On Raising Male Children in Gun Culture

Reading about first-graders being murdered is difficult for me. My beloved G/Son is in first grade and I simply can’t begin to consider what it would mean to me, to his parents, to the future, if my little, elf-eared, Leggo-lover were shot while learning to sing songs for the holiday concert, or painting color wheels in art, or working on two-digit addition. How would I ever go on with The Secret Garden only half-read, with so many books still to share, with nature centers unvisited, and no one to ask me for a snack of apples and cheese?

We live in the Patriarchy — a social system based, at its very core, on the notion of Power Over, what Riane Eisler called a “dominator culture,” a culture based upon rankings that require, in particular, women to be subservient to men. A culture where men’s power is enforced by fear and force, if necessary. We swim in the Patriarchy, often as unaware of it as fish are of water — who notices it? It’s always there, the background of our lives, so unremarkable as to become invisible. It’s “just the way things are.”

America’s gun culture is both an artifact of Patriarchy and one of Patriarchy’s strongest supports. Men who feel that their power is slipping or insufficiently acknowledged can always find a semi-automatic gun and reassert themselves by shooting up women and children. Politicians are afraid to challenge the gun lobby. There is apparently no limit to the number of horrific deaths that Americans are willing to endure simply to ensure that no man is ever inconvenienced in his desire to own as many guns — even guns that can kill dozens of innocents in a few moments — as possible. Americans who suggest that some gun safety provisions should be put in place are told that the answer is yet more guns: why, if everyone walked around all the time with loaded guns, everything would be fine! The insanity behind that statement doesn’t stop its proponents from repeating it like a mantra — anything to keep even the most common-sense regulations from ever coming to the floor.

The part of me that is a Nonna isn’t separate from the part of me that is a lawyer. And no one — and that includes SCOTUS — has ever successfully explained why the Second Amendment to our Constitution, which allows citizens to “keep and bear Arms,” because a “well regulated militia” is “necessary to the security of a free State,” (an arguably highly outmoded idea — otherwise, we need to start allowing citizens to keep weapons-grade uranium, and chemical weapons, and the ability to perform cyber-sabatoge of power systems) requires the regular and predictable deaths of first-graders simply in order to allow every angry man in America to assert his Power Over.

What happened in Connecticut — and in every other one of these pointless disasters — had nothing to do with ensuring the security of our country. Nothing. None of us is safe or secure when every mentally-ill, misguided, angry man can grab a gun and shoot up a school-full of our children. By definition, any policy that renders our children insecure in their very schoolrooms is antithetical to the security of a free State. And only an insane devotion to Patriarchy, to power over, to the desire for death over life, can cause anyone to pretend otherwise.

If we aren’t ready to repeal the Second Amendment (as we once gathered the courage to repeal the Eighteenth Amendment when we realized that that amendment was destroying our society), then we need to adopt sane gun safety laws that implement the Founders’ notion that keeping and bearing arms must be consistent with the security of a free State. Almost every other developed country — including Australia, which also fancies itself a wild frontier — has done so. And far, far fewer of their schoolchildren die every year due to gun violence.

And, at the same time, we need to undermine Patriarchy every chance that we get. And we get a lot of chances. Not enough, but a lot.

I raised a son in this culture and I’m trying v hard to be an involved grandparent in it and I’ve never figured out how to do either of those tasks in a way that doesn’t, far too often, allow Patriarchy to win. All that I’ve managed to do, I think, is to chip away at the edges, to try and model and instill the belief that a new world — a world based upon Power With, upon respect for women and the natural world, upon interconnection — is possible.

And, again, like Mary Oliver, too often I fail as a witness. We go to the RenFaire and buy wooden swords and shields and watch the jousting and it’s all good family fun. I read another bedtime chapter of The Secret Garden and don’t discuss the evils of colonialism or aristocracy. I buy the latest “ninja” Leggos and don’t ask enough questions about why there is only one “girl” ninja or about why fighting is the only way to solve problems.

I was thinking about this problem today as I was chopping celery and onions for crab mold for a friend’s party and rolling the sugarplums that I make for G/Son to eat on Christmas eve. (I never do this kind of cooking without magical intent; today, my intent was pretty strong.) And I remembered Derrick Jensen‘s statement that our responsibility for global warming is not, having been born in car culture, for driving a car; our responsibility is for not shutting down car culture as a whole, which is much more serious.

I don’t know how to shut down Patriarchy as a whole. But I am going to begin working much harder to find ways to talk directly about these issues with G/Son. I’m going to do magic and divination around these issues and I’m going to work more diligently to model Power With.

I shan’t be gone long, you come, too.

7 responses to “On Raising Male Children in Gun Culture

  1. There is a shocking lack of history, and of a web or net of compassion, understanding and care of any kind, sort or variety for the whole range of those people involved in (directly or indirectly) mental health issues of all kinds and sorts. Most families or individuals simply can not afford care of any sort — and therefore — so many can go untreated for years.

    How many school districts have lost or dismissed sorely needed specialists, therapy providers and trainers in all sorts of ideas, projects, sessions that might be of some help — or great help to all ages of students?

    A horrible tragedy.

  2. My heart goes out to all of you so near to this tragedy.
    Derrick Jensen is, of course, spot on with where he apportions our collective responsibility.
    Terri in Joburg

  3. ‘We swim in the Patriarchy, often as unaware of it as fish are of water — who notices it? It’s always there, the background of our lives, so unremarkable as to become invisible. It’s “just the way things are.” ‘

    Indeed. And that is why it is so crucially important that people start raising issues and asking questions. Back in the day, we called it “consciousness-raising.” Or, as a prof at one of the local universities used to say, “you don’t know the problem until you know the problem.”

    I, through neither fault nor merit of my own, must look at the whole patriarchy piece from the other side of the shield, and so I have to exercise particular diligence in engaging in this sort of questioning and scrutiny. If we can help others to develop this habit, it’s all to the good.

    Keep up the good work.

  4. STOP those violent video games for starters. I watch all manner of Science Fiction and late night movies, and more and more movies are simply imitations of video games already out. They are so realistic, not like the fantasy thing of old, like Asteroids, or Space Invaders, but completely realistic depictions of almost virtual reality warlike scenes, training these kids to go to Afghanistan or Iraq and BASED on those wars, behind a gun, in all the movies everything is solved behind a gun, in the video games it’s about how many people you can shoot and kill(or aliens or monsters), and in one video game being advertised on TV EVERYONE else is your enemy. What is this psychologically doing to kids, to teens, to young adults who spend hours and hours in front of these violent virtual scenarios?

    And then the lack of strong gun control laws, allowing the Brady Bill to stop Assault Weapons is allowed to expire, and the body count keeps piling up. Do we stop going to movie theaters and buy everything at home in our own fancy entertainment systems ‘On Demand’? Do parents start homeschooling their kids, do we simply STOP engaging in this society because of this continual violence? Then the terrorists have won. Not necessarily the Islamic terrorists, but the domestic ones right on our OWN soil, and I’m not talking about just Timothy McVeigh and company blowing up a Federal building, but this kind of terrorism done by one lone individual or two, for whatever crazy screwed up reasons they have to wreak vengeance and go out in a blaze of glory…depicted over and over again in those movies, t.v. shows and video games…

  5. These tragedies point up the fact that, in our culture, there is no true transition to adulthood for young people. There is no distinct rite of passage that universally applies to all. The result is that we live in an a patriarchy so dominated by an adolescent attitude/worldview that far too few people ever really achieve true adulthood in a culture where the demands are such that at least ‘acting adult’ is mandatory, even if one has no idea what ‘being adult’ really means.

    Clearly, this places enormous pressure on young people – most of whom do not have a clear idea about who they are or what is really expected of them as part of society. Fortunately, most do not act out their lack of a true sense of self in ways dangerous to others, although many do not thrive or even survive themselves.

    But then there are those who pick up the gun(s) and murder at random – frequently including themselves in the process. Are they truly crazy? Some are. But the question remains; why? Who did such damage to them that they went over the edge?

    I believe we all bear responsibility.

    How do we ‘fix’ it? I don’t know that we can – but I’ve begun by helping my grandkids parents groom them toward the idea of responsibility for the well-being of the whole, toward the idea of caring for others as much as for themselves, all leading up to a point of knowing/understanding who and what they are and that they are here to support as much as to glean.

  6. How many children will it take?

  7. Pingback: The Quiet of Winter and Studying Edges | Delighted Muse

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