by Charles M. Blow for the New York Times:
Twitter claims another casualty.
This week, Roland Martin, a bombastic cultural and political commentator was suspended by CNN from his role as a political analyst on the network for Twitter messages published during the Super Bowl.
One message read: “If a dude at your Super Bowl party is hyped about David Beckham’s H&M underwear ad, smack the ish out of him! #superbowl.” Another read: “Who the hell was that New England Patriot they just showed in a head to toe pink suit? Oh, he needs a visit from #teamwhipdatass.”
The Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation said the messages advocated “violence against gay people” and asked CNN to fire Martin. CNN called the messages “regrettable and offensive” and suspended him “for the time being.” Martin issued an apology in which he said that he was just “joking about smacking someone.”
There is vigorous debate online about what Martin meant, about GLAAD’s reaction, and about CNN’s policy on who gets suspended or fired and for what kinds of statements.
Martin and GLAAD have signaled, over Twitter, that they plan to meet and discuss the matter. Maybe something positive will emerge from that.
But whether it does or not, I don’t want to let this incident pass without using it as a “teachable moment” for us all about the dangerous way in which we define manhood and masculinity. At the very least, Martin’s comments are corrosive on this front.
I follow Martin on Twitter. I know that he likes to joke and tease. I have even joked with him. So I can believe that, in his mind, he may have thought that these were just harmless jokes in which the violence was fictional and funny.
But in the real world — where bullying and violence against gays and lesbians, or even those assumed to be so, is all too real — “jokes” like his hold no humor. There are too many bruised ribs and black eyes and buried bodies for the targets of this violence to just lighten up and laugh.
We all have to understand that effects can operate independent of intent, that subconscious biases can move counter to conscious egalitarianism, and that malice need not be present within the individual to fuel the maliciousness of the society at large.
(This is not to say that Martin has been egalitarian on this front. In fact, a widely cited 2006 post on his Web site suggests otherwise. In it, he criticized the Rev. Al Sharpton for appealing to black churches “to become more accepting and embracing of homosexuality.” Martin wrote that gays and lesbians “are engaged, in the eyes of the church, in sinful behavior.” Furthermore, he said, “My wife, an ordained Baptist minister for 20 years, has counseled many men and women to walk away from the gay lifestyle, and to live a chaste life.” And he compared homosexuals to adulterers, disobedient children, alcoholics and thieves.)
Words have power. And power recklessly exerted has consequences. It’s not about being politically correct. It’s about being sensitive to the plight of those being singled out. We can’t ask the people taking the punches to also take the jokes.
And it’s about understanding that masculinity is wide enough and deep enough for all of us to fit in it. But society in general, and male culture in particular, is constantly working to render it narrow and shallow. We have shaved the idea of manhood down to an unrealistic definition that few can fit in it with the whole of who they are, not without severe constriction or self-denial.
The man that we mythologize in the backs of our minds is a cultural concoction, an unattainable ideal, a perfect specimen of muscles and fearlessness and daring. Square-jawed and well-rounded. Potent and passionate. Sensitive but not sentimental. And, above all else, unwaveringly heterosexual and without even a hint of softness.
A vast majority of men will never be able to be all these things all the time, but they shouldn’t be made to feel less than a man because of it.
And this narrowed manhood ideal has a truly damaging effect on boys.
In “Boy Culture: an Encyclopedia,” which was published in 2010, the editors point out: “Boys are men in training. As such, most strive to enact and replicate hegemonic masculinity so that they achieve status among male peers, and pre-emptively guard against accusations or perceptions that their masculinity is deficient.” The editors went on to quote a 2001 study in which a boy who does not measure up to dominant prescriptions of masculinity is “likely to be punished by his peers in ways which seek to strip him of his mantle of masculinity.”
In fact, a 2005 report entitled “From Teasing to Torment: School Climate in America,” which was commissioned by the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, found that a third of all teens said that they are often bullied, called names or harassed at their school because they are, or people think that they are, gay, lesbian or bisexual.
We have created this culture, and we can undo it.
Start with this fact: The truest measure of a man, indeed of a person, is not whom he lies down with but what he stands up for. If we must be judged, let it be in this way. And when we fall short, as we sometimes will, because humanity is fallible, let us greet each other with compassion and encouragement rather than ridicule and resentment.
Whatever was in Martin’s heart, what was in his Twitter messages wasn’t helpful. They may not lead directly to intimidation or violence, but they may add to a stream of negativity that feeds a culture in which intimidation and violence by some twisted minds is all too real. I don’t believe that Martin wanted that.
Let’s show the whole of mankind that men can indeed be kind, even to other men who dare to wear pink suits.