I’ve posted a few of the more tame responses in the comments section but I do draw the line at anonymous strangers calling me a cunt. (I also refuse to spell it, ‘c-nt’ as if I, not the hostile anonymous stranger, am the one with something to hide.) Those threatening, hostile responses went straight to my spam filter.
I care deeply about young men and the problem of violence, so I want to give myself another chance to make my thoughts clear. Here’s my omnibus response:
Dear Men Who Have Sent Emails To Me, Calling Me a Cunt and/or:
- Men Who Called Me a Moron
- Men Who Said I Hate Men
- Men (and Women) Who Think I am Incredibly “Irresponsible” and/or Writing “Fluff”, “Bullshit” etc.
- Men Who Said I Deserve to Die
- Men Who Have Totally Twisted or Contradicted My Actual Words,
- and Others who are mad at me about yesterday’s TIME.com column, including women who may also be mad at me but from whom I did not receive openly hostile/repulsive emails:
So, to all you folks: I’m wondering where, exactly, did I say anything about women never being violent? Where did I say that all men are violent, or even that all men are potentially violent? Where did I say that all men are programmed to be murderers? Where did I write that I think men should be castrated or “culled?”
I said there are, of course, rare female serial killers. “Rare” is the operational word. I also said america’s worst “mass murders” (which are different than serial murders) were committed by men. I gave links to these data, and linked also to publicly available and accurate data from the U.S. Department of Justice and the FBI. To repeat: 90 percent of murders are committed by men, and nearly 80% of murder victims are male.
I called this fact — the “overwhelming maleness” of murder — a public health crisis that we are refusing to examine as we would any other public health problem: by looking at possible risk factors. A risk factor doesn’t MAKE someone ill or make someone commit murder. It is a variable that puts someone at elevated risk for a bad outcome. For example, swimming in the ocean near a colony of seals is a risk factor for being eaten by a Great White shark. Does that mean that many or most swimmers will be eaten by a Great White Shark? No. But it’s important to know this fact because then we can place warnings about where swimmers should safely swim. We can hire spotter planes to survey the water from a distance and update the public about shark sightings. We can track sharks with electronic devices. We can even close beaches occasionally or cordon off special swimming areas for extra monitoring.
Violence, unlike shark attacks, is incredibly common. Yet we expect authorities to take shark attack threats, and other low-probability threats, seriously. We should do even more to prevent violence. While violent homicide has declined in recent decades, it still destroys lives (not only the victims but their families and even the lives of the perpetrators) far more often than it should. And it disproportionately harms YOUNG MEN. A lot of the commenters seem perfectly happy to accept this unacceptable fact as a by-product of being male.
Why would we do that when we have alternatives we’ve not fully explored? For example, if we know — as we do – that being a young man (and, especially, being a young black man) is a “risk factor” for killing or being killed by another human being, we can pay more attention to the stresses and challenges of making the transition from boyhood to adulthood. At the top of my list would be creating more programs to screen and treat mental health problems, job training, prison reform, mentorship programs, improved educational opportunities etc. As I mentioned in my piece, the ancient initiation rituals for young men have largely fallen away, except in a few religious communties. We should bring back these time-tested ways to channel men’s strength and fearlessness into socially acceptable venues rather than into violence.
What I can’t understand is why anyone would not want to do this? Why would we want to keep putting our heads in the sand? Because “not all” men are violent? Well, “not all” people get childhood leukemia either. But by focusing on the unique features of childhood leukemia, scientists have been able to dramatically increase the life expectancy of kids with cancer. We could do the same with violence if we stopped being so utterly juvenile about what it means to make epidemiological, evidence-based observations. “Not all” women get anorexia or develop migraines or osteoporois. But being a woman puts a person at greater risk for these problems and not studying them along these lines is irresponsible and idiotic.
By understanding risk factors such as the sex disparity in violence, we can work harder to prevent terrible occurences that we might otherwise consider random or inevitable. That was my point. Plain and simple.
Many of my commenters, here, at TIME.com, at CNN, and in my personal email inbox (where I have been called a cunt several times today) have chosen to be aggrieved rather than listen openly to my words. I don’t hate men; I am a proud mother of young-adult sons and am happily married to a great guy (who’s got a hefty dose of testosterone.) Am I remotely suggesting that all men are violent or potentially violent? Come on! Certainly not. What I said is the truth: being a man is a risk factor for being both a murderer and a victim. How is this not worthy of concern, investigation, and intervention?
We need to support young men at risk for violence more effectively, give them more opportunities to grow to be good men. Would more intervention have saved these poor souls in Colorado? We don’t know, and probably never will. But we can learn from these devastating experiences and other homicides that are disproportionately perpetrated by men. I gave the example of depression in young men. It often (not always) looks different than in young women, with more suicide and more violence. Why on earth should we be silent about something about which a better understanding might prevent lives? Some have accused me of wanting to castrate or “cull” men etc. Honestly, people? Grow up. Those kind of knee jerk angry and absurd statements are the easy response to a tough, tragic problem our society is unwilling or unable to confront.