Ziya touched on gun violence briefly, and in the weeks since Sandy Hook a whole lot has been said about it and the issue of gun control itself. I’m sure most people have heard enough speculation about Sandy Hook, so I’m going to stick to a matter that perhaps has not been touched on enough – one of the key reasons why the gun control fight has been so hard.
There seems to be, in the American psyche at least, an inherent bond between traditional masculinity and the desire to own/use at least one gun. And for many of these men, the more guns they own (and the more powerful they are), the more manly they feel. I have to imagine this is part of the appeal of hunting, and one of the reasons shooting ranges exist in the first place. And this is a lesson that men learn from an early age – from the moment they are exposed to the flashy duels of westerns or the massive fire fights of many action films and shows, as well as the ads for kid safe guns (like Nerf products).
Certainly, I recognize the other reasons for wanting to own a gun. The ability to defend one’s self and one’s family, especially from a distance, has to be a powerful incentive (particularly since we, as men, are taught that we need to protect our families). But I believe that the gun ownership drive is merely one example of the greater lesson society teaches to men.
That lesson is this: Men are socialized to be comfortable with, and even like, violence and aggression. This includes socialization toward the tools that get used in violent and aggressive acts: fists, bats, hammers, knives, guns, etc. Sure, bats are a critical tool for baseball; just like knives and hammers have their own, non-violent uses. But we don’t often glorify these uses for boys and men. Instead, we show just how much damage these items can do to someone who threatens us. And for the male who has been fed this version of masculinity, any attempt at controlling these urges very much feels like an attack. The perceived aggression begets more aggression, and the cycle promises to never stop.
I myself am no stranger to this sort of socialization. I own a few Nerf guns, and will admit to some curiosity towards learning to shoot a pistol. But unlike many American men, I’ve always seemed to favor the melee items – knives, swords, axes, and other medieval weapons. Even my choice of ranged weaponry (the one I’d love to learn the most), is the long bow. When I was younger, I used to design cool looking swords and axes, with all sorts of interesting blade and hilt shapes. I still have the pictures somewhere of those designs too; one of those designs I was even able to have made in wood to complete a Halloween costume.
As I’ve grown older, I’ve played a number of LARPs (Live Action Role Plays – one of which I helped write), sparred with friends and Ziya (using bokken, foam weapons, and even high-quality light sabers), and I’ve even built up a small knife and sword collection (some meant solely for costuming, and others that can actually be used). So I can understand the weapon collecting many men do. Aside from the actual metal blades, I have a small personal armory of foam and training pieces, too.
But I consider myself different from many men, even though I very much identify as one.
Why? Partially, it’s because I know the difference between fantasy and reality, and so as much as I might fantasize about life in the (albeit romanticized) medieval era, I know that attempting to live that way in the main of life is foolish. Partially, it’s because I was taught how to solve problems through discussion and compromise.
But mostly, it’s because I was never fully socialized into traditional masculine culture. I’ve been surrounded by strong feminine influences; my mother, sister, aunts, and grandmothers are all strong women. So the interdependent, in control, proud woman model that scares so many men today is the norm for me.
I was never taught by my parents that boys couldn’t cry, and I was never talked out of interests that society deems feminine. Nor was my sister ever forced to conform to traditional gender norms. So, I suppose one could say that I am not a man in the traditional American sense of the word.
That’s okay with me though. I wouldn’t want to conform to those norms anyway – from where I’m “standing” they seem like a rather restrictive cage. I rather enjoy the freedom to be who I am, not who society thinks I should be. I thoroughly believe that the more “masculine” aspects of my personality are tempered by the “feminine” ones – allowing me to be a more balanced individual; not another man whose hyper-concentrated masculinity is butting heads with a world that cannot support it anymore.
I sincerely believe that men everywhere would be better off living in a world where there is not just one way to be a man, and where both the “masculine” and “feminine” can happily live at peace in one person.