I know this may sound odd. Surely we want fewer bullies? Surely we all, as parents, educators, counselors, ministers and so on, have been working on this for a long time? It goes without saying (doesn’t it?) that fewer bullies is a good thing.
Yet when we think about the reality of backlash against peace education (called by some teaching tolerance or multicultural education), I have to ask: do we actually fear a bully free nation? It’s a big country of course and no observation about Americans will fit us all. But the more I listen to concerns expressed about what older white men especially seem to view as the “wussification” of America, the more I wonder. Note this is a bi-partisan concern. Exhibit A might be the following from Bret Humes, lamenting the feminization of America.
Let’s call this next one Exhibit B—from former PA Gov. Ed Rendell.
And Exhibit C, in which a former a Vice Presidential candidate chides the President for his “mom jeans”, a clear linking of feminine qualities to weakness and thus an inability to lead.
For a more shocking and late-breaking example, here's a series of rightist commentators praising Vladimir Putin's invasion and annexation of Crimea. (You read that right.) Why would any American do something so unpatriotic? They want President Mom Jeans to be more of a man and be tough--as if the mere projection of an image of toughness is a substitute for geopolitical strategy.
Without diving too deep into the weeds of critical feminist theory, we need to connect the dots here between the US hegemonic role in the world, with its implied responsibility for global security, and this evident fear of a bully free nation. This logic goes that a feminist or feminine culture cannot provide for security. Only masculine or even militarist values can do this. For a great read on this, you can’t do much better than Brock Utne’s “Feminist Perspectives on Peace and Security”. Susan Faludi’s recent The Terror Dream looks at these same ideas in the post 9-11 era.
This way of thinking tends to define bullying as a natural part of childhood and complaints as just an inability to take a joke or stand up for one self. We just have to be tougher, the Humes and Palins lament. How will we defend ourselves if we're soft? What if we raise soft kids?
As a peace educator, of course, I know this insistence that only militarist values can keep us secure could not be more mistaken. The best way to have security is to have community!
That’s worth repeating. The best way to have security is to have community. So the sorts of relationship building, community development, international education, intercultural work, peer mediation and anti-bullying curriculum that we peace educators develop are essential to local but also national security. This is not a standard way of thinking about security, I acknowledge. But intractable problems need creativity and new solutions. We won’t have great answers until we are asking the right questions. To resolve the backlash on peace education, we must confront the fear of a bully-free nation.