It begins with men. Young men, usually.
(This is a recipe that simmers a long time on the stove.)
You teach them that the world was made for them. That they own it and can do what they want and take what they desire. You also teach them that they are not allowed to express themselves. Doing that is to be like a woman, and men are told that they are very explicitly not women. Men own everything, remember. It is their right to own and to want and to take. Women are lesser, for they do not own the world. So to be like a woman — to cry and to manifest other feelings — is to be lesser. It’s not that they don’t have feelings. It is that they are taught to keep them inside. In boxes and bottles. In lead-lined trunks locked tight lest they ever escape.
We call them names if they fail this test. Thee names are slurs, and these names serve two purposes: one, it limits the victim and course-corrects them away from them being able to express themselves; two, it conveniently also reduces an entire other segment of the population and treats them as lesser. These names summarize women as their body parts, and associate men with them. These names tell us too that LGBT is lesser, weaker — gay men are really just women. Do not be like these things, we say. Or we (the other men) will call you out. We will bully you. We will hurt you. To make you better, because men are good at pain, we explain.
Giving pain. Receiving pain. Never ever revealing pain.
These slurs continue across the board, actually. If you’re lazy, you’re this group. If you’re dumb, you’re that group. If you’re a criminal, you’re like another group. And it all has the very special effect of reminding the young man that he is the most special of them all, and the only way he limits his specialness is by being not-a-man, and quite likely, not white. We have built a fence for him cobbled together of insults aimed at other people. Stay in the fence and be a man. Do not stray and we will not punish you.
Inside the fence is a too-small pasture. So little space to roam. Like with animals, the less space you have, the more agitated you become. Chickens pecking each other apart. Dogs wearing the skin off their neck from a choking chain and collar. But the fence is the man’s identity and with it, we limit his freedoms to be anything other than a pure young man, even though to limit an animal’s freedom is to drive it slowly mad. (But don’t worry, we won’t give you the mental health care you need when you have been driven to the brink. Men don’t need care, remember. Men are good at pain. Bottle it up. Don’t let it out, don’t you dare let it out.)
But the fence is the fence.
We force them to understand that they are MEN. They are MASCULINE. They are aggressive, dominant, alpha. They must be or they are weak. Big dick. Big muscles. Hot girlfriend. Prove your manhood. Wear it as an emblem. Just in case, we can make sure it’s driven home in the toy aisle, too. Make sure they play with guns and weapons of war (while at the same time limiting a young girl’s social ability to do so). Do not let them be nurturers. No dolls for the men. Men are soldiers, generals, builders, leaders. Trucks and cars. Guns and swords. But they also learn by limitation — the girls have their own aisles. They have not only dolls, but stuffed animals. They have little toy shopping carts and hair salons. They cook. They clean. They are soft like the stuffed animals. Not hard like guns. No Black Widow toys for the girls or for the boys. Even if the world gives us Ghostbusters who are women, let’s make sure that the packaging shows boys — lest they be made to believe they aren’t special, they aren’t the best, they aren’t chosen.
You’re trapped, but you’re special. Boys will be boys. It isn’t rape because she wanted it. We excuse the worst because it fits the story. We discourage anything that doesn’t fit the story.
Fences, fences, so many fences. Do not stray, we say. Do not stray.
We have reminded them not-so-subtly that everyone is different in the wrong way, and to be different is to be weak. We have reminded them that they own the world, but now they’re entering a world where the fact of that seems in dispute. Young men are not even the dominant majority, and yet, they are told they are, anyway. The world seems out to prove them wrong: women do not just fling themselves at men, after all. And for white men, it’s even more troubling, because they were sold a 1950s bill-of-sale — they were sold a group of Founding Fathers who look like them, who made this country with manhood and muskets and destiny.
And now the world isn’t that. It looks different. It feels different. And we have told them all along that they are the best, the most special, the most beautiful snowflake — no, wait, I didn’t say beautiful, I meant virile, I meant tough, I meant manly. The most manliest big-dickenist snowflake ever. Not even a snowflake, because snowflakes are fragile. They melt. They weep. No — men are special like throwing stars, like grenades going off, like the puckered hole carved into the top of a hollowpoint bullet.
To help them deal, to explain this new world, we give them enemies.
You cannot get a job because of that group.
You cannot just take what you want because of this other group.
You don’t make enough money or have the nice house because of them.
These groups want to limit how special we know you are. The group changes. It needn’t be just one. As time goes on, we switch enemies on them. Just to keep it interesting. Just to remind them that the whole world is against them because the world has forgotten how special they are.
And so when we tell these young men — young white men, usually — about feminism, or about how black lives matter, or how there are men who want to love other men and (gasp) get married to them, they short circuit. They hemorrhage. That doesn’t fit the narrative. Young white men are the best. Feminism recenters that conversation. BLM recenters that conversation. LGBT rights recenter that conversation. It paints for them a world where all is not a mountain and they are not at the top of it — it paints a flat plane where everyone is equal and all have a chance to breathe the same oxygen. It is a crack in the veneer and the young man must ask how true the narrative has been. Feminism says little to nothing about men. BLM says nothing about whiteness. LGBT says nothing about straightness. And yet, how can that be? The young, white, straight man is so special, though. Why do these groups so bitterly ignore that?
It’s fine, though. We will keep reminding him that the narrative is true even if the rest of the world doesn’t see it or resemble it. And we will have politicians and media who drive that home again and again. Congress is mostly men, and mostly white. The media is mostly men, and mostly white. Wealth is concentrated in the hands of mostly men, and those are mostly white. And we say to them, see? Look, these are your idols. This is the pattern. Here is the narrative. If you don’t fit it, it’s not your fault. Someone is keeping you away. It’s those people who want to blow you up. It’s those people who want to take your jobs. It’s those people who want to take away your manhood and make you like a woman. These are your enemies.
They are standing in your way.
They are not of your tribe. Your special, precious tribe.
If we need to, we can always add a dose of old-timey religion. And that adjective, old-timey, is key. Religion is not a poison, but the old ways of it cleave to a world where men are its center, where God Himself is a man and women are cattle. The laws and commandments of each religion are for your tribe only. Not for ‘them’ over there. The old-timey religion reinforces the narrative. And it repaints the enemy not just as one that is biological or cultural, but one that is spiritual. And so your crusade against the enemy is sanctified. It is holy. The Man God told you that it is, and it is kill or be killed. The things that make men as men are not sins. The fence is now built of religion. Outside the fence are the women and the queers and the heathens. They are sinners. You are pure. All you do is pure. The Man God has pre-empted you with forgiveness, he has built you of Himself and those who are not like you are not like Him. Do what thou wilt.
Politicians seize on this, too. They enact legislation that never says, but always reminds, that the men — the white men, the straight men — are so very special. We bake the identification of our enemies into our laws, and we braid in that old-timey religion to make sure that it’s all sweetened by the sanctity of a divinely-driven message. We say, these bathrooms are for you and not for anybody else. We say, this marriage is for you and not for anybody else. This job. These benefits. This life. It’s all for you, Damien, all for you. God says it. Our laws say it. And that document made of God and Man, the Constitution, says it, too. (Never mind the fact that the Constitution is just a piece of paper written by men of dubious religiousness who meant for our laws to be ever-amendable and totally elastic — that narrative must change, for you are a young man living in a country blessed by the Man God, and so that means the Constitution is as iron-clad as the Bible itself, as long as you don’t mind sanding down the rough and disagreeable parts for your own convenience.)
So, now we’ve got men of all ages. White men and straight men, too, in that pack. And we teach them that they must be manly men, and that the world is against them, and that their failures are the fault of enemies at the gates, enemies who want to besiege them and de-center them. The ingredients are in the pot, now. Been simmering and slow-cooking for days, years, centuries.
But to really make this soup pop, you gotta get it hot.
So we add some gunpowder to it.
Real gunpowder. And with it, real guns.
We say, look at those enemies. They’re trying to take away what’s rightly yours. And that anger the man feels, we conveniently don’t acknowledge that the anger is something we put in there — because we built for them a very tall fence around a very small pasture and now the men are traumatized and clawing at themselves because they can’t cry or they can’t nurture or they can’t love who maybe they really want to love. They’re like pressure-cooker bombs — their metal exterior denting and bulging like a botulism can at all the toxic shit trying to get out but goddamnit we just can’t let it out gotta keep it in gotta
Here, have a gun.
No, no, it’s okay.
It’s easy to get one.
It’s not just easy, it’s part of who we are, we say. It’s baked into the Constitution. Never mind that the Constitution was written by men who had muskets which took about, oh, three years to load and fire. Never mind that the guns we have today are concealable and have bits of lead that travel hundreds or even thousands of feet per second and that they can discharge these little angry metal wasps at an alarming rate of however fast your finger can twitch. We say, it’s right there. In this holy, God-sacred document that governs our nation. And just so nobody gets any fancy ideas we remind them that this document is unswerving, unchanging, etched not just in stone but in our God Damn DNA — and we lionize the Founding Fathers and their AR-15s even though they made a document meant to change, a document written for a time over two centuries ago when it is safe to say that things were just a little bit different.
We make sure that the men can have as many guns as they want, as easily as they want them. It’s harder to get a driver’s license. You don’t need training. You don’t need insurance. You only need a cursory background check, and that’s only if you buy it certain ways. Any little change to that is the slipperiest of slopes, a slope slick with your future blood, young man. They try to modify anything about your right, and you might as well just put on a dress and start kissing some other religion’s god. Doesn’t matter how sensible it is. You’re special, remember. Sense has nothing to do with it. This is manifest destiny. This is manhood’s destiny.
Those people aren’t like you.
They’re your enemy.
You get to have what you want.
You get to do what you want, take what you want.
(Nobody will do anything to stop you anyway.)
Just don’t cry. Don’t feel. Bottle it all up.
God says it’s okay.
The law says it’s okay.
Long as you’re a man, a manly man, not a pussy, not a queer.
Here, now. Have your gun. Go on, take it.
Don’t use it, of course.
Don’t use it.
Those are your enemies.
Here is your gun.