Yesterday, comedian Michael Ian Black published an op-ed in The New York Times about a disturbing pattern in the increasingly common school shootings in the United States: they are almost all perpetrated by boys and men. Black had posted a thread on Twitter immediately after news of the shooting in Parkland, Florida broke on February 14th, beginning with the tweet: “Deeper even than the gun problem is this: boys are broken.” He went on to describe how toxic masculinity (aka the socially constructed belief that men, in order to be considered masculine, must present as dominant, sexually aggressive, violent, etc.) allows boys no room for “expression that [doesn’t] readily conform to traditional standards.” The thread was apparently noticed by The New York Times, and Black published the op-ed less than a week later.
He writes in the op-ed, “Many [men] feel that the very qualities that used to define them — their strength, aggression and competitiveness — are no longer wanted or needed... And so the man who feels lost but wishes to preserve his fully masculine self has only two choices: withdrawal or rage.” Essentially, boys are socialized to stifle emotions and feelings they have that fall outside the traditionally held views of masculinity. Further, boys are not allowed the space to develop healthy coping mechanisms to deal with their invisible feelings, and they become rageful and radicalized. They turn to violence, increasingly often at the expense of their peers.
We’ve always been a fan of Michael Ian Black — in fact, he was a BUST Boy Du Jour back in 2012. Black was raised in a lesbian household and thus has been questioning the dominant narrative of masculinity his whole life. “I think in general, the role of being a man has become incredibly undefined,” he says in our 2012 interview. “Men don’t really know who they are anymore.” This interview took place just six months before the shooting at Sandy Hook elementary school, a few miles away from where Black’s two young children attended school. The perpetrator of the Sandy Hook massacre was a young man. Almost six years later, Black continues to be an important voice in the conversation on toxic masculinity and gun violence.
top photo: Bek Andersen for BUST, from our 2012 photo shoot
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Elizabeth F. Olson is an editorial intern at BUST. She mostly writes about her experience with mental illness through a feminist lens, and sometimes she writes fiction. Find her on Instagram and Twitter.