What Is it About Men That They're Committing These Horrible Massacres?
“But what about the men?” It’s a question that’s been asked by few in the context of the recent mass shooting in Newtown, Connecticut.
By Meghan Murphy
“Imagine if 61 out of 62 mass killings were done by women? Would that be seen as merely incidental and relegated to the margins of discourse?” Katz asks, “No. It would be the first thing people talked about.”
In the U.S., where health care is privatized, it’s true that many people don't have adequate access to mental health services. Racial and ethnic minorities are even less likely to have access to health services, as well as, more generally the poor and unemployed. But not only are these mass shootings committed largely by white men, but by middle class white men. If this were primarily an issue of people not having access to mental health services, it would stand to reason that far more mass shootings would be perpetrated by poor minorities, particularly women of color.
But we’re talking white, middle class men--the members of this society who have the most privilege and the most power. The question everyone should be asking is not: “Where did he get the gun?” or “Why wasn’t he on medication?” But: “What is happening with white men?”
This isn’t to say that men are somehow naturally inclined towards violence. It isn’t reasonable to argue that men are born angry or crazy. Masculinity, on the other hand, is something worth thinking about.
“It’s hidden in plain sight,” Katz adds. “This is about masculinity and it’s about manhood.” Other factors are important too, for example, how masculinity intersects with mental illness or emotional problems or with access to guns. “But we need to be talking about gender front and center.”
Even the gun debate needs to be gendered, Katz points out. “So much of gun culture in the U.S. is about masculinity but it’s unspoken.”
What is it about masculinity that leads to these kinds of tragedies? Katz argues that violence is a gendered way of achieving certain goals. Femininity simply isn’t constructed in a way that teaches women to use violence as a means to an end.
“One of the ways we can understand violence is as an external manifestation of internal pain” Katz says. Men, according societal expectations and norms, are only allowed to experience certain emotions--one of those being anger. Violence and anger are accepted and expected forms of men’s emotional expression. “Men are rewarded for achieving certain goals and for establishing of dominance through the use of violence,” Katz says.
“Caring, compassion, and empathy aren’t innately feminine characteristics. Those are human characteristics,” Katz says. Yet men learn the opposite. They learn to shut up and take it like a man. They also learn that they are entitled to certain things in this world: financial success, access to women, power--when they can’t acquire these things, what happens? Well, sometimes, apparently, they seethe. And without any other tools to deal with their anger and resentment, some men resort to violence.
“As a white man, the assumption is that you are the center of the world. Your needs should be met. You should be successful,” Katz says. When that doesn’t pan out men will often end up seeing themselves as victims. “This explains the cultural energy on the right in this past generation--so many of these men see themselves as victims of multiculturalism and of feminism,” he adds. “It’s undermining the cultural centrality of male authority.” Katz points out that we can see this worldview manifesting itself in the Men’s Rights Movement. “They are at the front line making the argument that men are the true victims.” All this isn’t to say that all men who feel they are losing grip on their perceived entitlement to power and authority will become perpetrators of mass shootings. But these broader patterns are something to consider.
Are these shooters psychopaths or sociopaths? Maybe. But what’s a sociopath? It’s a person who lacks empathy. “Well,” says Katz, “we socialize empathy out of boys all the time.” If we aren’t allowing boys to experience and express vulnerability, pain, and fear because that’s somehow connected to weakness (a feminine quality), then how are they going to be able to relate to the experiences of others? “Sociopathy is the extreme manifestation of the way we socialize boys in our society,” he says.
My interview with MSNBC ignites a conservative media firestorm--and exposes America's dangerous double standard
By David Sirota
Yet, because the the perpetrators in question in these shootings are white men and not ethnic or religious minorities, nobody is talking about demographic profiling them as a group. The discussion, instead, revolves around everything from gun control, to mental health services, to violence in entertainment—everything, that is, except trying to understanding why the composite of these killers is so similar across so many different massacres. This, even though there are plenty of reasons for that topic to be at least a part of the conversation.
Recounting the truth of these double standards is, of course, boringly mundane, which means my comment on television summarizing them is an equally boring and mundane statement of the obvious. However, as evidenced by the aggressive attempt to turn those comments into controversial headline-grabbing news over the weekend, the conservative movement has exposed its desperation—specifically, its desperation to preserve its White Victimization Mythology.
In this mythology, the white man as a single demographic subgroup can never be seen as a perpetrator and must always be portrayed as the unfairly persecuted scapegoat. In this mythology, to even reference an undeniable truth about how white privilege operates on a political level (in this case, to prevent a government profiling system of potential security threats even though such a system exists for other groups) is to be guilty of both “injecting divisive racial politics” and somehow painting one’s “opponents as racist”—even when nobody called any individual a racist.
In this mythology, in short, to mention truths about societal double standards—truths that are inconvenient or embarrassing to white people—is to be targeted for attack by the right-wing media machine.