Much like the famous military treatise penned by Sun Tzu, warlike behavior has been linked with masculinity since the beginning of time, seen almost as an art form, the combative, aggressive stance often embraced by men over the years as just a normal part of the societal male condition.
Bill Terry knows this all too well.
“I haven’t always been a peaceful person,” Terry said. “I bought into the ‘macho’ thing from advertising and the association that only the strong survive.”
It was from his years serving afield as a Navy soldier that the violence — particularly the deployment of napalm — became both a stomach-turning sight for Terry and a transformative experience for the Oxnard man. He soon came to the conclusion that “WAR” was a simple acronym for “We Alter Reality.”
So for Terry and a group of other Ventura County men, reality is now the art of making peace.
He and four others were presenters at a Sunday afternoon event at the Ventura Library, as members of the nonviolence organization Citizens for Peaceful Resolutions (CPR). Their panel titled “Men as Peacemakers” was a topical precursor to Father’s Day, which takes place June 15.
The timing was deemed appropriate for the group, as the annual day honoring all things paternal was originally observed in light of its militant roots.
The holiday was founded by the daughter of William Jackson Smart, a Civil War veteran who, after returning home from his tour of stateside duty, became a noteworthy single father when he took on the daunting responsibility of raising a family alone upon the death of his children’s mother.
Even before starting his own family, future CPR board member and Ojai resident Evan Stephens used this as subtle inspiration in dismantling today’s gender barriers, where men and women are frequently saddled with strict and often stereotypical identities.
In a revolutionary move, when Stephens married his wife, Jessie Ashley, four years ago, rather than following nuptial tradition of assuming the husband’s surname, the newlyweds chose a new one altogether and became Evan and Jessie Austin.
Austin, who became a father last year to daughter Noa, noted it was a matter of adopting a single identity so the couple’s children would not be led to believe one parent was more important than the other.
“It was a difficult decision,” he said. “The idea that everything is up for review, we can look at the roles things are playing, if they match up to our values, and if they’re not we can change them.”
This yin/yang approach — a bit of femininity in the masculine, and vice versa — can be similarly difficult for women to convey and have accepted in the mainstream world, as discussed at the panel. But even when the gender busting is there, it’s often criticized at the same time. One attendee used this year’s presidential race as an example.
“I think someone like Hillary (Clinton) has to be stoic and tough,” said Margaret Morris of Ventura. “She thinks she must be that way.”
It has not been a serious issue in the realm of local politics, according to Ventura Mayor Christy Weir.
“Different strengths and different personalities and philosophies are just accepted and respected without gender being a debate,” Weir, who did not attend the meeting, said. “If you get the job done and you do something well, it’s not a factor of what gender you are; men are teachers and nurses, and women are politicians. There’s so much of a crossover, the mixing breaks down the stereotypes.”
In breaking down said stereotypes, the generational gap in the men-as-peacemakers advocacy at the CPR gathering was narrow. There was Alec Loorz, 14, a local activist and student at Ventura Charter School of Arts and Global Education; and Camarillo resident Bill Hammaker, who turned 100 this week.
Hammaker summed up his longtime stance with a quote from Dwight D. Eisenhower:
“I think that people want peace so much that one of these days, government had better get out of their way and let them have it.”