Opinions & Editorials

Tough guy culture could be damaging men

By Alex Reyes/The Guardsman

Did you see the stories on Jan. 25 about the three people who were shot to death inside a shopping mall in Columbia, Md.? One of the three was the shooter, who took his own life after killing a man and a woman in a skate shop.

I try to pay as little attention as possible to our national shooting spree. But I’m enough of a news junkie to turn on MSNBC on Saturday mornings. Once such news reaches the brain, it sticks.

We all know that we are all potential victims of such violence because we live in a land whose people have amassed vast amounts of weaponry.

And we all know something else, too. Such shooters are almost always men.

The shopping mall killings reminded me of a video I’d watched just a few days before in my Men’s Health class at Ocean campus.

Course instructor John Tighe kicked off the semester with a showing of “Tough Guise: Violence, Media & the Crisis in Masculinity,” a 1999 documentary about male violence produced by the Media Education Foundation.

“Tough Guise” features narrator Jackson Katz, a longtime educator and anti-male violence activist.  Katz is the co-founder of Northeastern University’s Mentors in Violence Protection program.

Katz and the program have worked with many sports teams and the United States Marine Corps. His website links to a very long list of selected publications. He is a very articulate critic of the tough guy ethos at the heart of American masculinity.

“Tough Guise” begins with a series of movie, news and television clips.

“Boys and young men learn early on that being a so-called ‘real man’ means you have to take on the tough guise,” film narrator Katz said, “to show the world only certain parts of yourself that the dominant culture has defined as manly.”

A series of young men provide attributes of a “real man”: Physical, strong, independent, intimidating, powerful, rugged, scares people. Tough, tough, tough.

And if you’re not a “real man”?

Boys and men know what you’re sure to be called, too, Katz said:  A wuss, a wimp, soft, a little momma’s boy and worse.

 “Where do boys learn this?” Katz asked.

“Obviously they learn it in many different places. They learn it from their families, their community, but one of the most important places they learn it is the powerful and pervasive media system which provides a steady stream of images that define manhood as connected with dominance, power and control.”

Men committed 90 percent of the homicides that occurred in our country during the years 1998-2008, according to a 2010 U.S. Department of Justice report.

Male-on-male shootings are most common, with men three times as likely to be murder victims.

Homicide is not the only violent crime committed by troubled men, of course.  Katz cites a study that showed men initiate 95 percent of road rage incidents.

Male sexual assaults have reached epidemic levels within the United States military.  Portrayals of violence against girls and women on network television increased 120 percent during a five-year period ending in 2009.

“In different ways, all of us have to struggle for real cultural and structural changes in the society if we want our sons and their sons to have a chance of being ‘better men’,” Katz said at the end of “Tough Guise.”

Although “Tough Guise” and Jackson’s Katz’s commentary on American masculinity and the need to change our perspective on what it means to be a “real man” is 15 years old, his analysis and appeal are still relevant.

Our society remains beset by male-driven violence.  Our brothers, sons, fathers and perhaps even grandfathers are still in need of much non-tough love.

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