I don’t need to wait for the big Dave Cullen or Lawrence Wright book on the psychopathological turning points that turned two brothers into the Boston bombers to know that one or both of them was seething with rage at some real or perceived diss. The truth is that it is scorned men—not women—who unleash the furies of hell.
From Boston to Baghdad, from Kabul to Korea, from Aurora to Newtown, the world is imperiled by angry men feeling disrespected, their tender sensibilities hurting so bad that their fingers are twitching on gun triggers and bomb timers.
Curiously, these guys belong to the gender with all the physical strength and most of the well-paying jobs in the world. And yet, some of them still feel so profoundly disrespected that they will go out and kill one or more of their fellow human beings just to get some of that stuff Aretha Franklin spelled out.
Scratch any jihadi and you will find a profound sense of having been disrespected and losing personal power, especially with respect to women. They are obsessed with controlling women, whose presence in their lives is simultaneously regarded as impure. Remember 9/11 bomber Mohammed Atta’s will, which demanded that no woman touch his dead body and no pregnant woman come near his grave?
But it’s not just the jihadis.
All over the world, but especially in rifle-butt, no-background-check America, some men grab their easily obtainable weapons at the merest whisper of a diss from another man or a woman. Googling “disrespect” and “murder” gets more than three million results, page after page of headlines in just the English-speaking world alone, describing men—young and old, black, white, red and purple—stabbing, shooting and otherwise killing fellow citizens over perceived “disrespect.”
Some researchers estimate that two-thirds of all murders are the result of men feeling that they had been disrespected and acting to save face.
Author and psychologist Steve Taylor recently wrote an article about young men, perceived disrespect and murder. “Even more dangerously—especially with young men—slights can trigger a violent reaction,” he wrote. “Criminologists have noted that many acts of violence stem from a sense of slight … In recent years, in the US there has been a disturbing rise in the number of ‘flashpoint killings’—casual murders triggered by trivial confrontations.
“Typically, the flash-point killer is a young man who becomes furious after feeling that he’s been slighted in front of friends.” We already know that older bro Tamerlan felt out of place in America, beat up his girlfriend and resented people’s inability to “control themselves.” There’s no doubt that someone, somewhere, made fun of his cheesy white shoes and overall Borat style.
But why are men so liable to react violently to being disrespected, while women, who are arguably disrespected far more often in society at large, mostly just roll with it?
Women and girls face systemic sexist disrespect from childhood to the grave. There’s all the obvious, blatant stuff, like sexual harassment, videotaped rape and misogynistic rap music, not to mention getting paid three-fourths of what men do for the same work. Or, for instance, being told by men who become presidential advisers, like Larry Summers, that we are as a group no good at math and science.
Then there’s the endless dissing that is so subtle that, unless we’re students of gender politics or like to walk around gnashing our teeth all the time, we just ignore. In that category, off the top of my head, go things like a television series glamorizing female prostitution, media obsession with female politicians’ clothing, women’s work-life angst, and our own preoccupation with weight, hair, beauty and aging.
Before Tamerlan and Dzhokar made their big move last week—as literal angry white men, being from the Caucasus—I had been trying to get my head around how put-upon some men seem to feel. Whenever I write about things like misogynist bullying, videotaped rape or benevolent sexism, I get attacked for being anti-man by commentators who invariably blame the effects of feminism for any and all bad male behavior.
They always like to remind me that women commit domestic violence too. Oh yeah! Run for your lives to the nearest shelter, all you abused husbands!
I realize that great thinkers like Hanna Rosin, author of The End of Men, have studied this subject much more than I, and come to the conclusion that men are, in fact, at an end. I don’t agree with that. I think such theories merely give aid and succor to the aggrieved, hair-trigger whiners among them.
The notion that men have come to an end is false. Yes, the world’s need for their traditional services—lifting heaving machinery, bringing home the bacon, playing football—seems to be on the wane.
But men are still very much in control and in charge. No woman has ever been Senate majority or minority leader or whip, let alone U.S. president. Men alone own the boardrooms of Apple, Tesla, Exxon, Shell and BP; every single airline; and seven of the 10 most powerful venture capital firms, including Union Square Ventures, Greylock Partners, Sequoia Capital, Shasta Ventures and Blackrock. Every director and music adviser of the New York Philharmonic has been a man, along with every director of the Chicago Symphony, Boston Symphony and London Philharmonic. There’s not even a single woman in the upper ranks of the Westminster Kennel Club.
New Republic writer Lydia DePillis has created a new Tumblr page called 100 Percent Men, a visual inventory of the many realms not yet entered by a woman. It includes all of the above, as well as the current CLIO Awards jury, the top editorial staff at Talking Points Memo, and the editor in chief’s office at the New Republic. It would take an entire section of this paper to list them all.
Yes, men have had to cede some control. Wives go to work, women get to pick their mates (in America; apparently the Tsarnaev brothers’ sisters were bartered off by mom and dad in the time-honored old-country tradition), women get to choose whether to bear children (in most U.S. states), and women now make up one-fifth of the U.S. Senate. Oh, and in America, men who beat their girlfriends, like Tamerlan, can get arrested. Small advances for womankind, but for some entitled men, this is all it takes to make the world seem utterly off-kilter.
What can be done about a peculiarly male persecution complex too vast and entrenched for anti-bullying programs? We might simply have to live through this era, as these men—be they homegrown right wingers who feel slighted, angry misfits, dissed gangstas or jihadis enamored of vestigial honor cultures—slowly evolve or die off. If they don’t, pressure-cooker bombs may soon be the least of our woes.
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