A guy thing

There are days when I’m embarrassed to be a guy. Like the day a couple of weeks ago on which a 50-year-old Harborview nurse, Gertrudes Lamson, was allegedly murdered by her estranged husband, Victor.

Mind you, I’m not embarrassed because Victor is a creep. Or even because there are so many other creeps like him. Like the guy (it’s always one of us, isn’t it?) down in the south suburbs who allegedly shot and killed his girlfriend and her sister a few weeks ago because she wanted to leave him (can’t fault her judgment there). Or the guy—there’s that word again—who shot his wife and their young daughter in a car near Seattle University a while back, and only had the decency to shoot himself a few days later as authorities were closing in down in California. (Memo to homicidal/suicidal guys: Do us all a favor and shoot yourself first. Where it counts.)

No, what embarrasses me is that these are not isolated instances perpetrated by deranged nuts, but logical extensions of the type of controlling, violent behavior practiced by far too many men every day. I am embarrassed by the distinct lack of an outcry from other men over this seemingly endless litany of assassinations—for that’s what they are, murders in cold blood of women who were killed specifically because they belonged to the female class, deemed not to have the right to leave a relationship.

This is not a “women’s issue.” Women aren’t the ones doing the shooting (except in the occasional instance of self-defense). This is an issue that men need to deal with. We need to come to grips with, and do something about, our learned tendencies toward violence and treating women as property.

It’s not easy, when the message that’s sent out every time some psychotic asshole pulls the trigger is that it’s an isolated incident. How many thousands of wives, ex-wives, girlfriends, ex-girlfriends, relatives, co-workers, ex-co-workers, dates, and casual acquaintances have to be threatened, stalked, beaten, raped, stabbed, and shot before we start to see a pattern? Or a war? But we look instead for ways each assault, unlike all the others, is different.

In 1995, some guy—that word again—who had mailed-ordered an Asian bride opened fire in the King County Courthouse, killing her and two of her friends who were about to testify in their divorce proceeding about what The Seattle Times delicately referred to at the time as his “abusive ways.” (Thank you, ma’am, your testimony is no longer needed.) The firestorm of ensuing news coverage focused largely on a need for better security at the courthouse—as if murdering women is OK so long as it’s not done in a public space. A surprising amount of subsequent talk-show sentiment was sympathetic to the guy—how dare she leave him after he paid for her!

Similarly, only last week a longtime Seattle Seahawk, Eugene Robinson, was arrested in Miami, on the night before the Super Bowl, for solicitation of a prostitute. The coverage was all about how he let down his team on the eve of the Big Game. Seems like every time some jock gets caught in the act of, say, beating his wife or raping a co-ed, it’s not an antisocial act so much as a tragic stain on an otherwise stellar season.

Both women and men learn lessons from this sort of zeitgeist. For women, the lesson is that none of us can be trusted; it may be a minority of men who perpetrate violent acts, but for every one who resorts to a literal interpretation of “’til death do us part,” there are many thousands who use the implicit or explicit violence men deploy as a form of control, all with very little fear of negative consequence. And those men come in every shape and size, from every background and walk of life; the common denominator is that we have all learned how to be men.

For men, the obvious lesson from all this is that such cases, because they are exceptional (even though they’re all too common), need not concern us. It’s not our problem that women are afraid to walk alone or in numbers, at night or day, or fear driving with their car door unlocked, or avoid working alone in an office, or obsess about sending the “wrong” signal to a stranger, or wonder about personal safety as an integral part of the dating ritual.

Except, of course, that it is our problem; such issues poison our relationships with 51 percent of humanity. And men’s violence is men’s responsibility.

Perhaps the most frightening aspect of the recent shootings is that the women had done everything they were supposed to do, within the law, to escape their abusive relationships. Gertrudes Lamson had obtained a restraining order against Victor; he was to have no contact with her, and he was to have surrendered all of his guns to their eldest son. He shot her anyway. And while restraining orders and legal strictures do help in some cases, they fail to help in far too many.

What will help, and what’s missing now, is a sense of outrage from men over the cowardly, despicable behavior of men who are threatening, abusive, and violent toward women. Men need to make this behavior inexcusable. Men need to challenge this behavior when they see it. To someone who values the opinion of other guys more than that of a “mere” woman, disapproval from one of the gang carries a lot more weight. We need, in short, to have not just laws, but a male-centered social movement that treats violent men with a sense of horror, outrage, betrayal, and failure.

In the absence of such a movement, we have a noticeable, deafening silence every time another woman is shot. It’s a silence that permits untold lesser acts of violence each day. It must stop. And stopping it starts with us.


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