A Response to Newtown

17 Dec

I have really been trying to avoid writing about this because, honestly, what can I say about it that hasn’t already been said and thought about countless times over.  But after spending yet another hour in front of my computer, reading article upon article about the horrible tragedy that occurred in Connecticut this past Friday, I just can’t help myself.  Personally, I am not really sure how to deal with all the feelings I have been having over the past few days (including crying myself to sleep two nights in a row) so I figure I will work it out here.  You can either choose to go ahead and read or spare yourself…the latter would be beyond justified.

I found out about the event via a New York Times emergency update on my phone.  Pretty much nothing good ever comes from seeing that little script “T” appear on the top right hand side of my screen.  I opened it and read the headline and my immediate response was

What the fuck is wrong with people?!

I realized the carnage had happened in an elementary school.  I logically understood that many of the victims were children.  I just think my brain was literally incapable of understanding it.  My brain just rejected the information.  I ate lunch.  I drank some more coffee.  I took a shower.  I got the laundry together.  I went down to the Clean Rite to throw the pounds and pounds of dirty clothes, sheets and towels in the wash and was surrounded, literally surrounded, by televisions on different news stations – 2, 4, 5, 7 — all reporting on the events in Newtown.  My boyfriend was there and so, to avoid allowing the reality of it all to crash down on us, we chatted, joked, and divvied our laundry into three different washers.  While the clothes were washing, we ran some errands and then, while he showered, I went down to change the laundry into the dryers.  I couldn’t avoid listening to the news, the interviews with children as they left the scene, with parents who’s kids were spared, to newscasters who were literally unable to keep it together (and who can blame them?).  I got teared-up in the Clean Rite.  My eyes and my lower lip burned.  I kept it, at least right then, to a minimum of tears.  The rest of the evening, spent largely alone with my cats, was spent trying as hard as possible to avoid the news.  I knew what I would find there and I know myself.  I would spend all night, into the wee hours, scouring every news site in an effort to understand something, anything.  I did a relatively good job but still, lying in bed by myself, I couldn’t help but think about the parents who were missing children for the first night, families who were missing those who worked at the school.

I woke up the next morning and walked to work.  I wrote a message on the outside board about the need to discuss gun violence in wake of this most recent tragedy.  There were a few conversations about it during the day but I think, mostly, people just couldn’t deal.  I think they went to the bar to get away from the news and the wondering and the thoughts and the tears and I certainly wasn’t going to take that away from them.  When work ended and I arrived back home I, stupidly perhaps, turned my computer on and there was the New York Times website, my home page.  And there on the first page was an article that revealed that the shooter’s mother didn’t even work at the school.  I had been sad and confused about this event before but for some reason this made it all worse.

But why?

The result was the same.  The kids and the educators were dead.  I guess there was some part of my brain that had previously believed, taken some weird form of comfort in, the fact that maybe this guy went to kill his mother and got carried away.  That despite the incredible amount of fire power he brought with him that maybe he snapped in that moment, that people got in the way, that he got scared.  Something.  Anything.  I wanted to believe, even though I think logically I knew it wasn’t true, that it was an accident.  That he didn’t mean to kill all those kids.  To think that he killed his mother at home and then drove to an elementary school and opened fire on a group of mostly first graders just…I don’t know.  To think of walking into a school full of young people who are still more or less unaffected by horror and tragedy and to massacre them is just unfathomable.  To think that that was the point of his journey there.  The point was to go in and destroy the lives of countless people.  The point was to look at these little guys that weight 40?  50? pounds and rip their bodies apart with not 1, not 2, but up to 11 bullets.  The point was, what?   I doubt we’ll ever have an answer to that.

In the aftermath of all this I have seen a lot of people talking about gun control.  A lot of people talking about better care for the mentally ill.  A better infrastructure to identify and treat, or at least help, those who are risks to themselves and others.  I’ve seen people warn that by focusing on the mental state of this particular person risks further stigmatizing a group of people who, for the most part, are not violent.  I think these are all valid points.  I think we need to talk gun control.  I think we need to talk about not shutting mental illness up in a closet because it is too sensitive to talk about.  But I also think we need to address our culture’s ideas about masculinity and power and privilege.  I don’t think it is a coincidence that almost all of the mass shootings that have occurred recently, and in history, have been perpetrated by men.  And I don’t think it’s a coincidence that more often than not those men have been white.  I think we need to talk about how we raise our boys.  We need to talk about the way we advertize and how we define what makes a person “manly.”  We need to realize that the shifting demographics in this country not only make it increasingly difficult for any candidate to run on a ticket geared only to white men, but also represent a challenge to our carefully constructed reality.  We need to shift our norms.  We need to shift our values.  When we spend a good deal of our time – in television shows and movies, in commercials, in conversation, in classrooms – putting white men on a pedestal and then they go out in the world and their privilege is challenged and maybe their opinions don’t matter more than everyone else’s solely because they have a white penis, well, what do we expect?  As a woman, yea, society has told me that I am worth less, that I deserve less, that my body is not mine, that I am the cause of my own abuse.  But also as a woman I was taught to fight back, to answer these attacks with reason and truth, to join together with other women and allies, to not allow words and actions to define my worth.

I guess what I am saying is what if I expected everything?  What if I was born and the world was mine and, although life wasn’t easy, things were designed and created with me in mind?  How might I respond to others questioning my power?

I think our boys lack tools to deal with adversity.  I think we, as a culture, build them up so much and at the same time infuse them with an unattainable, and oftentimes violent, idea of what manhood is.  It’s not sustainable.  It’s like a child whose given everything he asks for, and even things he doesn’t, and all of a sudden hears the word “no” only rather than throwing some toys he shoots some guns.

I am certainly oversimplifying.  I will certainly think more about this in the coming days, weeks, months.  I guess the thing is that I don’t think it’s just access to guns, or lack of access to proper care, although those are certainly part of the problem.  I just really think we need to start talking about how we prepare our boys for the world.  Obviously not all of them go out shooting.  Not even most of them.  But it would be nice if none of them did and I strongly believe that an honest and open dialogue about cultural norms, power, privilege and masculinity is in order.  It might actually help more than a reevaluation of the second amendment or  better and more affordable mental health care.  We need to better prepare our boys for the changing world.  We need to teach them to respond to adversity not with anger and violence but with information.  Just a thought.

3 Responses to “A Response to Newtown”

  1. robakers December 17, 2012 at 4:05 pm #

    Thank you for your comments. I think it is important that we as a nation deal directly with this event. I applaude you for having the courage to speak your mind.

    I believe that the pen is mightier than the sword. Several people are sending cards and letters to the school as a show of support.

    Here is the address:
    Sandy Hook Elementary School
    12 Dickenson Dr.
    Newtown, CT 06482

    God Bless

    • FranklyRebekah December 17, 2012 at 4:09 pm #

      Agreed. This certainly isn’t something that should be put off as events like these have in the past.

      And thank you for the address and the idea about sending some thoughts along – I will certainly share it.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. I Think the NRA is Missing Something with this “National Model School Shield Program” Thing | franklyrebekah - April 2, 2013

    […] the state of our mental health infrastructure and the way in which we have been raising our boys here.  And then I talked a little bit about gun control legislation here.  And so now today I am going […]

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