I’m a fan of reasoned argument, but every now and again someone says something that makes me so angry I have to fight not to lose all sense of reason. Today’s ‘someone’ is William Bennett, who has written for CNN on the Aurora shootings. Specifically, he has written about Jon Blunk, Alex Teves and Matt McQuinn, who each lost their lives during the attack by a masked gunman at the screening of the new Batman film at a cinema in Colorado on July 20. Each of the three men died protecting their girlfriends by using their bodies to physically shield them from the gunfire.
This, it goes without saying, is an incredible and selfless thing to do. So why is it that I have taken issue with an article praising them for it?
I’m generally uncomfortable with the idea of hero-worship, but I can understand the need to commemorate someone who has made such a great sacrifice. But Bennett’s article, published a couple of days ago, can hardly be said to honour the memory of the three men.
These men were three of the 12 innocent people killed early that morning. Their incredible sacrifice leaves us asking: Why? Why would a young man with his entire life ahead of him risk everything for a woman he has no legal, financial or marital obligations to?
Does this question even need answering? Is the idea that someone might not need a ‘legal, financial or marital’ obligation to protect someone they care about so unbelievable that it even needs mentioning?
So with an intro that’s questionable at best, let’s read on.
As Hanna Rosin so eloquently pointed out in a recent article, calling it chivalry would be a tremendous understatement. By all appearances, these men believed that a man has a responsibility to protect a woman, even to the point of death. They believed that there are things in life worth dying for and the innocent woman sitting next to them was one.
They believed, to put it simply, in a code of honor. They put the lives of the women before their own, an old fashioned notion to be sure, but certainly an honorable one (if you have any doubt, ask the survivors). Their instincts were to protect, not run away.
It is not only absurd but incredibly arrogant to assume to understand the ethical or moral code of a man whom you have neither met nor spoken to; even more so to presume an understanding of what these particular men felt in their last few moments. Who is Bennett to speak for them? Who is he to tell anyone whether or not these men acted out of instinct? And the assertion that the notion is ‘old-fashioned’ seems like a spiteful crack at the inadequacies of young men today. It hardly seems mentioning in the face of all this that to say the idea that a woman is ‘innocent’ and more worthy of protection than a man simply by virtue of owning a vagina is ridiculous.
We are told that little is known about the men – except one. He has his own struggles, including “an ex-wife and children living in Nevada”. An odd fact to throw in at this time:
He was scheduled to visit them to resolve marital issues. This isn’t to take anything away from Blunk or the other two heroes, but to illustrate that, in spite of shortcomings, men can still recognize what it means to be a good man and act like one.
This is the point at which I began to hear my heart beating in my ears.
To throw in such an offhand judgement upon the family life of a recently-deceased man is shocking. To make any suggestion that because of this, we might assume he lacked any sort of moral judgement or integrity is inexcusable. And to use it as a vehicle for preaching a certain kind of morality which centres around archaic patriarchal values is utterly sickening.
This is especially important given the state of many men today. Record numbers of men aren’t working or even looking for work. Record numbers aren’t marrying or even acting as fathers to their children. These men need heroes to imitate whom they can relate to in everyday life, not just make-believe superheroes who catch their imagination for an hour or two. They need heroes like the Aurora three….
In an age when traditional manhood has been increasingly relegated to fiction — capes, masks and green screens — these three men stand as real-life heroes. Their actions remind us that good triumphs over evil, not just in movies, but also in reality.
How dare he hijack this tragedy to illustrate the failings of The Youth? In doing so he reduces the incident to little more than ammunition for his self-righteous cause.
It also reduces the value of the sacrifice that these men made. In assuming they acted in accordance with some code, it denies them autonomy and assumes they acted out of an obligation, rather than the need to protect someone they cared deeply about. God forbid they acted out of love.
I don’t presume to know the intentions of these men; I will say that they did an incredible and self-sacrificing thing, and leave it at that. But to hold this up as the expected standard for men to live their lives by not only creates an incredibly sexist worldview in which the male must protect the female, it also diminishes the value of what these people did. By definition, a hero is someone who gives more than is expected or deserved, often at a high cost to themselves.
For anyone wondering at why I cannot simply accept this article as a tribute to the heroism of these three men, I would draw your attention to the editor’s note above the article. It is no coincidence that the writer of this article is also the author of “The Book of Man: Readings on the Path to Manhood.” Usually at this point I would be using words such as ‘unethical’ or ‘immoral’, but that hardly seems to cover the gall required to write such an article. The fact that someone would exploit this tragedy to push their own sexist world view, and still manage to employ the kind of cynically, emotionally manipulative language used here, is astounding.
I don’t think anything could compare, however, to the insensitivity and lack of basic human decency displayed by James Taranto, a columnist for the Wall Street Journal:
There are no words.
[Credit and thanks go to the good folks at Shakesville for sharing the original links.]