Last semester, I wrote a column urging stricter gun control measures after the horrific shooting in Las Vegas. Since the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School two weeks ago, I have struggled to find words.
At first, I wanted to share my old column again as a sort of “screw you” to the elected officials who let this happen again, not dissimilar to the way The Onion shares the same satirical “No way to prevent this” article after each mass shooting. I wanted to simultaneously scream, listen, cover my ears, throw away my cell phone and scroll through Twitter because I couldn’t look away.
But now, two weeks later, young people all over the country are taking action, and I want to follow their lead with my vote, my social media accounts, my column — anything I can use to spread the word. In addition to that, I want to add my voice to the chorus demanding change and solutions. This column will explore that last part: the potential solutions we have, particularly within education, when we confront the issue of gun control, the Second Amendment and where and how that intersects with mental health and age.
I want to make this clear before we begin: I acknowledge mental health issues play a role, but this will not be a column about mental health. When we tag mass shootings as primarily the result of mental health problems, we (1) diminish, polarize and demean those with nonviolent mental health issues and (2) neglect the other factors that allow these tragedies to occur. OK, disclaimer over.
What sparked the angle for this column was another column I read in The New York Times this week called “The Boys Are Not All Right,” written by Michael Ian Black. In his column, Black explores how we educate boys and men, beginning with the way we treat them as children and come to define masculinity. In particular, he discusses society’s simultaneous emphasis on “male” traits like aggression, assertiveness and dismissal of emotional expression.
This caused me to think about how we should treat students grieving or working through trauma following mass violence, especially violence caused by a male teenager. It’s important we as friends, family members, parents, teachers, mentors and even classmates recognize the differential treatment we provide girls and boys growing up, especially in our educational system, and ensure that everyone feels supported regardless of their identities.
We praise boys for their physical strength and talents, for taking challenges “like men,” for “taking care” of their sisters, mothers and female friends. Girls, on the other hand, are meant to look pretty, cute and dainty, to perform service tasks like cleaning and passing out papers in the classroom. Think of the phrases we use: cry like a girl, throw like a girl, run like a girl. These antiquated, sexist expressions and modes of thinking hurt both boys and girls.
When the places we think are safe, the places that ought to be safe — school classrooms — become violent, we need to address the way we educate the children, adolescents and teens within their walls. We need to prioritize emotional expression. We need to tell girls and boys alike it’s OK to grieve or feel angry. We need to show them safe, nonviolent outlets for their thoughts and emotions: journals, letters, voting, activism, sports, art and music, to name a few.
Next time, think before you say the words “man up” in front of a child. Encourage children to pursue their talents and passions regardless of the gender norms that surround those activities. In the wake of violent tragedies, we need to support kids and families. We need to make sure they never happen again. This is not the only way to do it, and it won’t solve everything. But could it really hurt us to show a little more compassion?
Mia Gettenberg is a UF criminology and philosophy senior. Her column focuses on education.