Thursday, October 05, 2006

The ugliest men in America

In the last week, there has been two separate instances in which terrible men have attacked school classrooms with the intent of sexually assaulting and murdering young girls. On September 27th, a petty criminal named Duane Morrison entered an honors English classroom at Platte Canyon High School in Bailey, Colorado and took six female students hostage. After molesting all of them, he released four and began negotiating with the police. When this failed, a SWAT team stormed the classroom, resulting in Morrison fatally shooting 16 year old Emily Keyes before committing suicide. Five days later, on October 2nd, confessed child molester Charles Roberts IV stormed into a one-room Amish schoolhouse in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, ordered all the male students and several adults out, and then proceeded to tie up the ten remaining girls, aged seven to thirteen. He had brought with him a board to truss up his hostages and two tubes of lubricant. He did not, however, sexually assault the children. Instead, he shot them each in the head before killing himself. Five girls died, and five are still hospitalized.

These kinds of crimes are rare, of course, even if the rapid succession in which these events happens suggests a sort of epidemic. Most people will never have to face people like these. However, I believe that the attitudes and pathologies that underlie such incredible viciousness are widely dispersed throughout our culture. These assaults are, in many ways, the acute manifestation of two chronic, interlinked social problems: misogyny and male inadequacy.

First, allow me to explain what I mean by misogyny. I’m not talking about sexism, which is the belief that the essential characteristics of one particular sex render it superior or inferior to the other in some regard, but instead about a related, but altogether more malevolent phenomenon. A misogynist doesn’t just believe that women are inferior to men, he believes that they are dangerous, hateful, sinister, wicked, inhuman and frightening. Women, to the misogynist, are necessary and desired objects that have to be controlled, whether by manipulation, by threat, or by outright violence. People disagree on what provokes this awful mindset in certain men, but I tend to believe that it’s the result of upbringing and psychology, not something that’s dispersed by the media. In other words, I think men learn to be woman-haters by watching their fathers and uncles and friends hate women, I don’t think they learn it from the movies or from rap lyrics. The latter can play a supportive role in the misogynist’s development, though.

Where the main fault of our society lies, I feel, is in its failure to separate misogyny from masculinity. Machismo, as it is presently formulated, is a shameful thing, more of a peacock performance than a real ethos. Macho is pretending to be strong and independent when you’re really fearful and weak. Macho is dominating through force and winning respect through intimidation. It’s a sick parody of masculinity. Only the feeblest psyches need to hide behind violence and ruthlessness, but our culture allows for and often valorizes these vicious weaklings. A healthier society would be better able to distinguish a true man from a tantruming child, a man of honor from a worthless, domineering thug.

Why does this happen? Part of it comes from our disgusting habit of taking everything at face value. The man with nothing to prove has nothing to show for himself. The angry man has been wronged somehow. The man who hits the hardest is the strongest. These are foolish ways to think, and dangerous too. Misogyny thrives in those men who are too fragile to question anything, men so emotionally stunted that they can’t countenance the smallest challenge to their ego. This is where inadequacy comes in. A misogynist, essentially, is a worthless person who has found a despicable way of hiding that worthlessness. The man who beats his wife to keep her from leaving him tacitly admits he never deserved her in the first place. The men who threatens violence against women who speak their minds are trying to force upon others the stupid fear and hate that have ruined their own lives.

And, sometimes, these men reach the point where they abuse and murder little children because even those children are more powerful than them. Charles Roberts left notes to his wife detailing his rage and his sorrow over his own child’s premature death, but this is just more of the bullshit that really miserable, self-deluding people can’t live without. Rage and sorrow are fine emotions, far too good for a man like that. No, rage and sorrow had nothing to do with what he did. What he did, and what Duane Morrison did, was all about cowardice and futility. These were men who sought to show the women and the little girls of the world that they weren’t as weak and empty and ugly as they felt and, in committing their idiot atrocities, only managed to prove their weakness and emptiness and ugliness beyond any doubt.