Mental illness vs. toxic masculinity: What’s the real problem with our boys?

Kinderling News & Features

On Valentine’s Day 2018, 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz was charged with shooting and killing 17 students and teachers at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida. The waves of horror, at yet more children killed by guns, have spread across the globe.

And amidst the predictable outpouring of discussion, comedian Michael Ian Black has started a huge debate, after he tweeted, “Deeper even than the gun problem is this: boys are broken.”

As parents, we’re doing the best we can to raise our children to be respectful people. And so that sort of blanket statement sounds rather devastating.

So, are our boys broken?

Speaking with NPR, Michael says, "I think it means that there is something going on with American men that is giving them the permission and space to commit violence.”

“And one of the main things we focus on correctly is guns and mental health, but I think deeper than that is a problem, a crisis in masculinity."

This isn’t exclusive to the United States either.

In an op ed in the Sydney Morning Herald, writer and social commentator Clementine Ford mostly agrees with Michael.

“It isn't just that boys are broken and resort more than others to breaking everyone else in retaliation. It's that the concept of boyhood itself - what boys are, what they are meant to be, how they are allowed to exist in relation to everyone else - is in desperate need of fixing.”

“The real problem,” Clementine writes, “is there are people still steadfastly conditioning boys to believe that their masculinity alone is worthy of certain kinds of rewards.”

Michael says that in the redefinition of womanhood over the past 50 years - where women were taught they could be anything - no such redefinition was made for manhood.

“When you think of a fragile man, that has the effect culturally, I think, of neutering that guy. And so much of masculinity is rooted in sexuality,” he says. “When we talk about, you know, sensitive men or even something like a stay-at-home dad, even if we don't mean to, there is a slight judgment associated with that.”

What is toxic masculinity?

The issue of ‘toxic masculinity’ that Michael raises has been discussed by feminists for years. Toxic masculinity is the stereotype that men should bottle up their emotions, and exert their strength and power over others. Psychologists and sociologists say that these sorts of stereotypical actions are harmful to men, but it is constantly reiterated in children’s toys, movies, and even how some parents behave.

A study from 2017, published in the Journal of Adolescent Health, found that what’s expected of girls and boys becomes entrenched in adolescence. This then can have a negative impact that will follow kids into adulthood.

According to the study, when boys conform to gender stereotypes, they engage in physical violence more, die more frequently from unintentional injuries, are more prone to substance abuse and suicide, and have a shorter life expectancy than women.

And sadly, the data shows that gun violence is almost exclusively a male problem, and some experts say that culture plays a big role, with popular media glorifying violence and dominance of others.

What’s the answer?

If this sort of culturally-entrenched masculinity is destructive, what does healthy masculinity look like for our boys? How should this be defined? And how do we make this change? At this point, no one seems to have a clear answer, even the man who started this debate with a single Tweet, Michael Ian Black.

"I don't know. I mean, I really don't," he says. “There is a lot of work we need to do on ourselves.”

“This [#MeToo] movement has been great for us, for men. And I want this idea of masculinity to coincide with feminism as opposed to feeling like it's in opposition to it.”

Join the discussion on Facebook, and listen to The Parent Panel with Kerri Sackville and Grant Lyndon as they talk about the issue this Friday, and in the podcast.

*Information taken from US Today.