Mass Shootings and Toxic Masculinity
by Lindsey Painter | 13 August 2019 |
In the last two weeks there have occurred three of the latest mass shootings in America.
The worst word in that sentence is “latest.”
One of them happened at a place I was planning to be. I have the Gilroy Garlic Festival on my calendar, and I spent the Friday before the event talking to my coworkers about my plans to take my children. The day of the event I realized I had too much to do around the house and cancelled my plans.
That could have been my child.
Interesting fact: three of the people who survived the Garlic Festival shooting also survived a mass shooting last year at a country music concert in Texas.
Is it bad enough now to strike even you die-hard gun lovers as a problem?
When I hear of a mass shooting it doesn’t hit me like it once did. It seems almost normal. Yes, there’s some grief. Deeper than the grief is a simmering anger. Despair. This shouldn’t be happening—but no one will do anything. There will be some arguing, some social media posts, some speculation on both sides about why this is happening. Many thoughts and prayers—which are inexpensive and threaten no one, so I guess they’re safe to express. Maybe another think piece or two will show up in some of the major magazines.
And then we will all move on with our lives.
When Sandy Hook happened and America decided that the lives of children isn’t too high a price to pay for guns, that was the end of the discussion.
The three shooters were all white men in their 20’s, and they were all radicalized on social media. The shootings in El Paso and Gilroy were explicitly racially motivated—the El Paso shooter echoed Trump’s language and concerns. (And oh, the gleeful self-righteousness when someone discovered that the shooter in Dayton had expressed support for Democratic politicians!)
This shows a pretty clear pattern. And it isn’t mental illness, so can we please stop with that? Lots of people who are mentally ill don’t shoot up a Walmart. Mental illness shows up in every race and demographic. Plenty of women, for example, are mentally ill, but we aren’t the ones showing up with assault rifles to places where people are just trying to live their lives. In fact, it is a statistical fact that mentally ill people are far, far more likely to be victims of violence than perpetrators of it. This is a young, white, male problem.
One common thread among these shooters is domestic violence charges. These men have hurt women. Either in their high schools, in relationships, in their families, or at work, these men—almost without exception—have a history of violence against women.
When experts note that domestic violence only escalates, they aren’t kidding. Mass shootings are the ultimate escalation of violence.
Another common link between these shooters is that an alarming number of them are white nationalists. We hear so often about radical Muslims and their terrorism efforts, but the number of people killed by radical Muslim terrorists compared to the number of people killed by white nationalist terrorists is pretty telling. 62 people in America have been killed in mass shootings by white men with guns in 2019. Number of people in the US killed by radical Muslim terrorists in 2019? Zero.
Let’s have a conversation about toxic masculinity. What exactly is it? When many people hear that phrase they think it just says that feminists hate all men.
But that is not what toxic masculinity is. Toxic masculinity is a socially constructed idea that men must behave within certain narrow parameters in order to be considered “manly.” Any behavior outside of these narrow parameters opens a man to ridicule and rejection. This behavior usually includes a healthy dose of misogyny, along with an extremely small number of acceptable emotions, namely dominance or anger. Toxic masculinity makes being a man unnecessarily difficult.
Men are not all the same. They don’t all like sports, beer, and hunting. Feminists don’t hate men, but we do want to open the confines of toxic masculinity and let men be who they are. We want men to be allowed to be nurturing and sensitive. We want men to be able to love, to feel fear, to feel grief and sadness. We want men to understand that needing help for mental health isn’t a weakness, it is a strength. We want men to view women as equals, partners in their lives, families, and in this world.
When men with this narrow range of emotions believe that women, immigrants, liberals, or Muslims owe them something they aren’t getting, they will feel one or both of their two acceptable emotions. They will become angry, and may try to dominate. And because we live in a country where you can buy a gun more easily than you can buy Sudafed, some of them take out their anger by killing as many people as they can. Many of these men (look up “incels” for an example) believe that the world owes them the love (or at least the body) of a woman. Some might believe they are owed a job, societal respect, and yes, unearned privilege.
Most have a personal grievance, and many post these personal grievances online before they commit the shooting. Many of them are inspired by other mass shootings. They want the notoriety that they believe they will have from committing this horrific act.
So we have a cocktail of white supremacy, toxic masculinity, gun availability, and online radicalization that ends with three mass shootings in a week.
We have a problem, America. It’s a multi-faceted problem with a wide range of solutions involving some necessary cultural shifts. We might argue about what we should be doing about this—and yes, there’s more to it than just restricting gun availability, though that certainly must be part of it—but for the love of people, let’s do something instead of our usual nothing.
I’m tired of the despair. I’m tired of being afraid to take my kids out in public. Do something. Make America hope again.
Lindsey Abston Painter is a writer, teacher, and mother of two. She enjoys reading, playing with her cat, writing about feminism, and strawberry pie.