Believe it or not, I was a pretty sheltered kid. My mom taped stuff off the television without commercials and she taped over the parts that were likely to scare me. I wasn’t allowed to watch things like The Simpsons or Married with Children because the characters might influence me towards bad behaviour. I remember in 1995, Jagged Little Pill came out on CD and You Oughta Know was a huge hit amongst my peers. My mom went to the listening bar at Chapters to check it out, start to finish, because it had a parental advisory sticker on it. In the end she decided that under the circumstances described in the song, she would also swear and thus I was allowed to have the album.
I didn’t really mind when I was younger, but I know we butted heads a little more as I got older. I bought Linkin Park and Rage Against the Machine and my mom would kind of sigh and ask why I wanted to listen to angry men.
One day, when I was yet again attempting to get enough credits to graduate, my friend Derek put his earbuds into my ears and played me an Eminem song. I had heard the radio stuff, wasn’t ever a fan of rap, didn’t pay much attention. Eminem, at that time, was constantly under scrutiny for his lyrics and the influence he was (or was not) having on kids. Derek put on one of Eminem’s most graphic and difficult to listen to songs and I was, as most were, completely disgusted.
Who the hell writes a song about killing their ex wife? And okay, I acknowledge that there are songs (Earl, for example) where women get revenge on cheating men or abusive men by murdering them. The thing that I think was so different about Kim was that it was detailed, graphic, and acted out as though it was occurring. Less a song, more morbid theatre.
It was a lot for me to handle. I get mad, but I don’t ever think of that kind of violence. It shocked the hell out of me. I’m pretty sure I went on a big tirade after I was done.
Let’s back up here, just for a second. To say that I am uncomfortable with male anger is an understatement.
I was raised in a household without men. I wasn’t often exposed to the things that can be categorized under “typical man stuff”.
I’m not talking about fixing shit around the house or opening tough jars as needed. I’m stereotyping the male species in a general way. I am unsure, even to this day, of the things fathers do, mainly envisioning something between Frank Gallagher and Danny Tanner, ideas impressed upon me solely through exposure to 80’s/90’s television and my experiences with the fathers of my friends.
My idea of the inner workings of a man is a caricature that was put together by a child who lived most of her young life in a female-only home without much yelling or discipline to speak of. I was guided by a supportive, gentle mother and nurtured into the person I am today. My mom is quiet, caring, gentle, patient, sensitive and she dislikes conflict. In terms of male role models I have a grandfather I adore, one uncle I was somewhat close with when I was small, and I have a stepfather in my history (who I try not to think about). And of course, the ever-present abandonment wound that lurks behind every thought I have.
I know, logically, that fathers can be supportive, protective and sweet. The default image I conjure, however, is not that way. In my mind, dads lay down the law. Dads are intimidating and tough. They have tempers that flare. They might channel their frustration into a drinking problem, or shooting animals for sport.
See? It’s a caricature, but given the circumstances it’s the best I could do.
When I think about the things I want for my son’s future, I don’t ever picture this toxic masculinity. I don’t picture predatory behaviour. I don’t envision this caricature of what society has told me he will be. I just see my son, full of beauty and potential. It’s a stark difference from what I picture when I think of men.
It’s overwhelming sometimes, to think that this little boy… every little boy… who starts out tender, sensitive, or sweet usually ends up having those traits teased or beaten out of him. Toxic masculinity is pretty well the status quo and it scares me. How do we counteract this bull? What do we do to cure angry men?
Let’s pause here and go back to Eminem for a second.
As I mentioned, I was appalled at his graphic depiction of the murder of his wife (and her new husband and stepson). I didn’t give Eminem another shot until years later. I was at a friend’s house and she put on an Eminem cover by Tori Amos.
I mean really. She takes the song and makes it the most haunting thing I’ve ever heard. It hits entirely differently this way. What Tori Amos gave me was an absolute epiphany in regards to the type of music I was hearing.
It may be graphic and violent but it’s also incredibly brilliant. Ground-breaking, when you think about it.
Suddenly it occurred to me, here was a young man who was absolutely heartbroken and grappling with overwhelming feelings of anger and hatred, and what did he do with those feelings? Well, to simplify the craft, he basically went home and wrote some poems. He wrote angry poems. Ugly poems. Poems with all of those terrible thoughts and feelings he was having. He used art as an outlet for his pain. Words that were extremely personal, yet he shared them with the world.
Think about it. One of the most important things about being a well adjusted person (or so I hear) is that you need to have an outlet for your pain and hurt. You need to be able to process these things in order to move passed them. This is not a revelation in and of itself. What strikes me as very odd, however, is that when those painful feelings come out in rough, raw or in ways that might make us uncomfortable, we have a tendency to fault men for them.
It’s one of those things where we’re like, “Oh.. reach out when you need to. Process your feelings in a healthy way…”
So they do, creating incredibly heartfelt, passionate art, and society is like… “No, not like that!”
I’m not here to condone violence. I wish everyone was all sunshine and rainbows all the time. I understand how these types of things can be triggering for victims and I get why some people just stay away from them. What I can’t wrap my head around is the subset that is seemingly unable to differentiate between things a person thinks or says and the things that they act on. I mean, really this applies to a lot of things. There is a huge line there that we have to acknowledge.
I suppose I’ve come to know a little bit about men in my adult life, and I know this much about them: Men often have a hard time being honest about their emotions or vulnerable when they’re hurting. I hope that I can help my son find his outlet the way that men like Marshall Mathers have.
What’s the cure for angry men?
Well, much like all human beings most just want to enjoy connection, acceptance and love. I was thinking that we all flip the script and encourage our boys to channel their ugly feelings into passion, whatever that looks like for them. And maybe, as adults, we can commit to a change in our response. Perhaps in face of those difficult and uncomfortable feelings, we can pause before reacting in judgement. Remember that not only is the pen mightier than the sword, the pen can actually replace the sword altogether.
If we fault him for writing the poem, if he is criticized for the way he painted the picture, if he isn’t allowed to punch the bag in the basement… where is he going to put his anger?