Getting serious about male-on-male violence

Trayvon Martin case raises questions of masculinity as well as race

Illustration by: Gloria Joe

The Trayvon Martin/George Zimmerman story needs little introduction. Even though it occurred far south of the Canadian border in sunny Florida, the media coverage has been hard to miss.

Much of the debate concerning this story has been focused on the issue of race. Some insist that the case is one of racial profiling, in which neighbourhood watch patroller Zimmerman saw Martin as a threat simply because he was black. Some argue that this had nothing to do with race and everything to do with self-defence – that Martin started the fight and Zimmerman was merely protecting himself.

But what is being lost here is something that is seldom addressed: male-on-male violence. We have succeeded in making domestic violence, child abuse, and hate crime violence unacceptable in our society. Yet, for some reason, male-on-male violence isn’t addressed sufficiently. In fact, two or more men having a violent confrontation is considered perfectly acceptable and is, in many ways, encouraged.

Male-on-male violence is a common problem. We see young men regularly getting into fights following “last call” at nightclubs; these altercations are often brushed off as “boys being boys.” We see it in the actions of kids involved in gangs, who fight or kill over territory or honour. We see grown men pounding the living snot out of one another while on ice skates while thousands of people cheer them on after paying big dollars for seats in an arena to see it. It isn’t celebrated when a player backs down from another, or doesn’t stand up and face the aggressor with violence. We see it in football, soccer, basketball, and baseball as well. A fight breaks out on a court or field and fans go wild. It’s expected. It’s celebrated.

Male-on-male violence is not taken seriously, nor is it adequately discouraged. I believe this is the case in the Martin/Zimmerman story. A situation that could have so easily been diffused ended in the needless death of a young man. And with the “Stand Your Ground” law in Florida, it’s almost encouraged for someone to do just that: stay and fight and not back down. Stick to your guns, pun intended.

It’s still seen by some as “manly” to stand up and fight and “cowardly” to back down. And as long as this continues, the violence will persist at an unknown cost to society. We just don’t know the impact this type of violence is having; there isn’t adequate research done on the subject.

Violence between men must be addressed and tackled, as are other acts of violence. Why is this point being lost in the Martin/Zimmerman affair? Why focus on race and not look at gender? Why not look at the fact that these were two males, regardless of skin colour or social class?

How long can we let men hurt and kill each other without stepping in, as we do when violence is done to other groups? How many lives can be saved if we start to look seriously at male-on-male violence?