In a patriarchal society such as the United States, the male label is associated with assumed power and privilege. The injustice created by the recent ‘not guilty’ verdict in the Rittenhouse case shows a perfect example of this power and privilege.
But the true extent of this power and privilege is only realized when it intersects with white privilege, cisgender privilege, heterosexual privilege, or socioeconomic privilege. For example, the male label affords people of color little power and privilege when you consider the high levels of violence committed against them, especially when many of the perpetrators of that violence are white male labeled police officers. How many times have we seen these white male labeled people smirking as they walk free of consequences for the harm that they have inflicted?
Instead of walking free, 17-year-old Trayvon Martin was shot dead. Instead of smirking in a courtroom as a judge bends over backwards to accommodate the suspect’s plea, 12-year-old Tamir Rice was also shot dead. People of color of all ages are being killed, hurt, and imprisoned for minor offences, and yet Rittenhouse’s white male label carried enough power and privilege to ensure that he endured no consequences for ending two lives and ruining a third.
The Rittenhouse decision is even more worrying when it sets a precedent for shooting people (even if you are illegally carrying that weapon) if you feel threatened. The interpretation of those events is often made by people with power and privilege (police officers, the judiciary), and this is often the white, male, cisgender, heterosexual people of a certain socioeconomic status. Just look at the composition of the Supreme Court, and this is even more worrying when we know that they are likely to permit the right to carry concealed weapons in public.
An urgent need for change
There are so many parts to this, but one urgent need for change is the way we view the male label. As a psychotherapist, I see daily the harm that results from the assumptions that are associated with the male label in this patriarchal society.
The harm associated with the male label comprises the following toxic cycle:
The male labeled are expected to remain silent and strong, focusing outwards, on gain and power. As a result, the male label acts as a blindfold, leaving them unaware of, or unable to handle, the intricacies of their emotions and thoughts.
In turn, we don’t expect the male labeled to suffer from depression, anxiety, and trauma, and even mental health professionals can be blinded by the male label. As evidence of this, some point to the high rates of diagnosis of externalizing disorders (oppositional defiant disorder, conduct disorder, etc) amongst the male labeled.
There is also a societal ‘ickiness’ or cognitive dissonance when we start to discuss the vulnerabilities associated with the male label. It is as if we would prefer to believe in that strength than admit that we are all vulnerable to depression, anxiety, or trauma.
But we are not just talking about a homogenous group. Healthcare professionals can also be blinded by racism, transphobia, biphobia, and homophobia, making them more likely to misdiagnose an externalizing disorder rather than depression, anxiety, and trauma. And the Rittenhouse case is likely to exacerbate any symptoms of trauma because it offers a clear message to any person of color: You are a target. It is widely recognized that to live with the threat of discrimination, whether it is racism, transphobia, homophobia, or biphobia, exacerbates symptoms of trauma (such as hypervigilance, flashbacks, and dissociation). Something the white, cisgender, heterosexual male does not have to endure.
The male labeled are not inherently violent and aggressive, we just create a society that leaves them little opportunity to handle emotional distress in an alternative way. When you add white privilege, cisgender privilege, heterosexual privilege, and socioeconomic privilege, we end up with appalling results such as the Rittenhouse case. However, this is no surprise when we elected the figurehead of violent white male privilege in 2016, despite his admission that he could shoot somebody on 5th Avenue and not lose voters.
The violent privilege of the white male label has emerged. It has always been there, but in 2016 it was given the Presidential seal of approval.
Chris Warren-Dickins LLB MA LPC
Author of Beyond the Blue, and psychotherapist in Ridgewood, New Jersey