Cultures of Violence Die Hard

Last night, Montana Republican gubernatorial candidate Greg Pianoforte assaulted a reporter. According to individuals from Fox News, who were at the scene:

[Jacobs] walked into the room with a voice recorder, put it up to Gianforte’s face and began asking if he had a response to the newly released Congressional Budget Office report on the American Health Care Act. Gianforte told him he would get to him later. Jacobs persisted with his question. Gianforte told him to talk to his press guy, Shane Scanlon.

At that point, Gianforte grabbed Jacobs by the neck with both hands and slammed him into the ground behind him. Faith, Keith and I watched in disbelief as Gianforte then began punching the reporter. As Gianforte moved on top of Jacobs, he began yelling something to the effect of, “I’m sick and tired of this!”

Jacobs scrambled to his knees and said something about his glasses being broken. …

To be clear, at no point did any of us who witnessed this assault see Jacobs show any form of physical aggression toward Gianforte…

Jacobs reported the incident to the authorities and Gianforte has been charged with misdemeanor assault. I want to make a wider point about violence and masculinity, however, and I want to do so by discussing a pair of tweets by Laura Ingraham of Fox News. After news broke about the assault last night, Ingraham tweeted the following:

Screen Shot 2017-05-25 at 9.25.04 AM

Text: Did anyone get his lunch money stolen today and then run to tell the recess monitor?

Immediately before publishing this tweet, Ingraham had tweeted this:

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Text: Politicians always need to keep their cool. But what would most Montana men do if “body slammed” for no reason by another man?

I was homeschooled, so I don’t know what public schools were like in the 1990s, when I was growing up. I can say, however, that both elementary schools my daughter has attended take bullying very seriously. If someone had their lunch money stolen they should tell the recess monitor, who would then get the principal involved. The school my daughter attends today takes stealing extremely seriously in every context—something I have had occasion to witness in person.

The teachers and administration at my daughter’s school do more than teach children their letters and times tables. They also work to teach children the rules of our society—not to hit others, not to steal, how to use their words constructively, and when to report a problem to the authorities (in this case their teachers). I’m baffled Laura Ingraham believes that having one’s lunch money stolen is not something that should be reported—and that she would taunt someone who did report such a thing.

Perhaps Ingraham would benefit by returning to second grade and spending a few years as a student at my daughter’s school.

Ingraham’s “most Montana men” comment presents reporting a crime to the authorities as something only a wuss would do. It’s unclear whether she thinks Jacobs should have slugged Pianoforte in return, or whether she thinks Jacobs should have crept off in shame, duly beaten, but in either case the way she approaches the situation reflects toxic ideas about masculinity.

What are the practical effects of the message that a “real man” would not report being assaulted to the police? Most obviously, it cuts down on the rate at which violent individuals are held accountable for their crimes, and makes it easier for violent men to beat others up at will, and without fear of facing consequences. It also, however, increases the likelihood that mean who are on the receiving end of violence will themselves respond with violent retribution.

This is not the world I want to live in, and it is not the world I am preparing my children for. And for me, this is not abstract—it’s something I deal with regularly. “Do not hit your sister!” is as often as not followed by “But she hit me first!” And vice versa. I regularly explain to my children that this is not an excuse, that they should have come and told me what happened instead of hitting back.

Perhaps Ingraham would benefit from spending some time in my home, or reading today’s parenting blogs and manuals.

There are cases where violence is justified, yes, but these situations are rare and typically involve self defense in the absence of authority figures. In the vast majority of cases, violence is not the right response to violence—reporting it is.

The world is changing, and for the better. Today’s children are not taught that might makes right, or that the proper response to being hit is to hit back. Today’s children are being taken more seriously than were children of past generations. Today, we understand the trauma, the harm bullying causes. It’s not something children need to work through on their own, and it’s not that they just need to learn to “stand up for themselves.” Today we recognize that violence is a problem, not a solution.

Ingraham could stand to learn a lot from today’s children.

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