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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.

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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.

Just look at war.

Of course war is yet another factor that is left out of these conversations. The U.S. is a militarized state. America, as a nation, establishes dominance through the use of violence and war is distinctly a male domain. Men wage war and men fight in war. Men run countries that go to war. Men make decisions about whether to continue drone strikes and about where to fire missiles. War is a man’s game. Winner takes all.

“Militarism is, in a sense, a projection of force and power as the assertion of national manhood,” Katz says. There is no way we could live such a militarized culture and not see that manifested in our understandings of manhood and culture at large.

And what of revenge? We often talk about revenge as a reason behind these kinds of attacks. “ Violence is a form of revenge. So often men are enacting violence as a way to take back something they believe as been taken from them,” Katz says.

“Often these shooters are harboring resentment -- they retreat into themselves and then develop these revenge fantasies,” Katz says. “Most of the school shootings over the past couple of decades have been revenge killings.” The innocent victims are just “props in the shooter’s theatrical performance of his anger and his resentment,” he says.

When men commit violence, they’re fulfilling expectations of their gender.

“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.

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