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What about Men? A follow-up to Newtown Shootings

In my most recent blog I happen to mention in passing that most of these kinds of shootings are committed by men.  In a recent article by Meghan Murphy expanded on this often neglected fact. The issue of guns and access to mental health care has most often been discussed, writes Murphy, but, she says, "no one is asking what is, for once, the single most important question: What about the men?"


After listing some of the most well-known mass shootings dating back to 1984, she writes that "In 31 of the school shootings that have taken place since 1999, the murderers were all men. Out of the 62 mass murders which happened over the past 30 years, only one of those shooters was a woman."  Also, most were white and middle class.


Murphy refers to the work of Jackson Katz, author of Leading Men: Presidential Campaigns and the Politics of Manhood. Katz writes that "The gender of the perpetrator is the single most important factor, and yet it's not talked about in that way in most mainstream conversations."  I wonder why this is not mentioned.  Maybe it is because the major media in this country are owned by a few white males.  It is much safer to talk about guns or mental illness or even mention race -- but only when the subject concerns people of color.  It is taboo to mention white males or even talk about masculinity.


For about 20 years I taught a course on women and crime at my university and always brought up the subject of male violence, asking my students the following: "Why is it that about 95% of all violence is committed by males?"  Add another 3 or 4 percentage points if we include wars.  The discussions always got heated as the males in the class got defensive and the women in the class knew exactly what I was talking about.  And the women, as I soon learned, tended to know more about men than the men themselves!  I came to the conclusion that in order to reduce violence among men we needed to change the culture to allow for men learn to the enhanced skills of nurturing and empathy. 


And conversely, why do women rarely commit violence, except perhaps to kill their abusing spouses or boyfriends?  Because they have been taught to be more nurturing and to have empathy.


Katz notes that "It's hidden in plain sight," adding that it is "about masculinity and it's about manhood."  And the gun culture is mostly "about masculinity but it's unspoken."  In this culture, men are rewarded for achieving certain goals and "for establishing of dominance through the use of violence."

Being male I can relate.  I was never this way and I always hated guns and violence and was often very subtly punished by my male peers for being this way.  I recall my first week in high school when a male friend from junior high passed me near the gym wearing his football gear and ask if I was trying out for the football team.  I said I was not and he said something I can't recall but his tone suggested that I was not being a "real man."  I told him I was going out for the baseball team in the spring and he accepted this as "manly" enough.  Truth be told, I did not want to get my face bashed in by 200+ pound linemen (I weighed only 160 pounds)!


But the message was clear to me at the age of 15 (of course I had learned some of these lessons long before that).  We as a society and culture have suffered greatly because of the way men are brought up and the expectations and pressures they face.  This is particularly true in recent years as millions of white working class men have seen their jobs disappear and paychecks shrink and along with this has come an inability to be men, to be the traditional breadwinner, etc. So what do they have left except their guns and their bare hands to "prove their masculinity"?


We fail to address the issue of masculinity and we are paying a heavy price in hundreds of dead bodies such as those found in that small classroom in Newtown, Connecticut. It is time to put gender on the table for discussion.

Keywords: guns, Randall Shelden

Posted in Blog, Social Justice

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