Yesterday was a sad and tragic day. We all feel it, and many of us cannot get the faces of our loved ones out of our worried minds. Over the past 25 years we have seen this far too often in Connecticut, Oregon, Colorado and so many other places. Frankly, it is making us heart-sick and fearful for the lives of our children.
Those of us who have children know the innocence and beauty that is how we enter the world. It is particularly this that makes the events of yesterday so devastating. Not only for the children who will not be held by those who love them tonight, the families of heros like Victoria Soto, but also for the family of Adam Lanza… himself once one of those same innocent children. We as a society have failed them all.
Details and analysis will follow about what caused Lanza to choose to harm his family and those children and adults at Sandy Hook Elementary. Certainly the debate about gun control and mental health accessibility is already in full swing. While there is legitimate debate to be had about such topics, we have been here before and nothing changes – indeed it seems the politics of such debates ensure nothing can.
Following each past mass killing, a few voices have spoken about the underlying cause, the issue we MUST discuss, and each time our nation’s leadership and media have dismissed it. Until we have an honest and frank conversation about what is acceptably masculine in the United States, we will continue to see the lives of innocents (and troubled individuals) come to tragic ends. After all, how many mass killers can you think of who were NOT male?
The idea that masculinity is a cause is threatening, mostly because we do not think about masculinity as a culturally specific performance for social acceptance (which as the Mother Jones article circulating today suggests, is the reason that mass murders like these are very much a white, male, and American phenomenon). We are each human beings first, and as such we demonstrate different versions (yet still versions) of what our society says men “should be.” This is what we must discuss.
How many more must die, or live lives tormented by not being “enough” in silence, before we can accept men simply for being human. When will being dominant, tough, expressing only anger and violence as acceptable emotions give way to being valued and loved for simply being. When will vulnerability, caring, connection to others, and promoting the interests of those without a voice be clearly articulated to children (and adults) as the highest embodiment of a virtuous (male) life?
Many of us are doing this work of redefining masculinity in our communities, with our friends and our own children. Our masculinities are as varied as we are as people – there is nothing new about that, other than we are talking about it, modeling it and challenging others to be positive forces for good in their lives as well. What we want, what we MUST see from you is the same.
Lastly, let me suggest a few concrete steps to this redefinition of masculinity I've called for. Speak: Men Can Stop Rape and six national partners have initiated a 2-year Healthy Masculinity Action Project to get people talking about what we want and expect from healthy masculinities - join that conversation, broaden it and make it a truly national one. Mentor: Broaden the Fatherhood initiative to include funding, resources, language, and support for community-based mentorship programs in which men receive training to work with youth around healthy masculinity, relationships, and citizenship. Lastly, stop pretending it is a political rather than human issue and pass the inclusive VAWA bill that does not discriminate, and offer legal resources and protection to those who need it.
There are many of us who have the experience and knowledge to help and we welcome the opportunity to help, but WE NEED you to lead. Please, take this tragic moment and do what we elected you to do and LEAD us to a better tomorrow where days like today are but sad memories. Help us articulate healthy masculinities, to our communities, mentor and teach this to younger men and boys, and demonstrate it every day. These are three tangible steps toward a better tomorrow, when we can breathe a little easier each time our children leave our arms.
In the memory of the innocents lost yesterday,