The Newtown Shooting and Why We Must Redefine Masculinity

by Wendi Gilbert and

Today’s shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut was horrifying, devastating, unthinkable…really, there are no words for such a senseless tragedy. Besides the grief, a lot of people are talking about gun control, and rightfully so. The three guns found at Sandy Hook today were all purchased legally. It is too easy for people to obtain deadly firearms. You can order “bulk ammunition that’s ready to ship” on the internet. There is no doubt that there are too many guns, and that the gun lobby fights all efforts to regulate them. That said, in addition to looking at the gun control issue, there is an umbrella issue that needs some attention.

Through the film project I am co-producing at, I have been educated and become frightfully aware that our society has a “boy crisis.” There have been at least 62 mass shootings in the US in the last 30 years, and 61 of them were committed by men, according to Mother Jones.

“Why are girls, who live in the same environment, not responding in the same way?”

In the aftermath of the 1999 Columbine shootings, Jackson Katz, one of America’s leading anti-sexist male activists, educators, authors, and cultural theorists wrote, “accessibility of guns, the lack of parental supervision, the culture of peer-group exclusion, or the prevalence of media violence, all of these factors are of course relevant, but if they were the primary answers, then why are girls, who live in the same environment, not responding in the same way?”

The film series we are currently producing is called The Mask You Live In. It explores “what it means to be a man in our society and the extremes of masculinity imposed on our boys and men. It further uncovers how American culture reinforces a rigid code of conduct on boys that inhibits their capacity for empathy, stifles their emotional intelligence, limits their definition of success, and in some cases, leads to extreme acts of violence. The film series will expose the social, economic, and political ramifications of a society that exists with this underlying cultural and historical phenomenon. And, most importantly, the film will offer solutions and hope.”

As a society, we are outraged and we are wounded. We desperately need solutions. And, hopefully, we all want to do something to make a difference.

As I sit here in Northern California, I ask myself, “how can I possibly do anything that would make a difference for that grief stricken family whose child’s room is empty tonight?” How can I possibly make any difference to the town of Newton, Connecticut – who will have to carry today’s horror and sadness with them, forevermore?

What we can do is teach our young boys and young men that being emotional and empathetic are part of “being a man.” That “sharing one’s feelings to sort out one’s problems” is a masculine trait. We need some new definitions of “manly” so our boys can express and know their full selves, not just the culturally accepted “extremes” that predominately exist today.

And here’s two things we can do right away: One is to feel the horrendous grief of the moment so we are being honest with ourselves that our society is certainly messed up. And next, we can engage in and expand this conversation. Share your own thoughts below or on our Facebook page.

Today is a tragic day. But I feel blessed to be a part of this project, working to create the change that is SO needed in our world.

Wendi Gilbert is a Co-Producer of the upcoming film series, The Mask You Live In, as well as the Special Projects Director at