This morning, I followed my typical routine at work of grabbing coffee, checking my numerous emails, and reading the news (usually CNN and The Advocate). Normally, I don’t even look at any of the op-ed pieces on these sites. My spare time is limited enough in the mornings. I can only usually get in about ten good minutes of reading before I get inundated with issues and asinine requests. This morning, however, was an exception, because I came across and op-ed piece on the home page of CNN.com that had the headline “They upheld men’s code of honor”.
The op-ed, written by William Bennett, talks about three of the victims who died in the Aurora, CO movie theatre shooting: Jon Blunk, Alex Teves, and Matt McQuinn. All three men died because they chose to stay and protect their significant others. Rather than run, each one chose to hurl their girlfriends to the ground before shielding them with their bodies. Thanks to these efforts, all three of the men lost their lives, but all three women survived. It’s worth mentioning, too, that none of these three couples were married. None of these men were bound legally to the women whom they were trying to protect. They had no obligation to act. Rather, they leapt into action because they felt that it was the right thing to do. Bennett states that their actions transcend chivalry, and enter the realm of the heroic.
Let me say first that I am not condemning these men’s actions. On the contrary, I am glad that, during such a polarized and divided time in this country’shistory, we may have managed to find one of the few absolutes that everyone can agree upon. What these men did was heroic, selfless, and admirable. I’m not one to use the term “hero” lightly, either. I feel like a lot of people throw that word around too easily, thus cheapening its meaning. However, I have no problem calling these men heroes.
Here’s my problem: Bennett maintains that these three men abided by a code…a code that is part of what it means to be a man. “They believed, to put it simply, in a code of honor. They put the lives of the women before their own… in spite of shortcomings, men can still recognize what it means to be a good man and act like one.” He goes even farther to argue that the state of men today is deteriorating…
“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.”
Hang on a sec. I’m no expert in biology, anatomy, or physiology…but I’m pretty sure a person’s genitalia have no effect their capacity for heroism . Furthermore, I’m pretty sure that the only thing that defines “what it means to be a man” is a Y chromosome (but please feel free to correct me if I’m wrong). I’m not one to put words in people’s mouths, but if these three men were fulfilling their duties as men, does that mean that their girlfriends were fulfilling their duties as women by being damsels in distress? Say I performed a similar act to protect Will, would that make me the “better man” in the relationship? Would it be out of character for a woman to lay her life down to protect another woman (or, God forbid, a man)?
I’ll make one thing clear, I don’t believe that Bennett intended to alienate anyone in praising these men’s actions. However, assigning gender roles to the situation does nothing to enhance his argument. On the contrary, however well-intentioned he may be, assigning gender-roles to the situation further perpetuates the outdated idea of the “true man”, and also subsequently perpetuates the notion that any person (male or female) who doesn’t perfectly fit this model is somehow lesser. Would it make that much of a difference if, say, Bennett praised the heroism of people laying down their lives for those whom they cared about? Who cares if it was a man protecting a woman or a woman protecting a man? Who cares what sort of relationship the protector had with the person whom they were safeguarding? I’m close with many people: family, friends (both male and female) whom I would gladly protect from a volley of bullets, and those people would happily do the same thing for me. I’m sure that there are people out there who would happily perform this act to protect a total stranger. The point is that these people gave their lives to protect someone else, which is a truly selfless act. Selflessness has no gender. It’s not even a uniquely human impulse. Yet it is still something to be admired, by men and women alike. Placing their heroism in a box would lessen the potential positive impact that their sacrifices could potentially have on society at large. Instead, I contend that we should revere these people solely for their admirable actions, and leave their plumbing out of it. They can still serve as an example for cowards and deadbeat dads everywhere (although I’m not sure what employment or marital status has to do with anything). I’m simply arguing that they can also be role models for the rest of us, too.