There are too many damn tragic anniversaries of men killing women. Pick any month and you’ll find them. Take today, December 6–it’s the 23rd anniversary of the Montréal Massacre. Marc Lépine stormed into the city’s École Polytechnique and murdered 14 women, wounding 10 others. The mass-murderer, who then killed himself, was 25–the same age as Jovan Belcher, the Kansas City Chiefs linebacker who murdered his girlfriend and committed suicide December 1.
Most of us expressed horror at this latest tragedy, but distracted ourselves with cries of “Gun control now!” “Reform violent sports culture!” or “Shame on the NFL!” (The league ordered Kansas City to play its regularly scheduled–and highly lucrative–game the day after the murder-suicide.) The old adage “Follow the money” comes to mind, but let’s put a bookmark there; I don’t want to get distracted, too.
Let’s stick with the facts: It was domestic violence. It was murder. Belcher killed his “beloved” Kasandra Perkins, the 22 year-old mother of his three month-old daughter Zoey, at their home and then drove to team headquarters and killed himself in front of his head coach, general manager and other staff. Missing from the news accounts? It’s the masculinity, people.
In the aftermath of the murder-suicide, I can’t get the mantra “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore” out of my head. That famous line from the classic film Network just won’t go away. Maybe that’s a good thing. Maybe millions of us should open our windows and stick our heads out and yell it, adding this additional phrase: “I’m mad as hell that we keep ignoring the shadow side of masculine culture, and I’m not going to take it anymore.”
Just as they did after the mass killings last summer in Aurora, Colo., the media and elected officials have again failed to focus on the twin root causes of such violence: men’s mental health and how men are socialized. Memo to songwriters: How about a new anthem with some bite? It’s time to move beyond Monty Python and Two and a Half Men singing about “Men, men, men, men, men, men, men…”
Just as it was at Columbine in 1999 and Virginia Tech in 2007 and the Sikh temple outside Milwaukee last summer–and all the other school/temple/cinema shootings–it’s not about where the tragedies happened but about the men who pulled the trigger. It’s not about the vast majority of good men. Still, by our inaction we allow wounded, at-risk men to take center stage.
Belcher was part of Male Athletes Against Violence (MAAV)–a peer education class at the University of Maine–while starting on the varsity football team in 2007, which only makes the tragedy more poignant. What unhealed wounds were festering beneath the surface of his reputedly successful life? Among the lessons we must learn from this tragedy is to dig deeper before anointing young men with the honorific of peacemaker.
For many years, I facilitated batterers’ intervention groups at an anti-violence men’s center and saw plenty of seemingly high-functioning men who were there because they acted abusively. Educating and encouraging men to unlearn 20, 30 or 40 years of male socialization in 20, 30 or 40 weeks is among the most challenging work I’ve ever done. It felt a lot of times like trying to climb Mt. Everest in shorts and sneakers.
For Jovan Belcher, being part of an anti-violence class should have only been the beginning of his education. Clearly, he needed much more help. And, as a society, we have to do much more. All the literature at campus information tables or community anti-violence rallies, all the pledges men sign, all the women’s groups we support, only scratch the surface.
We need a sustained, nationwide education campaign that begins in elementary school and continues through college.
For starters, how about middle school, high school, college and university administrators and faculty spending time over the holidays planning teach-ins to begin next semester? How about a New Year’s resolution that educators take the lead in promoting a violence-free atmosphere on campus? How about a parallel effort among mental health professionals to begin a major study of male socialization? Hospitals need to restore the money they cut years ago from classes for expectant fathers. We can’t begin early enough.
We need an all-out effort, one that includes an array of allies from gun-control campaigners to sports broadcasters who air anti-violence commentaries. But none of it will matter if we don’t fundamentally redefine masculinity. Now. It’s late in the fourth quarter. We have no more time outs. The game is nearly over. Just one more thing; It’s not a game.
Photo of the Montréal Massacre Monument via Wikimedia Commons.
Photo of Kasandra Perkins and Jovan Belcher with their infant, from Instagram