Thursday, June 11, 2009

"Respect" and Violent Masculinity

The Independent has a story up titled “Guilty, the men who killed teenager for ‘respect.’” A good deal of scholarship in the past two decades has examined the ways that hegemonic masculinity interplays with different types of violence – self-directed (e.g., suicide), interpersonal (e.g., dating, family, strangers), and collective (e.g., gang, war) (see here for definitions, p. 6).

Most of the research that examines the relationships between masculinity and peer/gang violence has focused on different parts of the United States. However, this story demonstrates the somewhat superficial issues that can spark very serious violence between young men in the United Kingdom. A said lack of “respect” resulted in homicide.

Three men will be sentenced to life in prison today after being found guilty of murdering 16-year-old Ben Kinsella, the brother of EastEnders actress Brooke, in a row over "respect".

Ben, who had been out celebrating the end of his GCSE exams in June last year, was stabbed 11 times in just five seconds by Jade Braithwaite, Juress Kika and Michael Alleyne.


Ben was murdered on his way home from a bar in Islington, north London, on 29 June last year. He had spent the evening in Shillibeers bar celebrating the end of his GCSE exams when a row, not involving the group he was with, broke out.

It involved Braithwaite, 20, and two of his friends, who felt he had been "disrespected" by another group of youths. Braithwaite and his friend Osman Ozdemir then confronted a friend of Ben's called Alfie.

During this confrontation, Braithwaite gestured at his trousers, suggesting he had a knife, and was heard to say: "Tell your boy if he wants trouble, I've got my tool on me and it will open you up".

Shortly after this, about 30 youths attacked Ozdemir, leaving him with a cut to his head that required treatment. As he went to the hospital, Braithwaite too left the pub, but phoned Kika and Alleyne, 18, for back up. The trio went to the bar and chased the group still standing outside. As the other teenagers ran, Ben crossed the road. Braithwaite, Kika and Alleyne approached him. A witness, named only as Claudia, told the court that Ben asked the men: "What are you coming over to me for? I haven't done anything wrong."

Braithwaite, who is 6ft tall, kicked Ben in the stomach and the three launched their attack. One of the knife wounds was so ferocious it broke his rib and punctured his heart. As the murderers fled, Ben staggered across the road and died in the arms of his best friend, Louis, the son of Birds of a Feather actress Linda Robson.

It appears while an expressed lack of respect was the reason that prompted the homicide, there was an escalation of violence emanating from the group violence that preceded and probably contributed to Kinsella’s death, in the sense that emotions among the perpetrators were running high and thus, their actions would intensify.

Still, as young men in society long for ways to define their masculinity and the conventional pathways (e.g., education, work) are less of an option, violence becomes a more attractive means to achieve masculinity, or “earn respect.” When there is only a small amount of “respect” to go around (as is common in poverty-stricken areas), allegations of disrespect become that much more important and are dealt increasingly with violence. Cavender (1999) calls this "compensatory" masculinity.

Following the verdicts, Ben's mother Deborah read an impact statement to the court. In it she said: "Ben went for a good night out and never came home again. The people who murdered him knew nothing about our Ben. They had never met him before or spoken to him, they just cruelly took his life away with knives for no apparent reason.

"We had brought Ben up to always walk away from trouble. This sadly cost him his life. He walked away to get safely home and they took advantage of that – he was one boy on his own. It seems unfair their intent was to stab someone that night."

The world's high prevalence rates of male-on-male violence would suggest that it be in men’s (and society’s) best interests to redefine the values that men pursue. I don’t see this happening any time soon.

Cavender, G. (1999). Detecting masculinity. In J. Ferrell & N. Websdale (Eds.) Making Trouble: Cultural Constructions of Crime, Deviance, and Control, pp. 157-175. Hawthorne, NY: Aldine De Grangler

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1 comment:

  1. there's no reason or justification to do something like this, and any men or person who commit this, deserve be judge and punish with all the weight of the law.