The Orlando shooting that claimed 50 lives and injured 53 others this past weekend is nothing new, and that's the problem. So, what do boys have to do with it?
Many forces converged to create this tragedy. Blame the gun lobbyists. Blame ISIS. Blame Obama. Blame the 2nd Amendment. Blame homophobic conservatives. Blame flaming liberals.
As a person dedicated to figuring out how media, art, storytelling, design and all sorts of other squishy, touchy, feely things can solve social problems, I can only filter these issues through the lens that is clearest to me.
When I heard the news, I immediately thought back to a scene from a documentary film I screened last year at the Media Rise Festival, called "The Mask You Live In." The film grapples with the issue of "toxic masculinity" - the idea that we've raised our boys and young men with a limiting view of how to "be a man" in America. While the film can be a bit sensationalist and reductionist in its delivery, it does highlight some research, which shows that, "compared to girls, boys in the U.S. are more likely to be diagnosed with a behavior disorder, prescribed stimulant medications, fail out of school, binge drink, commit a violent crime, and/or take their own lives."
Overwhelmingly, men - like Orlando shooter Omar Mateen - are responsible for nearly all mass shootings, not just in America, but universally. As criminologist James Fox says, "murder is a man's crime." What the f*ck is going on?
A Man's Crime
Here are some of the reasons for (and indicators of) why men are responsible for gun violence, as explained by some sources:
- biology, social factors, status (Why Mass Killers Are Always Male - Time)
- sense of entitlement, fear of appearing weak, mental health issues, racism (Why Are So Many Mass Shootings Committed by Young White Men? - Vice)
- ease of access to guns, level of comfort and familiarity around firearms, training (Who commits mass shootings? - CNN)
- genetic vulnerability, socially toxic cultural messages, youth (Why So Many Killers Are Males - CNN)
- misogyny (The Role Of Toxic Masculinity In Mass Shootings - ThinkProgress) Note: Mateen had a history of abuse and domestic violence. His ex-wife Sitora Yusifiy told the Washington Post: “He would just come home and start beating me up because the laundry wasn’t finished or something like that.”
Politics writer Amanda Marcotte recently published an article about this phenomenon, called "Overcompensation Nation: It’s time to admit that toxic masculinity drives gun violence."
Rather than condemn all forms of maleness, Marcotte defines the nuance between healthy masculinity and pathological masculinity:
"Toxic masculinity is a specific model of manhood, geared towards dominance and control... Toxic masculinity aspires to toughness but is, in fact, an ideology of living in fear: The fear of ever seeming soft, tender, weak, or somehow less than manly. "
Then she explains how it's led us to events like Columbine. And Sandy Hook. And, now, Pulse:
"This persistent pressure to constantly be proving manhood and warding off anything considered feminine or emasculating is the main reason why we have so many damn shootings in the United States."
Sure, that, and our ass-backwards gun laws that give unstable, violent people easy access to assault rifles.
When we consider what fuels this unhealthy, pathological obsession with dominance, control and aggression, it's important to remember the powerful influence of media.
Think about porn. Video games. Movies. Music. Comic books. Advertising. Pop culture. They reflect the times just as much as they shape our identity. Especially if you're a media-maker, it's urgent that we start thinking about who we want to be. Our lives may literally depend on it.
In the meantime, while we're still healing from Orlando, call your senator. Call your mom. Donate blood. Donate money. Tell your gay friends you love them. Tell your Muslim friends you love them, too. Embrace your healthy masculinity. Honor the women in your life. Dance. Tweet about it: #OrlandoStrong. #WeAreOrlando. Do something. Do it now. Just don't forget.
This is my 12th blog post in a series for #The100DayProject, a project by Elle Luna. I'm naming it the #100Days ofBenevolent: an attempt to kickstart my daily blogging habit, which has been idle for years. If I actually had discipline, this should have been my 54th post in a row. So, technically, I'm 42 posts behind. Better to start again than quit forever?