Toxic Masculinity

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Toxic Masculinity

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When you picture a dog, chances are, you don’t picture a Fila Brasileiro, one of the rarest breeds. When you picture the sky, you probably don’t picture the colors of the northern lights, which only occur rarely, in certain places, at certain times. When you picture a school shooter, or a rapist or an instigator of domestic violence, it’s all but guaranteed that you’re picturing a male. 

   This isn’t due to profiling or sexism; it’s due to plain fact. According to an FBI study cited by The Guardian, 96.2 percent of mass shootings are committed by men. This has been blamed on an assortment of things over the years—mental illnesses, testosterone levels, “boys being boys.” No one wants to admit that it’s the way in which the media portrays masculinity that’s the real problem.

   In 2012, Bushmaster Rifles put out an advertisement that pictured an AR-15 rifle with the caption, “Consider your man card reissued.” Adam Lanza, a small, socially outcast and mentally ill 20-year-old, would fire fatal shots at Sandy Hook Elementary School using this very same type of assault rifle. There’s no coincidence here. When someone goes the majority of their life feeling as if they are not masculine enough to be accepted by society, they seek to reverse the vulnerability, to turn around the fear and project it onto someone else. This ad was practically made to appeal to people like Lanza—the lost, the confused, the lonely. 

  Somehow, this message gets mixed up by the time it hits the headlines. The news claims that it is bullying and mental illness that causes such tragedies to occur. The idea is that if a person is not consistently wronged by humans, they will not feel the need to get revenge on humans. To an extent, this is true, but it is not the root of the problem. Girls are bullied too. Girls absorb violent movies and video games too. Girls have mental illnesses too. So why, then, has this sort of wicked, gruesome violence become an almost entirely male behavior?

   The answer lies in the difference between the two primary gender expressions that kids are raised with: masculinity versus femininity. Girls are taught to shrink, while boys are taught to puff out, to make themselves as big, strong and “manly” as possible. The size of the G.I. Joe action figure’s biceps has steadily increased over the years; from the 1960’s to 2001, they increased over 100% to a size that is virtually impossible for men to attain, according to Bradley University. In proud shows of masculinity, men on television shows and movies fight, shoot and kill each other. Boys, mimicking, fight on the playground. The physically weaker grow up, see ads like the one put out by Bushmaster and seek to reclaim their manhood by putting themselves on the upper hand of a power difference. It’s as easy as buying a gun. Which, in this country, is far too easy. 

   As the next generation of Americans, we can’t realistically outlaw guns, but we can raise boys who know that physical domination should be a last resort and is not a test that one has to pass to become a man. We can open a dialogue where boys are welcome to be softer, more emotional and more empathetic, without facing ridicule. 

   Let’s stop telling boys to be boys and start telling boys to be human.