Posts Tagged ‘celebrate manhood’

It seems to me that, as this excellent article from CNN suggests – http://www.cnn.com/2013/01/31/politics/gun-language/index.html?hpt=hp_c1  – the heart of the gun control/gun rights argument might lie in the issues of whether or not we have control over our own lives.  As the article correctly points out, our individual rights are something that we cherish as Americans.

However, I have to wonder – again, in keeping with the article’s focus on the power of words – if the issue of control is interpreted very differently for some of us than it is for others.  I’m specifically thinking that, as a woman, control over my own life involves a whole different set of decisions than it may involve for men.  Many, many years ago – decades ago – I was in a highly restrictive marriage, where I was literally told, in these specific words, “What’s yours is mine and what’s mine is mine,” and “I don’t like you seeing those people; you need to stop.”  One evening when a girlfriend and I got adventurous and cut my long hair to chin length, the reaction was complete disapproval because, after all, he said, “I’m the one who has to look at you.”

So control over my own life, to me, has meant the ability to make personal choices about my life.  It’s meant being able to support myself (and for several years in there, my children) and control my own finances; it’s meant choosing when and where I go out, and with whom I will associate; it’s meant following my own career path because it’s fun and I enjoy it; it’s meant being able to go to a movie or the symphony or some other spare-time activity without risking stern disapproval.

Then there are the larger issues for all women: do I take the chance of having a great time with friends in a bistro or a bar until 2 a.m. when it closes, and walking even a block down a darkened street at that time of night?  Do I take the risk of meeting a stranger online and agreeing to a date?  I am certainly more afraid of the violence some men show toward women than I am of guns.

The CNN article says, “…Americans don’t like the idea of the government ‘controlling’ many of their decisions.”  In my life, as woman, the government hasn’t been the main problem.

However, it is for men.  I believe (you may disagree, of course) that men’s need to control comes partly through biology – they are, after all, hard-wired for some of this – as well as the roles we have assigned them in most societies of being providers and protectors.  I also believe that many men feel out of control a great deal of the time by the forces governing their lives, and that they might trace many of those forces back to the government (correctly or not).  Losing a job during this long recession, for example, has made many a man feel helpless and inadequate when it comes to providing for his family.  Many young men in the urban areas of our country feel helpless when it comes to needing a sense of home, a sense of belonging, a sense of community – and they therefore turn to gangs and to guns as a way of being in control.

There is also another anthropological point of view I hold about this, which we almost never talk about: while it’s completely obvious when a girl becomes a woman – her biology tells her so – it’s not so obvious when a boy becomes a man.  In many, many other societies, there are traditions of initiating young boys into manhood.  They are often very harsh traditions involving the ability to endure pain as well as the development of skills for hunting and the like.  But once initiated, a boy is celebrated as a man.

We have nothing in this country that celebrates our boys becoming men; we don’t even celebrate what it is to be a man, unless it’s on the violence of the football field (I watch the game, too, but you have to admit it’s violent) or through the violence of war.  That’s how we seem to define and celebrate manhood in this country.

Young boys and young men need strong physical activity; they are hard-wired for that, too.  I raised one son and I have four grandsons.  We know this; we know it’s why young boys are “fidget midgets” in elementary school and can barely sit still.  We know they need to test themselves; we know they need to be supported and celebrated and to have a strong definition of what it is to be a man – a definition that means something besides violence.

Why don’t we do this?  Why do we then wonder why so many young men feel so out of control?  Why aren’t we celebrating men’s special mental, emotional and physical strengths, their special goodness, and their special kindness?  Why are we constantly viewing television commercials that portray men as the biggest dumbbells who ever walked the planet?

We have a lot of growing up to do as a society, and it seems to me that one of the key places to start is in creating a path to manhood for our boys, celebrating and welcoming them when they get there.  Perhaps one of the consequences will be far less need for the false sense of control that guns provide; perhaps the right to own a gun will become much more proportionate to the right we all have to live in a society that has not become an armed camp.

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