A Response to, "The Boys are Not Alright," By Michael Ian Black
I saved this article to read later.
The first few lines told me it would enrage me. I needed to go to the gym first, have a glass of wine, unwind. I had to put on my comfy clothes and a slow jams playlist before I could begin.
I read that boys are “trapped, and they don’t even have the language to talk about how they feel…because the language that exists to discuss the full range of human emotion is still viewed as sensitive and feminine.” As if women invented emotion and the language to express it? As if every author I was assigned in high school wasn’t a man? I was asked to find myself in JD Salinger, Mark Twain, George Orwell, Emerson, Thoreau, Aristotle. And you know what? I did. Because I wasn’t offered women, or people of color, or diversity of views or opinions. I was offered white men and told that if I didn’t see myself, I wasn’t “normal” because white men have been “normal” since I was born. We are all in orbit to the white male and judged based on how far away from his ideal we appear.
I read, “The brokenness of the country’s boys stands in contrast to its girls, who still face an abundance of obstacles but go into the world increasingly well equipped to take them on.” No girl is well equipped for the sexual harassment and daily challenges to of her autonomy that she will experience. I didn’t know what to do the first time a grown man masturbated in front of me, or the first time I was catcalled, or the first time I was told at a job interview that I wasn’t pretty enough to bus tables at a restaurant.
I wasn’t prepared for these obstacles that men are disproportionately spared. I had to figure it out. I had to talk to other women and heed their warnings. I had to make myself smaller to let men be large enough to show me exactly where they were dangerous before it could be a surprise. No one is born with that skill, and no one should have to be. But you learn from every “it coulda been so much worse,” and “I’m just glad I got out of there when I did,” and “what if he’d followed me.” You navigate a world that values your sexuality more than your opinion.
I read, “The man who feels lost but wishes to preserve his fully masculine self, has only two choices: withdrawal or rage.” Or option 3; He can reject what he is told is masculine the same way that every woman who has donned a pair of pants, or taken a job, or gone to college, or bought a home, or didn’t get married, or didn’t have children, or applied for a small business loan, or didn’t have sex with a guy who bought her dinner HAD to do.
I do not have the patience for this. Women have been doing this work since before I was born!
I do not have enough empathy left to give it to angry young men who commit murder instead of learning how to express emotion. I simply cannot muster it. These boys have been permitted to be ANYTHING, do ANYTHING, and they have chosen violent, belligerent, oppressive rage.
They had a choice between looking inward and finding their souls or looking outward and blaming the world for not being the entitlement parade they felt promised. These shooters believe they deserve success, acclaim, sex, wealth - because that’s the birthright of being born white and male? All boys learn that it isn’t exactly that easy, but not all boys become monsters. Not all boys want to get even.
These men and boys are a specific subset of the entitled. They are the kind that feels so oppressed by meritocracy that they want to destroy everything when they learn that they don’t effortlessly stack up. They are cowards. They could do the heavy lifting of being good people, worthy of love and respect, but that takes time and introspection and change. It requires taking personal responsibility. It’s so much easier to get life-ending firepower. Here in America guns are cheaper and more readily available than therapy, or a creative writing class at a liberal arts college. Guns are a way to purchase the courage and power you lack without all the time and effort it takes to evolve. AND I AM TOO MAD TO FEEL SORRY FOR THE SHOOTERS. I’m sorry. I know that people who are stronger and more empathetic than me can do it, but I cannot. I do not feel sorry for you sad men. You are in a cage of your own engineering.
That these boys lack the language or role models to pattern different behavior is bullshit! Girls and children of color have bloomed in the garden of white men. Nothing is stopping young boys from looking up to Oprah and Ellen and Michelle Obama. They can read Sylvia Plath and Roxanne Gay and listen to Pink records. It’s time for them to begin the journey that has been expected of the rest of us; of finding themselves in places where they aren’t.
Why are white boys the only ones considered incapable of doing this?
Mary Beth is a freelance audiobook producer. She travels a lot and likes to know that everything she owns fits in her car.