PETRUCCI: Toxic masculinity plays role in prevalence of mass shootings

Opinions Column: The Annoying Vegan Millennial

Not all men are mass shooters, but most mass shooters are men. 

I shopped on Google for a statistic regarding the percentage of passive, emotionally unstable and irrational women who wear colorful pantsuits in the United States. While no statistics exist which elucidate these qualities, it is very easy to categorize these characteristics as "female."

Out of all of the 97 mass shootings since 1982, 94 of all mass shooters were men.

If we can equate femininity to passivity with little statistical evidence, why is it that we cannot equate masculinity to gun violence with large statistical evidence?

This is not a critique of men, but a critique of the masculine gender box, a habitat constructed to teach men how they should behave and what men should value. The box instructs its inhabitants to be financially stable, eat partially cooked animals and have a love affair with women and violence. 

The majority of mass shootings in the United States from 2009 to 2016 were domestic or family violence incidents which resulted in the deaths of spouses or other family members, according to Everytown.  

Omar Mateen opened fire on the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida last year and killed 49 people and injured 53. Mateen had a history of usurping his wife’s paychecks, forbidding her from leaving the house and beating her if she failed to fulfill her wifely duties. 

The box of masculinity praises male dominance and female subordinance, just find any Axe Body Spray commercial which often shows several half-naked women crawling and fighting for one man’s attention. 

Elliot Rodger created a manifesto detailing his inability to achieve this dominance just before his shooting rampage in 2014 near the University of Santa Barbara. “You girls have never been attracted to me. I don’t know why you girls aren’t attracted to me but I will punish you all for it,” Rodger said. 

Robert Lewis Dear, Devin Patrick Kelley, Adam Lanza, James T. Hodgkinson, Seung-Hui Cho, Cedric Ford — these are some of the names of shooters with a history of domestic violence, stalking or abuse. 

We often label these folks as “madmen” with “mental illness,” but when will we begin to label masculinity as having gone “mad”? 

While many argue that most mass shooters are “mentally ill," only 14.8 percent out of 88 shooters were diagnosed with a mental illness, according to a database of mass shootings since 1966. Yet, it is time to rethink what we consider mental illness. Being male is one of the risk predictability factors, according to a peer reviewed research. So, is it time to categorize toxic masculinity as a mental illness?

Jackson Katz, a leading researcher on toxic masculinity tweeted after the Parkland, Florida shooting: “If mental illness was the cause of school shootings, then why aren’t 50 percent of the killings done by girls? The cultural belief that violence is a manly expression of power and grievance + (in some cases) mental illness + easy access to guns = carnage. Predictably. Repeatedly.”

If mental illnesses like schizophrenia and personality disorder are influencers, we also must remember that only some express illness violently. Men externalize stress and frustration through “manly expression of power,” while women tend to internalize these feelings, according to a Politico article. Media and cultural messages permeate the box of masculinity and endorse these expressions. 

Take Nicholas Kruz, the shooter who opened fire in Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School last week. In the midst of Cruz’s firing, former football coach Aaron Feis sacrificed his body to shield three female students from bullets. In this scenario, one man perpetrated harm while one man protected others from harm. These dichotomous actions tell us that men are not inherently violent or “mad," but socialized to fulfill their masculine identities differently. 

This is not to say the masculinity box should breed female protectorates who defend our women and the sanctity of our girls because that has a little patriarchal tune to it also. But, perhaps it is time to discuss how we socialize mass shooters. 

The question is not if masculinity is a social construct, but rather how many more lives will it take to transform this construction?

Francesca Petrucci is a School of Arts and Sciences junior double majoring in journalism and media studies and political science and minoring in Spanish. Her column, "The Annoying Vegan Millennial," runs on alternate Tuesdays. 


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