The Dangerous Fragility of Men
“I have also been a victim of violence and of burglaries before… I felt a sense of terror rushing over me … I was too scared to switch a light on.” Oscar Pistorius relating his state of mind before shooting his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp four times through a bathroom door.
She “knew exactly how to press his buttons and make him angry.” Jovan Belcher complaining to his mistress about his girlfriend, Kassandra Perkins, before shooting Perkins nine times in front of their baby daughter.
“Like the spider and the fly. Wasn’t she saying, ‘Come into my parlor, said the spider to the fly?” Defense attorney Steve Taylor describing the 11-year old girl gang-raped by more than a dozen men in Cleveland, Texas.
“And it’s – all he sees are heavily tinted windows, which are up and the back windows which are down, and the car has at least four black men in it…” Defense attorney Robin Lemonidis explaining why her client, Michael Dunn, shot into a vehicle of unarmed teenagers eight times, killing 17-year-old Jordan Davis.
“Hurricanes. Tornadoes. Riots. Terrorists. Gangs. Lone criminals… These are perils we are sure to face — not just maybe. It’s not paranoia to buy a gun. It’s survival.” Wayne LaPierre, Executive Vice President of the National Rifle Association, objecting to the Obama Administration’s consideration of gun regulation.
“It’s a fear of the unknown… I’ve never seen a woman get killed or wounded. In my mind they may resemble my wife and I don’t know how I would react. It’s one thing to see a man injured or killed but a woman, now that’s a different story,” Staff Sergeant Alex Reyes, voicing his objection to lifting the formal ban on women in combat.
According to traditional gender stereotypes, men are supposedly stronger, braver, and less emotional than women. However unfair or inaccurate, this belief, along with the association of vulnerability, anxiety, and fear with women, has persisted throughout most of Western history. Once one scratches the surface of this myth, however, it becomes apparent that stereotypical “masculinity” (and “hyper-masculinity” even more so) is in fact defined by fragility. This fragility, moreover, is of a truly perplexing nature: it actually increases, rather than decreases, with power and privilege. Why did a world-renowned athlete who lives in a “fortified mansion surrounded by barbed wire” not even stop to turn on a light before shooting his girlfriend four times (if one takes seriously Pistorius’ claim that the shooting was an accident)? Because he was so intensely afraid of being victimized by burglars. Why did a popular NFL linebacker shoot the mother of their infant daughter nine times at close range? Because she did things that made him angry and scared, like staying out late at a concert. Why did more than a dozen men take turns raping an 11-year-old girl, one of them recording the rapes on his cellphone? Because they were so overwhelmed by her seductive clothes and makeup that they couldn’t control themselves. Why did a middle-aged white man with a gun in his glove compartment shoot eight times into a vehicle with four teenagers in it? Because he was so scared of the teenagers’ loud music and attitude that he imagined they must be pointing a gun at him. Why do American citizens – even those who live in gated, high-security enclaves complete with security guards, alarm systems, and identification checkpoints – need an infinite number of virtually unregulated, high-capacity weapons? Because hurricanes and terrorists threaten their very survival. Why should qualified women be denied the opportunity to be recognized and promoted for combat activity? Because some male soldiers – supposedly well-trained, experienced male soldiers – might become paralyzed by the sight of a woman in distress.
This is not the “New Age sensitive male” mocked by comedians and pundits. These men don’t ask questions or cry when they feel vulnerable: they kill, rape, and discriminate. And society largely allows, even encourages, them to do so. Instead of demanding that these men take responsibility for their own weaknesses, our society accommodates and excuses them. This is the flip side of blaming the victim: excusing (or justifying) the perpetrator. The time and energy spent criticizing a girlfriend’s supposed greediness, or an 11 year-old girl’s supposedly provocative clothing, or teenagers’ supposedly loud music could be spent challenging and marginalizing the inability of certain men to control themselves.
To acknowledge and reflect on one’s vulnerability is a good thing; to hold the world in thrall to it is not. Feeling vulnerable is often different from actually being vulnerable, and even actual vulnerabilities should not be used as a license for malicious or reckless behavior. With the supposed vulnerability of famous athletes, soldiers, and gun owners everywhere on display, perhaps we can also appreciate the vulnerability of those far more at risk.