More than a few people and organizations pay attention to the gendered nature of gun violence, including but unfortunately not limited to what happened in Newtown, Connecticut, last week. There, all of the adults murdered were women, and around half of the first-graders murdered were girls.
“Women are disproportionately affected by gun violence. Although men comprise around 90% of deaths by guns, they are almost 100% of the buyers, sellers and users. Women are also victimised by sexual violence at gunpoint, through threats and other trauma, and through their role as caregivers and survivors. In this way, armed violence is a heavily gendered phenomenon.”
“While male-dominated societies often justify small arms possession through the alleged need to protect vulnerable women, women actually face greater danger of violence when their families and communities are armed.” Barbara Frey, UN Special Rapporteur, Small Arms & Human Rights.
Not too long ago, we were talking about Jovan Belcher, who shot and killed his girlfriend, Kasandra Perkins, before turning the gun on himself – both shootings taking place in front of other people. At the time, I referred to Kevin Powell’s analysis:
Too many of us have been taught manhood in a way that is not healthy. Be tough, men do not cry, man up — these are the things I’ve heard my entire life, and I now cringe when I hear this relayed to boys or younger men by teachers, coaches, fathers, mentors and leaders.
Or we use derogatory and sexist or homophobic words to describe men or boys who do not meet the “normal” of what a male is supposed to be. Some of these male authority figures mean well, or are simply repeating what they were socialized to be or to do, and do not realize that they are unwittingly teaching that manhood has little room to express hurt, disappointment and sorrow.
Yes, they had been arguing, Belcher and his girlfriend, but in my work as an activist, including around gender violence prevention, I’ve seen the tragic pattern across our nation of men who, in the heat of rage, have killed their girlfriends, wives or lovers, as if they had no other vocabulary or emotion to deal with the disagreement or the break-up.
William Hamby at Examiner.com this week, brings a lot of significant pieces together:
(Here is a link to the piece by Kalish and Kimmel.)
Most likely not coincidental is the fact that since 1982, one very specific type of mass shootings has been almost entirely perpetrated by white males.
Rachel Kalish and Michael Kimmel (2010) proposed a mechanism that might well explain why white males are routinely going crazy and killing people. It’s called “aggrieved entitlement.” According to the authors, it is “a gendered emotion, a fusion of that humiliating loss of manhood and the moral obligation and entitlement to get it back. And its gender is masculine.”
Hamby points out that the Columbine shooters are just one example of this. He goes on to connect the phenomenon to larger social trends and patterns.
At the risk of getting too existentialist, I’d like to propose a very simple and elegant explanation for not only school shootings but a host of other barbaric acts in recent years: White men are having a crisis of both aggrievement and entitlement. One need only look at the 2012 election season to see less brutal but equally mind-numbing examples of white men going mad because they are losing their power. The “Republican Meltdown” is a perfect example of men who previously had all the control escalating to madness when that control was lost.
When else have we seen frenzy around a president’s birth certificate? What was the race of those asking to see it?
When else have we heard the most unscientific nonsensical statements about women’s bodies, rape and pregnancy from politicians? What was the gender of those politicians?
Hamby continues, to the way in which so many of these gun tragedies end – Newtown and Belcher’s included:
There’s another point of commonality for many — perhaps most — of these crimes. Most of the perpetrators end up dead. Many kill themselves at the end of the spree, while others commit what is known as “suicide by cop,” forcing police to shoot them rather than submit to arrest. This tendency is consistent with aggrieved entitlement. Masculinity, for many white men, is identical to sense of self. To be a man is literally the same as being masculine. This is particularly true of men in strongly Conservative Christian areas where homosexuality and femininity are equated. For some of these men, to be stripped of masculinity is to be redefined as nothing worthwhile. When someone feels like nothing, suicide often feels like a reasonable option. For someone who’s really, really mad about feeling like nothing, taking revenge first may add a bit of satisfaction and righteous vengeance.
The too-tight-linkage between white-maleness and controlling power is the problem. When others who are not-white and not-male gain power, identity crises ensue if there is no other option.
There are other options that can help us solve this massive culture problem. We must talk honestly about how this hegemonic white masculinity strangles the humanity of boys and men, and too often results in violence against anyone who gets in the way: a mother, a girlfriend, a first-grader, a teacher, a principal.
We have got to fix this. Knowing the problem is just a step.
Gender symbol via Word; Tough Guy image via.
UPDATE: Jessica Valenti has just shared this photo on her Facebook page, an advertisement for the gun Adam Lanza used in Newtown. Any questions now?