Amid the swirl of debates surrounding mass shootings, gun control and mental health, where is the meaningful conversation about toxic masculinity?
On February 14, 2018, Nikolas Cruz, a 19-year-old boy/man killed 17 people and injured 14 more at his former school, Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.
Another day. Another school shooting. Another dramatic loss of life that didn't have to be that way. Another social media assault against guns and gun owners. More thoughts. More prayers. People blaming mental illness. People blaming the president. People blaming God. People doing a lot of talking, but not for one second cutting to the quick of the actual problem.
We are ruining sweet little boys who grow into sometimes sweet but essentially ruined men who feel like the only outlet they have for their frustrations is violence. Because that is what we've taught them.
As Cruz's defense attorney Melisa McNeil told the press after he confessed responsibility in relations to 17 counts of premeditated murder, "He's just a broken human being."
Until this problem is addressed in a real and dynamic way it doesn't matter, not really, what laws we pass to regulate the sale and possession of guns in this country.
Do not misunderstand me. I think that the United States needs to seriously change its policies about firearms. I think we need for the NRA to be made to slacken its vice-like grip on Washington DC. I think this is something that's been obvious for a long time.
However, the bigger problem, the bigger conversation, the one no one seems to want to have, is what we are going to do to make the world our boys and our men live in one that is safe for and welcoming of healthy displays of their emotions so they no longer turn to senseless acts of violence as their only perceived means of expression?
Comedian Michael Ian Black's series of tweets on the subject seemed to be the first time I had heard someone meaningfully address this issue in relation to the startling rise in mass shooting across the U.S.
Deeper even than the gun problem is this: boys are broken.
— Michael Ian Black (@michaelianblack) February 15, 2018
"Deeper even than the gun problem is this: boys are broken," he began. "Until we fix men, we need to fix the gun problem. The last 50 years redefined womanhood: women were taught they can be anything. No commensurate movement for men who are still generally locked into the same rigid, outdated model of masculinity and it’s killing us... Even talking about this topic invites ridicule because it’s so scary for most men (and women). Men are adrift and nobody is talking about it and nobody’s doing anything about it and it’s killing us."
His thread grew into an oped in The New York Times titled "The Boys Are Not Alright," in which he expanded on his thoughts and shared some of the attacks on his own masculinity he received in response to his message on just that problem.
People are so focused on the debate around guns and mental health that we aren't focusing, not really, on the people wielding them in mass murders like the one in Florida. Guns kill people, yes, and so do the people who wield them.
There were 346 mass shooting in the United States in 2017.
There have been 34 mass shootings since 2018 began, less than two months ago.
Only three of the mass shootings in the U.S. since 1982 were committed by women.
There's no coincidence in the fact that the vast majority of perpetrators have been young men. It's the logical consequence of what happens when you build a world in which what it is to be a man has never truly changed throughout history.
This isn't a contest. I'm not saying men have it harder than women. That's not what this is about. All people of all genders have their own horrific set of issues to deal with. As women, we fight for recognition as complete human beings. Men struggle everyday with what it means to actually be a man.
The journey of feminism gave women the opportunity to explore all of the different ways a woman can be a woman. In high school, surrounded only by other girls, I constantly examined what it meant to be female, and even by the age of fourteen it didn't mean I ever had to become a housewife.
Say what you will about the males of our species, but they straight up do not get the same chance to examine all of the different ways a man can be a man.
I host a show on Facebook Live every Tuesday and Thursday, and both men and women come to me with all sorts of questions. Sometimes the questions are funny. Sometimes they aren't. Women ask about their health, about their bodies, and about their relationships.
Men tend to ask me one type of question: "Why are women doing this to me?"
They ask me stuff like, "Why don't women like good men?" or "Why don't women like me?" or "Why are women so rude?"
Women get more specific in their questions because we've been given the room to be curious about deeper emotional issues. It's what we know.
Men speak about women as though they are the enemy over the hill, waiting to attack not because they are inherently sexist, but because they are raised with a sexist outlook. They are raised to believe that doing the stuff women do, like expressing their emotions or making themselves vulnerable or being open about their preferences, makes them less of a man.
As a woman, you hear this and think "That's garbage!" And that's because it is. But when you're a man and it's all you know, is it any wonder we have been breeding generations of tormented teenage boys and raging men who see destruction not just as their moral inheritance, but as their only acceptable outlet for their anger, pain and frustration?
Michael Ian Black is right. Guns are a problem.
They continue to be a problem, they are going to continue to be a problem and it's a problem we need to solve.
However, solving the problem of gun violence in this country will only happen when we look at the boys and men wielding the guns and take proactive measures o teach them when, how and on which platforms they can freely and safely give voice to every single thing they may possibly think or feel.
Rebecca Jane Stokes is a writer living in Brooklyn, New York with her cat, Batman. She hosts the advice show, Becca After Dark on YourTango's Facebook Page every Tuesday and Thursday at 10:15 pm Eastern. For more of her work, check out her Tumblr.