Greek America: Let’s Talk About Toxic Masculinity


I generally don’t like chiming in on social media about the ever-increasing number of mass shootings. I prefer to vote, make calls, etc., because we clearly have a gun problem. But in this case I’ve been contemplating the fact that the Santa Fe shooter was a Greek boy. It hits close to home for many reasons.

My Big Toxic Greek Family

Maybe some of my Greek friends haven’t had this experience, but I grew up with intense toxic masculinity that continues to this day in my Greek family. Some of you are familiar with one of my early short stories, “The King of Shadows.” My Greek father, who didn’t want me to go to college, was the inspiration for that brutal faery tale. And when he died a few years ago, my life changed in ways I never dreamed. I also have a trunk story called “Scarlet, Lavender, Lapis” about a Greek woman trying to escape her roots, but she gets pulled back into one of the darkest Greek myths we teach today. The idea that I can’t escape my heritage has always haunted me, especially the hideous racism that riddled every family conversation.

My father had guns. He almost never used them — he certainly didn’t take care of them, leaving them unsecured in a half-open closet — but later in life he’d regularly threaten to kill my mother with them. She told me on the phone so that I’d know “in case something happens.” This just added to his many other abuses, some of which I only learned after his death. One was so sickening that, if I could have dug him up and murdered him with my own hands, I would have.

It wasn’t just my father. Almost every Greek man in my family abused women with impunity. One exception I can recall is when a distant Greek relative screamed at her pre-pubescent son as she pulled him off of me, saying, “You will respect women!” He’d been trying to climb onto teenaged me as I was sitting in a chair, minding my own business. I have a hunch he never learned that lesson.

Attack in London

As if that weren’t enough, when I was in London back in 2001, I was assaulted on an otherwise empty tube platform by a young Greek male tourist. I knew he was Greek because he tried to strike up a conversation with me about where he was from. I made the mistake of saying, “That’s nice. I’m Greek, too.” He then grabbed me and tried to force me to kiss him.

After a struggle, I broke away just in time to jump onto the next train. He followed me onboard. He wouldn’t take no for an answer. We had a standoff in an occupied car, where I told him to go away. When the train doors opened again, I flung myself out of the train and ran as fast as I could to the nearest tube employee, who comforted me until I stopped trembling.

Thankfully, I lost the bastard.

I’ve never been to Greece as a result, and have never had any desire to go because I hate being harassed on any given day, much less assaulted while I’m traveling in another country.

The Hellenic Community

In a thorough blog post by Greek American Girl about violence in Greek homes, she details why violence is tolerated in Greek families, including those in America:

Greek culture is traditionally patriarchal, it tolerates and “waters down” abuse more so than someone from American culture. The Greek culture socializes women and men to believe that the husband is the head of the home and that a wife’s function is to keep the family intact. As a highly patriarchal culture, men are taught to believe they merit a position of power over women who believe it is their fate to live in violence. Due to these ingrained cultural ideas about marriage, family and sex roles, abuse tends to be overlooked, tolerated, and even condoned.

She goes on to break down the specific cultural values — in particular the taboo of revealing family secrets — that make it even harder for abused women to get help. And if we think it’s bad here, it’s much worse back in Greece, where the pressures of the economic crisis are lighting fuses everywhere.

Dear Fellow Greeks: Get It Together, FFS

When I heard the Santa Fe shooter cum would-be bomber was Greek, I wasn’t fazed. In fact, I wondered why it hadn’t happened sooner. And then the Los Angeles Times had this quote:

One of Pagourtzis’ classmates who died in the attack, Shana Fisher, “had 4 months of problems from this boy,” her mother, Sadie Rodriguez, wrote in a private message to the Los Angeles Times on Facebook. “He kept making advances on her and she repeatedly told him no.”

Sound familiar? And yet his family says, “what we have learned from media reports seems incompatible with the boy we love.” Guess what? My Greek family has always been similarly baffled that anyone would complain about the boys they love, as the boys themselves blamed the women in their lives for their problems.

#NotJustGreekMen, #NotAllGreekMen

Of course, Greek men aren’t the only ones who grow up infused with garbage attitudes toward women. This is an everywhere-problem. A Mediterranean-Asian-Middle Eastern-All-American plague. Still, this is just a reminder that the Greek American community is responsible for doing their part to make better men. Straight up, my family failed. I know many others have, too. I’ve watched it happen my entire life.

I also know a couple of perfectly sweet Greek men, writers I’ve befriended over the years, like the late David Thomas Lord aka John Sumakis, and the always-lovely and hilarious Mark McLaughlin. We need to make a lot more of these guys, not another goddamned Milo Yiannopoulos or this newly minted, psychopathic asshole.

Heartbreak in Santa Fe

Meanwhile, my heart breaks for the families and friends of those who were killed. Sylipiteria to you all. I’ll be doing my part politically to work toward a safer America for every student.

4 thoughts on “Greek America: Let’s Talk About Toxic Masculinity

  1. Maria, what a great, but, sad article. I too, am greek and know exactly what you are talking about. I am estranged from the males in my family (parents divorced) but, also know that our moms and yiayias enabled them over the years..

    • Hi Sandra. Thanks so much for your comment. I’m so sorry you’ve suffered like me. You’re right — the women have definitely enabled the bad behavior. So incredibly painful and sad. But we’re better off without that in our lives.

  2. Thanks for citing my article. I have been trying to years to educate both men and women about toxic masculinity. But I think it must start with women themselves first as they have so internalized the patriarchal self-hate they scathe and butcher each other before any male has the chance. I believe a new generation of Hellenes must rise up in order to gain more equity between the sexes and in the family

    • Irene, I couldn’t agree more. Women have to recognize and then reject the patriarchy. As long as they keep looking to men for value rather than looking at themselves, they’ll be forever trapped, whether they’re Greek or have any other background. Best wishes to you and yours!

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