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What's Happening to Our Boys?

The following article is written by Justin Perry, and was originally published in the Charlotte Observer.


Most of us have heard and many of us have repeated the idea that men are more rational while women are more emotional.

This is one of our nation’s greatest myths and it is literally killing us.

Following mass shootings, people reflexively throw out mental illness as the catalyst. I always ask how, when as many women have mental illnesses as men, are men exclusively executing these shootings?

The dirty secret is that domestic violence and gun access are much greater predictors of gun violence than mental illness. But we avoid that conversation, because it would expose more men to restricted gun ownership, including many lacking a diagnosable mental illness.

Furthermore, it would force us to have a more honest conversation about masculinity, the destructive emotionality of men, and how society is failing in our development of boys and men.

There are many positive aspects of traditional masculinity, such as desire to care for one’s family. However, there is a toxic masculinity that we too often transfer to our boys that includes restricting emotions and denying pain, pursuing dominance with a willingness to use violence, objectifying women, and trans/homophobia.

As much as self-made, rugged individualism and boot strap theory are promoted, they are fables. None of us are self-made or self-sustained. Healthy relationships, whether personal or business, are central to any sustained success, and the lack of them often leads to isolation that is eventually destructive to one’s self and others. We must teach our boys interdependence over independence. Stand on your own for short-term surviving — but understand that for longterm thriving, we men, like women, need authentic supportive relationships. Belonging matters.

Separately, the average male in our society has a limited menu of emotions. While we may know the comfortable feelings of happy, interested and excited, we only know and are permitted to feel one uncomfortable emotion: pissed off.

While anger is a legitimate emotion, it is a secondary emotion that males are socialized to use as a shield for more vulnerable emotions like sadness, fear, hurt, rejection, humiliation, or anxiety. The fact that we don’t afford young boys the space to access this full range of emotions often creates disconnection and internalized shame.

Shame leads to any combination of avoiding, attacking others, attacking one’s self, or withdrawing.

Many males avoid addressing our vulnerable feelings. They attack others with domestic and other violence while committing 90% of US homicides from 1980-2008. They attack each themselves with higher rates of alcohol, drug, and other addictions than women.

But men aren’t emotional?

Being emotional is not the problem. Inability to address uncomfortable emotions without drugs, guns, or other violence is. Humans are built for connection. The absence of it creates breeding grounds for extremist message board communities, hate groups, gangs and other spaces where vulnerable males temporarily avoid insecurity before eventually harming others and themselves.

A friend recently told me that three young alums of a prominent local independent school died from suicide within a few months. She said her friend asked, “What’s happening to our boys?”

We need to answer this question comprehensively. In listening to students, I’ve heard multiple youth say they need help learning how to deal with conflict and figuring out what a good friendship looks like. If we can teach finance, why not this? Our boys, community, and nation need it.