Trigger warning: rape/child sexual abuse, cultures of abuse.
As I said, I’m working on a post on how gender, and specifically ideas about masculinity, factor into the sexual abuse of boys by men, and into the cover ups of such abuse in hierarchical institutions. With Penn State and in other cases where institutions enable abuse, I think we’re seeing at work the most toxic and damaging side of notions of what it means to “be a man” or grow into manhood.
There are recurring themes about aspects of masculinity and male-dominated cultures/contexts that pop up in these cases. Fatherhood and proxy fatherhood. Teaching boys to be, act like, or grow into men. The role of relationships between adult and minor males in producing and reinforcing certain concepts of masculinity. The patronage and power of older men over younger men. And race and religion and the cult of sports are all factors here as well.
I put together some preliminary thoughts I tweeted for the post on Storify. I can’t embed it on the blog, unfortunately, but I’ve pasted it in plain text below. It’s easier to read on Storify, though. There are a few more points I want to add, but the basic points I want to make about how patriarchy enables adult male abuse of boys specifically are mostly here. I’d love some comments and feedback.
I need to write about how our ideas of masculinity inform power structures, relationships in institutions like sports teams and churches and how this contributes to an environment where abuse of various kinds is enabled and covered up. Going to tweet about this for a bit.
Part of my frustration with some responses to the #PSU case is this language of monstrosity that frames abuse as distant and rare. It’s not.
RT @rightingteacher People don’t want to think those they know, love, admire have committed this kind of crime. But they have.
RT @rightingteacher Believing it’s distant keeps kids in danger, keeps abusers free from scrutiny, facilitating further abuse.
Up to 1 in 3 girls and 1 in 6 boys have been or will be or are being sexually abused. That doesn’t include physical or emotional abuse.
That’s not rare. That’s an epidemic.
MT @rightingteacher Terrible 2 think it’s your son, husband, aunt, mom who abuses; worse 2 be child abused because some are beyond suspicion
All that to say, child abuse is incredibly common. And this matters, not because it would be less horrible if it were a rare thing…
But because when horrible things happen with that frequency, on that scale, there’s a degree of cultural complicity in it.
We really resist thinking about ways in which culture & society enable child sexual abuse. It’s true of rape in general, but esp. w/ kids.
There’s a bit of conversation now on how the culture at #PSU and the cult of personality around JoePa enabled Sandusky, but still limited.
To my mind 1 thing largely missing from mainstream coverage of #PSU is an interrogation of “masculinity,” how it enables this kind of abuse
There’s a recurring theme in #PSU case and others of ideas about fatherhood and surrogate fatherhood, specifically of boys.
Sandusky is the most obvious. He targeted boys who were being raised by single moms, gained access by presenting as a “male role model.”
He was able to package himself that way bc of assumptions (not necessarily all bad) about how boys/young men need older male mentors and because of assumptions of what that kind of relationship between older men and boys/young men should look like.
Sandusky talked a lot about discipline, structure, being a father figure who provided those things for boys who didn’t always appreciate it.
I mean, there are real challenges to growing up with only one parent, esp. a single mom, bc of classism, racism, misogyny, heteronormativity
But that’s not the message we send to boys who are being raised by single moms. Not, “this is a tough road,” but “something is wrong w/ you”
And I think we need to talk about the fact that Sandusky targeted boys who had been primed to see themselves as lacking something…
That only a man in this role of “father figure” or “mentor” could provide. That he was able to home in on that sense of loss and longing.
He took advantage of the idea that any older male who is there & “provides,” whether materially, or with “affection” or “discipline” is good
And that’s about a culture of a certain kind of masculinity, or beliefs around masculinity. It’s not just about Sandusky or others who abuse
And we can see this in defenses of Paterno, most of which are about his being a paternal figure to “his” players, “his” staff, all of #PSU
I was struck, e.g., by how the new acting head coach at #PSU said Paterno has meant more to him than anyone but his father. Hmm.
And with the students who rioted because “JoePa has done so much for this university” and “he is Penn State”
That again is about the idea of unwavering loyalty to the older male figure who “provides” and acts in this paternalistic/patron role.
.@SylkoZakur right. & those messages are *especially* targeted at black boys & young men, from folks who aren’t black and black ppl as well
The whole culture of coaching, esp. of boys’ teams, but also in general, is based on similar assumptions about male mentoring, leadership.
W/ men coaching sports, men leading churches/being spiritual fathers, men being “father figures” much of what we consider good leadership…
Is actually men trampling over boys/young men’s emotional and often physical boundaries in the name of “discipline” and “structure.”
And a supporting culture that coaches/bullies the kids on the receiving end to see it all as “for their own good” and not question it.
And that provides a context where predatory behavior by older men can be seen as “mentoring” by other adults…
And kids get the message that having a father/father figure around is inherently a good thing, with no education about patriarchal violence.
Dunno how coherent all that was, but the upshot is this idea that older men in positions of authority are there to tell us to do things…
That we don’t want to do, and there to make us do them for ‘our good’ (whether it’s coaches, priests, bio/foster/adoptive fathers)…
And that we owe them this uncritical loyalty for sacrificing by disciplining/mentoring us in these ways – this is all important context.
It’s context for why male adult abusers are able to target boys using the promise of a “father figure.”
Also context for why men in hierarchical institutions excuse, enable, cover-up abuse. “Masculine” Loyalty, discipline, doing as you’re told.
I’m very excited to share that I’m now a contributor to MOMocrats, a great blog dedicated to writing about politics from a variety of parents’ perspectives. My first post for MOMocrats has just been posted; please check it out, and the rest of the blog, too! An excerpt:
Steven Levitt of Freakonomics fame recently wrote that he bases his decisions on whether to support government prohibitions on what he calls the “daughter test”:
It wasn’t until the U.S. government’s crackdown on internet poker last week that I came to realize that the primary determinant of where I stand with respect to government interference in activities comes down to the answer to a simple question: How would I feel if my daughter were engaged in that activity? If the answer is that I wouldn’t want my daughter to do it, then I don’t mind the government passing a law against it. I wouldn’t want my daughter to be a cocaine addict or a prostitute, so in spite of the fact that it would probably be more economically efficient to legalize drugs and prostitution subject to heavy regulation/taxation, I don’t mind these activities being illegal. On the other hand, if my daughter had good reasons to want an abortion, I would want her to be able to have one, so I’m weakly in favor of abortion to be legal, even though I put a lot of value on unborn fetuses.
That this is utterly ridiculous ought to be so obvious as to need no elaborating. Do we want legislators making laws based on what they would personally want for us as parents, or based on respect for people as human beings with equal rights and autonomy? This shouldn’t be a difficult question to answer. Yet a bunch more white dudes similarly privileged as Levitt have since weighed in to debate whether or not his test is reasonable.
Read the rest of the post at MOMocrats.
ETA: I just realized this is the 100th post at Are Women Human. Hurrah!