As we continue to grapple with the tragedy that left 22-year-old Kasandra Perkins dead, many are wondering what caused her boyfriend to take her life. While discussions about traumatic brain injuries, infidelity, guns, entitlement, and domestic violence swirl about; one thing that is rarely discussed are conventional notions of masculinity.
In his essay for CNN, writer and activist Kevil Powell discussed the ways in which manhood and the socialization of men may be to blame for this horrific event.
Belcher was a man living in the supersized macho world of football, a world in which many of us American males reside, be it football or not. Too many of us have been taught manhood in a way that is not healthy. Be tough, men do not cry, man up — these are the things I’ve heard my entire life, and I now cringe when I hear this relayed to boys or younger men by teachers, coaches, fathers, mentors and leaders.
Or we use derogatory and sexist or homophobic words to describe men or boys who do not meet the “normal” of what a male is supposed to be. Some of these male authority figures mean well, or are simply repeating what they were socialized to be or to do, and do not realize that they are unwittingly teaching that manhood has little room to express hurt, disappointment and sorrow.
Rob Okun echoed Powell’s sentiments in an article he wrote for the Ms. Magazine blog:
Let’s stick with the facts: It was domestic violence. It was murder. Belcher killed his “beloved” Kasandra Perkins, the 22 year-old mother of his three month-old daughter Zoey, at their home and then drove to team headquarters and killed himself in front of his head coach, general manager and other staff. Missing from the news accounts? It’s the masculinity, people.
In the aftermath of the murder-suicide, I can’t get the mantra “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore” out of my head. That famous line from the classic film Network just won’t go away. Maybe that’s a good thing. Maybe millions of us should open our windows and stick our heads out and yell it, adding this additional phrase: “I’m mad as hell that we keep ignoring the shadow side of masculine culture, and I’m not going to take it anymore.”
Both essays made me think of a TED talk I’d seen about “The Man Box” by Tony Porter.
During his talk, Porter recounted a story in which he asked a 12-year-old football player how he would feel if his coach said he playing like a girl. While Porter expected the boy to say it would upset him, the boy admitted being compared to a girl would “destroy him.” Surprised by his response, Porter wondered, “If it would destroy [a boy] to be called a girl, what are we then teaching him about girls?”
As the mother of a young son I think a lot about the messages I am teaching him and how it will affect him (and the women he will encounter) later in life. Although my son is just seven, I am acutely aware that there are forces in the world that are pushing him to value his physical strength and mental toughness over his ability to communicate his feelings. Because of this I make it a point to always check in with him about what he’s thinking and feeling, which not only gives him an outlet, but also lets him know it’s ok to be open about such things.
Unlike Belcher, and other men who may keep their feelings bottled up until they explode, even at seven, my son knows that talking rather than hitting or reacting angrily is always the best choice. Unfortunately, this is not what is taught—explicitly and implicitly—to young men and boys.
Men are taught to be tough, to not cry, to “man up”, to never be weak or vulnerable or love too much. We force men into boxes that don’t allow them to fully express who they are and how they think, but then we are surprised when they explode.
While Belcher is totally at fault for stealing Kasandra from her daughter and the world, I can’t help but wonder how this whole thing could have been avoided if he, and other violent men, had the necessary tools to deal with their emotions.
By teaching, and some instances shaming, men to be hyper-masculine are we ensuring that violence against women will continue? Speak on it.
*Photo cred: Marvelous-girl.com