What Is it About Men That They're Committing These Horrible Massacres?
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This past year, 24-year-old James Holmes opened fire in a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado shooting 71 people. Twelve people died. Holmes had a history of soliciting prostitutes. One of the women he’d bought sex from claimed that he was aggressive, controlling, and violent with her, grabbing her hair and holding her wrists and hands so tightly that she was left with bruises. The Aurora shooting reignited the gun control debate. Some looked to violence in the media as a factor, while others pointed out that Holmes was mentally ill.
A thousand conversations. None of them about men.
As we are all aware at this point, 27 people were shot and killed in Newtown, CT on December 14th. The gunman, Adam Lanza, killed his mother first, before driving to Sandy Hook elementary school, where he proceeded to take the lives of 26 students and employees before killing himself. Some have speculated that Lanza suffered from mental illness. Others want to know why he had access to guns, pointing to his mother, Nancy Lanza, apparently a gun enthusiast.
In the midst of all this horror, we are, understandably, up in arms, demanding change, grieving all the while. But within all this righteous anger, we are very carefully tiptoeing around the common denominator.
In 31 of the school shootings that have taken place since 1999, the murderers were all men. Out of the 62 mass murders which happened over the past 30 years, only one of those shooters was a woman. The overwhelming majority of the gunmen were white.
Jackson Katz, an author, filmmaker, social theorist, and anti-sexist activist, whose work has focused on manhood and masculinity, is baffled: “The gender of the perpetrator is the single most important factor, and yet it’s not talked about in that way in most mainstream conversations.”
So liberals have, once again, jumped on the gun control issue (and I won’t deny that guns are an important issue here) and the right have reached for their handguns, arguing that the only way we can protect ourselves is to be armed (as Ann Coulter tweeted, mere hours after the shooting: “more guns, less mass shootings”). Others still, want to talk about mental illness and the health care crisis in America. It should strike us all as more than a little odd that, amidst all of these conversations, whether it’s the progressives, the right, or the mainstream media – no one is talking about gender.
“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?”