Crisis in Masculinity and Sandy Hook Elementary

Before the holidays, a tragedy occurred in Newton, Connecticut, and the United States is still in a state of shock. What makes the Newton shooting different from the massacres like Columbine, Aurora, and Virginia Tech is that 26 out of the 28 of the victims were in kindergarten. But, what makes all the 60 or more school shootings since 1996 the same is that the perpetrators were all men.

“I agree that it is interesting that these shooters are typically males. I just think that to focus on that one fact might seem too divisive. I mean, as an older guy I could also make the observation that it is typically young men, and someone of color could point out they are typically white men,” said English teacher Tom White.

While Mr. White believes that male pathology has no link to public shootings, Jackson Katz begs to differ.

Former high school all-star football player, Jackson Katz is now an anti-sexist activist who advocates the ‘bystander approach’ to preventing sexual and domestic violence. Katz is an expert on violence, media, and its link to masculinity. After Columbine, and again after Virginia Tech, he made a speech addressing how we define manhood and how our society accepts violence as a part of masculinity, which leads to such atrocities.

“If we’re serious about preventing these mass shootings from continuing to happen, we can change the odds by changing some of the messages we give to boys and men. We need to start accepting that boys and men are human beings, not automatons who know it all and can always control their feelings and act rationally–not shame them for not being ‘man enough.'”

While gun control laws, mental illness, lack of parental supervision, and violent video games can be blamed, what about a bigger social force? Why aren’t girls and women, who live in the same environment and are exposed to the same things, responding in the same, violent way as men? Imagine the reaction if it were girl shooters. “When the perps are boys, we talk in a gender neutral way about kids or children,” says Katz. In other words, a women shooter isn’t even a thought that crosses anyone’s mind. Because it is so engrained, it is almost as if men killers are so expected that they are accepted.

In Jessie Klein’s book, The Bully Society, she wrote, “Perpetrators lash out at people in order to prove their masculinity.”

“We pretend as if there is no connection between such shootings and gender, and we pretend that our definitions of masculinity, aggression and relentless bullying in schools do not matter or are normal parts of everyday life. Of course there is no forgiving these atrocious actions, and plenty of people who are bullied or do not live up the standards of traditional masculinity never turn their anger towards others, but we need to at least think about why so many boys and men end up killing others,” said Besty Ibottson in her blog Masculinity and Violence: School Shootings and Mass Shootings.

85% of all murderers are men, and while that leaves 15% women, more than half of the women who initiate violence are defending themselves from beatings or sexual abuse by men.

We teach men they should not express their feelings and emphasize the macho motto that real men don’t cry. But, as Katz said, we really need to “pull back the curtain on the tough guy posing.” While Katz does not blame all males, he blames society and the media for the sexist portrayal of men.

This article is not meant to undermine the drastic and malicious act that took place at Sandy Hook elementary, but maybe instead of looking at weapons, we should look at how we portray men in society.

So if there is a link the men and shootings, how do we destroy it?

Katz believes that we need to start with the little things. So the next time you hear a sexist joke, stand up for what is right instead of laughing.

“If you don’t speak up then you’re silence is a form of consent,” said Katz in his speech. He continued to quote human rights activist Desmond Tutu by saying, “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.”