Combating Dystopia.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Disposable Boys: Masculinity Culture, Homophobia and Infanticide

While some of us have been trying in vain to ignore the Casey Anthony case (and the Nancy Grace-like histrionics and fundamentalism that seems inextricably interwoven with it) the world has gone on spinning.

It ought to be a relief people aren't seriously tried in Grace et al's court of public opinion, because this version of justice seems based on gut reactions, and sentimental plays to emotion; things that ought to never replace empirical proof and credible testimony. We'll just forgo such complicated things as facts provided our biased opinions "tell us" how to feel. I'm just glad the case is over so America can collectively put its attention to the other cases of infanticide that occur. Or, America's Next Top Model, depending...

More to the point, what annoys me about the Casey Anthony media circus is that in an expanded context, we could harness all this pearl clutching vigor over the injustice and apply it to the numerous cases that mirror it involving caregivers and the violent deaths of their charges. A well crafted article from the Huffington Post's Michael Rowe frames this nicely:
A nominally civilized society such as ours can only recoil in horror at any news of a child's death at the abusive hands of an adult. Infanticide is the ultimate forfeiture of our humanity, rightly seen as a perversion of the very essence of the natural order and the circle of life. The act is a declaration of such abject monstrosity that is very nearly beyond forgiveness. But it happens every day, and we guiltily avert our eyes to these stories when we read them because, on some level, we realize that the children could easily be our own and the pain is too much to bear. In 2008, in the U.S. alone, the Department of Health and Human Services reported 772,000 cases of child abuse, resulting 1,740 fatalities--a sharp rise from 1,330 in 2000.

So, problematically, this sort of horror is visited upon children more often than we're discussing here. And while we were painting our protest signs over the Anthony case, another case caught my eye.

One of the most horrific cases of infanticide I've ever seen came out of Durham, NC this week, and one would think people would be aghast collectively, as this on paper has all the earmarks of a high profile Nancy Grace-case. All the bells and whistles are present really- cult like groupthink, conspiracy to cover up the crime, coldblooded rationalization/motive for shooting a 4 year old point blank in the head. Ultimately, a gruesome crime of this nature should have the sort who were gravely preoccupied with the Anthony case holding prayer rallies...with the exception of some key variables...

Americans seem to feel much less "concerned" about boys who fail to convincingly "man up" and meet with harsh consequences, than we do about calculating mothers (especially so if the victim is non-white and working class).

Out of Durham, NC this week as per the DallasVoice, 4 year old Jaden Higganbothan was shot point blank in the head on the off off chance he might be gay:

According to information presented in court by prosecutors on Friday, July 8, Moses lived in a house in Durham with several women and their children — most of whom were fathered by Moses. But 4-year-old Jaden Higganbothan had a different father, who had left his mother, Vania Higganbothan Sisk, 25. Because Jaden’s father had left his mother and because Jaden hit one of the other children on the rear a couple of times, Moses decided the boy was gay and that they needed to get rid of him. In fact, prosecutors say, Moses had already told Sisk to get rid of Jaden at least once.

And "get rid" of Jaden they did, like so much refuse. While every bit of this case reads like the most calloused of crime fiction, one of the many disconcerting things about this case is the overarching trend at play here as it coheres with gender and (perceived) sexuality. Of parents and authority figures acting with violence towards little boys (toddlers) in the hopes they "man up", stop emoting, and by way of operant conditioning learn to stop being exactly what they are at 3 and 4 (infants) and start behaving like "men".

Many of my recent entries have touched on the cultural disconnect we have about gender and sexuality, be it our obsession with pre-adolescent gender roles and their (tenuous) connection to adult sexual orientation, or the extremes to which we go rigidly reinforce culturally specific gender socialization.

The truth here becomes harder and harder to ignore, when we enforce gender expectations to such a brutal degree before children are old enough to bare the weight, we can do irreversible psychological damage. When we over-emphasize the presumed importance of expressing particular gender behaviors, and therefore devalue any other sort of behavior (i.e- all boys must like/play sports or they're unmasculine) we create standards that can put those that don't (yet) conform at considerable risk.

The trend repeats itself, and makes national headlines decidedly less rarely than when a boy wears pink nailpolish and we contemplate how the "mother is making him or her gay". When children don't convince their parents in a credible way that they're being gender socialized apropriately, the consequences can, as seen in the recent tragedy in Durham, and a similar one that occured a year prior in NY where a man beat his girlfriend's 17 month old for not "acting manly"....whatever that means under the circumstances of infancy.

The earlier referenced Micheal Rowe article touches on this:

But there is an added and significant dimension to the tragedy. The reason given for the beating is that, even at 17 months, the toddler was perceived by his killer to be effeminate. Madhouse logic indeed, but to Pedro Jones there was a way that little boys should act and a way little girls should act.

While Jones is a tragic example of the paradigm taken to deadly lengths, society's discomfort with gender variance permeates nearly every part of the national dialogue and runs through every part of the culture.

And all of this rings truer and truer still in the few widely publicized cases involving sexual orientation and youth culture. Look at the Lawrence King trial, and some of the (appalling) "gay panic" justifications that stemmed from it. Look at Tracy Morgan's profoundly ignorant rant. We live in a society that passively condones violence against boys when they seem like they could be "gay". Then we wring our hands (some of us) and feel just awful about bullying gay kids after they've jumped off a bridge, or have been shot twice execution style in the head, or 17 month old boys have been beaten to death for "acting girly". Education and consistent dialogues on how damaging these fabricated standards we've pushed on children regarding gender are of extreme importance to countering the barbarism and ignorance that bring about the senseless loss of life associated with the above cases. Its imperative we get beyond such colossal stupidity as a culture given that the consequences are so unthinkably tragic. And while its good to see people collectively feeling anything resembling human emotions these would be nice to see rational thought and compassion prevail over the regressive bible thumping of our archaic pasts.

Now hear this: Music to shake your fist to:

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