Violence, Culture, and Gender

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There are a lot of great comments in yesterday's threads. One where we spent quite a bit of time, was debating the extent to which the particular "I ain't no punk" brand of violence was gendered. Oliver Wang, who's guested here before and comments from time to time, offered his take and there was some back and forth between him, myself, and some other commenters. Anyway, Oliver went back at it again and offered another comment which, regrettably, was toward the bottom of the comments page. I thought it was worth pulling up:


I was going to amend my original comment but then I realized it would throw the rest of the sub-thread off so I decided to create a new comment as a refinement. What I was trying to suggest was that while the kind of "won't back down" violence (or implied violence) that TNC originally wrote about can certainly be found across race and across class, I wanted to suggest that what allows it to move across those social borders is gender. That *particular brand* of violence - the idea that in any given confrontation, men have to step up or get stepped on - to me, is distinctly (though not, per se, uniquely) masculine and as I tried to suggest, is a value system reified in countless different ways, on a daily basis. 

Here's where I should have made a few basic qualifications: First, none of this is meant to say that women are not violent and I misspoke in my original comments by suggesting that their relationship to violence is simply an adoption of male values (and by "male values" I'm talking about hegemonic masculinity rather than some innate, essential ideal). That was, upon reflection, clearly wrong. Some women may adopt a male approach to violence but I think it's just as likely, if not more, that women have a different relationship towards violence, i.e. when they're willing to use it, for what reasons, how much they want to master it or avoid it. 

 Again, NONE OF THESE THINGS ARE FIXED. But I think it'd be inaccurate to claim that men are violent in the same exact ways women are violent. We don't live in a society where violence exists - either culturally or structurally - as a universal that socializes and impacts people in the same exact ways. I think there's been a gazillion comments in this thread that have basically made this point clear. 


Second, I do think the particular masculine relationship to violence (i.e. what we teach boys and men about how they should carry themselves in relation to violence) explains why, across the board, through any metric you could use, violent acts are both perpetrated by men and perpetuated upon men. Again, that doesn't mean women aren't violent (and certainly, many are victims of violence). 

But when we talk about a "violent society" part of what we're talking about is really a society of violent men. And since this thread originally began as a discussion of the relationship between culture, behavior and its potential impact in the workplace, it seems really relevant to think about how that behavior and cultural norms are gendered and how the kind of aggro-defensiveness that TNC and his verbal rival displayed might have something to do with them both being men and therefore, operating on a set of social scripts that have conditioned a particular set of gendered responses to the situation. 

Anyways, I'm not trying to beat a dead horse but I thought it was important to clarify all this, just for my own comfort with my own argument.

It's interesting to read this because, again, where I grew up the "I ain't no punk" didn't exactly conflict with notions of femininity. We didn't really have much sense of "ladyhood" as Drew Faust would put it. I didn't hear the term "cat-fight" until I was a lot older, and had left Baltimore. My own mother came up fighting in the projects, and on the way to school. My partner's mother came up fighting racist white kids on her way to school--often on behalf of her brother. My partner, herself, came up fighting still other racist white kids in Tennessee. 

Writing this down now, from this particular place in my life, I am utterly shocked at how much violence was taken as a given in all of our lives. Again, the temptation is to almost recoil in embarrassment. This, of course, is the luxury of living as I do now.

I obviously don't say this to counter a single thing that Ollie says above, so much as to explain how I could, in the original post, see thing differently. I think he's actually quite on point. You can't really deny the overarching, cross-class role of gender in all this. It's just that if you live your life at one level, it's sometimes hard to see how things can be different.
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Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle. More

Born in 1975, the product of two beautiful parents. Raised in West Baltimore -- not quite The Wire, but sometimes ill all the same. Studied at the Mecca for some years in the mid-'90s. Emerged with a purpose, if not a degree. Slowly migrated up the East Coast with a baby and my beloved, until I reached the shores of Harlem. Wrote some stuff along the way.

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