October 1, 2017, Las Vegas Strip, Nevada: at the Route 91 Harvest musical festival, a gunman—later to be identified as Stephen Paddock—opened fire on a crowd of concertgoers. People who were there to forget about life, people there simply to have fun, people there celebrating with their friends and family.
58 of them died that night. 546 more were injured. A total of 604 lives were drastically changed; countless thousands more were severely impacted. All because one man decided to leave a legacy of pain in the world.
Conversations in the media quickly blew up. Arguments circulated surrounding issues of gun control, mental health awareness, security measures, white privilege, all things very significant and worth discussion.
However, one thing didn’t seem to get brought up at all. In fact, it barely even seemed worth mentioning: a man committed the crime.
Naturally, before reports even came out the shooter, everyone assumed it was a man. And why wouldn’t they? Statistically in the United States, men are more likely to commit violent crime. In fact, the majority of studies have found that men commit 98% of all mass shootings and 90% of all murders.
Some may say facts like these are simply due to biology. Men have more testosterone, which influences their sex drive, muscle mass and aggressive behavior. In other words, testosterone lends itself more easily to violence than say, estrogen. This is generally true. However, while testosterone does have a correlation with aggressive behaviors, more and more studies are coming out denouncing the claim that testosterone causes men to be violent.
The notion that, oh “boys will be boys,” and fight, hit, kick, rape, destroy and murder all because of their hormone levels is becoming more and more outdated.
Instead, we should look a little bit deeper at how society plays a role in shaping and morphing men to be more inclined to committing these violent crimes.
Enter: hypermasculinity. While hypermasculinity still has yet to be defined by many major dictionaries, this one defines it as: “The quality or exhibition of exaggerated masculine behavior or traits, especially strength and those of a violent, dominant or sexual nature.”
Let’s be clear: masculinity and hypermasculinity are not the same thing. Masculinity is something wonderful. It is strong, protective, loving, leading and driven. But when good virtues are drastically exaggerated, they morph into vices, which is where we get hypermasculinity. Hypermasculinity needs to prove its strength; it cares more about owning than protecting; it values sex over love; it bosses rather than leads; it destroys everything in its path to get what it wants.
More often than not, hypermasculinity is what we see in society, the media and entertainment. It’s the extreme car chases, the violent murders, the man with a different woman every night. It’s the men who feel nothing, who express nothing, who let their muscles do the talking and think with their penises. That is the hypermasculinity we’re exposed to daily.
For example, let’s take a look at the top 10 highest grossing movies of 2017. According to IMDb, they are:
- Star Wars: The Last Jedi
- Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
- Beauty and the Beast
- Despicable Me 3
- The Fate of the Furious
- Transformers: The Last Knight
- Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No TAles
- Justice League
- Spider-Man: Homecoming
- War for the Planet of the Apes
Of these 10, eight of them depict intense violence—particularly violence committed by men. Whether these men are seen as heroes or villains is beside the point; they are strong, powerful and dominant.
So, while testosterone may play a role, the narrative that society draws of what it means to “be a man” definitely does as well.
Men shouldn’t express their feelings; they must be abnormally strong; they should constantly want sex; their muscles must be flawless; they should always do exactly what they want and never let a woman “control” them; ultimately, they must win at everything, always. And if you don’t do these things, then you are not a man.
This vision of hypermasculinity that society and media create is toxic.
It is toxic for our boys, our brothers, sons, fathers and men all around us. It’s toxic because it tells them there is only one way to be a man, and that is to be the most exaggerated version of masculinity possible. And if you fail on these counts, then you must not be a man. Instead, you’re “whipped, a bitch, a pussy, a wimp, a loser” and the list goes on.
When boys see this narrative, it’s no wonder that they feel they must live up to it, or else be left behind. They want to fit in, and so they do everything they can to prove their power, prove their strength, prove their sex drive and prove their control.
Our boys grow up surrounded by these influences, and then make the decision to follow them later in life. This is where we get societal issues like porn addiction, gang violence, sexual assault, rape, domestic abuse, crime, murder and yes, even mass shootings.
Society spends the entire span of a boy’s life telling him to be hypermasculine, and then suddenly we’re shocked when men play into the roll and commit acts of violence.
This is not what masculinity is. This is not how masculinity was designed. Masculinity was designed as something handsome and strong, which reflects and interacts playfully with its counterpart femininity. Instead, we have twisted and manipulated it into something ugly and toxic, which hurts our boys and population.
So, how do we change the narrative? We are society, so we have the power to make dynamic changes from within.
We talk to the young boys and men in our life about what true masculinity is. We allow them to express their feelings, teach them how to control their anger in a healthy way and show them how to lose with grace. While testosterone may play a role, we as freethinking humans are not slaves to our emotions and hormones. We can teach this notion to the males in our lives.
By clearly defining what masculinity is—and more importantly what it is not—we can create a more positive generation of men, and denounce hypermasculinity for its toxic influences.