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War Is the Force that Gives Masculinity Meaning

In 2002, when Pulitzer Prize winner, Chris Hedges published War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning, he wrote in depth about the warrior culture that is the USA. “The communal march against an enemy generates a warm, unfamiliar bond with our neighbors, our community, our nation, wiping out unsettling undercurrents of alienation and dislocation,” he wrote. “It gives us purpose, meaning, a reason for living.”

    In 2014 the American military-industrial-media complex is still salivating for war to further line its pockets. And a president elected to get us out of two wars in which we were mired, displays caution but finds himself pressured on many sides to do something warrior-like.

    The drumbeat includes the usual: ramping up of fear against an enemy, claims of a threat to what’s now called the “homeland,” and images of cruelty that invoke the sense that “we can’t let them get away with that, especially when they do it to Americans.” Few are interviewed in mainstream media who argue against the whole mindset.

    Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders appeared briefly on “Meet the Press” in September for the first time in his career. But no Chris Hedges or Noam Chomsky is likely to appear as the debate centers on the best tactics of fighting the bad guys rather than how to change U.S. policies that spawn terrorist groups.

    In our culture, war is still the manly response; it gives conditioned manhood its meaning. With women in the military and LGBT people tolerated, a warrior reaction to any problem still won’t cause mainstream pundits to question any man’s masculinity, though it might cause them to question a woman’s femininity.

    Even though there’s been a history of dissenters – Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr., to name two well-known examples – and a long history of anti-war movements, America still falls back on a war model to attack problems from literacy, to AIDS, to poverty, to drugs, to crime. The tools of war get more sophisticated, while we sell them to the world to use, even profiting off of selling them to those who become enemies.

    For war to continue to give us such meaning as well as war-industry jobs, we need more than just the selling of each new war through exaggeration, lies, and fears. Those tactics must touch something already within so the public relations of warmongering will resonate inside us.

    Mainstream conditioning of our children through our major institutions must still make warriors and warrior-support personnel out of them through molding their minds, if the propaganda of each new war is to be effective. And, sadly, the old gender role conditioning that enables this hasn’t changed as much as we’d like to believe.

    In fact, the dominant Northern European/American views of gender and its limitations have heavily affected alternatives that would have been found traditionally among Native Americans, Hispanic peoples, Africans, and Asians. Even in a culture where children are being told that they can be anything they want to be, dominant institutions that supposedly provide “role-models” such as the NFL or Congress, have failed to move outside genderized boxes, and, as if it surprises us, failed miserably to challenge the status quo, as we’ve painfully been reminded recently.

    It takes the equivalent of mental child abuse to take the little boy who was born with his complete humanity intact, and to convince him that he will be considered an American masculine hero if he is willing someday to go off to another country and kill other men or be killed by them. Notice how the title “hero” is now applied to anyone who does just that.

    It also takes the equivalent of mental child abuse to take the little girl who was born with her complete humanity and all its possibilities intact, and convince her that the solution to her fears, second-place status, meaninglessness, and hopelessness is to find fulfillment in supporting one of these male warriors. She might even stay with an abuser if she’s convinced that he is her savior from all that she supposedly lacks in life.

    But our mainstream culture still does it. It still defines male bonding and teamwork as a group of men getting together to beat, defeat, or kill another group of men. Every male sporting event on television celebrates it with the most popular often the sports that reward men for harder hits or knocking the other unconscious.

    Our culture still awards its warriors for killing another man. A man can get a medal for killing another man, but still be killed for loving one.

    Much of its religion is still in a fight against the cultural change that threatens to fully accept lesbians, gay men, and bisexual and transgender people who challenge gender roles. Mainstream media gives such religion disproportionate attention, enabling them to feel like noble, righteous warriors in the “culture wars.”

    And our culture remains stuck in the old gender roles, with otherwise liberal people still talking about their masculine and feminine “sides” as if those categories mean something definite. Or using supposedly positive comments such as: “You’re too pretty to be a lesbian.” “But you’re too macho to be a gay man.” “She’s trans, but you can’t tell. She’s so pretty.”

    Finally, it’s still quite useful to install the fear of getting close to one’s own gender that’s the heart of homophobia. Without that, it’s much harder for men to make other men their enemies. It’s easier to fear them as threatening competitors.

    While walking with my then 2 ½ year old grandson down the street, we passed a gaping open sewer. He grabbed my hand and pulled me away, saying “Grampa, be careful. That’s dangerous.”

    To that little boy, holding hands wasn’t something that men don’t do. It was how they protect each other in their common humanity.

    But you can’t shoot someone when you’re holding each other’s hand to protect one another. You’re instead more likely to feel the common humanity that would make looking for alternatives to war obvious.

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Robert N. Minor, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus of Religious Studies at the University of Kansas, is author of When Religion Is an Addiction; Scared Straight; and Gay & Healthy in a Sick Society. Contact him at www.FairnessProject.org.

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