The Blame and Shame Falls Mainly on the Tame

Just about everyone with an ax to grind has an explanation for what happened to cause two young men, boys really, to go on a shooting rampage that has left four girls and a teacher dead in Jonesboro, Arkansas. "It's the gun culture," we're told. It's violence in the media. Another boy from a broken home gone bad.

Domestic violence advocates were quick to seize on the gender angle. Writing in the Christian Science Monitor, author Kersti Yllö tells us that, "this case is extreme, not aberrant. According to the FBI, 10 women a day are murdered by their boyfriends, husbands, or ex-husbands. The Jonesboro boys are not alone in taking deadly revenge against the females in their lives."

Never mind that the FBI said no such thing, it's a terrific sound bite. So is this, from Susan McGee, Executive Director of the Domestic Violence Project, Inc. SAFE House in Ann Arbor, Michigan: "The crime is about men's entitlement to women in relationships. It is about male violence against women and girls." McGee even goes so far as to say that, "This should be a wake-up call to the nation. All of our daughters are in danger."

If you follow domestic violence advocacy much, you already know that a human male can hardly make it through breakfast without battering his wife or girlfriend. In fact, a woman is more likely to be beaten to death by her husband than to make it through to next Tuesday. In most literature from these groups, wildly inflated statistics are the norm, not the exception; claims that seem to come out of nowhere are routinely attributed to sources like the FBI, or the March of Dimes. Kersti Yllö's statement in the Christian Science Monitor, attributed to the FBI, is off by more than a factor of two. Yet no one ever checks these claims, even in the most reputable of newspapers.

Since 1 A.D. when Ovid wrote of Pygmalion, we have known that our expectations can effect the people around us. In George Bernard Shaw's retelling, popularized on stage and screen as My Fair Lady, we see Eliza Doolittle rise from the streets of Liverpool to become a Lady of the Court... largely because Henry Higgins tells her she is, and he acts as if he believes it himself. "Pygmalion Management", popular in business, tells us that if you treat your employees like competent professionals, that is what they will become. If you treat them as dullards who are too stupid to know when to breathe in and when to breathe out, that is how they will behave.

How much more malleable must be the minds of schoolboys, who are still trying to make sense of the world when they learn that "their kind" is violent; that all daughters are in danger from them; that what men do is beat, maim, and kill women, ten times every day.

No one sane is in favor of domestic violence. But it is time to ask whether the nearly hysterical claims made by well-meaning people about the problem of "male violence" are not themselves contributing to the problem. For how many years can we continue to tell boys that they are violent Neanderthals before they start to act like it? As Voltaire said, "If we believe absurdities we shall commit atrocities."

Already, battered women's advocates are calling for "the enlistment of men and boys in the fight to end violence against women and girls; prevention programs focusing on gender, relationships and violence in every school in the country; and massive media attention focused on the problems of dating and domestic violence."

In other words, more messages directed at impressionable young boys that they are fundamentally violent creatures in need of correction. More adults saying that we expect boys to attack women, and that they need special classes to keep them from doing what comes naturally.

Would it not make more sense to tell them that they are Gentlemen of the Court, and to act as though we expect nothing else?

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