We have work to do, men
Colorado has the unpleasant mark of notoriety for three of the most disturbing mass shootings in U.S. history: Columbine High School, the Century 16 movie theater in Aurora, and the Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs.
And this month, three new mass shootings grabbed headlines. On June 5, in Orlando, a fired employee walked into his former workplace and shot five of his coworkers and himself. On June 14, outside of Washington, D.C., a politically-motivated gunman opened fire on a Republican baseball practice, injuring five people, including Louisiana Congressman Steve Scalise. Later that same day, a disgruntled San Francisco UPS worker walked into a warehouse and shot five of his coworkers, killing three, and then shot himself when officers arrived.
What do all of these cases have in common? Angry men lashing out. And what does nearly every mass killing around the globe have in common? Angry men lashing out. The data on this is pretty alarming: 98 percent of mass shootings here in the U.S. are committed by men.
And it’s not just the dramatic cases that implicate the male half of the population. 90 percent of all homicides in the U.S. are committed by men. Nearly 76 percent of all violent crimes are committed by men. 73 percent of all arrestees are men.
Unless you disbelieve the data (which, granted, is a growing hobby these days), it is inescapable: violence, and violent crime, are male problems.
When we discuss whatever hateful/horrifying/violent act catches our attention each week, we talk about the features of the perpetrator. What class? Race? Religion? Was it terrorism? Was it a “lone wolf” act? A product of mental illness? What type of weapon, and how was it obtained? Whatever the answers are, they become the defining characteristics of the attack. The media — and social media — are then aflame with discussions of those characteristics.
But do we ever discuss the gender of the perpetrator? Does maleness, or male aggression, ever define the attack?
From the time we are small, we hear “boys will be boys” whenever we do something rough or reckless. Aggression is not merely assigned to our gender, it is excused because of our gender. So when the next mass shooting occurs, we can almost assume — with 98 percent certainty — that the perpetrator will be male. We don’t even feign surprise at this, because men “just do that kind of thing.”
Well, to me, that assumption is unacceptable. And it should be unacceptable to all of us.
Being a man, I am obviously not anti-man, or even anti-masculinity. But I have a real problem with what sociologists call “toxic masculinity”: society’s expectation that the male gender role is unemotional, aggressive, and violent. In plain English, we call this being a “Real Man.”
A Real Man is strong, and showing emotion is incompatible with strength (“boys don’t cry”). A Real Man must be prepared to be aggressive at a moment’s notice (boys must “man up”). A Real Man knows that there are activities that are reserved for women only, and it is unmanly to like them (don’t do “girly stuff”). Above all, a Real Man knows that if he is deprived of what he wants, he should not be emotional, but instead must use aggression to get it (“stop whining, and be a man”).
Mass shooters, terrorists, and domestic abusers all want to be Real Men, and exercise the power that comes with being a Real Man.
Focusing on guns won’t make violence disappear. Focusing on religion won’t make violence disappear. Neither will focusing on class, race, or mental illness. The common denominator in the overwhelming majority of violent crime is maleness. Violence is a male problem. Period. Even if “not all men” are directly responsible for violent acts, all men are responsible for toxic masculinity that encourages aggression as a means to solve problems.
And so, men, we have a responsibility. We must raise our boys to be something other than a “Real Man.” We need to stop saying “boys will be boys.” To allow space for boys to express emotion without being called weak. To let boys like what they like. And to teach them — affirmatively — that violence is an absolute last resort, and not a way to show power or to gain advantage.
Violent crime will always exist. But until it’s closer to a 50-50 split between the genders, we have a lot of work to do. Until then, I don’t see the tide of mass shootings slowing down.