Since The Grand Rapids Press featured an article on black men killing black men, people have weighed in with their analyses of the problem. They’ve presented a myriad of causes such as poor education, poverty, ineffective parenting, racism, etc., but the most common denominator, male socialization, isn’t discussed.
Gender socialization is the process in which young people learn how they are supposed to think, feel, and behave as men and women. There are many causative variables discussed in the analysis of violent criminal behavior, but the one that remains invisible is the toxicity of male socialization.
Men Commit Most Homicides
The fact is that men, not women, across all socio-economic levels, races, families, and cultures are the primary perpetrators of violent crime. This illuminates the power of gender socialization. If poor education was the primary cause of black criminal behavior, then why are most of our homicides committed by men?
If poverty is the primary cause of violent black criminal behavior then why don’t we have as many females in prison as men? If a dysfunctional family with ineffective parenting, abuse and neglect is the primary cause then why do men account for 90 percent of the domestic violence offender population? If racism is the primary impetus for black male criminal behavior, then why are white males committing violent crime at about the same male to female ratio as their black counterparts?
If “kids are killing kids” in the school shootings then why have all of the shooters been male students? In addition, most of these boys were also white students in intact families attending good suburban schools. Male socialization is the missing link in the analyses of black male violent crime and violent crime in general.
Boys aren’t born brutes or beasts genetically programmed to be violent. Rigid male socialization is a social toxin to men’s humanity and the most vulnerable in our society will manifest symptoms of the toxin.
Think about air pollution. Air pollution is a physical toxin to asthmatic patients. These patients become symptomatic, manifesting complications in breathing when in polluted climates.
Individuals raised in environments with racism, poverty, dysfunctional families, unemployment, and poor education end up psychologically asthmatic, vulnerable to social toxins such as male socialization. These boys feel vulnerable, powerless, and marginalized. However, the male code tells them to “tough it out,” “suck it up,” and “don’t talk about it.”
Toughness Equated to Manliness
Manliness is equated with being tough, strong, aggressive, powerful, and always in control. Boys get called names such as weak, wuss, or sissy when they behave outside the masculine box. They get disrespected and ostracized. The pressure to fit in is huge. The result is that boys squash their humanity.
Men look for ways to prop themselves up to appear more powerful, more intimidating, more competitive, essentially, more manly. Affluent white boys may be able to do this with money, cars, houses, degrees, and social status, while those less fortunate may be left to prove their masculinity with violence, guns and even murder.
In effect, the male socialization process teaches men to externalize painful emotions and avoid states of vulnerability. Consequently, some men act out their rage and pain onto others in acts of criminal violence. After all, to kill someone is the ultimate act of control and power.
We also don’t talk about the broader impact of male training on our boys. It is frightening to see how poorly our boys are adapting and fitting into society. Not only are they more violent, but also they are less likely than girls to go to college, more likely to drop out of high school or be placed in special education, and twice as likely than girls to die in a car accident.
We need to continue working to improve education, unemployment, parenting, and racism. We also need to raise our boys to be more fit, more humane. If we give them permission to talk, feel, and emotionally connect to others they are less likely to loose their souls in oppressive conditions. The enemies of violence are empathy, compassion, sensitivity and humility; so let’s encourage this in boys too.
We need to stop leaving the issue of male socialization out of our discussions on violent behavior. And, let’s work on socializing our boys to stay in touch with their humanity. Then, and only then, do boys have a chance to refrain from violent behavior in difficult circumstances and a challenging world.