That Gun in Men’s Pockets: Sexual Assault & Our Militarized Culture

Mae West

Recent furor around the sexual harassment of women by famous men has reminded me of the old Mae West tag, “Is that a gun in your pocket, or are you just happy to see me?”

It’s made me wish that all of us were as perceptive as Ms. West in implicitly connecting aggressive male sexuality and gun violence – especially in our militarized culture. Such sensitivity might help rid us of danger posed by real guns, which is far greater than “the boss” flashing or fondling his metaphorical counterpart in front of understandably shocked and repulsed female underlings.

In other words, I’m waiting for the day when the female-led sea-change we’re now witnessing around the gun in men’s pockets might attach itself to the weapons in their holsters and on missile launch pads. It would revolutionize our world. There mostly white misogynists currently shape not only Hollywood stories, news reporting, music, and comedy, but also our country’s domestic and foreign policy. There the male solution to everything seems to involve guns, bombing, and threats of violence.

Think about it: Both the gun referenced by Mae West and real guns are pretty strictly male things. Anatomically, women simply can’t exhibit the pocket gun. And strutting about with a Glock on their hips or an AK 47 on their shoulders seems fairly distant from most women’s reality. I find it hard to even imagine a mass shooting perpetrated by a woman. Has one ever occurred? (In fact, mass shooters tend to be white middle aged men with actual records of domestic abuse.)

Why this male fixation?

Feminist commentators as far back as the ‘70s had It figured out. They said that male exhibitionism and aggressiveness with that gun in their pockets isn’t really about sex. No: it’s about power.

After World War II, men resented the entry of women into the public sphere. Harassing them sexually was one way of putting them back in their place. “You don’t belong here; get out” was one message. Another was, “Unless you ‘put out’ for me, you won’t be hired or advanced.”

Both messages drove many women away or into jobs like teaching or nursing where female community was easier to find.

In other words, sexual harassment represented male response to female threat to their traditional territory and power.

Might something similar be said for men’s love affair with real guns – for their fascination with their size and power and capacity for multiple bursts? Is it a response to a world where women and other outsiders have entered white male bastions?

Consider the evidence provided by the most testosterone-soaked bastion of all, the U.S. military. There at least 25% of women report having been sexually assaulted; 80% say they have been sexually harassed. And, of course, rape of “enemy” women has long represented one of the spoils of war – including for U.S. servicemen. If they are so willing to sexually assault their colleagues, what do you think our soldiers do with enemy women?

The answer for all of this is a profound change of patriarchal systems designed to denigrate, harass, intimidate, silence, devalue and assault not only women, but anyone who threatens male privilege. The answer is for men to take the lead in betraying our fondest ideas of masculinity and our reliance on weapons to solve political problems. It is to deconstruct completely our misogynist culture.

That means imagining and crafting a world run by women – or at least where without harassment or assault, women are allowed to achieve proportional representation in national assemblies. In such a world, diplomacy, dialog, and compromise, would predictably represent the default diplomatic position rather than immediate resort to military hardware.

Simply put, our militarized patriarchy isn’t working on any level. Predatory masculinity has been exposed in the workplace. For those willing to see, the harmful failure of its martial equivalent also stands evident in the world at large.

Acknowledging that exposition and countering it with female energy would change everything.

Published by

Mike Rivage-Seul's Blog

Emeritus professor of Peace & Social Justice Studies. Liberation theologian. Activist. Former R.C. priest. Married for 40 years. Three grown children. Four grandchildren.

12 thoughts on “That Gun in Men’s Pockets: Sexual Assault & Our Militarized Culture”

  1. Male “culture” is really sick. Been there, done that. There can be no true spirituality until this sick Masculine Mystique is discarded. “Men’s groups” are largely about acknowledging the feminine within, and letting it out. A lot of the bravado and violence is about proving one’s “manhood” – or actually a sick version of it. Having been conditioned by culture from childhood, most men never grow beyond this stunted version of their identities. It takes help, courage, and conscious work to transform oneself into a true human, an authentic self.

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  2. Someone who works with artificial intelligence asked me to watch a disturbing YouTube video about “Slaughterbots”, small deadly drones that rely on facial recognition and which do not resemble human genitalia in any way. Search for it and see what you think?

    Guns may be obsolete already. Projected hatred and loathing in human hearts is destructive

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  3. Well, thas was said in the days of gangsters (1933), so that was the most likely context.

    Our society is evolving. In the 40’s and early 50’s, there would be lines like “She’s sure a looker. I’d sure like to take her out.” That narrow perspective on another’s attractiveness as the basis for desirability was in tension even then (the best screenwriters often have one foot in the culture as is and another in where it’s going).

    What we have witnessed recently is the comeuppance of abuses of power in relationships. Those with power are often the last to change: they aren’t forced to change by daily circumstance. Power, whether it’s economic (in a job situation) or physical (in a marriage, e.g.) is becoming, as it should be. unacceptable. That’s good: now we have to relate to each other as one whole person relating to another whole person. And that’s good for both parties in the relationships. It’s good for business, it’s good for marriage, it’s good for life.

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    1. And speaking of changed culture and Mae West, Hank . . . Do you recall when it was acceptable for everyone to refer to inflatable life vests as “Mae Wests?” When I was just a kid, I remember Arthur Godfrey and others making that reference all the time.

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  4. I am a fan and come to this blog because I usually like what Mike says. I do have some problems with this post. First of all I think the link between guns and sexual abuse is dubious and – while I wish the culture would adopt more feminine value – I don’t think that men are intrinsically monsters. I am a white heterosexual Christian male and I don’t apologize for being any of those things. Identity politics makes me sick.

    Al Franken just resigned as a United States senator. There was no talk of due process. He had no chance to confront his accusers or to question any of the evidence. He did say that some of his behavior was inappropriate and he apologized for it. All this inappropriate kissing etc, was done before he became a senator. Bill Clinton did far worse and Democrats defended him.

    Senator Menendez faced prosecution this fall over charges of receiving millions in bribes from a long-time crony for whom Menendez repeatedly interceded with the Department of Health and Human Services under the Obama administration. Democrats said he deserved the presumption of innocence until a jury returned a verdict. Why didn’t they do the same for Franken, who – even if the worst accusations are true (he denies some of them) – didn’t come anywhere near to this level of criminality. I agree that some major apologies are in order.

    In the game of love men are usually expected to be the initiators. Sometime they read a woman wrong. Sometimes they go over the line. This not in the same category as rape or harassment, and it is not the equivalent to threatening to destroy a woman’s career if she doesn’t accept advances.

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    1. Dear Cave, thank you for your thoughtful response. As a sensitive friend of women, you clearly are not part of the problem the “ME TOO” movement is addressing. So your remarks make a great deal of sense. Here, however, is something a friend of mine shared with me when someone voiced similar sentiments on her Facebook page and said he was taking a break from further conversation on the topic. I’d be interested in your response:

      ᎺᎳᏂ ᏕᎥᏍ I don’t know if you’ll get the chance to see this before your break, but I feel it needs to be said. I can’t know what it must be like to be a straight cis white man in today’s climate, especially when you have as many leftist or progressive friends as you do. I can imagine it must feel like you are under attack at times when others point out their very real victimization at the hands of those who look a lot like you. You MUST be able to understand that if you aren’t doing those things then you aren’t the one being addressed and be able to move past it and allow those who are being victimized to tell their stories without becoming part of the problem by attacking them or making their victimization about you. If you want to get real deep, you could come to the realization that those straight cis white men who aren’t part of the problem are, in fact, victims as well. The reason young boys are belittled for having feelings or for having interests divergent from those of a “real man” or for treating women with respect instead of as objects is the fault of the patriarchy, not women. The reason poor white people struggle to get by is because of rich white people, not because brown people are given advantages they don’t deserve. Have you ever been in a room with a bunch of guys who look like you and someone said some truly nasty things about women or made racist comments? That was your opportunity to shine and prove in a real way that you are not part of the problem. What did you do? Have you ever been in public and witnessed a brown person, woman, or lgbtq person being victimized? What did you do? This is what people talk about when they speak of using your privilege for good. You are a good guy. Guys like you have the potential to do a lot of good for others because of how comfortable the victimizers are around guys who look just like them. Then when victims tell stories of their abuse at the hands of men who look like you, you will hopefully be able to find comfort in the fact that they aren’t talking about you (that it’s not a personal attack on you), that you are also a victim of patriarchy and white supremacy, and that you are part of the solution (on the front lines even) not part of the problem.

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  5. Good points, well argued. Lack of due process, witch hunts, ‘inquisition’ redux, etc. — as we stand mute on the sidelines watching as our citizens’ rights disappear one by one as our Constitution and Bill of Rights are raped by the very government legislators and courts that have sworn to uphold these rights and protections. What is wrong with this picture? We need to stop complaining, editorializing, letting the ‘talking heads’ and lobbyists express our opinions for us , and get the hell off our bottoms and vote these greedy, power made miscreants out of office.

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