In the 1950s and 60s “refrigerator” mothers, those who were seen, accurately or not, as cold and unloving were to blame for the mental fragility or illness of their children. Until far too recently, it was only a mother’s age, genetics, and health that were taken into consideration when evaluating whether a child would be born whole or not. Mothers are blamed for not bonding properly with their children, for being either too lax or too strict. And in the case of the most recent mass murder, we know that Nancy Lanza was a mother who was more than a bit of a kook, an end-of-the-world nut who stockpiled guns and taught her emotionally unstable son to shoot. She paid for her philosophy with her death.
But blaming mothers and by extension all women for the epidemic of young disaffected white males who have been responsible for mass shootings is more than a little simplistic. Yet that opinion is getting play, big time, anyway.
In a recent New York Times editorial, writer Christy Wampole actually writes: From the civil rights and feminist movements of the 1960s and onward, young men – and young white men in particular – have increasingly been asked to yield what they’d believed was securely theirs. This underlying fact, compounded by the backdrop of violent entertainment and easy access to weapons, creates the conditions for thousands of young men to consider their future prospects and decide they would rather destroy than create.
As though power were a finite object rather than a thing like love. Love, we know, is infinite. We do not have a certain allotment of it to go around and when we have used it up it is gone: mothers know this every time they add a child to their family; we all know this every time we make a new friend or fall for a new lover.
White men are not being asked to yield their power, they have not been asked to give up what is theirs. They have been asked, rather, to share. To share success, empowerment, advancement, education, civil rights, with their fellow humans: women.
The notion that women’s liberation has emasculated men is balderdash. That women gaining the vote, the right to work, the right to speak out without fear of being institutionalized (as was the case as recently as the early 20th century) is the reason why young white men pick up automatic weapons and kill men, women and children is fantastic. And far too easy.
There is more than enough blame to go around and laying it all on the backs of women is obscene.
Walpole writes: For women, things are looking up. We can vote, we can make more choices about our bodies than in decades past, we’ve made significant progress regarding fair pay, and more women are involved in American politics than ever before. The same can be said for minorities. However, because resources are limited, gains for women and minorities necessarily equal losses for white males. Even if this feels intuitively fair to many, including those white males who are happy to share resources for the greater benefit of the nation as a whole, it must feel absolutely distressing for those who are uncomfortable with change and who have a difficult time adjusting to the inevitable reordering of society.
But are things “looking up?” Really?
Clearly white men, even if they are no longer the majority, still wield enormous power: that was apparent during the last election cycle when they tried to put in place laws governing women’s bodies that were offensive beyond belief but still informed the national discussion. When judges can still say that young women didn’t fight “hard” enough against a rapist, when women and their children are still shot and killed by their mates and we call this “domestic violence,” softening its blow from the heinous to the more easily digestible, that doesn’t sound very positive to me. And we may be able to work but we still don’t earn equal pay for equal work. We are still relegated to the “mommy” track; we are still bumping up against glass ceiling after glass ceiling. And that is only middle class women. Poor women have made far fewer gains than their more affluent sisters.
Feminism has never been and will never be about taking rights away from men, about gaining rights at their expense. Rights, like power, are not finite. If everyone has them, everyone gains.
Why have young men chosen lives of sloth and violence while women increasingly, despite hardship, setbacks, misogyny, have gone on to grow and change, get educated, become everything they wish to be is a valid question for discussion. What has our society contributed to the culture of violence is another good question as is this: where do our “freedoms” bump up against the good of the culture? We abolished slavery, gave women the right to vote, instituted child labor laws, enhanced worker safety—all at the price of individual freedom but our society as a whole has gained. The freedom to oppress is no freedom at all.
But the truth is also that there have been “angry young men” since the 1950s when a group of male writers railed against traditional British societal norms. If the anger now is literal rather than literary then we need to address it. But not by assigning blame.
Wampole writes: Can you imagine being in the shoes of the one who feels his power slipping away? Who can find nothing stable to believe in? Who feels himself becoming unnecessary? That powerlessness and fear ties a dark knot in his stomach. As this knot thickens, a centripetal hatred moves inward toward the self as a centrifugal hatred is cast outward at others: his parents, his girlfriend, his boss, his classmates, society, life.
Classic. Men feel unnecessary because we have made them feel so. How then to explain the huge numbers of men who don’t feel that way at all? Who are gentle, loving, kind and good? Who willingly and happily search for women who are intelligent equals?
We do no one—not victim nor perpetrator—any good by blaming what some men feel they have lost on what some women may have gained. If young white men are angry, and yes, they seem to be, we might remind them that power lies in one’s own empowerment, that disaffection is both choice and symptom.
Several centuries ago women who ministered to the pregnant, sick and dying were hanged or drowned as witches. For hundreds of years onward they were held down, dismissed, made to feel second class. Our very recent “rise” is cause for celebration not damnation. We are not collectively to blame for men who rampage. And those who say we are are contributing nothing to the discussion.