Rosenblum: What young men will understand when looking back

  • Article by: GAIL ROSENBLUM , Star Tribune
  • Updated: June 15, 2014 - 7:12 AM

Heather Martens’ annual fundraiser was planned long before Elliot Rodger unleashed familiar horror on a Santa Barbara college community, leaving six dead and 13 wounded before he killed himself. So it was before Oregon, before Seattle.

It’s getting hard to keep track — a horror in itself — and harder still to not feel hopeless that we’ll ever extract ourselves from this theater of the absurd starring too many of our young and troubled sons.

It was comforting to have coffee with Martens before her recent event at the Varsity Theater. Martens, executive director of Protect Minnesota, a nonprofit organization promoting sane gun laws, believes we’re moving toward this year’s theme, “Happiness: Imagining Childhood Without Gun Violence.”

“In 20 years,” said Martens, who was remembering Sandy Hook when she chose the title, “we will have a changed narrative, with responsible gun ownership and laws that back it up. Public sentiment will become policy.”

But we both know that sane gun policies alone won’t get us there. Yes, overall violence, including youth violence, is down and that’s worth celebrating. But mass killings have doubled in the past decade, nearly all of them committed by young men.

And, yes, most of our young people, our millennials, will emerge into thoughtful, productive adults. But too many young men are struggling in a 21st-century world for which they are ill-equipped.

Looking back in 20 years, here’s what I imagine our young men will understand about growing up, forming healthy relationships, and becoming themselves.

We forced you to live an outdated masculinity. While the clunky word “mascupathy” is unlikely to go mainstream, the idea will be universally embraced. Coined by Michigan psychologists Randy Flood and Charlie Donaldson, who have spent decades working with men and boys, mascupathy describes “a socialized exaggeration of masculine traits, including aggression, invulnerability and competition, and a reduction of qualities typically associated with femininity, such as compassion and vulnerability.”

Masculine traits worked well — once. In your young-adult world, those traits left you feeling like outsiders as your female peers soared in college and the workforce, far more at ease with openness and collaboration.

“There’s a lot of pressure on boys to become emotionally stoic, to keep their game face on,” Flood said, “to man-up and take charge.”

Only a tiny number of men and boys, of course, take charge through violence. But which ones? “The level of toxicity that someone marinates in, it’s like air pollution for an asthmatic,” Flood said.

“A lot of the shooters feel marginalized, like they’re not making it in the adult world. They develop this aggrieved sense of entitlement and convert it into retribution and revenge, which is the ultimate masculine act.”

In the future, you’ll know that it’s OK — preferable even — to balance important male traits with traditionally female relationship skills so that you, too, soar.

We too often threw pills at you, when you needed so much more. Rodger may or may not have been dependent on the anti-anxiety drug Xanax when he penned his chilling 141-page manifesto, took to YouTube with his video titled “Retribution,” and began his killing spree.

In the future, we’ll better understand the complex chemistry of the still-developing brain, and will see prescription drugs as just part of a holistic approach to getting well.

That approach will combine exercise, meaningful work and, maybe most essentially, supportive and accountable connections with other men. We’ll finally understand that men of all ages can become depressed, angry and anxious because they’re lonely.

“Real men do need intimacy with other men,” Flood said. “We wonder why so many men are obsessed with sex, but that’s the only option we give them for intimate connections.”

We didn’t listen enough to your families. Rodger’s parents knew something was wrong, but the officers who came to his door met a polite young man who seemed fine. Even trained mental health teams can miss clues, said Sue Abderholden, executive director of the mental health advocacy group NAMI Minnesota.

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