Calling All Allies

Another horrible story about horrible parents:

Lisa Holland cried quietly as jurors found her guilty of first-degree felony murder and child abuse in the death last year of her adopted son Ricky. … Prosecutors said Holland struck the boy in the head [with a hammer] and then neglected to seek help as he slowly died of his injury.
Once the 7-year-old had died, the father dumped his body in a game area, and the parents reported the boy missing. After a massive search, the father eventually confessed and led authorities to the body. He pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and testified against his wife, who has now been found guilty of first-degree felony murder and child abuse.

What I find particularly horrifying about this story is that the father came home from military training a week before the boy died to find him “with a cut on his head, listless and unable to walk.” During that week, the mother, who had inflicted the injury, didn’t take him for help, but neither did the father. And his reason is just astounding:

He said he didn't take him to a doctor because he didn't want a confrontation with his wife and thought his son would get better.

"I didn't want her to start pushing me around in front of the kids," Tim Holland said.
Protecting his masculinity was more important than protecting his son.

This goes back to a lot of stuff we’ve been talking about lately regarding redefining manhood, and highlights, so tragically, the pitfalls of a traditional model which defines the masculine in opposition to (and superiority over) the feminine. It wasn’t as important to this man to be good or ethical as it was to be dominant. He didn’t want to get “pushed around” by a woman in front of his children, and, though the cost of such appearance of strength was the death of his child, it was a price he was willing to pay.

Certainly, this is an extreme example, but the sacrifice of honor and decency to protect a dignity which originates from a subjugating and oppositional definition of manhood is not rare. At rape trials, male witnesses have said they didn’t step in to help a female victim because they were afraid of what the male rapists would think of them. At gay bashing trials, straight male witnesses have said they didn’t step in to help a gay male victim because they were afraid of being marginalized as queer themselves. So powerful is the urge to protect against the possibility of humiliation, of having one’s manhood undermined, that it can supercede even the associated corollary of traditional manhood that a man’s role is to protect women and children. In the true story of a gang rape, The Accused, men cheer each other on as they take turns raping a female victim in a bar, in full view of other men who do nothing to stop it—and they egg on a hesitant young man to participate, by questioning his manhood.

That we are still seeing such assertions of masculinity playing out with devastating consequences further underlines the need for a progressive men’s movement to begin redefining what it means to be a man, without rooting that definition in oppression of and opposition to The Other. It needs to be men who take up this cause in the form of a vibrant and organized movement, because, as evidenced by this case, misogynist men not only don’t want to listen to women; they actually find it emasculating, prompting an ugly backlash. They’re not going to learn anything from women, and certainly not feminist women. I understand the need, as suggested several times recently, for men to feel as though they can protect women (and children), and the best way to do that is to become our allies.

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