0908151254aSo I woke up this morning with another day of boys killing boys, boys killing girls, men killing men, men killing women, men killing boys and girls, and I cried. I cried because I felt the terror in a child’s, a father’s, a brother’s eyes. I cried because I felt the horror, the absolute impossible devastation as a mother’s heart sinks to unimagined depths. I cried when I thought of each conscious woman who has to contain or bury her fear that she might be next.

Whether it’s a block in Cleveland or a California street, whether it’s an Afghan village, a Nigerian home, or an Oregon college, hearts are breaking, lives are destroyed. Something is wrong. Something is wrong that we are the only species on the planet that so frequently murders its own. Why can’t the love we feel prevent this? Why can’t the moral codes of all the world’s religions prevent this? Why can’t all our preaching about peace and understanding prevent this?

The thing is, this isn’t exactly a human species problem. All humans aren’t out there killing their own. Over ninety percent of these daily killings are committed by men and boys. Over ninety percent of physical and sexual assaults are committed by men and boys. Not women. Not girls. Yes, they kill and maim, too, but not at these epidemic proportions. Overwhelmingly, violence is a man problem.

So, is there something in our DNA? Are human males destined to create this havoc, this ongoing tragedy? That’s not likely. Then, what’s the story? There are theories about bullying, or the existence of too many guns, family problems, isolation, poverty, and so on. Each of these may contribute in some way to the senseless slaughter, but none of them can account for the comprehensive violence that accompanies boys’ and men’s lives. The cause appears to be something much more fundamental.

Over the last four thousand years most cultures on the planet have developed what researcher and author Riane Eisler calls a dominator philosophy, rather than a partnership one. The original dominator cultures all followed a pattern that included the development of strict ruling hierarchies, rigid gender roles establishing women as inferior, wide differences in wealth, and spirituality that celebrated domination and the demeaning of the feminine divine. These cultures were convinced the world was a dangerous, fearful place. They tended toward violence, authoritarianism, with all freedom subject to those with the power to physically coerce or harm others.

Unfortunately, our own society is a direct descendent of these cultures. From the moment a boy is born he is being groomed through a thousand daily messages innocently passed on about what a boy, what a man is supposed to be. These messages create pressure for boys to perform in certain ways that identify them as deserving members of the male group. Boys that don’t fit are ostracized. We are taught to funnel our natural energy and occasional exuberance into focused aggression, e.g. war games, football, the armed forces, etc.

While this epidemic of men’s violence affects almost every society, our culture exemplifies the problem. We celebrate violence twenty-four hours a day through television, movies, video games, and much of our music. It is not an accident that over the last fifty years The United States has averaged the most murders per capita of any industrialized country. It is not a coincidence that our yearly defense budget is larger than at least the next twenty nations’ budgets combined. We are a nation that almost worships “justified” redemptive violence, celebrates warriors, and uses the language of violence to describe almost any competition. We are by far the most militarized democracy on the planet.

This mentality drives the man-as-warrior persona that permeates boys’ training, cautioning them, at almost all costs, not to act “like a girl.” This dominator ethic fuels our distorted attitudes toward women, ourselves, and the planet, causing everything from battering to global deforestation.
It is difficult to change all of this. It will continue to be a mighty struggle. As part of that we must face that our definition of Manhood must radically change. We need a manhood for the new millennium; one that makes us allies to women, children, other species, and the earth. If we fully face the hard reality of the sick, hurtful manhood we have been born into, then, together, we can create a new one.

River Smith
Dr. Smith is a psychologist, former co-chair of The National Organization for Men Against Sexism (NOMAS). He blogs at troublemakingpunk.org.