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Guest post: Speaking The Unspeakable In Newtown. Laurie Essig


MALEVIOLENCE name it design by Liza Cowan CowanDesign
name it: Male Violence. CowanDesign


This was originally published in the Forbes Magazine Blog by one of their regular columnists, Laurie Essig. They pulled it after a few hours and fired Essig as a columnist. She named the unspeakable: Male Violence. I reprint it here with her permission so that it can be widely shared. December 17th, 2012

   Many people are already commenting on what can and cannot be said about the shootings in Newtown, CT. Words like unspeakable evil and gun control are said and unsaid as our country struggles to make sense of the incomprehensible. But some of the words being used about the tragedy are perhaps even more important to pay attention to. Words like “parents” are dominating much of President Obama’s and the nation’s public processing of the event even as other words like “masculinity” and “gender’ remain unsaid.

   As I drove home from work Friday with two colleagues who are not parents, I cringed when I heard Obama’s words:“I react not as a president, but as anybody else would as a parent. And that was especially true today. I know there’s not a parent in America who doesn’t feel the same overwhelming grief that I do."Our President was somehow suggesting that parents are more able to feel the pain and horror of this tragedy. This is in line with other ideological claims that people who are parents and are married are somehow better than and more deserving of rights than those who are not, but surely people who are not parents are just as grief stricken by the massacre at the Sandy Hook school.

   It happened again yesterday when the President addressed the grieving community in Newtown. "With their very first cry, this most precious, vital part of ourselves — our child — is suddenly exposed to the world, to possible mishap or malice. And every parent knows there is nothing we will not do to shield our children from harm. And yet, we also know that with that child’s very first step, and each step after that, they are separating from us; that we won’t — that we can’t always be there for them… It comes as a shock at a certain point where you realize, no matter how much you love these kids, you can’t do it by yourself. That this job of keeping our children safe, and teaching them well, is something we can only do together, with the help of friends and neighbors, the help of a community, and the help of a nation. And in that way, we come to realize that we bear a responsibility for every child because we’re counting on everybody else to help look after ours; that we’re all parents; that they’re all our children."

   Although Obama offers all Americans the possibility of being “parents” he also continues to locate the need and desire to protect children in the role of reproduction and outside other roles like teachers or even adults who have close and binding relationships with children who are not their own.Yet even as Obama made the love of children about the reproductive family, he refused acknowledge the evidence that is before us: our love for children might in fact be far more about gender than about parenting.

   Consider these facts:~There have been nineteen mass shootings in the past five years every single one of these mass shootings has been committed by a man~On the exact same day the massacre in Newtown happened, a man in Chenpeng, China walked into a kindergarten and stabbed 22 children and an 85-year old. This is one of a growing number of knife attacks in China, all committed by men against school children and young women.~ Far more women (and Blacks, Democrats, and residents of the Northeast) support gun control than men.

   As terrible as it is to say aloud, we must acknowledge that masculinity, far more than parenthood, is what makes these tragedies comprehensible. Even as we discuss what we as a country ought or ought not to do about gun control and mental illness, we also need to look deep inside ourselves and ask if there is something pathological about a masculinity so deeply and fully rooted in violence. That violence occurs in play- whether video games or sports, but it also occurs as a measure of manhood, a demand that “real men” are willing to kill for their country or even to “protect” their family. And until our President and we as a culture are willing to talk about manhood, the twentieth mass shooting will undoubtedly be just ahead on an increasingly grim horizon.


 It's probably a good omen when a car trip starts out with seeing a truck with your name on it.

Cowan truck
Cowan truck. Vermont Rt. 89.

I took some time off last weekend with my parenting partner, Laurie Essig, and our two kids to visit our old house in Greenport, NY. We sold the house about five years ago and none of us had been back since then.

Naturally, we visited the carousel.

I hadn't remembered that there are several Charles Dare horses on the Greenport Carousel, which was a wonderful surprise for me.

Charles dare horse carousel greenport
Charles Dare horse, Greenport Carousel. Liza Cowan photo.

I got to spend a little time at the Greenport Shipyards, site of my Shipyard Archeology photo series. I only had my point and shoot camera with me, and I just can't get the same quality I got from my trusty Nikon F100 and a roll of film, but still it was nostalgic just walking around.

Siding and Rudder. Greenport Shipyard. 2008. Liza Cowan photo.

On our way home we stopped for a few hours in New York City so Laurie could tape a TV Show about Gay Marriage. (No, we're not. Families have all kinds of shapes and configurations.) The show was the Laura Flanders show on GRITtv, and although the kids wanted to go shopping during the taping, we did manage to catch the last few minutes and hang out in the control room to see the backstage operations. You can watch the segment here

Control room laura flanders show
Control Room - taping the Laura Flanders Show.

And then a quick hello to the panel and Laura.

Laura flanders show
Laura Flanders, left.  Laurie and kids, right. Not in this picture is panelist Kenyon Farrow, whose excellent blog is worth taking a look at.

So if you watch the show and Laurie briefly mentions her kids and parenting partner, that's us. I'm in the Vermont media fairly often, usually about art, so it was fun to be on the sidelines and out of the spotlight.

The best part about travel, when you know things are going really right, is when you are happy to get home. We were all glad to cross Lake Champlain and be back in Vermont again.

Lake champlain, ferry, charlotte vermont, essex ny
Charlotte, VT and Lake Champlain from the Lake Champlain Essex/Charlotte Ferry.