Yes! You, Right Now, Communicating Stereotypes Leads to Violence

December 3rd, 2012 | Categories: Uncategorized

The murder-suicide involving Kansas City Chief’s linebacker Jovan Belcher came as a surprise. Successful man, beautiful partner, 3-month old baby. Jovan Belcher was, at least, nice enough to express gratitude to Scott Pioli, his general manager, and Romeo Crennel, his head coach.

When horrific events like this happen, people ask, “why would a person to do such a thing?”

That’s the wrong question to ask.

First, it’s the wrong question because we only ask to feel better about ourselves. By asking we can reduce our own uncertainty about the chances of it happening to us. We don’t care about the family and we are not sincere in our sympathy. We ask to alleviate our own selfish concerns about whether we will be okay.

Second, it’s the wrong question because if we find some answer, then we can discount his behavior and move on with our lives. Of course the answer has to be equitable to the crime. Any old history of family abuse won’t suffice. For a murder-suicide it better be an intense and long duration of childhood physical violence and mental trauma exacerbated by on an off drug abuse and, wait for it, football injuries to the head. Give us a background like that and we can distance ourselves from this horrific event by outgrouping Jovan so that we no longer see him as one of us but rather as one of “those” unfortunate people.

Third, it’s the wrong question because there is absolutely nothing in a first world country that could offer any legitimation or consolation as to why a person would commit such a crime. There are no shortage of medical doctors, therapists, outreach programs, anonymous hotlines, and online anonymous forums and chat rooms available readily even for those who don’t have money, let alone a professional athlete making 1.927 million.

Fourth, it’s the wrong question because there is no event in Jovan’s life that had a direct and simple causal effect on this murder-suicide. When we start to ask “why” we get caught up in information overload. Too many potential answer leap into our minds and, yet, no concrete evidence of a direct correlation in any single specific case exists. Sure, head injuries could be behind abnormal behavior in some football players but that does not explain why Jovan acted out in this specific case in this particular way as opposed to any number of horrific things he could have done instead. Why kill the mother of his child? Why not kill the child? Why thank his bosses on the Chiefs team? Why kill himself?

Fifth, it’s the wrong question because if we get a complicated answer about why Jovan committed this crime then we can dismiss it as unlikely to happen to us.

Sixth, it’s the wrong question because we won’t really like the answer to the right question even if we knew what that question was.

Do you want to know the answer to the questions anyway?

It’s simple.

Jovan committed this crime because through socialization he internalized gender norms about men and women that led him to think he had a right, perhaps even in his mind a responsibility, to do what he did. So the answer to why he committed the crime is, ultimately, stereotypes that reinforce norms about gender difference.

I know you want to dismiss my argument as political correct nonsense.

But let’s think about an example to help us understand why you cannot simply dismiss my argument by calling it political correctness and washing your hands of it.

Answer me this: Why do people think men cheat on their wives more than women? Why do people think gay men are more promiscuous than gay women?

If you think my previous argument is political correct nonsense then I predict there is only one answer that you are going to give me. People think men cheat more and that gay men are more promiscuous because of biology. You are thinking that men are wired biologically different than women.

You are wrong.

Men and women are wired biologically the same. We have urges, whatever they may be, and as we mature we learn to curb these urges. Adults, after all, are not children.

Yet, you think it’s because of biology that more men cheat on their wives and that gay men are promiscuous.

Let’s follow that faulty logic for a little while. If men are biologically wired to act on a stronger sex drive, then it is natural that they cheat or are promiscuous more than women. Really?

Because that would mean that rape is ok, wouldn’t it? It suggests men cannot control their sexual urges or actions. So, by extension, then, men have carte blanche to rape.

Yet, not all men rape do they? If not all men rape, then presumably men can control their sex drive. If men can control their sex drive, then the stereotype isn’t true. If the stereotype isn’t true, then why do more men cheat or are promiscuous?

Because people think that men are wired biologically to cheat or be promiscuous. They think this because the stereotypes tell them so. Because we hear stereotypes all the time that tell us what men and women are supposed to want. Look in toy stores. Boys are supposed to want construction trucks, guns, combat action figures. But is that because they are wired biologically to want these things? No. It’s because they are socialized to want them based on stereotypes that people communicate. This socialization process extends into all age groups. Think about the new commercial for Men’s Warehouse, which announces “Men are strong. Men are silent. Men are difficult to shop for.”

The socialization doesn’t stop with the original stereotype communicated by strangers,  friends and family, or in the media, however. I could fight those stereotypes (and have). I’m the PC Police and the Stereotype Guru and I can wield my sword of political correctness and fight. But if I do, the response could be the ire of everyone who is not a PC Police Officer or a Stereotype Guru and who has been socialized to believe the stereotypes are true. Unfortunately for the PC Police and Stereotype Guru, socialization comes from a majority who pursue a persistent communication of stereotypes over time.

Recently, Kezia Dugdale did fight and won. She argued to Amazon that their his and her lists were “sexist” and Amazon removed them (perhaps only temporarily). But after reading the article about this achievement, check out the comments.

“what a waste of time and space. time she got out and about and got a real job. probably find with her attitude that no one would ever want to employ / work beside her”

“This woman needs to get a life”

“Every magazine has such lists to make it easier for us men to find a suitable gift”

“She obviously has very little to do if she has time to worry about things like this”

“taxpayer funded fruitcake nutter”

“PC balderdash”

“you must have better things to do”

“pathetic”
 

Kezia Dugdale fought but suffered the socialization backlash.

When horrific events like those committed by Jovan Belcher happen, people often ask, “why would a person to do such a thing?”

The answer is because of stereotypes.

Stereotypes that say a man’s responsibility is to protect his child, to be the bread winner, and to be aggressive. Stereotypes that say it is not a woman’s right to decide about what she does with her time and with her life.
 

But still, asking “why would a person to do such a thing?” is the wrong question to ask.

The question to ask is “why don’t horrific events like this happen more often?” Until we each acknowledge, understand, and appreciate why people don’t engage in these horrific kinds of acts, identify that stereotypes are not true, and give people credit for being biologically wired to control their urges, there is little the PC Police can do to fight the stereotypes that cause people to do horrific things.

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