By Rod Van Mechelen
Supposedly, aggression is one area of expression expected and approved of in the male. In reality it turns out to be just another taboo area. -- Herb Goldberg, The Hazards of Being Male: Surviving the Myth of Masculine Privilege
Bruce the Barbarian!
1995 Bellevue, Wash. - Across a dusty plain rides Bruce the Barbarian. Like the Kung Fu star, Bruce Lee, he is a hero of the ages, a masculine icon with many names: Conan, Tarzan, Rambo and Captain Kirk are all cognomina by which we know him. (After wrestling with the pop-feminist complaints about the language being sexist because it defaults to the masculine gender, I decided what made the most sense was for the person speaking to default to his or her own gender. So being a man, I choose to use the male pronouns.)
Different names, but the essential man remains the same -- "brave, courageous and bold." An independent and lonely man who is reluctant but willing to fight. Often, popular action-adventures portray him as a common man, and the plot is well known: From the ordinary world a reluctant hero is called by reasons both compelling and fearsome to fight against all odds. A wise mentor befriends and helps him to accept his call to duty. But the rules are unknown and defeat seems certain. Nevertheless, in the darkest hour when all seems lost, he finds strength to carry on the struggle toward his first victory. Then, he triumphs over the ultimate challenge and returns home a transformed man. (Summarized from a treatment of the subject in How to Sell Your Idea to Hollywood, by Robert Kosberg, pp 79 - 84.)
Regardless of what form the heroic journey takes, however, a kind of innocence characterizes its beginning, an innocence lost, as it often is in real life, when adversity strips away all his happy illusions to unveil the determined underdog within.
In some measure, most of us make this heroic journey. But during the past two decades, as the pop-feminists intensified their assault on men, we have become obsessed with masculinity's most extreme and violent characteristics: "(A)s in Victorian England, when suppression of sex led to an efflorescence of lurid flowers in the secret gardens of society, so the denial of male nature in modern life warps and perverts the natural play of male aggression, leading to ... a society that at once denies the existence of natural male aggressiveness and is utterly preoccupied with it." (Men and Marriage, George Gilder, p ix)
The recent rape convictions of two former heavyweight fighters should be no surprise -- in extreme form, they represent the transformation of Bruce the Barbarian into "heroic rapists." The cut-throat take-no-prisoners tycoons, the hyper-sexual amoral abusers of women, the Frankenstein's monsters whom their pop-feminist co-creators seldom understand (You Just Don't Understand: Women and Men in Conversation, Ballantine Books Edition, June 1991, Deborah Tannen, Ph.D., p 150), but fearfully condemn: "In the current political situation, terrorism is a built-in consequence, a logical outcome of the 'male' ideology with its focus on hierarchy." (Women and Love: A Cultural Revolution in Progress, St. Martin's Press mass market edition, 1989, Shere Hite, p 638)
The hierarchies of men, or the sex of women? Heroes are men whose efforts, violent or otherwise, benefit women. The myth machines flash heroic images of male violence onto the big screen of cinema and the little screens of television, urban myths confirmed by the hoards of groupies who reward apparently violent men, such as football stars, boxers and professional wrestlers, with sex.
A powerful inducement to behave aggressively for men starved for sexual attention by women who trade sex for power: "Until recently, we have objectified men more subtly -- by bribing them. We told men that if they killed themselves, we'd call them heroes." (Farrell: Why Men Are the Way They Are, Berkley edition/September 1988, Warren Farrell, Ph.D., p 199) Tortured hyper-masculinity, however, is not the true nature of male aggressivity, nor is aggression its "built-in consequence."
Commonly, pop-feminists associate aggressivity with violence, and that is how society most frequently characterizes masculinity today. (Women and Love: A Cultural Revolution in Progress, St. Martin's Press mass market edition, 1989, Shere Hite, p 633) But there's another side to it, the essential characteristic of aggressivity pop-feminists ignore that my dictionary defines as "vigorously energetic, esp. in the use of initiative and forcefulness; boldly assertive." (The Random House College Dictionary)
Secreting roughly twenty times the testosterone women do (Brain Sex: The Real Difference Between Men and Women, Anne Moir & David Jessel, p 103), men tend to be boldly assertive and virile. Most men love invigorating challenges. Pop-feminists equate this with violence. Ironically, they gloss over or ignore female violence.
Though many women may scorn the aggressive acts of some men and denigrate all men for them, are they truly less violent than men? Deborah Tannen suggests women are just as aggressive as men, but express it differently: "If boys and men often use opposition to establish connections, girls and women can use apparent cooperation and affiliation to be competitive and critical." (You Just Don't Understand: Women and Men in Conversation, Ballantine Books Edition, June 1991, Deborah Tannen, Ph.D., p 171) Men may sometimes resort to violence, often to strong language, and everyday to out and out disagreement, but most women are expert at the smiling cut: "A common way of hurting someone without seeming to intend to is to repeat a critical remark made by someone else, with the for-your-own good introduction 'I think you should know.'" (You Just Don't Understand: Women and Men in Conversation, Ballantine Books Edition, June 1991, Deborah Tannen, Ph.D., p 173)
In the world of men, there is a context woven broad and of rough fabric, as different in texture as it is in scope from the embroidered cloth of women's lives. According to the pop-feminist ideology, women weave their world upon a subjective loom, wherein they define all in terms of self in relation to others. (In a Different Voice: Psychological Theory and Women's Development, Carol Gilligan, p 79) Here, there is neither justice nor a hierarchy of rights, but only competing interests. (In a Different Voice: Psychological Theory and Women's Development, Carol Gilligan, p 101)
Portrayed upon this canvas, men frequently seem more violent, but only because they tend to be more overt, objective, and outspoken. Pop-feminists play upon this to systematically gain control of men. By making overt aggressivity a shameful thing, by framing all men as pseudo-aggressors, they have promoted the notion that passion and raised voices are indicators only of an anger that signals violence.
They don't understand that men often behave thus because it is in our nature to be passionate and sometimes loud without ever being violent. But with all the romance novels, movies, and television dramas about "heroic rapists," and with all the newspaper and magazine articles about the relatively few violent men, it's understandable how women could confuse assertive or aggressive masculinity with "feminine" hostility.
Celebrating the hero in you
Heroes are hard to come by these days.
People we used to look up to -- like our political and civic leaders -- are caught with their fingers in the cookie jar (or other places they ought not to be). Hollywood actors are found with someone else's mouth where it ought not to be. Sports stars are accused of murder, fathers are batterers, mothers, crack-addicted child-abusers, and high school students yawn at the idea of metal detectors.
Yes, heroes are hard to find these days. John Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. succumbed to character assassination when they were exposed as womanizing lechers. Even brave Abraham Lincoln came under comic fire recently when historians revealed that politics might have served more as a ploy to escape his abusive wife than any higher cause.
Are all the heroes dead? Is there no one left to look up to, to rekindle our will to persevere when all the chips are down?
What about the firefighter who lives down the street? How many kids has he pulled from harm's way this year? Or the police officer who risked her life to protect your neighbor? Aren't they heroes? And aren't there thousands of others just like them? Maybe the problem is not a dearth of heroism, but that we have so exhausted ourselves upon the rocky terrain of human frailty that we have lost sight of what makes someone a hero.
In the movies, heroism is often portrayed as an epiphanic process by which an ordinary person is transformed into a larger-than-life figure of resolute determination. Like Luke Skywalker, who went from impatient youth to mystic warrior in the space of the first Star Wars: The Complete Saga (Episodes I-VI) [Blu-ray] movie.
In real life, it doesn't work that way. The "mystic warrior" is more myth than reality. The epiphanies modify rather than transform. And even heroes have bad hair days.
Yet, in some measure, most of us make heroic journeys. Approaching life's challenges with a certain na´vetÚ, if not innocence, bit by bit our happy illusions are chipped away by adversities both great and small; yet, determined, we press on. Granted, each victory may be small. So what? An act does not need to be of mythic proportions to be heroic. Nor does heroism require perfection. Only that we set aside our doubts and fears, and do the right thing.
It may take only an instant, or require years of effort. Either way, people do it all the time. People you might know. Like Sam -- a father falsely accused of sex abuse -- and Amy (not her real name) -- a rape victim.
About Sam: In February of 1991, a City of Redmond Police detective removed Sam's step-daughter from her school on orders from a social worker with the Washington State Child Protective Service (CPS), who testified in Court that she did this because she believed Sam posed a threat to his step-daughter.
Though unfounded, the charges did not materialize out of the blue. According to Sam, it began eight years earlier, when his now ex-wife asserted that a female baby-sitter from their church sexually molested their daughter. "For almost two years, I paid the $400 a month counseling bills," says Sam. "But in 1986, with money tight, I balked. We argued, and she stormed out of the house after demanding a divorce."
They divorced. She went on welfare. Two years later, Sam remarried.
That's when Sam's ex-wife began complaining and accusing him of physically and sexually abusing their children, and the Redmond police took his step-daughter into CPS's custody. They would not allow her to return home until Sam moved out.
For the next year and a half, Sam lived in a small room at the back of his shop, struggling to keep his business going and maintain some kind of a relationship with his wife while answering all the old and new charges his ex-wife filed against him.
Among the charges was the claim that he "sexually abused (one of his daughters) by thinking about it." When confronted with such nebulous allegations, most men plea bargain. Law suits are lengthy and expensive, and bargaining is usually easier on everyone. Yet, though he was often overcome with feelings of despair, Sam was determined to see the truth come out and his family reunited. "CPS's mission is to solve family problems," says Sam, "and for the case workers that seems to mean 'Getting rid of the man.'"
He did everything they ordered, took all the tests and submitted to psychiatric examinations that included such "are you still beating your wife" questions as, "True or false, have you molested a child 2 or more times?" (If you answer "false," this is supposed to mean you have molested a child only once.) He passed 2 polygraph tests and one plythesmograph test. (A plythesmograph test involves connecting sensors to the penis, and then monitoring how the man responds to pornographic scenes ranging from depiction's of heterosexual and homosexual sex to sex with children.) The results of the plythesmograph test, however, were declared "inconclusive" because he didn't respond to anything. (It's a Catch-22: When a man responds to pornography, pop feminists call him sexist, but when he doesn't, the state calls it "inconclusive.")
Despite that he passed his polygraph tests and that his plythesmograph test proved nothing, despite that he disproved every previous charge made against him, his step-daughter's guardian ad litem told Sam she believed he had to be guilty because, as Sam explained, "I would not have so many people against me, otherwise."
The prosecutor made a show of having many hostile witnesses ready to testify against him, and he fully expected to lose.
Sam prepared for his final day in court.
August 31, 1992, Sam stunned the court when he refused to back down. "They expected me to plea bargain, but the truth was on my side."
The prosecutor dropped all charges against him, and Sam Sam was reunited with his family. Sam says he was relieved, but worn out by the experience. "My primary focus is now on healing my family."
For Sam, the hardest part is over, but for Amy, the journey has only just begun.
More than two years ago, when she was just 18, Amy got pregnant after she was raped. Her rapist, a popular man in the small eastern Washington town of Colville where they grew up, now serves in the military, stationed in Korea where Amy hopes he will stay. She was his sixth victim.
It would be an understatement to say she was upset to discover that she was pregnant. She had planned to go to college, establish a career, live a little, then get married and raise a family beginning sometime in her thirties. What would become of her dreams, now?
And then there was the hostility.
Although people her own age were, for the most part, understanding and sympathetic, many older adults were intolerant, accosting her at grocery stores to scold her for "getting" in the family way at her age.
Under such circumstances, most women might choose to have an abortion. Even conservative pro-life organizations are willing to allow that in cases of rape. Amy didn't know what to do. Should she get an abortion? If not, should she keep her daughter, or give her up for an adoption?
Her own parents were divorced, and she thought of how that affected her. She was determined that any child of hers would have a stable home and a good family life. Could she provide that? At a time when most American teenagers see endless possibilities before them, her life was full of uncertainty.
What about her rapist? He had already victimized five other women; shouldn't she report him? It was too late. Wanting to put the incident behind her, she said nothing until she found out she was pregnant. By then, all the forensic evidence, like bruises and his skin under her fingernails from when she scratched him, was gone.
That, and his popularity won him a stay of execution -- nobody believed her. To make matters worse, he was spreading rumors that she was "easy." Her options seemed few, an abortion the easiest thing to do.
So why did she choose to bear her daughter, and then keep her?
"I was worried that I couldn't take care of her," she says, struggling to explain. "I didn't know if I was mature enough." And it was difficult to keep her own feelings separated from those around her. "My mother wanted me to keep her, but my friends were all telling me to get an abortion or put her up for adoption."
In the end, she ignored what everyone else wanted, followed her own heart, and decided to go through with the pregnancy, but put her up for adoption.
The day she was to give her daughter up to an official from the adoption agency, however, there was a blizzard that would have made the journey from Colville to Spokane, where the adoption agency was located, hazardous. Already reluctant to let go, she felt this was a sign, and decided to keep her.
"I didn't want her riding to Spokane in a snowstorm," she says, but admitted this was really just an excuse. "I wanted to take care of her."
As every parent knows, however, even under the best of circumstances that can be difficult. And the obstacles were formidable. How was she going to support a child and continue her education?
That's where her mother stepped in, moving the entire family to Renton for a new start. Since then, she has obtained a certificate in nursing and is preparing to go on for a degree to become a Surgical Technician. She is making many new friends, and everything is beginning to fall into place.
Amy regrets that she wasn't older and better established when she had her daughter, and she misses not doing the things others her age are doing. But she's determined to look on the bright side. Having a child, she says, "changed me for the better." She's more focused, now, on work and looking after her family. "You've got to take responsibility."
Not that she hasn't suffered. The experience had a profound affect on her relationships with others. Just before she was raped, her fiance dumped her, and the emotional trauma left her vulnerable to predators. "For a while, I wasn't as choosy about who I went out with." Now, she's much more guarded, less trusting. "I've got a bad attitude when it comes to people messing with me." She's even taken up boxing and wrestling.
If she has learned to be strong and assertive, she has also learned a great deal about compassion. "You can't prepare for this," Amy says, "so it's good to have family support." But for many the family isn't there, or they don't understand at a time when love and understanding are exactly what is needed most. "I care about people in my situation."
"It's tough for anyone faced with a teen pregnancy," Amy explains. "You're faced with only 3 options to look at -- all with their own consequences, and every situation and solution is different."
So what does she recommend other women do under such circumstances? "All you can do is follow your heart and things will always work out in the end whatever you choose to do," she says, hastening to add that it takes a special love to keep a child under such circumstances, and that her daughter will always know she is loved.
A woman raped, a man falsely accused, both fall into the category of "condemned innocents." Individuals who, through no fault of their own, are often condemned by our traditional inclination to assume they somehow had it coming. "She must have invited his attack," many might think, and "his ex-wife would never have accused him without a good reason."
Such prejudice notwithstanding, both overcame great odds to do what they felt, in their hearts, was right. We need to recognize that. Not just to be fair to them, but because we need heroes. People to respect and look up to, people to inspire us, and to remind us of what is heroic in ourselves.
Despite their every flaw, Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King Jr., and John F. Kennedy did that for us. They did not let their flaws prevent them from doing something wonderful.
We all have this capacity. Sometimes, it takes a tragedy for it to show. Like the bombing in Oklahoma City. From the men and women all over the country who dropped what they were doing to help, to the women and men who picked through the rubble looking for survivors, there were many heroes that day. The worst has a way of bringing out the best in us.
Will Rogers once said, "We can't all be heroes because somebody has to sit on the curb and clap as they go by." That's not really true. There's an unsung hero in each of us. It's time to acknowledge that, and to applaud the hero that's in you.
Rod Van Mechelen