Monday, August 02, 2010

Boyhood and the Culture of Violence

The more I examine masculinity as it pertains to me, the more I analyze how biologically indebted I am to it. These long entrenched rules show themselves in ways that go far beyond the way I was socialized. The Patriarchal ethos includes a culture of violence that simply isn’t relegated to pitched battle, gang activity, or the five o’clock news. Those of us who would rid ourselves of a restrictive set of guidelines established by men for men need to see our own role within it. Violence has been embedded within humanity for a long time and I for one have been contemplating how early in my life it arrived. Returning to my childhood has not been easy, but I’ve found the experience worth the pain.

Even at a very young age, a desire and willingness to fight existed among boys. I observed a hierarchy of power that revolved around who was the strongest physically and also the best able to defend this status through his fists. The most powerful boy was usually he who had the greatest prowess in some sport, but every so often challenges to the established order were resolved with vicious fights. I was an above-average athlete on the playground, and that was satisfying enough, but I notably never sought to be number one. A sense of paranoia and fear characterized much of my childhood, one that was separate from an anxiety disorder then untreated, one I mentioned to absolutely no one, and barely to myself.

Though I never told anyone, I simply could not fight. Even to this day, I have no heart, nor any skill for the practice. I can’t stay angry and properly motivated long enough. I’ll fume inside for all of fifteen minutes at most, then be unable to muster up anything else. Lord knows I tried over the years, but I learned instead to bluff my way through potential conflagrations and conflicts. It is fortunate that I have the muscular build and the strength to discourage physical aggression. All the while, I hated myself because, according to what I had been taught, such conduct was indicative of cowardice. Masculinity needed to be proven and justified through violence.

According to male code, I was less than a man for lacking this crucial impulse. I was supposed to fight and to win. I think this might have been my first inkling that I was a different sort of man, but at that early state in my life, I could only filter my feelings through a very simplistic, but devastating filter. One was either manly, or unmanly. I had no words to explain how I felt, so I chalked it up to some sort of peculiarity no one could possibly understand. Men are supposed to be islands of a sort, only rarely relying on other men to accomplish expected tasks. This feeling of isolation only adds fire to the smoldering, violent impulse.

Feeling different from everyone else was something I had come to expect. Now, I’ve begun to reach back into my past, back to spaces and places that were long repressed. In those days, I was afraid of being unmasked as some phony and terrified that someone might discover the thoughts I was terrified leaked from me like a sieve. Now, experiences like these are measured against specific terms and definitions which have proved to be helpful, but my ultimate intention is to parse these memories towards a far greater goal. In so doing, perhaps I might determine how to debunk the cultural demands responsible for so much unhappiness and destruction.

If other men were willing to open up about their formative years, I’m sure similar stories and fears would be in significant quantity. None of this was pleasant. I can’t imagine anyone would willingly want to live in a world afraid of the latest predator or of being blindsided by a damning accusation of being somehow less than male. And even for those who are not men, or who were not socialized at men, I’m sure there’s violence of a different sort present, if one gives it some thought.


Cooper Zale said...

I feel I'm a lot like you as a male person who was not comfortable with all that sterotypical fighting and posturing male behavior. I also hated even playing poker with other guys my age... was uncomfortable winning or losing!

Unlike you though, I never felt the naturalness of men and violence, it has always seemed like learned behavior to me and a cutting off of ones connections with others that seems so unnatural to me.

Comrade Kevin said...

Thanks for your comment.

In some ways the violent component of masculinity felt natural but in some ways it did not. I wonder if I would question it all now, knowing what I know.