Host, Deborah Emin:
Kathleen Barry, Professor Emerita of Penn State University, has a new book that diagnoses the ways in which male domination of and violence against women has been used to excite men into fighting the permanent wars the US has been engaged in. In addition to her keen observations of what it is that takes men to war, she understands how to create an environment where that type of behavior can be “cured.” The cure is empathy.
Having spent a good deal of her professional life advocating for women’s rights especially as they are needed in the sex trade industry, she is keenly observant and aware of what it is that demeans women–how women’s inequality denies them basic human rights.
In this new book, Barry turns her attention as a sociologist to the plight of men trapped in a system which creates and maintains what she calls “core masculinity.” This concept of core masculinity can be summarized this way (and of course I expect that Kathleen will answer questions about it in our chat) that men are trained to take on the role of protector of women and to dominate them from this position.
In this role, they are then more attuned to the call of the military and its need for them to sacrifice their lives to its needs. So, while war, as a furtherance of the goals of men who actively seek more power and domination, is fought by men, it is also the engine that consumes them, that takes their lives. What Barry calls “expendable lives.”
Working within this framework of what causes men to go to war, how their training and the fact of their being expendable causes them to feel humiliated, she arrived at and re-creates for the reader, an understanding of what the cure can be for this war mongering–empathy.
As she spent hours upon hours listening to men and women talk about war experiences, she found that common place where she could understand what it is like to be in those battle situations. While many of the men she interviewed were suspicious of that ability to really know what it was they had lived through, Barry proved how valuable a tool empathy can be.
It is this willingness to connect and to work through the barriers to that interconnectivity that gave her the insights that she describes in this new book. While the time it takes to absorb and feel what these men felt is enormous, her accounts of this work lead the reader to see how important it is for us all to do the same. More than important, it is necessary.
While it may be true that many in this country demonize the peoples of Afghanistan and Iraq, among the many places we are currently at war, to do so harms everyone. It harms those who fight, those who are living there, it harms those of us here at home who lose out on a connection to the men and women who have been damaged by these wars. it robs us all of the connections we need to remind us that war isn’t the answer to the problems we face in getting along.
While this last statement may seem simplistic, I believe it follows from what Barry shows us of the ways in which world leaders can be dangerously addicted to the power of their offices. Her descriptions of the various psychopathologies that world leaders, from George W. Bush, to Ariel Sharon to Osama bin Laden, have displayed in their efforts to dominate through violence make it seem even more important to learn others means to end war. Violence leads to the diminution of the value of human life. The cure for this destructive force is for us all, but particularly the men who are drawn to the life of the soldier, to learn how to empathize with those they choose to dominate.
Having found themselves in similar situations to the kinds of humiliation and despair that women who are abused experience, Barry sets forth the very real proposition that by learning empathy, men can be remade into less violent humans and can thus repair what their aggression has done not just to them but to the women and children in their lives.
I truly look forward to exploring further the ideas in Barry’s book and look forward to what the audience for this book salon have to say as well.
[As a courtesy to our guests, please keep comments to the book. Please take other conversations to a previous thread. - bev]