In the one hundred mass shootings that have occurred in the United States between 1982 and 2017, there is one consistent element tying together all the shooters. It’s not religion. It’s not mental illness. It’s not race. It’s not class.
It’s sex. Out of those one hundred shooting sprees, all but three of them were perpetrated by a man.
Now, I don’t want to make any unwarranted leap from this statistic – 97% of all mass shooters are male – to sweeping moral generalizations about men. Arguments that men are “naturally violent” or “can’t control themselves” or “need outlets for their aggression” or “need respect” are common, ironically, among defenders of patriarchal privilege. Women are supposed to tolerate male violence and sexual aggressiveness, they say, because it’s the way men are made. I would suggest that if men are made that way, it is an argument against the male supremacy. If they’re so vicious and irrational, keep them locked away, please.
But I do not believe that men are intrinsically vicious and irrational. Contrary to a certain pop prejudice among right-wingers, as a feminist I do not hate or fear men, or want to keep them down. Yes, I oppose patriarchy. I oppose the subjugation of any one group by another. But, often, feminists are the ones taking issue with the subtle misandry in imperatives to “cover up, girls, because he can’t help it” or “boys will be boys.” We want to think better of men than that. As a Christian feminist, particularly, I would rather blame patriarchal dominance on original sin than on some special vileness unique to males. After all, part of the punishment for sin, in the Genesis account, was that men would rule over women. That suggests that male supremacy is not natural, but a result of sin and disorder.
So what do I do then with this figure, this 97%?
Whenever statistics yield something unsavory about a particular group, it’s important to ask why. Why do we find concentrations of bad or destructive behavior in some groups? If, for instance, it were demonstrated that there is a higher crime rate among Black Americans than among White, one must ask, why? What does this mean? What are you trying to prove by sharing this information? Are you saying that this group is somehow naturally inferior, or naturally inclined to violence? Because if so, you’re a racist.
People do like to share these kinds of statistics in a “just sayin” manner, and it’s important to challenge them. If there is a problem with a certain type of crime in a certain community or demographic, there are many reasons why this might be the case, beyond some “natural” inclination.
It could be an economic factor. People subjected to economic stresses might be more likely to engage in certain crimes.
It might be geographic. People in rural settings might be just as inclined to steal or shoot as those in urban settings, but there simply aren’t as many people around to steal from or shoot. Other geographic factors should also be taken into consideration, such as access to water, degree of mobility, access to sunlight. I would suggest that even the contours of the land affect thought processes, so that those with broad horizons tend to cultivate different outlooks from those confined within narrow parameters.
It might be due to things that have been done to them – and to their ancestors. Trauma, after all, has lingering affects that may even influence second and third generations. Also, any group that has regularly been denied familial or domestic security will probably be less able to maintain traditions of wholesome identity, methods of keeping justice, cultural and religious narratives that help to understand life and cope with sorrow.
It might be due to culture. Is there a cultural trend that promotes violence for some people? Is there a cultural trend that promotes violence for men?
Yes, in fact, there is. Militarism is written into our American consciousness, and has its roots far back in the most hallowed texts of Western tradition. Consider Achilles, or King David. Our heroes have almost consistently been warlike men, even if – like Odysseos – they excel at other things as well. It is noteworthy that Socrates, when he fought for Athens, was renowned especially for his well-organized retreats. For Socrates, after all – and for Plato his pupil – being human meant being rational, and aspiring towards the good. Old ideas of warlike honor became less important. And it was Plato who – unlike his pupil Aristotle – shrugged off the differences between male and female.
But the real opposition to the militarist masculinism of the west comes from Jesus, who turned the other cheek, and let himself be made a victim. “Reject victimhood!” is the cry of modern Americans infected with prosperity gospel – forgetting that when they reject the victim, they reject Christ.
Christianity was never a serious business in America, after all. No one except for the Quakers was especially serious about following Jesus’ Gospel mandates. The Beatitudes were never carved in granite in public places. Reverence for the “trong man” is a given – and, laughably, the epithet “strong man” is often given to a blowhards like Trump, or to sports stars. Too rarely do we think to equate strength, as a virtue, with caritas or justice or the refusal to lash out in vengeance. And humility, we are told over and over again, is especially beautiful in women.
Mass shooting is becoming almost an American tradition, and there is something tragic about this, because of the bitter inevitability of the way a civilization built on dominance – men over women, white over black, human over nature – will do exactly what Christ said: those who live by the sword will die by the sword.
Please note, I do not write this in order to advance some easy-peasy solution to a deep rooted spiritual sickness. “Just be like Jesus and everything will be fine!” It’s true, of course, but being like Jesus is fairly impossible. And being like Jesus gets one killed. That’s sobering. This is a conversation that needs to happen, however, and we can’t ignore either the common thread that runs through these killings, or the glaring fact that for a “Christian nation” we have an uncanny habit of rejecting Christ.
image credit: http://dragon-orb.deviantart.com/art/71-gunslinger-80019634