B.J. Bethel

A view of the world from Ohio

Masculinity is not a problem in law enforcement – nor anywhere else

Frank Rudy Cooper, Professor of Law at Suffolk University, writes in the TheConversation.com the issue with police violence in the United States is masculinity.

By masculinity, I simply mean popular assumptions about what is manly behavior. For instance, men do not wear dresses, do not ask for directions and do not dance. Or so we are told.

If one is a man, or just wants to perform masculinity, one will be drawn toward the behaviors that are popularly understood to be manly. An important tendency of masculine behavior in the United States is to confront disrespect with violence.

In policing, this has meant punishing the “noncrime” of “contempt of cop” (offending a police officer) with trumped up charges of law-breaking or physical violence.

Cooper takes some of the bite out of the headline (who knows who wrote it), instead saying “popular assumptions of masculinity and manly behavior,” but reading further, what he’s referring to is power dynamics not masculinity. In the context he writes, one could replace masculinity with femininity and it wouldn’t mean anything different.

The shooting of Philando Castille can be better explained through what author and polemicist Christopher Hitchens called the relationship between the dominator and the dominated. In Castille’s neighborhood, he was pulled over 52 times, half his citations were dismissed. This same type of over-policing, of Orwellian abuse of power through the micro-violation or non-violation isn’t a product of masculinity, it’s political and systemic, of domination. The case in Ferguson was similar, with citizens regularly given dozens of citations for innocuous violations, or no violations at all.

This is abuse of law, abuse of citizens, is where violence starts. It’s not a matter of masculinity but of policy. Of keeping a bankrupt locality alive so some people can keep retirements, health care and a salary. It’s incremental, as is outrage.

Cooper isn’t talking system, he’s talking one-on-one interactions with the police, which is where perceived notions of respect and manliness, as he would suggest, are the issue with police and violence. Disrespect is given by a black male, a while male cop sees this disrespect and reacts in the perceived masculine way, with aggression.

I have no degree in gender studies, but losing your cool isn’t considered masculine. Righteous anger is one thing, psychotic isn’t.

Movies and culture have changed perceptions on manliness, but not in a good way. The Tim Allen sitcom “Home Improvement” was derisively called Man Improvement. It was assumed for years stay-at-home fathers were depressed or angry or jealous at their spouses. These assumptions were false.

The traditional John Wayne model of the frontier man, rugged and individual, is a stereotype that wasn’t reflect in Wayne’s films. His characters were rugged and individualistic, but they also showed community, cooperation, cool under pressure, and the ultimate trait of masculinity – responsibility. Maybe stoic, but had heart and was self-sufficient and sufficient to others, most of all family. Christianity supplied a value system, and most importantly, someone (God) you need to answer to.

That definition fits many police, it also fits many men, and it’s a proper description of masculinity.

 

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