I saw an interesting post over on Feminist Critics. I was hesitant to read the source post. Generally, I avoid reading personal accounts because I do not think they should be dissected and I doubt that if I disagreed with something stated in an account that I could avoid doing so. However, for the sake of being able to follow Daran’s comments, I read little light’s blog. She added a trigger warning at the beginning of it:
So I want you to imagine something. It’s going to be pretty awful, and it’s probably going to be a trigger for some people. If that’s a risk you don’t feel up for, take care of yourself and stop now.
It was not what she asked people to imagine that triggered me. It was what she said before it that did it:
The first thing you need to understand is that masculinity, maleness, is inculcated and enforced with violence. It’s either actual violence, or the threat of violence, or the implied threat of violence. Constantly. It’s how men and boys are taught to train each other into maleness. This is true even at a very, very young age; go to a kindergarten playground, and you will see little boys shaping each others’ masculinity, according to the rules they’re taught by older boys and by grown men, with violence. It starts very early.
Take a little girl and throw her into that group of boys. Leave her with them and only the instruction, “Do whatever you want with her. Shape her into whatever you want to. Your scalpel is violence.” Just sit with that for a minute. The image of handing a little girl who doesn’t understand the world yet to a group of boys who are given carte blanche to use violence to shape her into whatever they think is appropriate.
I doubt little light intended to cause any boys or men harm with her words. However, that does not change the impact, at least on me. I heard those words hundreds of times as a child. My aunt would bring me into her room and, for lack of a better word, rant about how cruel and horrible men were. She would say the things little light wrote above, some times just making me sit there and listen, other times having me perform acts on her.
While the sex acts were never consensual, although they generally hurt (physically), it was the words that caused the most pain. My aunt taught me that there was nothing good about being male. I was fundamentally a flawed, unlovable creature. I was capable of only hurting others, only ruining women’s lives. Even outside of her room she would say these kinds of things, that masculinity caused wars, that even toddler boys were rapists, that all men could ever know was how to destroy and resort to violence.
These things hurt.
They hurt because it meant that there was nothing I could do to not become like that. They hurt because it meant that my brothers and cousins were evil. They hurt because it meant my uncle, who was the kindest person I knew and have ever known, was evil. Those words made me hate myself in a way that nothing else did or perhaps could have. After all, like in little light’s post, there was nothing I could really do about it. It was my nature to be violent, proven by the fact that I wanted to be a boy and wanted become a man. That alone showed what kind of a thing I was.
My aunt would call me a ‘failed girl’ (she did this more to my brother, especially after she found out that he is gay). She never explained what she meant by that, and being a small child at the time I took it to literally mean that I had once been female and then changed into a male. I was frustrated, which I suppose is the only way to put it, because I did not understand any of what she was saying. I did not understand why I had to be a bad boy or why I could never be a good man.
Again, I do not think it was little light’s intent to cause any harm to anyone. However, framing masculinity as something inherently and irrevocably evil, immoral and wrong does cause harm. It harms me because of how it runs contrary to the experiences I have had with men and boys. In a way, little light is saying that my experiences were all lies and distorted views of reality. Certainly there are abusive boys and men. I grew up in that kind of environment, so I am well aware of how cruel some males can be. Being rather small, skinny, weak (but fast) and geeky made me a target for bullies at school.
However, the first friends I made, the people who have been there for me, who have reached out to me, have always been male. It was always other geeky boys who would try to befriend me, not girls. It was always other boys who would come to my defense. It was always other boys would sit next to me at lunch or even just talk to me on the first day of school. At home, it was my uncle who was nice to me. He helped me with my homework and he would even try to get in trouble if anything would happen so that he would get hurt instead of me or the rest of us there. When I left home, it was men who treated me like a person. They were the ones who tried to gain my trust. They were patient with me and kind to me.
None of them have ever told me to resort to violence. None of the males I associate with tolerate random violence. My friends do not. We may play violent video games, watch violent movies or read violent comic books. However, none of them use violence for violence’s sake. We may playfully hit each other or throw things at each other, but none of it is done with the intent to harm. To annoy, occasionally, but not to harm.
I cannot argue with little light’s experiences with masculinity any more than she can argue with my experiences with femininity. Those experiences are what they are, and I have no more right to tell her that she should trust men any more than she has the right to tell me to trust women. I can, however, argue that her view of masculinity is severely skewed by her experiences. There is a certain amount of projection that occurs in her post that has very little to do with the way boys and men actually behave.
Little light frames masculinity as if there is only one kind possible and it is ultra-violent. Ironically, by doing this she perpetuates the social assumption that masculinity is inherently violent. Of course, that is far from the case. Plenty of boys grow up without ever getting into fights or resorting to violence to get their way. Plenty of boys grow up without bullying other kids. These are not just the expected groups of boys either, not just the boys who like to read, write, draw, dance or play video games. These are the run-of-mill Average Joes who have never thrown a punch in their life and avoid confrontation as much as possible.
I extend my sympathy to little light because it sounds like she grew up without ever seeing that not all males are like the ones who hurt her. However, that sympathy ends when she moves on to essentially hurt others. What she says about boys will be used as an excuse to demonize and vilify them. That appears to have happened on another feminist blog that linked to her post. I can attest to the effect those kinds of things have on boys. No one deserves to be othered in that fashion, treated as if they are freaks, unlovable, undeserving of respect or dignity, dangerous or fundamentally evil.
Yet, that is the danger of the kind of thinking little light expressed at the beginning of her post. It causes harm that very rarely gets acknowledged. Instead, it becomes part of the status quo, something boys and men are taught to expect and just accept, whether they agree with it or not, because that is just the way things are. More so, should any boy or man question that perception, he will get slapped down and further shamed, often by people attacking their masculinity. It is unfortunate that in some instances people resort to the same kind of villification that they rally against.
No one should grow up thinking that they are monsters, and that should include boys.