Friday, January 28, 2011

Jackson Katz Says the Tucson Tragedy Is about Men and Violence: Part 1

I generally disagree with Jackson Katz (the film-maker behind Tough Guise) even when he is on the right track - he is correct that we need to have a national conversation about outdated models of manhood and masculinity that contribute to violence and shooting. BUT, the tragedy that happened here in my own town is NOT the proper context for that discussion.

I have issues with this article he posted at Huffington Post a week and a half or so after the shootings. So I'm going to post his article broken up by my commentary.
Teachable Moment in Tucson: Guns, Mental Illness and Masculinity

Jackson Katz - Author, educator, cultural theorist

Posted: January 17, 2011

A consensus seems to have developed that some in media precipitously and inaccurately blamed violent rhetoric from the right for the shooting in Tucson on January 8. But whether or not they were misled in this instance by what turns out to be false reports about the shooter's political motivations, something positive did emerge from the media in the wake of this tragedy. Key figures in media promised to "look in the mirror" and examine their responsibility for contributing to a toxic political environment that could lead to violence.

This is a promise to which we should hold the media, regardless of how the event that initially catalyzed it turns out. There is a lot more that journalists and opinion-makers in the media could do to advance a discussion in our society about violence - political and otherwise.

Much of what needs to happen is an honest conversation about issues related to masculinity and violence. Many people have circled around this subject, especially in terms of the intensifying debate about guns. The Tucson massacre has revived debate (for the moment) about our country's gun laws, and the astounding power of the NRA to block commonsense regulations. Some people go beyond the power of the gun lobby and ask larger questions about our culture, such as MSNBC's Chris Matthews, who asks repeatedly: what's the obsession with guns? But few if any voices in mainstream media have discussed the connection between guns, violence, and American ideals of manhood.

I'm not convinced that there was anything about this tragedy that has anything to do with men and guns. Yes, technically, Jared Loughner is a man and yes, he used a gun in his killing spree. The violence was a function of his mental illness, and most likely was a troubled family life, copious drug use, and increasing social isolation.

Katz is using the Tucson tragedy in the same way that liberals in the media (that would include me) have used it to attack right-wing hate speech and violent rhetoric. This situation is not the proper context to have a discussion about misguided ideas about masculinity, violence, and guns.

To make Loughner's actions about masculinity and violence, as Katz suggests, is to ignore the very real issue of his mental illness. In my opinion, we need to have a discussion about why we allow our young to suffer in isolation with severe mental illness - why do we neglect to get them the help and treatment they need?

Amazingly, this connection has not been part of the mainstream coverage of Tucson or any of the rampage killings in recent years. The trouble is you can't change a social phenomenon until you can at least identify and name it. Each time one of these horrific acts of violence occurs, commentators and editorial writers hone in on every relevant factor they can identify - mental illness, the availability of handguns, the vitriolic tone of talk radio and cable TV - and leave out what is arguably the most important factor: gender.

Why is gender such a critical factor in an incident like Tucson? In the Tucson rampage, like the Virginia Tech killings to which it has been compared, "expert" opinion and media commentary has coalesced around "mental illness" as the cause of the mayhem. But mental illness itself has critical gendered dynamics. As the psychiatrist James Gilligan has written, the vast majority of homicidal violence is perpetrated by men who have severe disorders of personality or character, but who are not technically "insane." Thus it should be no surprise, Gilligan writes, that less than one percent of murderers in the U.S. are found "not guilty by reason of insanity." (Arizona law, unlike federal law, includes a possible finding of "guilty but insane.")
Again, I have to take issue with these assertions. It is not Loughner's gender that made him mentally ill. According to National Institute for Mental Health (NIMH), schizophrenia (if that is indeed what Loughner suffers from - and I am doubtful it is) hits men and women equally (source). On the other hand, if he is simply suffering from antisocial personality disorder, then being male increases the chances of this disorder. If he were female, the odds would two to four times higher that he has borderline personality disorder.

Clearly, then, gender plays a role a mental illness as Katz suggests, but if all of the media shrinks are correct, then gender did not play a role in this situation. Schizophrenia strikes men and women equally, and while men tend to get it younger and are less likely to experience remission, there is no clear gender bias regarding who gets it. And if some reports are true about his father being psychologically unstable (his father stayed home and raised while his mother worked), genetics are clearly involved.

From the New York Times:

Some people who knew, or at least glimpsed, Mr. Loughner’s life at home with his parents, Randy and Amy Loughner, said they found the family inscrutable sometimes, and downright unpleasant at other times, especially the behavior of Randy Loughner.“

Sometimes our trash would be out, and he would come up and yell that the trash stinks,” said a next-door neighbor, Anthony Woods, 19. “He’s very aggressive.”

Mrs. Loughner has worked for the city’s Parks Department for many years, Tucson officials confirmed. Mr. Loughner’s employment, if any, was not known. Mr. Woods and his father, Stephen, 46, said they rarely saw the older Mr. Loughner go anywhere.

One of Loughner's "friends," Zach Osler, reports that Loughner told him he was unhappy being at home (WSJ), not an uncommon feeling for a young man out of high school who should be in college or working and on his own. But he was unable to find work, for obvious reasons, and he was increasingly isolated by his illness.

Is that about gender? I don't think so - it's about his illness, it's about his family life, and it's about no one making a real effort to do anything about any of it.

And here we have the real issue in my opinion - Loughner's parents, his school mates, or even his professors, under Arizona law, could have had him involuntarily committed for a psych evaluation. The names of two witnesses to his bizarre behavior was all that would have been needed. Yet no one did anything. If they had, it highly probable that he would have been placed in a psych ward and put on meds, and hopefully given some therapy.

At this point in his manifesto, Katz leaves the Tucson shootings behind and tries to make some valid points about masculinity, shame, and violent crime (although even here I take issue with him). The shootings in Tucson, the deaths of six innocent bystanders, the life-altering wounds suffered by Giffords - all of this was just a pretext for Katz to make his real arguments.

In part 2, later today or tomorrow, I will examine the rest of his argument and offer, if needed, a wider and more comprehensive view.

1 comment:

Sage said...

I generally disagree with Katz as well. On the other hand, I found your commentary to be pretty right on and a valuable perspective here.