Is Bullying a Symptom of a Crisis of Masculinity?

| Wed Apr. 22, 2009 12:30 PM EDT

These will break your heart.

From the AJC: A crowd of about 60 gathered Tuesday night at the DeKalb home of Jaheem Herrera to remember the fifth-grader who committed suicide last week. The 11-year-old boy hanged himself at his home after—according to his family—relentless bullying at Dunaire Elementary School....Keene said the family knew the boy was a target of bullies, but until his death they didn’t understand the scope."

Poor little Jaheem, on the heels of poor little Carl Joseph Walker-Hoover:

On April 6, Sirdeaner Walker came home, walked up the stairs to the second floor of her home, and saw her son suspended from a support beam in the stairwell, swaying slightly in the air, an extension cord wrapped around his neck, according to police. He apologized in a suicide note, told his mother that he loved her, and left his video games to his brother. Walker said her son had been the victim of bullying since the beginning of the school year, and that she had been calling the school since September, complaining that her son was mercilessly teased. He played football, baseball, and was a boy scout, but a group of classmates called him gay and teased him about the way he dressed. They ridiculed him for going to church with his mother and for volunteering locally.

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It's not just a gay issue," Walker said. "It's bigger. He was 11 years old, and he wasn't aware of his sexuality. These homophobic people attach derogatory terms to a child who's 11 years old, who goes to church, school, and the library, and he becomes confused. He thinks, Maybe I'm like this. Maybe I'm not. What do I do?" "They called him gay and a snitch," his stepfather said. "All the time they’d call him this."

Mark Anthony Neal thinks this type of bullying represents a masculinity crisis (perhaps as opposition to gay marriage represents a Christianity crisis): "Bullying of course takes many forms, but anyone who has spent any amount of time in the company of boys is well aware of how terms like “punk,” “faggot,” "bitch-ass" and “pussy” are part of the normative discourse of American boyhood. Even those boys, who are not necessarily invested in bullying, find themselves employing such terms as a form of protection, lest they also be targeted (as was the case when I was a boy). Unfortunately such behavior has long been relegated to the status of "boys being boys," even as it articulates a troubling misogyny among other things. When such bullying escalates to the level of violence, as a society we are happy to enact punitive responses to the offenders without ever interrogating the root cause of the behavior. ...Often lost in these responses is that this particular form of bullying is evidence of a general crisis of masculinity in our society, where boys and men, are all too often uncomfortable in the skins that they inhabit."

I have to wonder about the parents of the bullies. Poor little Walker was made to have lunch with his bullies for a week, the school thinking they'd bond and stuff. Well, they didn't, they just tortured him more.

I don't blame the parents per se, but I do wonder what they did when they were told what their sons were doing. Maybe they took it seriously and still failed. Now, both the bullies and their families have this to live with. Maybe the bullies should have to do what drunk drivers who kill do—take their stories on the road.