Guy Talk: The Will to Change: Violence and Media

No man who does not actively choose to work to change and challenge patriarchy escapes its impact. The most passive, kind, quiet man can come to violence if the seeds of patriarchal thinking have been embedded in his psyche. Much of the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde behavior women describe in men who are alternately caring, then abusive has its root in this fundamental allegiance to patriarchal thinking. Indoctrination into the mind-set begun in childhood includes a psychological initiation that requires boys to accept that their willingness to do violent acts makes them patriarchal men.

hooks, bell. The Will to Change: Men, Masculinity, and Love (p. 59). Atria Books. Kindle Edition.

Hello and welcome to the penultimate entry in a series going through Bell Hooks’ book “The Will to Change: Men, Masculinity and Love” as a way of prompting conversations about maleness.  I don’t want to call this a book club because I’m going to be writing for people who haven’t read the book.  But if you want to read along, you are certainly welcome to do so. As always, this is a trans-inclusive space and EVERYONE is welcome to comment. Also, don’t feel like you have to stick to this topic.

One of the reasons feminism hasn’t been nearly as culturally revolutionary as it might have been, says Hooks, is because real nuanced feminist theory is presented in books, and most men don’t read feminist books. They received their ideas about gender roles from movies and television. In the sixties and seventies, women were reading those books. The result was a conflict born of misunderstanding, where two different groups were getting their information from two very different places. And as things they didn’t understand began to change around them, men retreated ever more fervently into media that reinforced and soothed traditional depictions of men and violence. Hooks specifically points out the Incredible Hulk as a character who gives outlet to a desire to do violence. While Banner’s search for control is relatable, it is the moments of pure release of rage that makes the character interesting to children — especially when the storyline implies that “yes, actually it is good to be violent.” If she were writing in the MCU era, she might point out that while the hulk is presented as Banner’s curse he wants to cure, little boys don’t buy scientist hands, they buy Hulk fists.

Hooks goes on to criticize other films such as Saving Private Ryan, Independence Day, Men in Black, and The Matrix as glorifying violence as the way to attain worth in the world. Its a hard concept, and one that seems to want to dismantle the very nature of literary conflict itself. Though one then has to grapple with the idea that maybe literature is so endowed with violence that we assume it is essential. Definitely I’ve always preferred the Star Trek episodes where they find a way to avoid violence. But its hard to accept that even stories about “just” wars like WW2 might be mythologizing a way that did not need to be.
The problem with stories about using good violence to defeat bad violence, Hooks says, is that it teaches that violence and male worth still go hand in hand. The man who cannot fight is no man at all.

Hooks argues that patriarchy is based on celebrating violence. What do you think? What is the place of violence in the world? What should we teach young men about violence? Is it something to be praised as long as it directed toward the correct targets or is even violence done in the name of good a problem?

Next month will be the final entry in this series. Thanks for all the good discussions.