This is a guest post from Cara Hoffman. Hoffman is the author of the critically acclaimed novel So Much Pretty, about violence and retribution, a New Yorker Books Pick, So Much Pretty is now out in paperback from Simon and Schuster.
Women’s issues have dominated the news these past few months with reproductive health becoming the cornerstone of an argument many of us thought had been put to bed decades ago. We’ve seen Jane Fonda and Gloria Steinem calling for Rush Limbaugh to be booted off the airwaves for his sexist hate speech against Sandra Fluke and sat in front of our televisions while the Republican candidates debate the use of birth control as if it is solely a women’s issue. And throughout all of this we’ve been hearing one very obvious statement. Sexism is bad for women.
But there is a crucial factor in this conversation about gender and women’s rights that continues to be ignored; how boys and men are negatively impacted by aberrant anti-social masculinity, how it ties them to violence and helps enforce institutional exploitation of all people, not just women.
Boys and men are constantly inundated with portrayals of members of their gender as violent and irrational; as sick, crazed people who engineered attempted genocides. For women there is the everyday threat of violence, the objectification, the sheer numbers of us who are murdered. But we don’t have the burden of being associated constantly with criminality. There are no images in the media of women setting Vietnamese villages on fire with zippo lighters. One in fifty of us is not a rapist. Images of men as heroes dominate fiction and entertainment, but images of men as slightly better than animals dominate the news and historical documents. That can’t be easy. Especially given the biological risk factors associated with testosterone that predisposes a person to violence and to particular kinds of cognitive difficulties.
We know the burden of living in the same kind of body as people who are the victims of honor killings, genital mutilation, staggering rates of spousal and sexual abuse and denial of basic human rights is a heavy one. But we rarely think about the burden of living in the same kind of body as people who kill, rape, exploit, crash economies and start wars.
Boys do not have it easy growing up seeing the shameful brutality that is associated with their sex. We’ve seen toll it takes on our children, friends, partners, and husbands. It’s hard and embarrassing and infuriating. Young men are terribly exploited and indoctrinated when it comes to committing and accepting violence. Men suffer at the hands of hyper-masculine men just as women do. Men are raped by men just as women are. And worst of all is how the most violent impulses driven by testosterone are cultivated and instrumentalized for political purposes like wars and state repression, without regard to men’s lives.
We need to understand that we are in this together; to get over the idea that we are on some kind of sex-based teams and understand that we have a common enemy and that aberrant anti-social masculinity has a clear physiological basis. We need to be able to discuss the reality of violence against women from a broader social biological perspective instead of some manufactured war between the sexes which makes the average man feel he needs to take sides.
That’s not what I call freedom or privilege or an easy time. That sounds like a lot of weight and fear and confusion and shame to be carrying through the world.
This is not what we want for our sons, our brothers, our fathers, ourselves. It’s time to look at the full scope of the damage and see the incredible victimization of men by misogynists, only then will we be able to work together to fully address the social biological causes of hyper-masculinity and begin to work toward a solution.