Man in Box

Man in Box

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Women at Risk

by Bob Herbert, New York Times, 08 August 2009.

"I actually look good. I dress good, am clean-shaven, bathe, touch of cologne — yet 30 million women rejected me," wrote George Sodini in a blog that he kept while preparing for this week’s shooting in a Pennsylvania gym in which he killed three women, wounded nine others and then killed himself.

We’ve seen this tragic ritual so often that it has the feel of a formula. A guy is filled with a seething rage toward women and has easy access to guns. The result: mass slaughter.

Back in the fall of 2006, a fiend invaded an Amish schoolhouse in rural Pennsylvania, separated the girls from the boys, and then shot 10 of the girls, killing five.

I wrote, at the time, that there would have been thunderous outrage if someone had separated potential victims by race or religion and then shot, say, only the blacks, or only the whites, or only the Jews. But if you shoot only the girls or only the women — not so much of an uproar.

According to police accounts, Sodini walked into a dance-aerobics class of about 30 women who were being led by a pregnant instructor. He turned out the lights and opened fire. The instructor was among the wounded.

We have become so accustomed to living in a society saturated with misogyny that the barbaric treatment of women and girls has come to be more or less expected.

We profess to being shocked at one or another of these outlandish crimes, but the shock wears off quickly in an environment in which the rape, murder and humiliation of females is not only a staple of the news, but an important cornerstone of the nation’s entertainment.

The mainstream culture is filled with the most gruesome forms of misogyny, and pornography is now a multibillion-dollar industry — much of it controlled by mainstream U.S. corporations.

One of the striking things about mass killings in the U.S. is how consistently we find that the killers were riddled with shame and sexual humiliation, which they inevitably blamed on women and girls. The answer to their feelings of inadequacy was to get their hands on a gun (or guns) and begin blowing people away.

What was unusual about Sodini was how explicit he was in his blog about his personal shame and his hatred of women. “Why do this?” he asked. “To young girls? Just read below.” In his gruesome, monthslong rant, he managed to say, among other things: “It seems many teenage girls have sex frequently. One 16 year old does it usually three times a day with her boyfriend. So, err, after a month of that, this little [expletive] has had more sex than ME in my LIFE, and I am 48. One more reason.”

I was reminded of the Virginia Tech gunman, Seung-Hui Cho, who killed 32 people in a rampage at the university in 2007. While Cho shot males as well as females, he was reported to have previously stalked female classmates and to have leaned under tables to take inappropriate photos of women. A former roommate said Cho once claimed to have seen “promiscuity” when he looked into the eyes of a woman on campus.

Soon after the Virginia Tech slayings, I interviewed Dr. James Gilligan, who spent many years studying violence as a prison psychiatrist in Massachusetts and as a professor at Harvard and N.Y.U. “What I’ve concluded from decades of working with murderers and rapists and every kind of violent criminal,” he said, “is that an underlying factor that is virtually always present to one degree or another is a feeling that one has to prove one’s manhood, and that the way to do that, to gain the respect that has been lost, is to commit a violent act.”

Life in the United States is mind-bogglingly violent. But we should take particular notice of the staggering amounts of violence brought down on the nation’s women and girls each and every day for no other reason than who they are. They are attacked because they are female.

A girl or woman somewhere in the U.S. is sexually assaulted every couple of minutes or so. The number of seriously battered wives and girlfriends is far beyond the ability of any agency to count.

There were so many sexual attacks against women in the armed forces that the Defense Department had to revise its entire approach to the problem.

We would become much more sane, much healthier, as a society if we could bring ourselves to acknowledge that misogyny is a serious and pervasive problem, and that the twisted way so many men feel about women, combined with the absurdly easy availability of guns, is a toxic mix of the most tragic proportions.

Monday, August 03, 2009

He won’t open up? There’s a reason

By Stephen Berman. Boston Globe, 3 August 2009.

A COUPLE sits on a beach on a brilliant July day. They’ve just had a picnic lunch, and are in that hazy sweet space of watching the waves and the gulls, the passing sailboat, or, far out, the tanker. They feel close.

The woman, wanting to feel even more close, asks: “What are you feeling, hon?’’

Startled, the man blinks, glances at her, and not knowing what to say, says nothing.

The woman asks, “Can you tell me?’’

The man, wanting to respond and trying to gather his thoughts and feelings to do so, still comes up blank. A sense of panic blossoms in his gut and rises to his chest, cold and damp as if clenching his heart. Trying to stay calm he says, “I don’t know.’’

“Sure you do. Can you tell me?’’

The cold rises into his brain, all ice. Through gritted teeth he says, “Don’t spoil it!’’

The woman, startled by his tone and the glazed look in his eyes, says, “I’m spoiling it?’’

Things go downhill. They wind up miles apart, staring at nothing.

What is going on? In our work leading gender dialogues between thousands of men and women, boys and girls, Dr. Janet Surrey and I have come to understand this as a “relational impasse’’ - the “dread/yearning impasse.’’ If the woman, yearning to feel closer, approaches, often the man starts to feel “male relational dread,’’ and retreats. In his head is a little voice: “Nothing good can come of my going into this, it’s just a matter of how bad it will be before it’s over. And it will never be over!’’

As one man put it: “I woke up this morning and she turned to me and I was in dreadlock!’’ The paralytic feeling of dread is familiar to many men. It contains a sense of failure, humiliation, shame, and paranoia. It is part of normal male development - and it is hell on relationships. Anything, even the cap let off a tube of toothpaste, can trigger it. Relational dread is a basic human experience, although the male and female versions may take different forms. This is the male version.

How does male dread develop? A patient’s story gave me a clue. When he was 6, he had been beaten up at school. He wasn’t hurt physically, but felt terrible. He walked home up the railroad tracks through the woods so no one would see him crying, and couldn’t wait to tell his mother. He went in through the back door into the kitchen, anxious to tell her. She was at the sink. She turned around, saw the tears, and with concern asked, “What’s wrong, dear?’’ Despite wanting to tell her, he said, “Nothing,’’ turned away and walked back out.

What had arisen was not just in him - after all, he walked into the kitchen intending to tell her. But when she moved toward him emotionally - in the interaction between them - he felt exposed, and dread suddenly arose and did its damage. It was a relational impasse.

Although we all - boys and girls - come into the world with a primary desire for connection, there is an early fork in the path. Many boys are pushed by the culture to disconnect from their relationship with mother in order to grow, and become less valued for their relationships and more valued for themselves; while many girls continue to grow in relationships, and are valued as the carriers of connection in the culture.

But scratch our surface and you find that we men desire connection every bit as much as women, and get sick and even do sick things - think of all the destruction wrought by male “loners’’ - if we don’t experience it. Given the chance, we’re just as good at it as women - witness the revolution in fathering in the past few generations, fathers as caregivers. Male relational dread may arise from time to time, but male relational love, living “in the we’’ with a partner or a child or a dog or a student or a shortstop-or-dancer-in-training, is right there in us, waiting to prevail. We men yearn more than anything to live not in the “I’’ or the “you,’’ but in the “we.’’

Stephen Bergman, MD, is a guest columnist. Under the pen name Samuel Shem, he is the author of “The House of God’’ and “The Spirit of the Place.’’