It’s always ‘he’: What’s wrong with American men?
He couldn’t have an appointment.
Or he hated black people.
Or he was bullied at school.
If this all sounds familiar, it should be. Every time there’s a mass shooting in this country — which, functionally, means pretty much every day — those are the kinds of explanations routinely offered thereafter. A simple trip to the store, to see a movie, to go to school – or, as was the case last week in Highland Park, north of Chicago, to go to a parade – ends in carnage and journalists dutifully hunt down the parents, teachers and friends to ask how this could have happened. And the portrait emerges.
He hated the Jews.
Or he was depressed.
Or he was a loner.
But oddly, no one ever seems to consider, let alone question, the neon thread woven through it all. Meaning this pronoun, “he”. Always, “he”. We take it for granted. It barely registers. But maybe it should. In a government-funded study of 172 mass shootings since 1966 — defined as a shooting in a public place where four or more people were killed — The Violence Project, a nonpartisan, nonprofit anti-violence think tank , found that only four of the shooters were female. It’s just over 2%.
So as we debate mass shootings as a fanaticism issue, a mental health issue, an access to guns issue – and make no mistake, we should – it seems high time that we were beginning to discuss it as a men’s issue as well. Especially since the numbers suggest it’s more of a male problem than any other type. The fact that we rarely address it as such speaks to the short-sightedness of most people who frame the discussion. Meaning, of course: the men themselves.
When you’re seen as the implicit norm, self-reflection doesn’t come naturally. But self-reflection is long overdue. And here, a retort from the old sitcom “Living Single” is in order.
Synclaire asks, “Have you ever stopped to think about what the world would be like without humans?
Khadijah responds, “A bunch of happy fat women and no crime!”
It’s, as they say, funny because it’s true. And painful for the same reason.
That said, it is not enough to charge men. Other countries have men – and for that matter, private ownership of firearms. Yet they don’t have the random gun violence that this country experiences.
Which suggests that the question isn’t “What’s wrong with men?” but “What’s wrong with American men?” What is it in our culture, in the things we teach them, in the way we socialize them, that so often leaves boys and men with this grotesque sense of entitlement, this ability to decide that because that they’re having a bad day, because they got hurt, because life didn’t turn out the way they wanted, they have the right to pull out a gun and make innocent strangers pay?
Everyone has bad days. Everyone is hurt in their feelings. Everyone is struggling with life not going as planned. Only American men seem to take this as an excuse to shoot churches and schools.
After which we get thoughts and prayers, candlelight vigils and signs proclaiming “_________ Strong” as the media investigates why this terrible thing happened – and continues to happen. Yet time and again we miss the most promising line of inquiry. Yes, it’s important to know that he hated Asians. Or he wanted revenge. Or he got fired.
But it is also important to take into account that “he” is always “he”.
It is time for us to ask ourselves why.