Being gay, one is often only too aware of the toxicity of "real man" Masculinity in Virginia. Gays by definition pose a threat to the sensibilities and self-esteem of those whose sense of self-worth depends on their macho self-image and desperate need to be a "real man." In the wake of the recent Oregon mass shooting, it appears that the killer, Christopher Harper-Mercer may have been one such psychologically unbalanced American male who held a grudge against women and clung to the trappings of supposed masculinity, including an obsession with guns. A piece in Salon looks at the shooter and the frightening online world that he seeming lived in. Here are excerpts:
In the wake of any tragedy, there’s a natural impulse to wonder: How did this happen? Who was to blame for this? In the week since Christopher Harper-Mercer’s execution of nine students at an Oregon community college, the question has become the same: Who is at fault here?
Wedged among the proliferation of dank memes, choruses of copycat threats, violent Pepe .gifs, and cries of “Beta Uprising,” the 4chan forum /r9k/ might be closest to actually having an answer. According to the users, women were to blame for this rampage: If “the sluts” had just given it up to Mercer, he might never have gone on to murder innocent people. As horrible as 4chan may be, this claim is seemingly backed up by Mercer’s own words. In the days leading up to the attack, he posted complaints on a number of online forums about being chaste against his wishes. In his rambling manifesto left at the scene of the crime, he reportedly wrote: “I am going to die friendless, girlfriendless, and a virgin.”
Mercer’s frustration and rage at being a virgin likely contributed to his lashing out at innocent bystanders. But the real issue wasn’t that Mercer was a virgin and that this whole thing could have been avoided with a pity-fuck. The problem is that Mercer—like the community that it seems he was a part of—felt that he wasn’t a “real” man because of it.
The state of being a man is a compilation of external influences that ultimately define whether someone is a “real” man or not. Guns, sex, and money serve as a sort of holy trinity for traditional masculinity, the tropes by which a supposedly true man is known. When it’s stripped down to its toxic core, “what is a man” ends up being defined by how many chicks he can bang, how much ass he can kick, and how much money and “status” he has.
Of course, for all the swaggering machismo and bravado of these would-be alphas, their concept of masculinity is so fragile that a trending Twitter hashtag can threaten it. When we define so many aspects of “manhood” as being external to just existing, it means that manhood is something that can be taken away from you at any time.
[P]art of being “a man” in the traditional, hyper-masculine sense means being a virile sex machine. A (male) virgin is, thus, an aberration, a mistake, and a pretender who doesn’t deserve his penis. The incel boards and forums are full of young men complaining about how they’re subhuman, genetic refuse that mistakenly made it off the production line. They live in deep pain and resentment over the fact that they are not men the way they feel like they should be.
The more than men believe in the tropes of traditional masculinity and gender roles, the more they feel the pressure to live up to them, and the more pain they feel when they believe they fall short. But they can’t express that pain. After all, the traditional masculine man isn’t allowed to express pain, weakness, fear, or insecurity. They’re expected to be stoic, a silent pillar of strength. Their only acceptable emotion is anger.
Violence is somethinganyone can do. When you’re feeling powerless, then you take that power back—preferably from someone else.
In fact, a study published in the medical journal Injury Prevention documents this phenomenon quite clearly: Men who feel the most male discrepancy stress (that is, who feel the worst about not being manly enough) are also the most likely to have committed violent assaults on others, as well as committing assaults with a weapon.
Gun manufacturers post advertisements featuring loving images of big, erect rifles with the caption: “Consider your man-card reissued.” The message is clear: You may not measure up, but you can buy a substitute to make up for it, chock full of copper-jacketed death sperm.
Charles Harper-Mercer felt he couldn’t measure up as a man by being a lover, so he decided to show the world just how big his semi-automatic murder penis was.
Mercer was someone who was obsessed with the trappings of masculinity that he felt he couldn’t measure up to and lashed out, as statistics show that so many do.
We need to recognize just how damaging it is to sell the idea of men at their worst—brutish, violent and barely in control of themselves—is the only way to be a “real” man. We’ve stuck ourselves with a toxic idea of masculinity where you continually have to prove you’re a man—being willing to hurt others in order to do so—instead of manhood being something inherent.
The defenders of toxic masculinity love to portray those who don’t conform as being unmanly or beta white-knight manginas—sexual quislings who seek to betray their gender because they can’t measure up. It’s a way of derailing the conversation, to pit people against one another rather than to accept the truth: This form of masculinity has failed us. It doesn’t produce men; it produces anger, rage, and pain. It teaches us that the only way to be a man is to aspire to be the worst in us. We can do better. We can be better.
Obviously, I hold these "real man" types in low regard. They hold gays in low regard if not contempt, but it's really only because they hold themselves in such low regard and because gays threaten their sense of masculinity. Behind most "real man" types you will find a homophobe worried about his own lack of masculinity regardless of the outward bravado.