The Boston Marathon Bombing, Gender Studies, and Disaffected Young Women and Men
Why did the governor of North Carolina, Pat McCrory, single out gender studies when he argued that a public college education should lead graduating students to a paying job, really to “how many of those butts can get jobs”? In this context, he also exclaimed: “If you want to take gender studies that’s fine, go to a private school. But I don’t want to subsidize that if that’s not going to get someone a job.”
Besides the highly debatable issue about the purpose of a public or private college education, the governor’s statement is astonishing for another reason. Why did McCrory not mention, let’s say, law or physics? The current job prospects in these and many other academic areas of study are not exactly golden. Why gender studies? I believe his comment indicates unconsciously held misogyny, quite pervasive on so many levels in today’s society, culture, and politics.
It is as if the governor suggested: “Yes, let’s save some tax money by getting rid of those courses that mainly serve women students who just talk about things that do not produce any immediate job skills and, worse, teach the girls how to question gender discrimination in the work place…”
The governor’s comment is also disturbing in light of all of the talk about the two “disaffected young men” who placed bombs at the Boston Marathon on April 15, 2013.
Certainly, we ought to ask what goes so regularly and predictably wrong with boys and young men turning them into “disaffected young men“ and, as in the case of the Tsarnaev brothers, making them commit an act of terror, whether they acted as “lone wolves” or “stray dogs.”
But we also ought to ask why girls and young women do not regularly and predictably turn into “disaffected young women” who take their disaffection out on innocent bystanders. Rather, we learn that their disaffection turns against themselves. For instance, in a TV show called “Dead like Me”, a disaffected young woman gets killed. Books on “disaffected young women” describe the fashion pressures on women or the dangers for women getting into a male stranger’s car. Women still tend to turn their disaffection against themselves rather than against others, and others turn against them.
The situation looks vastly different for “disaffected young men.” Researchers, writers, parents, and teachers have long been looking for causes of their disaffection. Sometimes, they see them in feminist accomplishments that leave boys in the dust of academic rigors or faced with changed gender expectations. Sometimes, they locate the origins of male disaffection in religion, pointing the finger to the success of fundamentalist Islam or the solution offered by “muscular Christianity.”
In the case of the most recent “disaffected young men” misogyny and domestic violence are part of the tale, of course. The older brother, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, had been arrested for domestic assault and battery in June 2009. His father, Anzor Tsarnaev, commented: “In America, you can’t touch a woman,” as if to say that Chechnya is much better in this regard. And then there is the brothers’ “mama” who, perhaps understandably, wants to believe in the best of their sons: “Every single day, my son used to call me and ask me, ‘How are you, Mama?’ Both of them. ‘Mama, we love you.’ . . . My son never would keep a secret.”
But nobody really has firm answers (yet). Does the disaffection indeed go back to the patriarchal order and images of masculinity? What can the one surviving brother say that would justify the acting out of his and his dead brother’s “disaffection”?! At least, gender studies can point to the intersectionality of masculinity, ethnicity, class, geopolitics, and religion.
In short, courses in gender studies are more needed than ever. In our era of widespread “disaffected young people” this claim also pertains to courses on feminist religious and theological studies. Perhaps such courses have to become required for graduation everywhere. Would they be able to help in decreasing male rage, gender discrimination, and the acting out of violence? Perhaps. But it is a complicated world, and simple answers will certainly not provide adequate solutions. We need to go about it from all kinds of angles. It includes this wish:
If only Mr. McCrory would take a course in women’s and gender studies at his local community college soon.