Journey to manhood.
And yet, when something like the Jonesboro massacre happens, we have to confront the flip side of this revolution. There are all sorts of possibilities open to my daughter that were never there for me. There are also terrifying dangers for her not even on our radar screens when we were kids. Is it possible that, twenty-five years after the women's movement, boys and girls are more separated by the gender divide than ever?
Titanic broke box office records in part because adolescent girls have gone to see it multiple times. Many of them long to enter a world in which an androgynous young man insists that he loves a headstrong young woman precisely because she is independent and feisty.
At the same time, in real life, two pre-pubescent boys decided that the real way to deal with girls who might have minds of their own was to shoot them dead in their tracks. These boys weren't emulating Jack, Leonardo DiCaprio's character in Titanic. They were more like the brutish, stalker-fiance, who ran around the sinking ship trying to shoot the heroine because she rejected him.
The media's repeated use of the word "students" to refer to the victims was utterly inappropriate. The victims were girls. Their assailants were boys. These boys--one of whom was reportedly angry about being rejected by a girl--aimed at, and shot, only females, a pattern repeated in other acts of school violence over the past five years.
Much has been made of the Arkansas "gun culture," as upper-middle-class pundits smugly projected a national problem onto a bunch of "rednecks," a word rarely said but always implied. But these boys didn't get the scenario they so tragically enacted just from Arkansas--they got if from our national kid culture.
The easy availability of guns--one of the Jonesboro shooters reportedly got his first rifle at age six--remains a national disgrace, and the massacre has galvanized the gun-control forces in the country.
But guns aren't the only problem. Remember that fleeting moment in the 1970s when kids were supposed to be "free to be you and me"? Too much of corporate kid culture has steamrolled these efforts to free our kids from sex-role stereotyping.
Those of you unfortunate enough to have entered a Toys'R'Us have walked through a gendered house of horrors. For girls, shocking-pink aisles filled with princess play sets; for boys, black and battleship gray aisles filled with lasers, tasers, swords, and bazookas.
Much of children's television programming, and especially the commercials, reflects the same stereotypes. Ads for make-up kits and dolls that spit up show girls confined in bedrooms or kitchens. The commercials for boys feature a deep, rapid-fire male voice imitating the announcers at the Indy 500 and hawking race cars, intergalactic warriors, and various weapons of destruction while little boys in camouflage outfits zap each others' toys to kingdom come.
Despite the fact that there is an ongoing revolution in fatherhood, with men doing things with and for their children that their fathers never did, advertisers have virtually censored out of their commercials images of males as caretakers. Then, all of a sudden, at age thirteen, the boy is supposed to morph into a nurturing, new age guy a la Leonardo.
We as a culture have begun to devise strategies to help inoculate some of our daughters against sex-role stereotyping we believe is anachronistic and harmful. But what are we doing to help inoculate boys against video games that glorify violence, like Resident Evil, Doom, Quake, and Duke Nukem (a game that gives bonus points for the murder of female characters)?
American kid culture still exaggerates the differences between boys and girls, and then tells girls-that they really can be more like boys. But it remains unspeakable to tell boys that they can, in fact, be more like girls. All the class-bound denunciations of regional "gun culture" let our national kid culture off the hook--a culture that promotes, and profits from, telling little boys that violence is the quickest, simplest solution to most problems.
Grown-ups should pay a lot more attention to the journey from boyhood to manhood-not just in Arkansas, but everywhere.
Susan Douglas teaches Communications Studies at the University of Michigan.
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|Title Annotation:||the Arkansas high school murders were as much about gender and kid culture as it was guns and redneck culture|
|Date:||May 1, 1998|
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