Entry Title: "A Tale of Two Wolves: Men, Masculinity and Violence "
Name: Pete Muller , Kenya
Category and Expertise: Deeper Perspective, Professional


Entry Description: For all its association with power and strength, manhood is a fragile veneer. It is not a status conferred simply by sex or age but is instead based on a man’s ability to fulfill societal expectations, which in many cultures require that men be stoic breadwinners and protectors. Failure to do so undermines men’s self-worth. With emotional communication constrained and distorted by masculine code, anger and volatility often prevail over measured emotional expression. Under these circumstances, some men go to horrific lengths to reassert their wounded manhood, a quest in which violence can emerge as a tool.

Story: For all its association with power and strength, manhood is a fragile veneer. It is not a status conferred simply by sex or age but is instead based on a man’s ability to fulfill societal expectations, which in many cultures require that men be stoic breadwinners and protectors. Failure to do so undermines men’s self-worth. With emotional communication constrained and distorted by masculine code, anger and volatility often prevail over measured emotional expression. Under these circumstances, some men go to horrific lengths to reassert their wounded manhood, a quest in which violence can emerge as a tool. My work exploring male gender identity and violence began in war-torn eastern Congo, where male-perpetrated brutality is egregious and endemic. In addition to photographing men, civilians and soldiers alike, I pursue questions rarely asked and to which many seem eager to respond. What makes a successful man? How do men relate to their families? How do they process stress and trauma? In Congo, men spoke at length about the importance of providing for their families and how failure to do so undermined their sense of worth. “My children do not even call me ‘dad’ anymore,” a middle-aged man explained in a sprawling refugee camp. “When my children want to eat…they simply ask ‘where is he.’” Others explained how poverty and displacement undermine the patriarchal social contract in which provision of necessities and security affords men authority, respect, and sex—essential indicators of manhood. “This situation can create violence in the house because when you are unable to provide for your family, they stop respecting you.” While some men lash out in response to feelings of emasculation, others utilize violence to fulfill the responsibilities of manhood in the dysfunctional contexts in which they find themselves. Many low-ranking soldiers—often perceived as powerful—recount using force to counterbalance their experiences of destitution. “We’re asked to fight, to risk our lives…and at the end, we are penniless. I have nothing to send my family and they see me as a useless man,” a young solider told me. “When they gave me this uniform they said that it represented my duty to Congo,” another continued. “Now, when officers steal my pay, I say fine. I have a gun. When a civilian passes, I can take what he has. My family has nothing to eat, how do they expect me to behave?” Congo presents one illustration of the relationship between failed masculinity and violence that I believe exists—in varying forms—throughout the world. When one peels back the complex and often frightening identity that we recognize as masculinity, one often discovers fragile men trapped and frustrated by rigid gender constraints, but incapable of constructively expressing emotional dismay. I maintain that further exploration of the complex social context from which male aggression sometimes emerges is essential to understand and reduce abhorrent levels of male-perpetrated violence. Failure to do so will leave us stagnant, reliant on programs and policies that support victims only after their lives are torn asunder.

About the Artist: