Masculinity Question Still Missing From the Massacres

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Newton Memorial
A memorial to the victims of the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut.

Credit: CT Senate Democrats on Flickr, under Creative Commons

(WOMENSENEWS)– Are we so numb that news of another "school shooting" barely registers? The day before the gut-wrenching first anniversary of the Newtown massacre, an 18 year-old male shot another student and then killed himself as a sheriff’s deputy closed in on him, foiling his plans to use a backpack full of weapons and ammunition at a Colorado high school eight miles from Columbine.

There’s something happening here

What it is ain’t exactly clear

There’s a man with a gun over there

Telling me I got to beware

I think it’s time we stop, children, what’s that sound

Everybody look what’s going down

–Stephen Stills, "For What It’s Worth."

I was already on edge about last year’s Connecticut massacre.

In the wake of the gut-wrenching first anniversary of Newtown, I still teeter between sadness and anger. Sadness that 20 6- and 7-year-olds were murdered along with a half-dozen Sandy Hook Elementary School educators. Anger that public officials and most of the media still largely ignore the missing component of the horror: the gender of the shooter.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s urgent we implement gun control legislation and increase mental health services. Some states–including Colorado and Connecticut–have passed new gun laws, doing an end run around the National Rifle Association and its minions in Congress. And kudos to Vice President Joe Biden for shepherding $100 million in additional money for mental wellness programs.

Still, like a two-legged stool, those efforts can’t stand up to this type of violence if we don’t add a third leg: male socialization.

Same Answer, Over and Over

Take this simple quiz. Don’t worry; you’re sure to get 100 since–spoiler alert–the answer isn’t "woman." In the year since Adam Lanza began his rampage in Newtown by murdering his mother, was it a man or a woman who killed innocent people at the Washington Navy Shipyard; the Boston Marathon; Santa Monica College; homes in Hialeah, Fla., Manchester, Ill., and Fernley, Nev.; a barbershop in New York’s Mohawk Valley; and at Los Angeles International Airport? Get it?

It’s been nearly 15 years since two male students murdered 12 classmates and a teacher at Columbine High School. Since then there have been close to a 100 mass shootings; in all but one the killer was male. How can we expect to reduce the numbers if we don’t put raising healthy boys and treating at risk men at least as high on the national agenda as gun control and mental health?

Now is the time for gun control advocates, mental health professionals and those working to redefine masculinity to form a new coalition that recognizes the irrefutable relationship between men and guns, men’s mental health and men and power.

Now is the time for educators to begin cultivating boys’ emotional intelligence, making it as high a priority as is teaching math and reading.

Now is the time for the president to direct the Department of Education to create a curriculum that emphasizes boys’ emotional well-being.

Men and Mental Health Campaign

Now is the time for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention–perhaps in concert with the Department of Veterans Affairs–to coordinate a national "Men and Mental Health" campaign to reach men who underreport their depression and are averse to mental health checkups, or all health checkups for that matter. The families of the Sandy Hook shooting victims deserve nothing less. As do all the other families in the club no one ever wants to join, which stretches from Boston to Los Angeles.

While experts on gun control and mental health fill congressional hearing rooms and dominate the opinion pages and the airwaves with analysis and commentary, it’s time to share the microphone with those working to redefine masculinity. Their voices are in my new book chronicling the history of the pro-feminist men’s movement. Inspired by women, a growing legion of men has been working since the 1970s to prevent domestic and sexual violence and to transform traditional ideas about manhood, fatherhood and brotherhood.

Men’s organizations across the country have experienced staffs working to prevent domestic violence and rape; to coach fathers and to assist sons on the journey to healthy manhood. In the 1990s I facilitated batterers’ groups working with lonely, isolated men who had been abusive to their spouses. None were as mentally unstable as the mass shooters, but all were products of the same male socialization.

While no one may be shrugging dismissively saying, "Boys will be boys" to explain away aberrant male behavior, still, when "boys" kill their mothers, children, strangers–committing suicide by mass murder–isn’t it time we took the crisis in masculinity seriously? If we care about the parents of Sandy Hook the answer to this question must be yes.

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One thought on “Masculinity Question Still Missing From the Massacres

  1. Interesting article, but somewhere in my gut I have a problem with his take, I’m just not sure where. This may take me a while to work through, so please be patient.

    Although the recent study done by USA Today and posted on their website confirms that 94% of the mass killings since 2006 were committed by men, I feel that labeling this a “male issue” will miss the underlying causal problem.

    I think the problem, on a grand scale, is a mental health issue.
    I think it’s quite possible (I’d go so far as to say probable) that the perpetrators of these mass killings are survivors childhood abuse.
    I think that these survivors have never dealt with this abuse, so their wounds never get to heal right.
    I think that the reason these victims don’t get the help they need to heal is because of a societal stigma linked to treatment.

    So, I think the the solution is two part:
    First, work to create a society that doesn’t continue to produce people with mental health issues (ending child abuse is a great place to start).
    Second, work to create a society where those with mental health issues can get the treatment they need to deal with their problems and get better.

    By labeling this a “male issue” we will begin to focus our efforts on fixing men. They will be the scape goats. “If it wasn’t for men, we wouldn’t have these problems.” We will look at being male as the problem, and we will try to isolate male characteristics such as their aggressive nature, and their affinity for guns.

    If this is the problem then the solution is to strip men of their maleness.

    Let’s say for a moment that somehow through this course of action we discover that child abuse was in fact the cause, then what’s the answer, stop abusing boys?!? It’s a good start, but then does that mean that abusing girls is OK because they don’t kill as many people when they grow up?

    With this approach, the best case scenario would be that men would no longer participate in mass killings, but if the overall societal need is not addressed, women will take over the top spot.

    I wasn’t surprised to read that the author had a book he was trying to sell. Dividing the populace is a great way to sell a book, or get ratings for a radio program, or to get funds to further ones political career. Pitting one side against another is a strategy that has been used for centuries, because it’s easier to point a finger at a boogie man, then it is to try to tackle a problem as big as the foundation of a society.