiar with “domestic violence” will recognise those traits as equally descriptive of the average American wife beater: scared but angry and aggressive, and feeling absolutely entitled to control something, whether it’s just a woman, or a small wretched country like Afghanistan.
Connecting the dots
It was John Stuart Mill, writing in the nineteenth century, who connected the dots between “domestic” and international violence. But he didn’t use our absurdly gender-neutral, pale gray term “domestic violence”. He called it “wife torture” or “atrocity”, and he recognised that torture and atrocity are much the same, no matter where they take place – whether today in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, Wardak Province, Afghanistan, or a bedroom or basement in Ohio. Arguing in 1869 against the subjection of women, Mill wrote that the Englishman’s habit of household tyranny and “wife torture” established the pattern and practice for his foreign policy. The tyrant at home becomes the tyrant at war. Home is the training ground for the big games played overseas.
Mill believed that, in early times, strong men had used force to enslave women and the majority of their fellow men. By the nineteenth century, however, the “law of the strongest” seemed to him to have been “abandoned” – in England at least – “as the regulating principle of the world’s affairs”. Slavery had been renounced. Only in the household did it continue to be practiced, though wives were no longer openly enslaved but merely “subjected” to their husbands. This subjection, Mill said, was the last vestige of the archaic “law of the strongest”, and must inevitably fade away as reasonable men recognised its barbarity and injustice. Of his own time, he wrote that “nobody professes” the law of the strongest, and “as regards most of the relations between human beings, nobody is permitted to practice it”.
Well, even a feminist may not be right about everything. Times often change for the worse, and rarely has the law of the strongest been more popular than it is in the United States today. Routinely now we hear congressmen declare that the US is the greatest nation in the world because it is the greatest military power in history, just as presidents now regularly insist that the US military is “the finest fighting force in the history of the world”. Never mind that it rarely wins a war. Few here question that primitive standard – the law of the strongest – as the measure of this America’s dwindling “civilisation”.
The war against women
Mill, however, was right about the larger point: that tyranny at home is the model for tyranny abroad. What he perhaps didn’t see was the perfect reciprocity of the relationship that perpetuates the law of the strongest both in the home and far away.
When tyranny and violence are practiced on a grand scale in foreign lands, the practice also intensifies at home. As American militarism went into overdrive after 9/11, it validated violence against women here, where Republicans held up reauthorisation of the Violence Against Women Act (first passed in 1994), and celebrities who publicly assaulted their girlfriends faced no consequences other than a deluge of sympathetic girl-fan tweets.
America’s invasions abroad also validated violence within the US military itself. An estimated 19,000 women soldiers were sexually assaulted in 2011; and an unknown number have been murdered by fellow soldiers who were, in many cases, their husbands or boyfriends. A great deal of violence against women in the military, from rape to murder, has been documented, only to be casually covered up by the chain of command.
Violence against civilian women here at home, on the other hand, may not be reported or tallied at all, so the full extent of it escapes notice. Men prefer to maintain the historical fiction that violence in the home is a private matter, properly and legally concealed behind a “curtain”. In this way is male impunity and tyranny maintained.
Women cling to a fiction of our own: that we are much more “equal” than we are. Instead of confronting male violence, we still prefer to lay the blame for it on individual women and girls who fall victim to it – as if they had volunteered. But then, how to explain the dissonant fact that at least one of every three female American soldiers is sexually assaulted by a male “superior”? Surely that’s not what American women had in mind when they signed up for the Marines or for Air Force flight training. In fact, lots of teenage girls volunteer for the military precisely to escape violence and sexual abuse in their childhood homes or streets.
Don’t get me wrong, military men are neither alone nor out of the ordinary in terrorising women. The broader American war against women has intensified on many fronts here at home, right along with our wars abroad. Those foreign wars have killed uncounted thousands of civilians, many of them women and children, which could make the private battles of domestic warriors like Shane here in the US seem puny by comparison. But it would be a mistake to underestimate the firepower of the Shanes of our American world. The statistics tell us that a legal handgun has been the most popular means of dispatching a wife, but when it comes to girlfriends, guys really get off on beating them to death.
Some 3,073 people were killed in the terrorist attacks on the United States on 9/11. Between that day and June 6, 2012, 6,488 US soldiers were killed in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan, bringing the death toll for America’s war on terror at home and abroad to 9,561. During the same period, 11,766 women were murdered in the United States by their husbands or boyfriends, both military and civilian. The greater number of women killed here at home is a measure of the scope and the furious intensity of the war against women, a war that threatens to continue long after the misconceived war on terror is history.
Getting the picture
Think about Shane, standing there in a nondescript living room in Ohio screaming his head off like a little child who wants what he wants when he wants it. Reportedly, he was trying to be a good guy and make a career as a singer in a Christian rock band. But like the combat soldier in a foreign war who is modelled after him, he uses violence to hold his life together and accomplish his mission.
We know about Shane only because there happened to be a photographer on the scene. Sara Naomi Lewkowicz had chosen to document the story of Shane and his girlfriend Maggie out of sympathy for his situation as an ex-con, recently released from prison yet not free of the stigma attached to a man who had done time. Then, one night, there he was in the living room throwing Maggie around, and Lewkowicz did what any good combat photographer would do as a witness to history: she kept shooting. That action alone was a kind of intervention and may have saved Maggie’s life.
In the midst of the violence, Lewkowicz also dared to snatch from Shane’s pocket her own cell phone, which he had borrowed earlier. It’s unclear whether she passed the phone to someone else or made the 911 call herself. The police arrested Shane, and a smart policewoman told Maggie: “You know, he’s not going to stop. They never stop. They usually stop when they kill you.”
Maggie did the right thing. She gave the police a statement. Shane is back in prison. And Lewkowicz’s remarkable photographs were posted online on February 27th at Time magazine’s website feature Lightbox under the heading “Photographer As Witness: A Portrait of Domestic Violence”.
The photos are remarkable because the photographer is very good and the subject of her attention is so rarely caught on camera. Unlike warfare covered in Iraq and Afghanistan by embedded combat photographers, wife torture takes place mostly behind closed doors, unannounced and unrecorded. The first photographs of wife torture to appear in the US were Donna Ferrato’s now iconic images of violence against women at home.
Like Lewkowicz, Ferrato came upon wife torture by chance; she was documenting a marriage in 1980 when the happy husband chose to beat up his wife. Yet so reluctant were photo editors to pull aside the curtain of domestic privacy that even after Ferrato became a Life photographer in 1984, pursuing the same subject, nobody, including Life, wanted to publish the shocking images she produced.
In 1986, six years after she witnessed that first assault, some of her photographs of violence against women in the home were published in the Philadelphia Inquirer, and brought her the 1987 Robert F Kennedy journalism award “for outstanding coverage of the problems of the disadvantaged”. In 1991, Aperture, the publisher of distinguished photography books, brought out Ferrato’s eye-opening body of work as Living with the Enemy (for which I wrote an introduction). Since then, the photos have been widely reproduced. Time used a Ferrato image on its cover in 1994, when the murder of Nicole Brown Simpson briefly drew attention to what the magazine called “the epidemic of domestic abuse” and Lightbox featured a small retrospective of her domestic violence work on June 27, 2012.
Ferrato herself started a foundation, offering her work to women’s groups across the country to exhibit at fundraisers for local shelters and services. Those photo exhibitions also helped raise consciousness across America and certainly contributed to smarter, less misogynistic police procedures of the kind that put Shane back in jail.
Ferrato’s photos were incontrovertible evidence of the violence in our homes, rarely acknowledged and never before so plainly seen. Yet until February 27, when with Ferrato’s help, Sara Naomi Lewkowicz’s photos were posted on Lightbox only two months after they were taken, Ferrato’s photos were all we had. We needed more. So there was every reason for Lewkowicz’s work to be greeted with acclaim by photographers and women everywhere.
Instead, in more than 1,700 comments posted at Lightbox, photographer Lewkowicz was mainly castigated for things like not dropping her camera and taking care to get Maggie’s distraught two-year-old daughter out of the room or singlehandedly stopping the assault (need it be said that stopping combat is not the job of combat photographers?).
Maggie, the victim of this felonious assault, was also mercilessly denounced: for going out with Shane in the first place, for failing to foresee his violence, for “cheating” on her already estranged husband fighting in Afghanistan, and inexplicably for being a “perpetrator”. Reviewing the commentary for the Columbia Journalism Review, Jina Moore concluded, “[T]here’s one thing all the critics seem to agree on: The only adult in the house not responsible for the violence is the man committing it.”
They only stop when they kill you
Viewers of these photographs – photos that accurately reflect the daily violence so many women face – seem to find it easy to ignore, or even praise, the raging man behind it all. So, too, do so many find it convenient to ignore the violence that America’s warriors abroad inflict under orders on a mass scale upon women and children in war zones.
The US invasion and occupation of Iraq had the effect of displacing millions from their homes within the country or driving them into exile in foreign lands. Rates of rape and atrocity were staggering, as I learned firsthand when in 2008-2009 I spent time in Syria, Jordan, and Lebanon talking with Iraqi refugees. In addition, those women who remain in Iraq now live under the rule of conservative Islamists, heavily influenced by Iran. Under the former secular regime, Iraqi women were considered the most advanced in the Arab world; today, they say they have been set back a century.
In Afghanistan, too, while Americans take credit for putting women back in the workplace and girls in school, untold thousands of women and children have been displaced internally, many to makeshift camps on the outskirts of Kabul where 17 children froze to death last January. The UN reported 2,754 civilian deaths and 4,805 civilian injuries as a result of the war in 2012, the majority of them women and children. In a country without a state capable of counting bodies, these are undoubtedly significant undercounts. A UN official said, “It is the tragic reality that most Afghan women and girls were killed or injured while engaging in their everyday activities.” Thousands of women in Afghan cities have been forced into survival sex, as were Iraqi women who fled as refugees to Beirut and particularly Damascus.
That’s what male violence is meant to do to women. The enemy. War itself is a kind of screaming tattooed man, standing in the middle of a room – or another country – asserting the law of the strongest. It’s like a reset button on history that almost invariably ensures women will find themselves subjected to men in ever more terrible ways. It’s one more thing that, to a certain kind of man, makes going to war, like good old-fashioned wife torture, so exciting and so much fun.
Ann Jones, historian, journalist, photographer, and TomDispatch regular, chronicled violence against women in the US in several books, including the feminist classic Women Who Kill (1980) and Next Time, She’ll Be Dead (2000), before going to Afghanistan in 2002 to work with women. She is the author of Kabul in Winter (2006) and War Is Not Over When It’s Over(2010).
A version of this article first appeared on TomDispatch.
|I have included here an article written by Rebecca Solnit because of its link to the subject matter of my blog. It demonstrates once again how destructive some of our messages to boys, then men, are.
My sincere gratitude to Rebecca Solnit.
Rebecca Solnit writes:
Violence doesn’t have a race, a class, a religion, or a nationality, but it does have a gender, writes Solnit. The lives of half of humanity are still dogged by, drained by and sometimes ended by pervasive type of violence.
|Here in the United States, where there is a reported rape every 6.2 minutes, and one in five women will be raped in her lifetime, the rape and gruesome murder of a young woman on a bus in New Delhi on December 16, 2012, was treated as an exceptional incident. The story of the alleged rape of an unconscious teenager by members of the Steubenville High School football team was still unfolding, and gang rapes aren’t that unusual here either. Take your pick: some of the 20 men who gang-raped an 11-year-old in Cleveland, Texas, were sentenced in November, while the instigator of the gang rape of a 16-year-old in Richmond, California, was sentenced in October, and four men who gang-raped a 15-year-old near New Orleans were sentenced in April, though the six men who gang-raped a 14-year-old in Chicago last fall are still at large.
Not that I actually went out looking for incidents: they’re everywhere in the news, though no one adds them up and indicates that there might actually be a pattern.
There is, however, a pattern of violence against women that’s broad and deep and horrific and incessantly overlooked. Occasionally, a case involving a celebrity or lurid details in a particular case get a lot of attention in the media, but such cases are treated as anomalies, while the abundance of incidental news items about violence against women in this country, in other countries, on every continent, including Antarctica, constitute a kind of background wallpaper for the news.
If you’d rather talk about bus rapes than gang rapes, there’s the rape of a developmentally disabled woman on a Los Angeles bus in November and the kidnapping of an autistic 16-year-old on the regional transit train system in Oakland, California – she was raped repeatedly by her abductor over two days this winter – and there was a gang rape of multiple women on a bus in Mexico City recently, too.
While I was writing this, I read that another female bus-rider was kidnapped in India and gang-raped all night by the bus driver and five of his friends who must have thought what happened in New Delhi was awesome.
We have an abundance of rape and violence against women in this country and on this earth, though it’s almost never treated as a civil rights or human rights issue, or a crisis, or even a pattern. Violence doesn’t have a race, a class, a religion, or a nationality, but it does have a gender.
Here I want to say one thing: though virtually all the perpetrators of such crimes are men it doesn’t mean all men are violent. Most are not. In addition, men obviously also suffer violence, largely at the hands of other men, and every violent death, every assault is terrible. But the subject here is the pandemic of violence by men against women, both intimate violence and stranger violence.
What we don’t talk about when we don’t talk about gender
There’s so much of it. We could talk about the assault and rape of a 73-year-old in Manhattan’s Central Park last September, or the recent rape of a four-year-old and an 83-year-old in Louisiana, or the New York City policeman who was arrested in October for what appeared to be serious plans to kidnap, rape, cook and eat a woman, any woman, because the hate wasn’t personal (though maybe it was for the San Diego man who actually killed and cooked his wife in November and the man from New Orleans who killed, dismembered and cooked his girlfriend in 2005).
Those are all exceptional crimes, but we could also talk about quotidian assaults, because though a rape is reported only every 6.2 minutes in this country, the estimated total is perhaps five times as high, which means that there may be very nearly a rape a minute in the US. It all adds up to tens of millions of rape victims.
We could talk about high school– and college-athlete rapes, or campus rapes, to which university authorities have been appallingly uninterested in responding in many cases, including that high school in Steubenville, Notre Dame University, Amherst College and many others.
We could talk about the escalating pandemic of rape, sexual assault and sexual harassment in the US military, where Secretary of Defence Leon Panetta estimated that there were 19,000 sexual assaults on fellow soldiers in 2010 alone and that the great majority of assailants got away with it, though four-star general Jeffrey Sinclair was indicted in September for “a slew of sex crimes against women”.
Never mind workplace violence, let’s go home. So many men murder their partners and former partners that we have well over 1,000 homicides of that kind a year – meaning that every three years the death toll tops 9/11’s casualties, though no one declares a war on this particular terror (another way to put it: the more than 11,766 corpses from domestic-violence homicides since 9/11 exceed the number of deaths of victims on that day and all American soldiers killed in the “war on terror”).
If we talked about crimes like these and why they are so common, we’d have to talk about what kinds of profound change this society, or this nation, or nearly every nation needs. If we talked about it, we’d be talking about masculinity, or male roles, or maybe patriarchy, and we don’t talk much about that.
Instead, we hear that American men commit murder-suicides – at the rate of about 12 a week – because the economy is bad, though they also do it when the economy is good; or that those men in India murdered the bus-rider because the poor resent the rich, while other rapes in India are explained by how the rich exploit the poor; and then there are those ever-popular explanations: mental problems and intoxicants – and for jocks, head injuries.
The latest spin is that lead exposure was responsible for a lot of our violence, except that both genders are exposed and one commits most of the violence. The pandemic of violence always gets explained as anything but gender, anything but what would seem to be the broadest explanatory pattern of all.
Someone wrote a piece about how white men seem to be the ones who commit mass murders in the US and the (mostly hostile) commentators only seemed to notice the white part. It’s rare that anyone says what this medical study does, even if in the driest way possible: “Being male has been identified as a risk factor for violent criminal behaviour in several studies, as have exposure to tobacco smoke before birth, having anti-social parents and belonging to a poor family.”
Still, the pattern is plain as day. We could talk about this as a global problem, looking at the epidemic of assault, harassment and rape of women in Cairo’s Tahrir Square that has taken away the freedom they celebrated during the Arab Spring – and led some men there to form defence teams to help counter it – or the persecution of women in public and private in India from “eve-teasing” to bride-burning, or “honour killings” in South Asia and the Middle East.
Or the way that South Africa has become a global rape capital, with an estimated 600,000 rapes last year, or how rape has been used as a tactic and “weapon” of war in Mali, Sudan and the Congo, as it was in the former Yugoslavia, or the pervasiveness of rape and harassment in Mexico and the femicide in Juarez, or the denial of basic rights for women in Saudi Arabia and the myriad sexual assaults on immigrant domestic workers there.
Or the way that the Dominique Strauss-Kahn case in the United States revealed what impunity he and others had in France, and it’s only for lack of space I’m leaving out Britain and Canada and Italy (with its ex-prime minister known for his orgies with the underaged), Argentina and Australia and so many other countries.
Who has the right to kill you?
Murder is the extreme version of that authoritarianism, where the murderer asserts he has the right to decide whether you live or die, the ultimate means of controlling someone. This may be true even if you are “obedient”, because the desire to control comes out of a rage that obedience can’t assuage. Whatever fears, whatever sense of vulnerability may underlie such behaviour, it also comes out of entitlement, the entitlement to inflict suffering and even death on other people. It breeds misery in the perpetrator and the victims.
As for that incident in my city, similar things happen all the time. Many versions of it happened to me when I was younger, sometimes involving death threats and often involving torrents of obscenities: a man approaches a woman with both desire and the furious expectation that the desire will likely be rebuffed. The fury and desire come in a package, all twisted together into something that always threatens to turn eros into thanatos, love into death, sometimes literally.
It’s a system of control. It’s why so many intimate-partner murders are of women who dared to break up with those partners. As a result, it imprisons a lot of women, and though you could say that the attacker on January 7, or a brutal would-be-rapist near my own neighbourhood on January 5, or another rapist here on January 12, or the San Franciscan who on January 6 set his girlfriend on fire for refusing to do his laundry, or the guy who was just sentenced to 370 years for some particularly violent rapes in San Francisco in late 2011, were marginal characters, rich, famous, and privileged guys do it, too.
This summer, an estranged husband violated his wife’s restraining order against him, shooting her – and six other women – at her spa job in suburban Milwaukee, but since there were only four corpses the crime was largely overlooked in the media in a year with so many more spectacular mass murders in this country (and we still haven’t really talked about the fact that, of 62 mass shootings in the US in three decades, only one was by a woman, because when you say lone gunman, everyone talks about loners and guns but not about men – and by the way, nearly two thirds of all women killed by guns are killed by their partner or ex-partner).
What’s love got to do with it? asked Tina Turner, whose ex-husband Ike once said, “Yeah I hit her, but I didn’t hit her more than the average guy beats his wife.” A woman is beaten every nine seconds in this country. Just to be clear: not nine minutes, but nine seconds. It’s the number-one cause of injury to American women; of the two million injured annually, more than half a million of those injuries require medical attention while about 145,000 require overnight hospitalisations, according to the Centre for Disease Control, and you don’t want to know about the dentistry needed afterwards. Spouses are also the leading cause of death for pregnant women in the US.
“Women worldwide ages 15 through 44 are more likely to die or be maimed because of male violence than because of cancer, malaria, war and traffic accidents combined,” writes Nicholas D Kristof, one of the few prominent figures to address the issue regularly.
The chasm between our worlds
Rape and other acts of violence, up to and including murder, as well as threats of violence, constitute the barrage some men lay down as they attempt to control some women, and fear of that violence limits most women in ways they’ve gotten so used to they hardly notice – and we hardly address.
There are exceptions: last summer, someone wrote to me to describe a college class in which the students were asked what they do to stay safe from rape. The young women described the intricate ways they stayed alert, limited their access to the world, took precautions and essentially thought about rape all the time (while the young men in the class, he added, gaped in astonishment). The chasm between their worlds had briefly and suddenly become visible.
It’s not just public, or private, or online either. It’s also embedded in our political system and our legal system, which before feminists fought for us didn’t recognise most domestic violence, or sexual harassment and stalking, or date rape, or acquaintance rape, or marital rape, and in cases of rape still often tries the victim rather than the rapist, as though only perfect maidens could be assaulted – or believed.
All the things that aren’t to blame
Of course, women are capable of all sorts of major unpleasantness and there are violent crimes by women, but the so-called war of the sexes is extraordinarily lopsided when it comes to actual violence.
Unlike the last (male) head of the International Monetary Fund, the current (female) head is not going to assault an employee at a luxury hotel; top-ranking female officers in the US military, unlike their male counterparts, are not accused of any sexual assaults; and young female athletes, unlike those male football players in Steubenville, aren’t likely to urinate on unconscious boys, let alone violate them and boast about it in YouTube videos and Twitter feeds.
No female bus riders in India have ganged up to sexually assault a man so badly he dies of his injuries, nor are marauding packs of women terrorising men in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, and there’s just no maternal equivalent to the 11 percent of rapes that are by fathers or stepfathers. Of the people in prison in the US, 93.5 percent are not women, and though quite a lot of them should not be there in the first place, maybe some of them should because of violence, until we think of a better way to deal with it, and them.
No major female pop star has blown the head off a young man she took home with her, as did Phil Spector (he is now part of that 93.5 percent for the shotgun slaying of Lana Clarkson, apparently for refusing his advances). No female action-movie star has been charged with domestic violence, because Angelina Jolie just isn’t doing what Mel Gibson and Steve McQueen did, and there aren’t any celebrated female movie directors who gave a 13-year-old drugs before sexually assaulting that child, while she kept saying “no”, as did Roman Polanski.
In memory of Jyoti Singh Pandey
What’s the matter with manhood? There’s something about how masculinity is imagined, about what’s praised and encouraged, about the way violence is passed on to boys that needs to be addressed. There are lovely and wonderful men out there, and one of the things that’s encouraging in this round of the war against women is how many men I’ve seen who get it, who think it’s their issue too, who stand up for us and with us in everyday life, online and in the marches from New Delhi to San Francisco this winter.
Increasingly men are becoming good allies – and there always have been some. Kindness and gentleness never had a gender, and neither did empathy. Domestic violence statistics are down significantly from earlier decades (even though they’re still shockingly high), and a lot of men are at work crafting new ideas and ideals about masculinity and power.
Gay men have been good allies of mine for almost four decades (apparently same-sex marriage horrifies conservatives because it’s marriage between equals with no inevitable roles). Women’s liberation has often been portrayed as a movement intent on encroaching upon or taking power and privilege away from men, as though in some dismal zero-sum game, only one gender at a time could be free and powerful. But we are free together or slaves together.
There are other things I’d rather write about, but this affects everything else. The lives of half of humanity are still dogged by, drained by and sometimes ended by this pervasive variety of violence. Think of how much more time and energy we would have to focus on other things that matter if we weren’t so busy surviving. Look at it this way: one of the best journalists I know is afraid to walk home at night in our neighbourhood. Should she stop working late? How many women have had to stop doing their work, or been stopped from doing it, for similar reasons?
We have far more than 87,000 rapes in this country every year, but each of them is invariably portrayed as an isolated incident. We have dots so close they’re splatters melting into a stain, but hardly anyone connects them, or names that stain. In India they did. They said that this is a civil rights issue, it’s a human rights issue, it’s everyone’s problem, it’s not isolated, and it’s never going to be acceptable again. It has to change. It’s your job to change it, and mine, and ours.
Understanding Common Military Health Risks
Military veterans and their families serve a valuable role in protecting freedom around the world. While military veterans play an essential role in the modern world, they often face living conditions and environments that expose them to a variety of health risks. The following guide explores different health risks that soldiers may experience when deployed.
United States soldiers are often required to serve in areas that have sub-standard infrastructure, living conditions, sanitation, social safety and more. For example, soldiers deployed to countries like Iraq or Afghanistan often has to live and work in environments that reach 130 degrees F or more.
In addition, many soldiers are exposed to a variety of environmental and industrial toxins while they are on duty. In some cases, exposure to these toxins is a result of standard military protocol. However, exposure to some toxins can be a result of poor living conditions.
For example, many soldiers serve in areas that don’t have the same building regulations as the United States. For example, countries like Afghanistan don’t have the equivalent of the United States Environmental Protection Agency or the Food and Drug Administration. Because of this, soldiers may be exposed to environments that contain lead, mercury, heavy metals, dangerous pesticides, asbestos and a variety of other toxins.
In many cases, soldiers live in a base that was provided by a military contractor. Since some contractors may not be based in the United States, they may not have to comply with health and safety standards that are mandated by the United States. This can expose soldiers to a variety of serious health problems.
For example, some military vehicles manufactured by foreign contractors contain trace levels of asbestos. Asbestos is a natural type of mineral found in a variety of geologic deposits all around the world. These minerals have several properties that make them very popular with military contractors.
Asbestos are very good electrical and sound insulators. Because of this, they are often used to dampen the vibrations from a vehicle engine, gun turret and many other types of military equipment. While they can be effective for these uses, they may expose soldiers to small-aerosolized particles of asbestos.
Asbestos can cause mechanical damage to the DNA in one’s body. If an individual breaths in particles of asbestos, he or she may be at an increased risk of mesothelioma cancer, a serious form of lung cancer. However, it can take decades for mesothelioma to develop in an individual’s body. Because of this, an individual will probably not see mesothelioma symptoms from asbestos exposure for a long time.
Lastly, after exposure to chronic threats of loss of life in battle, many military personnel develop a wide range of mental health problems. Severe depression and post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, are especially common. As a result, suicide rates are high in troops returning from war, and many continue to suffer from chronic psychiatric disorders and substance abuse issues. Immune suppression due to chronic stress also puts this population at risk for all types of health problems, including heart disease and various cancers.
Soldiers are exposed to a variety of risks in modern warfare. While many people know that soldiers are exposed to physical risk factors like IEDs and bullets, they may not know that soldiers are also exposed to many hidden risks. By learning more about the hidden risks that soldiers may experience, it’s possible to gain a deeper respect for members of the military.
Emily Walsh email@example.com
Competitiveness has both positive and negative qualities. Competitiveness is not negative in essence. It is an important natural part of human behaviour and is necessary for progress. But on the negative side, it can be warped into aggression and repugnant behaviour.
How does competitiveness play out in a war situation? If we define competitiveness as the impulse, the urge and attempt to beat the other guy, then we begin to see how useful it would be in war. The military wants its men to win, to show that they are better than the enemy. In this way competitiveness becomes linked to patriotism.
But the downside is that winning – defeating the enemy – has become more important than abiding by the legally-established rules of war. The military stretches the acceptable limits of aggression and torture in the quest for dominance. Brutality becomes acceptable in the fight for victory. A clear example of this is Bush’s acceptance that torture such as water-boarding was perfectly acceptable in North America’s so-called ‘war against terrorism’. This extreme form of brutal competitiveness dehumanises both aggressor and victim. It also increases resistance and rejection of the aggressive military and the country it serves – in this case, the USA.
Why does the military – or a country – choose to ‘win’ no matter how illegal, how brutal and inhumane the means? The explanations mirror the underlying reasons an individual wants to win – ‘no matter what’. These include a fear of being seen as weaker; the shame of being seen as afraid; the desperate need to show masculine traits of strength and dominance. (The USA’s urge to prove itself was magnified by its defeat in Vietnam)
From boyhood, males are coached to win at all costs, even if harmful or immoral behaviour is necessary to do so. Competitiveness is validated above other values. We make everything competitive nowadays. Most parents, teachers and organisations accept without thinking that competitiveness is totally positive. We aim to make competitiveness second nature in our sons. We don’t balance competitiveness with other values. The unethical misuse of power, or the resorting to violence, wipes out more important principles. The result is that our lives generally suffer from an absence of enjoyment, mutual support, fairness, co-operation, and ethical values – all principles that should have been encouraged in the home and at school.
No longer is sport fun, physical enjoyment and the stretching of our talents. It is now a fight to win. It is racked with jealousy and boasting. Even at an early age, sport means playing rough and competitively, ignoring the rules of the game. Losing has become linked to shame and disgrace. Competitiveness has overwhelmed other elements to the detriment of all. Sportsmen become idolised sport-stars, often by being brutally competitive and aggressive.
Competitiveness and winning have become inherent affirmations of masculinity. The negative consequence is that not being competitive enough has come to mean not being man enough. Losing threatens, and is seen as the opposite, of masculinity. But competitiveness defines the winners, as well as the losers. To win, another must lose, and all men lose at one time or another, whether it is a sports game, a promotion or through ageing and retirement. So, if we follow the logic, all men are ‘unmanly’ at some point in their lives.
Competitiveness permeates every aspect of life. In the work place, competitiveness is covert but often ranked higher than ethical behaviour, co-operation, individual enterprise, research, team functioning or job satisfaction. It also interferes with communication and friendship. Below the façade of concern, even friends look down on anyone in their group who is unemployed or failing at work. Built into competitiveness is a reluctance to both help others and seek help from others.
In a competitive situation, especially a work hierarchy, it is useful not to help a colleague, even if it is obvious that help is needed. Covertly aggressive competition interferes in productivity by preventing co-operation as well as individual enterprise. The system is manipulated to gain status. Even ingratiating behaviour is part of a destructive, political, cut-throat competitiveness.
Because we link competitiveness to masculine identity, many men feel threatened around competitive women or a female partner who is more successful, earns more or is independent and strong. Women can be as competitive as men, but luckily their female identity does not rely on it, probably because competitiveness has never been associated directly as a feminine trait. Their sense of being a ‘real’ woman is independent of whether they are a professor or junior lecturer, a hospital manager or a nurse. In reality, this negative form of competitiveness can be seen a symbol or symptom of the instability of masculinity.
But the military and those who benefit from war – both politicians and merchants – don’t care. The insecurities of men are useful to them, producing a constant stream of masculine bodies to fight their fights and ‘prove their superiority’ – all under the fallacy of patriotism.
Competitive men become competitive soldiers and those are the ones the military want – soldiers who will not consider other principles and values but will do their aggressive bidding or die in order to prove that they are ‘real’ men.
In my next post, I look at the way boys are disciplined to be unquestioning of war. *
The military values stoicism – the silent endurance of pain (both physical and emotional).
Soldiers are asked to be stoical and resilient in the face of all hardship. They must be mentally strong. They must be controlled enough to endure pain without complaint or question.
The military would argue that a man who expresses his pain, who rejects the casual unnecessary imposition of pain and hardship during training, undermines the discipline, coherence, co-operation and communality of all troops. They believe that the expression of pain could corrode and weaken the military’s ability to use soldiers in the harsh circumstances of war. Men have to undergo training and testing, pain and injury, trauma and fear to be acceptable as soldiers. This, of course, is linked to the rejection of any emotion seen as weak or non-masculine.* Soldiers must not be human.
So – to suit the historical, evolutionary needs of war* – society trains, in fact forces, boys and men to be stoical, to endure pain, discomfort and distress without complaint or protest.
But with so few men ever called to fight in war, why do continue to make such painful and limiting demands? Do we really want our sons to feel that they are never allowed to express the pain they feel – whether physical or emotional? Do we really want boys and men to hide the reality of their lives and to feel that they have to bear things alone, without the care and comfort of others?
Despite the fact that most men’s daily lives consist of work and family nowadays, and they are no longer called to fight in wars, we continue to cripple their capacity to communicate their true selves. Relationships with partners and children are hobbled by an ingrained reluctance or inability to express their pain. Despite the damage to their health, men resist or are reluctant to go for professional help. Finding help with medical, physical or sexual problems is taboo. Parents and society continue to expect men to be constantly stoical, strong-willed and mentally in control, no matter how unhealthy this is to their psychological health.
We train boys into this behaviour in a number of ways:
Boys often get badly hurt during highly competitive sport, but we refuse to allow them to show pain. They must regard pain or injury as a badge of honour and of manly stoicism. Rough, mega-macho, even dangerous sport, has become a space for dominant ‘real’ boy display, as war is for ‘real’ male display.
Many boys are still forced to undergo violent and primitive initiation rites to gain acceptance into school, college, university or gangs. These usually entail humiliating, damaging or violent tests. Boys hide their fear and their pain to gain acceptance. These rituals force them to accept hierarchical discipline. They make boys afraid of standing up for themselves in case of humiliation. They make boys self-defensive and aggressive. They undermine boys’ ability to make moral choices. Explained and excused as building loyalty and spirit, what they do is humiliate boys and lead to non-thinking obedience.
Stoicism, violence and pain are also introduced to boys by teachers and prefects who enjoy asserting power, usually physical power, over them. They use mockery, humiliation, peer rejection and induce a deep sense of shame. You would think boys would reject this brutality as they get older, but as boys move up the school hierarchy, peer pressure ensures they do the same to those below them. The tradition of violence is passed on.
Another common form of pain and violence that boys suffer stoically and silently is the violence of sexual abuse of young boys by older family members, family friends and teachers – predators who inflict pain and humiliation. Boys are reluctant to seek help because of the pressure on them to be ‘masculine’, and from fear of being thought of as weak or homosexual. This abuse undermines a boy’s identity, trust in others or can make him abusive in turn.
Some Western countries have largely done away with the rituals of pain that boys go through elsewhere to become so-called ‘real’ men. To replace these lost rituals, fathers who fear that their sons are too soft and weak, rely on the military to provide the painful experience to exorcise these gentle components of boys and ‘make’ them brave, stoical and disciplined. The military is seen as preventing the emasculation of the nation and its men.
So, why do we put our sons and men through this torture?
When we consider that nowadays few men are asked to go to war for their countries, this is a high price for men to pay. Society causes a crippling stunting of men’s humanity and their ability to enter fully into honest friendship and intimate and family relationships, purely for the sake of the military and war.
Next we look at our need for boys to act tough.* https://caygin.wordpress.com/2012/03/24/tough-enough/
One of the ways that society seduces men into becoming soldiers (for the benefit of the military) is by linking ‘real’ masculinity, patriotism and heroism together.
From early childhood, boys are indoctrinated into thinking that the highest proof of masculinity is heroism – a ‘real’ man should be a hero. Nowadays, few heroes are peaceful men. The modern version of heroism has been corrupted by violence. Nowadays, the depiction of heroism must include a violent enemy, a hired assassin and ‘heroic’ killing. The hero must kill. He is invincible while all around him die. Alternatively he dies in action and is validated and acknowledged to have died for his fellow men. The hero is the war veteran, the cop, the gang-leader. It seems that we need more, and greater, violence to be satisfied that heroes exist.
Fantasies of heroism romanticise violence and war. Boys grow up, with the unrealistic expectation that they too will be heroes. Comic books, history books, video games and movies tell boys that they should and can be heroes. In the romantic world of television or the movies, heroes still outnumber heroines five to one. In play, boys take on the role of hero – a role only sometimes available for girls. Men are strong, authoritative and in charge, women are victims, need protection or are in supportive service roles.
Why has society produced all these seductive images to entice boys into heroism? Because society needs soldiers. Seductively, violence and war provide the arenas for men to show that they are ‘real’ men. Men choose, at terrible cost, to act out this need – through wars that are frequently negative, destructive, and often pointless.
In reality, whether in war or in everyday society, very few men become heroes. Nevertheless, the link between true masculinity and heroism is indoctrinated into every man. In everyday life, a father will put on the mask of the hero for his children – for his own sense of masculinity – a fearless façade, an emotional and physical toughness and an all-knowing attitude. He will exaggerate his importance at work, his youthful risk-taking and his exploits with women. This is despite the fact that children don’t need a hero for a father – that it can be destructive. Instead of having a real father, with natural doubts and conflicts, the son tries to live up to his ‘hero’ dad, and feels humiliated and silenced by his own ‘failures’. Both father and son lose out on real communication and contact.
Political and military leaders also want to be heroes, of course. They have the same childlike desire to be the heroic man. But for them, as I discussed earlier, it is easy. They don’t need to risk their lives to attain the adoration of a gullible public.
True heroism is still found, but now it is also among the many men and women who reject war and violence and passionately put ethics and justice first. The state denigrates, disrespects, threatens, and even imprisons the peace activists and conscientious objectors who show true courage – real heroism. They risk being accused of cowardice, and unpatriotic “against us, not with us”, behaviour – a threat within a war-driven society.
Not many men can withstand these accusations. Not many men have such true courage. Not many men have the balls not to fight. Instead, men usually choose to obey societal pressure so as to avoid humiliation and gain ‘masculine’ points. They accept the con. The images and rituals of the ‘hero’ seem to leave men unable to make moral choices, cowed into obedience, afraid of ridicule and insecurely aggressive.
So how can this change?
Parents can encourage boys to fulfil their desire to be heroes but different heroes – ones that do not have to resort to violence. Boys can be encouraged to defend the rights of those who are different, those who are weaker and those who are bullied. Let them practice, as children, the values that would make society moral, safe and free. Hopefully then, there are times when each one of us, male and female, can demonstrate the characteristics of a hero.
Next is Stoicism – the Endurance of Pain. See: https://caygin.wordpress.com/chapters-3/stoicism-the-endurance-of-pain/