Violence in response to verbal abuse: The Power of the Dog (film)

The recent film, “The Power of the Dog” was praised as a critique of toxic masculinity.

I find this interesting in the context of the events that happened over the weekend (when I saw the movie initially I’d dismissed it, but now I think it deserves some thought)

Spoilers in what I write below.

The story begins with the one character saying he acted as he did to protect his mother.

We find out that what he did was to kill the man who was verbally abusing his mother. That verbal abuse was killing her, she had no defense for it and was retreating into alcohol abuse which was killing her. Her husband did not defend her. Her son did.

The character with the toxic masculinity was embodied, supposedly, in just the character of the abuser.

It is the son who kills, a son who is portrayed as openly sensitive and artistic, who loves flowers, animals, and books. Who makes flowers from paper. Who kills the abuser of his mother when his step father takes no action.

Kills to defend someone who is the victim of verbal abuse.

This movie does not critique “toxic” masculinity.

This movie posits that an appropriate response to verbal abuse is physical violence – killing the abuser.

Interesting that the way this story is understood is as a critique of “toxic masculinity”. As if only the actions of the verbal abuser are open to critique. As if the actions of the son, who kills, are acceptable. As if the passivity of the husband is acceptable. As if the wife’s turning to alcohol is acceptable.

I find this movie to be a poor critique of anything, but a good example of how our society teaches men that an appropriate way to act against someone who is verbally abusing a woman you love it to react in violence.

Is the violence of killing less toxic because it comes from a mild mannered, thoughtful, articulate son who is defending his mother?

I don’t have answers.

Notes from a master class

Two poems written in response to a “master class” I took as part of the Tell it Slant poetry festival:

The instructor said (and because it sounded like a question independent and within their larger statement I lost the rest of what they said)

“How does the poet get off…


Within my own thoughts suddenly and again

I quipped, sounds sexual

And self corrected


It is sensuous.

Words do breath

Meaning like gasps

And pull the two – who may never have met


As understanding dawns within

Fertile, and grows

No wonder

People are afraid

To read poetry

The instructor called Emily an odd interrupter

forgetting, I suppose

that we are reading her PRIVATE thoughts

and she is not, as described

as that crazy woman who

walks up to you in the market to ask

Are you a nobody?

I wish I could meet her

some place other than

the unconsented edits of her words

privately written

for nobody.

Shall we play a game?

In the middle of the second row from the top you see one of the older images of a unicorn. This one was found on one of the five different game boards found in the excavations at Ur.

The game is an exciting game of chase, and was played in multiple cultures for many centuries. Over time, landing on certain squares took on a predictive nature regarding life events. People also bet on the outcomes.

You also find lions, gazelles, goats, cows, and the rosette associated with Inanna, the Sumerian goddess of Love and War.

If you want to learn more about unicorns, you can find my book available for purchase at:
Dragonwell Publishing
Barns & Noble

The unicorn as a messenger of heaven

The Chinese traditionally thought of a unicorn, called qi-lin, as a messenger of heaven. The creature would not harm anything, not even bending a blade of grass in its passage. A unicorn appeared to Confucius’s mother just before she gave birth, bringing her a jade tablet. In the hopes of greatness for their own children, many a mother will hang a picture of a qi-lin in their quarters, and to say to a person that a qi-lin appeared at their birth is still a complement.

The reference for the qi-lin was shared by Ghengis Khan. According to his biographer, as Ghengis Khan began his planned invasion of Nepal and India, a qi-lin appeared to him, stood squarely in the path of his army and did homage to him. The great Khan turned around.

I used this in my novel, The Garden at the Roof of the World, to explain why the King of Lo Mantang is so eager to help save the life of a unicorn.

If you wish to learn more about unicorns, try my forthcoming book, The Reality, Mythology, and Fantasies of Unicorns available for purchase at:
Barns & Noble

and at the publisher’s bookstore.

The unicorn in Judaism

With the High Holidays coming up, it is a good time to reflect on the unicorn within Judaism. The unicorn is considered one of the four beasts of the Tabernacle, sacrificing itself so that the Tabernacle could use its hide for the curtains. The unicorn is a symbol of Joseph, Jacob’s son. The dreamer who wore a multicolored coat, who saved both Egypt and his people.

In this ceiling painting, the flowers suggest paradise, and the placing of the horn in the lion’s mouth may be a symbol of the horn blown to announce the holiest of the Jewish holidays.

The lion is also an enduring symbol within Judaism, referring to the tribe of Judah itself.

Most of the references to unicorns in English translations of Jewish scripture are a mis-translation of re-em, which is a auroch. Aurochs were wild cattle, extremely large and powerful. They’re the ancestors of most modern cattle.

However, in the book of Daniel, there is a battle between a two horned ram and a one horned goat. This is the singular reference to a unicorn which can not be explained as a mis-translation of re-em.

To my Jewish friends and family, l’shana tova tikateyvu!

If you wish to learn more about unicorns, try my forthcoming book, The Reality, Mythology, and Fantasies of Unicorns available for purchase at:

Barns & Noble

and at the publisher’s bookstore.

Our winged myths and unicorns

The Borromeo family in Italy have a unicorn in their family crest, unicorns impaling lions in large and lovely tapestries in the family home, and this delightful statue of cupid riding an obviously male unicorn on their grounds. In some ways, their images twist the noses of those who would take the symbolic language of the unicorn as the antithesis of cupid (see last week’s weekly unicorn) or those who believe the silly rhyme of the lion always besting the unicorn in combat.

The Borromeo family certainly made an impact in the history of Italy, and in the Roman Catholic Church, with members of the family serving both in each organization’s long and varied histories, so perhaps celebrating the unicorn’s triumph over the lion, letting the unicorn ride with instead of over cupid is the right approach?

Curious to know more? You can learn so much more about unicorns in my forthcoming book, The Reality, Mythology, and Fantasies of Unicorns available for purchase at:
Barns & Noble

and at the publisher’s bookstore.