Most of the time, I try to defend my sanity against the onslaught of media weirdness by remembering the words of Elvis Costello: “I used to be disgusted, now I try to be amused.”
But sometimes, it just doesn’t work. Sometimes these things overload even my dark and macabre sense of humor. Case in point: the right wing’s response to the Newtown shooting. First, you had Mike Huckabee claiming that it happened because kids aren’t allowed to pray in school. Okay, stupid, insensitive, and untrue, but it’s kind of de rigueur for someone on the right to say this. It might as well be Huckabee, right?
Then, the gun nuts stepped out and claimed that the real problem was that we don’t have enough guns, and that if only all the teachers in the school had been armed and able to return fire, then this whole clusterfuck could have been avoided.
This definitely turns up the crazy a notch, but it’s not totally unexpected. We all know about the right wing’s persistent fantasies that if everyone (i.e., white, Christian people) regularly carried around semi-automatic weapons with hollow-point rounds, violent crime would be naught but the mere rumor of a memory. Again, loopy, but this is another one of those sentiments that’s you expect to hear from the right. It’s almost like an agreed-upon ritual that someone looks at a bunch of people gunned down in a mass shooting and says “If only there had been more guns….”
But then, there’s Charlotte Allen, whose theory about Newtown has been properly dubbed by Slate as “The Stupidest Thing Anyone Has Written About Sandy Hook.” According to Allen, the real problem was that there just weren’t enough men at the school. At National Review Online, Allen writes:
There was not a single adult male on the school premises when the shooting occurred. In this school of 450 students, a sizeable number of whom were undoubtedly 11- and 12-year-old boys (it was a K–6 school), all the personnel — the teachers, the principal, the assistant principal, the school psychologist, the “reading specialist” — were female. There didn’t even seem to be a male janitor to heave his bucket at Adam Lanza’s knees. Women and small children are sitting ducks for mass-murderers. The principal, Dawn Hochsprung, seemed to have performed bravely. According to reports, she activated the school’s public-address system and also lunged at Lanza, before he shot her to death. Some of the teachers managed to save all or some of their charges by rushing them into closets or bathrooms. But in general, a feminized setting is a setting in which helpless passivity is the norm. Male aggression can be a good thing, as in protecting the weak — but it has been forced out of the culture of elementary schools and the education schools that train their personnel. Think of what Sandy Hook might have been like if a couple of male teachers who had played high-school football, or even some of the huskier 12-year-old boys, had converged on Lanza.
At this point, I just start to feel the neurons in my brains short circuit. It is as though true goal of modern conservatism is to create some kind of political equivalent to the Necronomicon, H.P. Lovecraft’s mythical book which was said to drive one mad upon reading it.
It’s not so much that I can’t believe that Republicans think this sort of thing; it’s just that I still expect them to have the smarts not to actually say them out loud. That’s a skill that most of us pick up fairly early; you do a little mental editing between the time a thought forms in your head and the time that the words come out of your mouth or onto the page. That Republicans seem to have completely abandoned this as a skill may be part of the legacy of Ronald Reagan, who became famous for saying any crazy shit without pausing to consider if it was a good idea. One of his most famous was on August 11, 1984 when, during a mic test, he said, “My fellow Americans, I’m pleased to tell you today that I’ve signed legislation that will outlaw Russia forever. We begin bombing in five minutes.”
Anyone with any sense could easily tell that Ronald Reagan lived in a different reality than the rest of the country. As in the case of thousands of gay men with AIDS, many also died in a different reality, because he couldn’t bring himself to so much as speak the name of the illness, much less deal with it.
Even more than trickle-down economics, this tendency to say things without thinking is the great inheritance that Reagan passed down to his fellow conservatives.
And although it blew my mind when I read Allen’s comments, I’m also really glad that she did. It’s much easier to make the case that an instrumental cause of the Newtown massacre was our very toxic model of masculinity when Allen’s out there parading it for everyone to see. Had I not been watching the right wing get more and more bugfuck over the last thirty years, I would be likely to see her essay as a gender studies version of “A Modest Proposal” by Jonathan Swift. She does, after all, make the assertion that a swarm of 12-year-old boys would be more effective protection against a gun-toting sociopath than adult women.
More to the point, we’ve seen what happens when someone goes on a killing spree in an environment filled with men: the men die, along with the women. The presence of men saved not one person in the Gabrielle Giffords shooting, the Aurora Theater massacre, or the Virgina Tech shooting. Manhood does not make you immune to bullets.
But more importantly, if Allen wants someone to blame for the lack of men in elementary schools, all she has to do is look around at her colleagues in the conservative movement. If there is anything that keeps men from being teachers in kindergarten and elementary schools, it’s the very notions equating masculinity and aggression that she’s trying to sell as an ideal right here. Conservative notions of gender actively discourage men from taking those positions. A grown man who willingly takes the role of nurturing small children would be seen as effeminate and weak at best; a potential sexual predator at best. For all the noises she makes about the school being a “feminized setting” governed by passivity, the conservative agenda of traditional values has never encouraged men to go into that realm. On the contrary, conservatives police gender enthusiastically in order to keep men from taking those roles. In the world of National Review, seeking out that kind of job would be seen as self-castration.
Amanda Marcotte seizes on the irony implicit in Allen’s piece and shreds it with delight:
So the problem is that teachers and other caregiving professions are overly populated by women. Got it. So, there’s only one solution to this problem: Role reversal. Men should now take on the jobs of nurses, teachers, day care workers, and definitely airline stewards. Men, after all, have bodies that deflect bullets and superstrength to protect the juicy targets of the madmen with guns that we’re obligated to accept as an inevitability. In order to free men up for these jobs, I guess women will have to take jobs as doctors (actually, they’re already doing that!), corporate executives, and politicians: Jobs that don’t require you to be on the front lines when crazed gunmen attack vulnerable charges that will now be cared for by men.
I don’t see that happening, myself. Some days, all you can do is try to laugh and put on some Elvis.