As America reels in the wake of another mass shooting, we are once again collectively examining what we might be able to do as a society to avoid another tragedy like this. Mass shootings and gun violence have become far too frequent in recent years. At just seven weeks into 2018, there were already eight school shootings resulting in injury or death, to which the Parkland, Florida tragedy contributed another 17 fatalities.
As Congressman Bill Nelson said, “Are we coming to expect these mass shootings to be routine? And then after every one we say ‘enough is enough’ and then it continues to happen?”
Many of us (although still not enough of us) know and recognize by now that better gun control laws will undoubtedly be a huge part of the solution. However, when we take a closer look at the offenders committing these atrocities, we start to see a pattern that we may be able to also pull solutions from. The pattern? Mass shootings are almost all invariably performed by men.
Like the recent mass shooting in Florida and the overwhelming majority of mass shootings before it, the statistics point to an undeniably white, male demographic for shooters, which indicates a larger connection between gender and violence.
In the U.S., 98 percent of those who execute mass shootings are men. Between 1982 and February 2018, only two mass shootings were initiated by women, versus 94 shootings committed by men. The mass shooting in San Bernardino in December 2016 was the only incident where there was both a male and female shooter.
- 90 percent of people who commit homicide by whatever means are male
- 80 percent of all individuals arrested for any violent crime including murder, aggravated assault, forcible rape and robbery, are male
- 98 percent of police officers who have shot and killed civilians are male.
Furthermore, female offenders are simply very unlikely to kill people they do not know. When a woman commits murder, only 7 percent of the time is the victim a stranger. When a man commits murder, it’s a stranger 25 percent of the time.
Interesting question. Let’s put it this way: if virtually every mass shooter were a woman, would we be talking about it? Without a doubt. They’d call us hysterical, hormonal or any number of other depth-less, gender-based insults that have been used to lessen the credibility of women for years upon years. And here we are, pretty much ignoring the fact that men are 50 times more likely to commit murder than women.
Evolutionary psychologists would say that men have historically been more aggressive to procure a mate, shelter and food. Neuroscientists would say that testosterone is directly linked to aggression and competition, which correlate with violence.
We’re missing something critical, though — that’s all nature, but what about nurture? What about the social trigger that unearths men’s proclivity to aggression?
If we look at our culture and the gender normative views we’ve instilled in our young boys, it seems a lot like we’re engendering a culture of toxic masculinity.
William Pollack, professor of psychology at Harvard and director at Boston’s McLean Hospital for the Centers for Men and Young Men, states the socialization of boys is a significant factor in men becoming mass shooters, and in ties between gender and violence in general.
Young boys are brought up to feel entitled, to suppress emotions and to believe masculinity is about using violence as an answer to a problem. It, therefore, makes sense that there’s going to be fallout when men don’t get what they want in a society that hasn’t given them the tools to cope.
This is particularly true of white males — and yes, the majority of mass shooters are also white — who have never had to deal with the effects of systemic racism. Add in a cultural backdrop that worships overhyped masculinity and even just the image of a man with a gun, and you definitely have a piece of the answer.
When we look at the profiles of the majority of men who commit mass shootings, we see that they are often men who feel they were owed something in one way or another and that the world has not provided for them. There seems to be a clear sense of male entitlement driving many of these men to kill. Take the post office shootings of the ‘80s and ‘90s — and the Michigan case in particular, whereby the shooter expressed that he felt he was mistreated.
Furthermore, nearly 30 percent of mass shootings continue to occur in places of work, committed by dissatisfied male employees. And then there are the cases linked to a fallout with relationships, where men lash out at society because they realize, counter to their upbringing, they are not entitled to women, but they can’t handle that reality. A study conducted by the Congressional Research Service revealed that a domestic dispute was a factor in roughly one out of every five mass public shootings between 1999 and 2013.
So what are some fixes for this specific piece of the puzzle that is the solution to our mass shooting problem? For starters, we need to stop creating and showing young boys movies, shows, games and imagery that suggests the muscle-y man with a gun is the one who always “gets the girl.” Our justice system needs to do a better job of holding domestic abusers, rapists and other men who show signs of dangerous behavior accountable instead of just issuing a restraining order and sending them on their way. Parents need to actually hold their kids accountable for atrocities they commit, instead of complaining that their sons can no longer enjoy small things like eating steak because a victim actually dared to come forward with an accusation.
Do you see it? The way we casually gloss over male violence in almost every place that it exists? We need to take responsibility for the culture we’re fostering. I’m all for better gun control laws, and that will definitely play a huge piece in ending these mass shootings. But the streak of male violence is undoubtedly going to continue, with or without guns, if we don’t stop glorifying overhyped masculinity in the media and raising our young men to believe they are entitled to anything they want. We don’t necessarily say this outwardly, but the underlying messages in our culture gives them every reason to develop this worldview.
So let’s change things — Hollywood, the justice system, parents. We’re looking at you.
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