The dilemma of angry American boys and guns

There is something seriously flawed with the cult of American masculinity, and the problem has never been more evident than within the American mass shooting epidemic. 

According to statistics from Statista, between 1982 and February 2018, there have been roughly ninety-seven deadly mass shootings in the United States. Ninety-four of these atrocities were carried out by males. The unproportionally high percentage of male mass murderers cannot be mere coincidence. As much as this could be labeled a sexist claim, the numbers do not lie; there exists an issue with American men. 

“We, through societal pressures, norms and expectations, have put unfair pressure on our boys, with clear directives to what it means to be a man,”  health teacher Nicole Carter said. “And if they stray from these norms, they are not supported by our culture. That might be why we as health teachers see more girls seeking help than boys.”

As much as our society tries to destigmatize seeking mental health, the stigma is still a problem. 

“There is a stigma against male students seeking mental help, which leads to boys internalizing everything and trying to cope with things on their own without communicating their frustration or confusion,” health teacher Laurie Hudelson said. 

It is no surprise then that America’s mass shooters share alarming but sadly expectable circumstances: estrangement, isolation, mistrust of society and angst.

Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, the perpetrators of the 1999 Columbine High School shooting, were reported to have been bullied and left out in their high school community. Similarly, Nikolas Cruz, the perpetrator of the more recent school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, was also reported to be a “loner” and abusive to classmates.  Between 1999 and 2018, there was no drastic legislative gun reform. And the profiles of male shooters have not changed either.     

In contrast, the few female shooters have different reasons, which include comparatively uncommon mental disorders, like schizophrenia. The recent shooting at the YouTube headquarters only goes to show that female shooters, unlike male shooters, do not kill to vent frustration at society as a whole.  

American males, in a general sense, are becoming lost in the matrix of supposed masculinity. They are expected to be emotionless (or at least to hide their emotions), and to be “tough.”  They are shamed and, even worse, ashamed, when they fail to meet these expectations. In history, the “cult of domesticity” severely limited women’s opportunities. But now, the “cult of masculinity” causes male frustration to fester into anger and violence. 

“It is socially acceptable for girls to say that they feel weak, while boys are not given that voice, so boys tend to channel their feelings through anger,” Carter said. “Boys really are not angry, they just use anger as a way of expressing, since it’s the only way they can express themselves while still being respected as a man. When they express through anger, it’s easy to express through violence.”

When frustration is forbidden to come out of their mouths, the frustration will come out by other angry means: alcoholism, domestic violence, suicide, and gun barrels. These are all things in which men top statistics worldwide, guns or no guns. 

Thus, there is something fundamentally askew with the culture of American masculinity, so neither government policy nor protests and walkouts can right it. It is the unfortunate truth; only a major shift - possibly an opening of the male emotional mind - in the way masculinity is seen will be able to set America’s future back on track. 

“We have got to change the messages that boys are hearing,” Carter said. “There are some societal norms that seriously need to change. We are making some steps in the right direction, but I’m still concerned, seeing what’s taking place. We still have a long way to go, especially with how men are portrayed in movies and media.”

Hudelson also suggested possible long term solutions.

“This conversation has to begin as early as elementary or pre-school,” Hudelson said. “Boys should learn the basic idea of ‘use your words and not your actions.’”

Carter also shared a possible course of action.

“I suggest we need to educate females on supporting men,” she said. “Females equal have responsibility of supporting males, just as males have the responsibility of supporting females.”

In the modern day, there has already been a slow and steady shift in stance on gay rights and women’s rights, among other monumental societal revolutions. A shift in stance on American masculinity should not be too difficult. Only then might Americans begin to see a decrease in mass shootings, as well as other tragedies attributed to men like suicide and domestic violence. 

What to do with America’s guns is a begging question. But before we can answer that, we need to understand America’s misguided boys. 

Posted on May 3, 2018 .