Manuscript Monday: “Patriarchy and our sons”
Hi readers! Sorry I haven’t posted much lately, but it’s sorta hard to type when you’re hiding under your thickest blanket, scared to death not only of the bizarro Minnesota weather (nine inches of snow last week, eight inches more expected tonight) but also of the United States Senate. And that thing that happened in Boston.
I can’t get over how young and vulnerable the boy in this photograph seems. He’s a baby! What the hell happened between the moment this picture was taken and the moment he decided to drop a bomb in a crowd full of people?
As this face flashed across my television and computer screens myriad times over the last five days I flashed back to the intense, white-knuckled terror I felt in 1999 when, within weeks of each other, the Columbine tapes were released and discovered the sex of my first child.
Since [my] angst-filled first pregnancy, I’ve become convinced that the greatest challenge of the 21st century women’s movement is to raise feminist boys who become feminist men. I chanted this mantra to myself in 1999 to build up my confidence, to be sure, but the reality is that no part of our culture will change until men make it happen.
If you’ve forgotten, we live under patriarchy. Men make the world go ‘round. Women like Indira Gandhi of India, Golda Meir of Israel, Margaret Thatcher of the UK, Michelle Bachelet of Argentina, and our own Secretary of State Hillary Clinton are exceptions, but not the rule. A 2007 report from the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) discovered that “women perform 66 percent of the world’s work, produce 50 percent of the [world’s] food, but earn 10 percent of the income and own 1 percent of the property.”
Successful civil rights movements acknowledge that power can’t be shifted without the consent of the powerful. Women got the vote by appealing to the consciences of their menfolk. How will we upend patriarchy? By raising a generation of boys who reject the rigidity of gendered society in favor of a balance of power that will ultimately benefit everybody.
Deeper minds than mine have probed the motives and psyches of Columbine killers Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold; I cannot claim to improve on their work here. But would these broken children have expressed their frustrations differently in a world less accepting of testosterone-fueled violence? Could some gender flexibility instead of ingrained machismo have allowed Klebold to ask for help with his suicidal ideation? Perhaps suicide was an inevitable outcome of his mental illness—chronic depression has as high a fatality rate as cancer—but where does a boy get the idea to kill others, too?
The prevailing wisdom is that Harris was an irredeemable psychopath. Where does such a lack of empathy for others begin? In the cradle, where boy babies are less likely than their sisters to be held when they cry?
Is it too radical to suggest that feminism could have prevented Columbine? I don’t think so. Feminism asks that we critically examine the interconnections between gender roles and social behavior, and there’s no better starting point for such a discussion than in our persistent, almost intractable, culture of violence.
So why the hell are you so angry, fellas? Why, with virtually all the power on the planet, do you still need to hurt others? Why do you, yourselves, hurt so badly?
Would you like to talk about it?