The Men Are Not Alright

There’s something really wrong with white men. Can we finally say it out loud, in public, without fear of repercussions?

(jeanne rené / Creative Commons)

The problem is not mental illness. The problem is not violent video games. The problem is a social pathology of aggrieved entitlement and misogyny mixed with white supremacy, aided and abetted by 8Chan and Fox News and Donald Trump and corrupted lawmakers that would rather take money from the NRA than save our lives. The problem is a dysfunctional government that has left us with the easiest access to guns in the entire world and encouraged us to point them at each other.

We weren’t allowed to say that men were not alright in 2012 when a gunman killed 26 people at Sandy Hook Elementary School, 20 of them children—or at least I wasn’t. At the time, I was a blogger at Forbes, and after I wrote a piece about toxic masculinity and mass shootings, I was summarily fired and my page was erased. Admittedly, a feminist blogger at Forbes seems a bit impossible in the first place, but it was interesting to see my colleague—also a feminist sociologist, but, unlike me, male and straight—go on CNN and say that there’s something wrong with the culture of white heterosexual men. That was exactly what I had said.

Of course, this point of view was not completely accepted. After all, the comments section included this gem: “Wow, talk about missing the point. Masculinity is NOT the problem.”

But masculinity—white and straight—is the problem, and even though there are more than just a few of us saying it now, there still aren’t enough. USA Today wrote about misogyny and mass shootings, as did The Conversation. More progressive publications, like The Guardian and Mother Jones, also carefully connected the dots between male power and mass shootings, much like Ms. has for decades. But the vast majority of press accounts and political responses still ignore the glaring fact that mass shooters are men—and disproportionately white. 

One recent op-ed in the LA Times listed four characteristics all mass shooters have in common, but none of them were the fact that they were men. Kellyanne Conway even blamed Elizabeth Warren for the Dayton shootings, not misogyny, while Warren talked about gun control and white supremacy but, like Beto O’Rourke and Julian Castro, blamed the white supremacist rhetoric from the White House without mentioning that, in some cases, white supremacy can be absent even when extreme misogyny is front and center.

The Dayton shooter was a supporter of gun control and of Warren—and also a member of a “pornogrind” band, a genre of music with lyrics that depict sexual violence against women. Misogyny is the petri dish in which more violent ideologies, like white supremacy, grow.

It is a glaring absence in the media and the political response to these tragedies that there is almost no discussion of how to fix toxic masculinity. But I am guessing that calling out the culture of white, straight men is actually a third rail in politics and the press—unless you’re some kind of feminist, like me. Even then, there are consequences. 

Maybe that’s the problem.


Laurie Essig is a professor of gender studies at Middlebury College and the author of several books, including Queer in Russia: A Story of Sex, Self, and the Other.