Saturday, August 3, 2013

Sometimes, I feel ashamed of my gender!

I was born into and raised within a home without violence.  My father was a man who never came close to perpetrating any violence on any of us - he was a man, no doubt, but one without the need to assert his physical dominance.  He worked for a full career to support his family at a time when it was possible to do so without having both partners working to make ends meet.  He was a man of an earlier time, and some of his views about women were becoming seriously outdated even as I was still living at home.  But he loved my mother, my sister, and me, and my parents stood together for the rest of their lives.  Not without conflict, but never with violence.  Never!!  It truly was inconceivable in our household, never even surfacing as an item to be considered.  With the standard naivete of a child, I just assumed that everyone lived in such a household.  I had no notion of how blessed I truly was!!

Imagine my surprise when I found that not everyone, even in my lily-white circle of Chicago-style Republican suburbia, had such good fortune as I.  Behind the seemingly peaceful facades of those suburban homes were some genuinely awful things.  Pedophiles, mental and physical abuse, adultery, drug and alcohol abuse (to say nothing of bigotry), and so on.  Some of those men were leading double lives - serial rapists, polygamists, etc. - even as they masqueraded as upstanding members of the community.  And somehow, we never heard much about such things.  Revelations of this sort were rare - perhaps those alleging such incidents were ignored or considered somehow to have deserved what happened to them.   Perhaps the victims were too ashamed over being victimized to say anything.  Perhaps no one wanted to admit the reality that existed.

I had a lot of difficulty assimilating the activities behind the facades around me and, to this day, I simply cannot begin to imagine what lurks inside such men that compels them to do terrible, hurtful things to other humans.  Unless I'm being deceived, which is always a possibility, it's difficult to imagine most of the men I know to be capable of this evil.  What drives Anthony Weiner to his pathetic sexual pecadillos, despite it clearly being against his own self-interest?  What drove John F. Kennedy and Bill Clinton to have sordid affairs even as they sat in the White House?  What drives San Diego's mayor Bob Filner to harass the women around him?  What mental state drives pedophilia and child/spousal abuse?  Over and over, we hear about the despicable deeds of athletes and even coaches, involving physical abuse of all sorts.  It seems rape and abuse (mostly, but not completely, perpetrated by men on women) are constantly in the news today.  Likely this has been going on all along, but now we're hearing more about it, evidently.

Life has, among other things, shattered to pieces any illusions I might once have had about such things.  And when I read about the terrible things that men do, I can only shake my head and feel shame for my gender.  Is our brutal evolutionary heritage so compelling that we simply can't control it?  Are we so vulnerable to our sexual urges that we're completely unable to resist them?  Is our proclivity to violence so utterly compelling, it always is waiting to enter at the drop of a hat?  I just don't believe that.  I think our society pays lip service to detesting that side of men, but in many ways looks the other way.  Boys will be boys, right?

A wonderful friend of mine was fond of saying "As the twig is bent, so grows the tree!"  If we have this continuing problem, then surely we must accept at least some part of the responsibility for what sort of men our boys grow up to be.  Yes, of course everyone is responsible for their personal choices (and the consequences), but those decisions may well be influenced by the tacit approval given to boys (and men) for their evil deeds.   I don't know if it's as easy as telling boys "Don't rape!" but the idea that we do not and will not approve of any violence against women and children (and even other men) would be a great thing for our society to seek to make into a living reality.  Instead of keeping these things hushed up, we should make certain they don't go on hiding behind the facade, unpunished.  I have another friend who grew up in an abusive family and he clearly chose to repudiate that sort of behavior, rather than perpetuating it.  I so much admire him for rejecting his own awful past and not allowing it to overcome his innately gentle and loving character.

There's no way to legislate morality, unfortunately.  We each must confront the choices that life presents us with, and make moral decisions.  This is done only one person at a time.  I can offer no real solutions to this problem, but if our society in any way is tolerating (and thereby implicitly encouraging) men to such acts, then we need to fix that!  One does not demonstrate manhood by acts of abuse and violence!

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