Friday, May 04, 2007

Molly Ivins, I Hardly Knew You

Zuzu reminds us that Camille Paglia is still spouting crap, this time making claims which seem to amount to something like: if those teasing women had just had sex with Seung-Hui Cho, we wouldn't find ourselves in the aftermath of a massacre. Echidne has a similar take on things. But it's Clio's comment on the Feministe thread that led me to an article slamming Paglia (written long ago) by Molly Ivins which interested me the most, really. I came late to the party as regards Ivins. Wow, is she scathing, insightful and funny:

The noise is about her oeuvre, as we always say in Lubbock: Sexual Personae: Art and Decadence from Nefertiti to Emily Dickinson. In very brief, for those of you who have been playing hooky from the New York Review of Books, Ms. Paglia's contention is that "the history of western civilization has been a constant struggle between two impulses,an unending tennis match between cold, Apollonian categorization and Dionysian lust and chaos." Jeez, me too. I always thought the world was divided into only two kinds of people—those who think the world is divided into only two kinds of people, and those who don't.

One of her latest efforts at playing enfant terrible in intellectual circles was a peppy essay for Newsday, claiming that either there is no such thing as date rape or, if there is, it's women's fault because we dress so provocatively. Thanks, Camille, I've got some Texas fraternity boys I want you to meet.


That's completely harsh, and utterly appropriate, I think.

I will say, however, that I think Paglia reminds me of something that is perhaps tangential to her "point": Whatever the myriad reasons that we can look to by way of explanation for Cho's violent actions, it may be the case that at least some of what he was going through was the difficulty of living up to traditional standards of masculinity. It is of course not the fault of any of the women he knew (or "knew")--to suggest that, as Paglia seems to, would be criminal. By all accounts he was a creepy bastard, and nobody ought to blame the women around him (or the men!) for not wanting to interact with him more. But we might want to ask: why was he a creepy bastard? Additionally, there are lots of creepy bastards out there--why is that?

I'd like to add one more factor to the array of possible reasons why he went off the way he did: a sense of alienation caused by being a man in our society. Just a guess, sure--and any feelings of alienation he was feeling were in turn fueled by lots of complex stuff in his life, depression was apparently a factor, for instance. But I think it's important to recognize that men are taught to be violent--they are taught that violence is a good solution to one's problems, that one can even be righteous in one's violence (which Cho seemed to think correct in his case). This isn't, of course, the only thing that men are taught; but violent solutions are to be found left and right, from one's dad telling one to kick the bully in the balls to one's president invading other countries willy-nilly (and in so doing killing off lots of men and women). So, we start with a culture wherein violence is offered up as a solution.

And then we give men some standards to live up to, many of which are vague and implicit, often only made explicit when men bully other men. Men are put into various pressure-cooker situations, where they aren't given many avenues to express their emotions, their stress. Add to that my earlier point that within certain conceptions of traditional masculinity, violence is considered, in some contexts and against some people, a viable option for dealing with problems--especially if one is a man--it become snot so surprising as we might like it to be that boys and men go around shooting people from time to time.

Which isn't to say that Paglia is right in any way, or that I think some simple explanation/solution is available to us here--but I do think that traditional conceptions of masculinity have a part to play, both in possibly helping to explain Cho's motivations and actions.
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