But impossible standards about what it means to be a man should be.
The "End of Men" is a myth. A catchy, much ballyhooed myth, but a myth nonetheless. I am by no means the first person to say this, and I certainly will not be the last. Christy Wampole's recent opinion piece in the New York Times about the Newtown shooting is so wildly, offensively, dangerously wrong that I cannot help lend my voice to the response.
Wampole's analysis of the horrific tragedy boils down to a discussion of how difficult it is to be a white man in America today--and that this extreme hardship white men are now facing is mostly the fault of women and people of color.
I would argue that maleness and whiteness are commodities in decline. And while those of us who are not male or white have enjoyed some benefits from their decline, the sort of violence and murder that took place at Sandy Hook Elementary will continue to occur if we do not find a way to carry them along with us in our successes rather than leaving them behind...because resources are limited, gains for women and minorities necessarily equal losses for white males.
Wampole is arguing that white men disproportionately commit mass murders (a fact which I do not dispute) because men are being left in the dust by all the women and people of color who are skyrocketing to the top of the heap and displacing them. Except white men are doing just fine. On average they earn the highest wages, and are the most likely to be employed when you control for the fact that they also have the highest labor force participation rates. The idea that our economy is a zero-sum game, and that women and people of color are somehow stealing opportunities from white men is old, insidious, and untrue. So where is the problem? What makes men more likely to be violent if it isn't the advances of women and people of color?
Men have been committing a disproportionate amount of lethal violence for a long time—as long as we have been keeping records. Men are both more likely to be the victims and the perpetrators of lethal violence—expect for intimate-partner violence which is much more likely to be committed by men against women. Even if we accept that the end of men is nigh, unless we want to argue that it was similarly difficult to be a man in the 1970s, when most married women stayed home full-time and women only earned about 60 cents to a man's dollar, then we have to look elsewhere for answers.
We live in a culture that teaches us that being a man is mostly about not being like women. This means being tough—never showing emotion—and that the appropriate response to a perceived slight is violence. So while I don't agree with Wampole that "maleness and whiteness are commodities in decline" (all you have to do is look at the makeup of Congress and the CEOs of Fortune 500 companies to see that is not true), I do agree that the way we teach boys to be men is highly problematic—and has been for a long time.