After 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz gunned down 17 people at a Florida high school, comedian Michael Ian Black started a thread on Twitter that sparked a vitriolic debate about the role of gender in gun violence, reports USA Today. It began with the tweet, “Deeper even than the gun problem is this: boys are broken.” Black’s tweet has been liked nearly 65,000 times. “There is something going on with American men that is giving them the permission and space to commit violence,” he told NPR. “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.”
Feminists have been talking for decades about “toxic masculinity,” the things in culture from toys given to movies watched to messages parents consciously and unconsciously send that tell boys and men “being a real man” means repressing feelings and consistently demonstrating strength and dominance. A 2017 study in the Journal of Adolescent Health found many norms around gender, what’s expected of boys and girls, become entrenched in adolescence and have negative impacts that carry into adulthood. Gun violence is disproportionately a male problem. Of the 97 mass shootings in which three or more victims died since 1982, only three were committed by women (one of those being the San Bernardino attack in which a man also participated). Men accounted for 86 percent of U.S. gun deaths, says the Kaiser Family Foundation.