I’ve been trying hard to ignore Charlotte Allen suggestion in the National Review that the Sandy Hook tragedy happened because elementary schools are too “feminized” and there were no adult men on the premises (except for the shooter, of course). But I can’t do it any more, and you know why? She’s responded to criticism by doubling down.
No, I was not blaming any of the 26 victims or the parents who enrolled their kids at Sandy Hook. I am, however, blaming our culture that denies, dismisses, and denigrates the masculine traits—including size, strength, male aggression and a male facility for strategic thinking–that until recently have been viewed as essential for building a society and protecting its weaker members. We now have Hanna Rosin at Slate urging parents to buy their little boys Easy Bake ovens so they’ll be more like little girls. Women are less aggressive by instinct, and they are typically trained to be nice.
How to even respond? It’s honestly hard to take this sort of thing seriously.
Is Allen seriously suggesting that the solution to male aggression – in the form of the shooter – is more male aggression? Is she seriously suggestion that strategic thinking is only a “male” thing, and that we as a culture denigrate strategic thinking? Also, am I missing something, or is she arguing that Hanna Rosin’s suggestion that Easy Bake ovens should be toys for boys as well as girls somehow shares part of the blame for mass shootings like the one at Sandy Hook Elementary?
Let me see if I have this straight. Allen says that we socialize girls to be “nice” (which is true) and that by suggesting that boys might like Easy Bake ovens too, we are trying to get them to be like girls (i.e. “nice”). And then, somehow, she turns around and blames the Sandy Hook shooting on society teaching boys to be “nice” instead of valuing “male aggression.”
I want to finish by simply stating that feminism is not that complicated. Feminism is about socializing both boys and girls to do things like strategic thinking, to be compassionate, to be good leaders, to work well with others, to take initiative, and to care for the weak, among other things. Feminism is about seeing people as people first, rather than first sifting them into “male” and “female” categories. Really, not that difficult. Do we want boys to learn to be “nice” like girls? What we want is to stop socializing girls to be “nice” and boys to be “aggressive.” We think people should be viewed as people first rather than being sorted into gendered boxes.
See, the reality is, gender does deserve a role in the conversation here. All but one of the shooters in the sixty-two mass shootings of the past thirty years have been male. That’s significant. So we do need to be talking about male aggression, about how we socialize boys, and about the messages our society sends about masculinity. But Allen’s suggestion that the key to prevent future mass shootings is to place more value on male aggression and to stop trying to teach boys to be “nice” like girls stops that conversation before it even starts.
Also, I’m not sure if Allen realizes this when she endorses the idea that there are “natural” gender traits, but the idea that women are naturally “nice” and men are naturally “aggressive” is the reason elementary schools are what she calls “feminized” spaces. That’s not something that can be blamed on feminism. In fact, that there are any male elementary school teachers at all is the result of feminism’s efforts to get out the message that men can be caregivers – aka “nice” – too.
Honestly, I wasn’t surprised when evangelical and fundamentalist leaders came out blaming the shootings on Engel v. Vitale. I wasn’t surprised when opponents of gun control suggested that we should arm elementary school teachers. Allen’s suggestion that the problem is that we have been devaluing male aggression and trying to teach boys to be “nice,” however, was unexpected. But perhaps it shouldn’t have been. After all, the conservatives had to find some way to blame feminism. They always do, after all.