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In addition to gun policy reform, gender, and its entanglement with culture, economics, mental health and many other factors, requires serious attention.

Written by Sheila Bapat for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.

As a nation, we are reeling. On Friday, December 14, 20 young children -- 12 girls, 8 boys -- and six female teachers and school administrators were massacred at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut in one of the most harrowing acts of gun violence in this nation's history. After a year of some of the deadliest shootings in U.S. history, Newtown's was among the most sickening in large part because the majority of the victims were young children between five and seven years old. A number of writers have begun to offer policy suggestions to outline, as President Obama called it, "meaningful action" on gun control.

To truly address the problem of which Newtown reminded us in the most horrific way, gender, and its entanglement with culture, poverty, and mental health requires serious attention in addition to gun policy reform. On NPR's Weekend Edition Saturday, Shankar Vedantam pointed out common characteristics of gunmen in the most recent gun massacres including Friday's in Newtown:

"[I]f you look at the series of incidents that have happened in recent years, there are several things that stand out in terms of patterns....the shooters have always been men."

Why is the gunman always male? After the Aurora, Colorado shooting during the opening of the Batman: The Dark Knight Rises Premiere in July, Feministing ran a piece by Eesha Pandit, Executive Director at Men Stopping Violence. Pandit wrote:

What we are missing in our collective understanding is the gendered nature of mass homicide...the acknowledgement of 'male violence' without conflating it with all different kinds of violence is particularly useful, because it helps us contextualize the violence in our society as a function of patriarchy and sexism.

On its face, the patriarchy and sexism about which Pandit writes seems to be rearing its head here. In this instance, the gunman, Adam Lanza, chose to first murder his mother and then drive to a nearby school where he massacred women and young children. At this time, there is no proof of gender animus as a motive specifically in this event. But the facts -- the gender identity of the shooter and the gender identity of the victims --  underly why policy solutions should include greater examination of gender, men's relationship to women and to each other, in addition to advocating greater gun regulation. This event alone, along with domestic violence trends generally, makes clear that male-against-female violence persists and emerges in frightening ways.

Also important, Pandit pointed out that violent behaviors are deeply rooted in economic, health, and cultural factors, and that this context also tends to be underacknowledged in society generally.

"We have to name male violence as a socio-cultural phenomenon -- one that occurs in the context of race, class, gender, citizenship, ability, sexuality and so on," Pandit pointed out. "To name it without interrogating [these intersections] won't take us far."

In other words, there are ways in which gender interacts with multiple other phenomena  in manifesting violence. Pandit also points out that "ability" is a factor -- mental illness in particular, and its connection to gun violence, requires greater attention. In addition, Richard Florida wrote in the Atlantic that gun deaths are positively correlated with poverty.

Setting aside the horrific massacres of Newtown, Aurora, Columbine and all the others, many acts of violence are not typically shootings en masse: they are perpetrated by men toward other individuals or small groups, and quite often against other men. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that in most instances, the victims of male violence are actually other males.

The CDC also reports that among youth in grades 9 to 12, 40 percent of young males report having been in a physical fight, while 24 percent of females report having been in a physical fight. There are cultural/economic/gender questions that are relevant to both the massacres and to all violent incidents, and those must also be addressed with rigor and with attention to how they vary.

One of the most intuitive, immediate policy solutions to the gun massacres seems to be restricting access to automatic weapons. There also needs to be heightened focus on untangling gender specifically from all of this. How are we choosing to socialize boys and young men, are we helping them achieve health and wellness, and how can we reform current practices to help prevent massacres like Newtown and smaller-scale acts of violence? Whether we are aware of it or not, we built our gender practices and identities, and we too can reform them.

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Comment Preferences

  •  They're all men, yes (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Anak, Bob Duck, kaliope, JayRaye

    Hence, the policy issues are even easier to figure out. As for disentangling this from gender isn't this finding enough to do that all by itself?

    Of course, you know that the first time we eliminate women from the people we're investigating a woman will walk into a workplace and start firing.

    Finally, are the findings on men and violence any different from findings about adolescent men from England and Japan, where these incidents are rare?

    This does a lot of confirming information but it doesn't answer anything.

    -7.75, -8.10; Is it true? Is it kind? Is it necessary? . . . and respect the dignity of every human being.

    by Dave in Northridge on Mon Dec 17, 2012 at 02:00:34 PM PST

  •  Not entirely true... (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Anak, AuntieRa, kaliope

    as someone from Chicago, there was this:

    and while it was 25 years ago, it's still recent in my mind...and the shooter was absolutely a female.

    •  Also Amy Bishop (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      who sprayed bullets on professors in her own department. That's more recent.

      But yes, there's a distinct pattern that correlates heavily with male-ness.

      I also note that the gun owner in Newtown was the mother, who apparently did shooting for enjoyment and entertainment. A bit weird, IMO.

      •  I think it's related to the "Male Answer Syndrome" (0+ / 0-)

        Only once in my life have I spent a lot of time with someone who has the profile being suggested for many of these killers: Socially inept, quiet & withdrawn, and a desperate  need for respect. For a couple of months he worked as a helper on a construction crew that I was on. He was almost completely unable to learn anything. I was present when the two women on the crew figured out what was going on:

        Whenever he was given information of any type, whether instructions for a task or the time of sunset, he would say "I know it". It was so important for him to be seen as capable and knowledgeable that he was unable to learn anything. It was more important to tell us that he "knew it" than to listen. We tried to tell someone else what he needed to know while he was within hearing distance with only a little success.

        He showed up less and less often for work until he had stopped coming. It seems to me that he withdrew because he couldn't stand being reminded daily that he was not as capable as he thought he was supposed to be. In my experience guys are more likely than gals to be taught that they are supposed to be capable of doing anything and everything.

        The vehemence with which he said "I know it" makes it easy for me to imagine him striking out to prove that he was able to take control of a situation.


  •  Re: The Title (5+ / 0-)

    The patriarchy, our culture.

    It's gotten better over the years, especially recently, but erasing that crap is going to take awhile. It's a lot more subtle and less prevalent, but it's still there.

    Men are (still) encouraged to be strong, aggressive, hold positions of power. Women are (still) encouraged to just be weak, quiet, and focus on their appearance or menial tasks.

    If we had thousands of years of global matriarchy, with women serving as the main warriors in our society and holding all the political and military power, we'd be looking at the same problem, just flipped.

    We've had patriarchy for so long, and while we are moving to equality, maybe we should try matriarchy? It'd only be fair.

    •  I question the value of still using that word (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      to describe the US in 2012.

      Take equal pay for equal work. The country just elected a president who past legislation on that. So, if the marxian concept of "patriarchy" exists, how did it allow Obama to win?

      •  Its more residual than active say 50 year ago, (3+ / 0-)

        but we do a disservice to the female members of our society if we don't continue using the word until it's eliminated completely.

        It's only just recently women are going to be allowed in combat? In our supposedly equal society, female service members were/are still second class.

        Look at our popular sports teams. All male.

        Look at whose running everything. Sure, there are a ton more women now, but men still have the stranglehold.

        Equal pay for equal work had to be passed by a male.

        We've got a long way to go.

        I'm not diminishing the progress, not at all. But it's still a work in progress.

        •  I think you misunderstood what I was getting at (0+ / 0-)

          I'm talking about the term and concept of "patriarchy" to talk and think about all the things you mentioned. I am not questioning whether popular sports teams are all male.

          As you know, it's a marxian concept analagous to the Marxist "Ideology." Ideology--laws, the media, the arts, etc--all exist with the goal keep men, in this case, on top. It is so pervasive, that women don't even know they are being oppressed because ideology makes it seem like it is the natural state of things.

          But Marxist have long criticized the concept of Ideology and tried to find ways to fix it, with not too much success. The main problem is what I alluded to: If it is the very air we breath, how were all the changes you mention even posssible?

          Take sports. As you note, very male-dominated and one could say sexist. But if men are keeping women and girls out, why is women soccer so popular? Dads drive their daughters to games, most coaches are probably male--why are they doing that? The stadiums were full for woman soccer games at the Olymics and men even know the names of woman soccer stars. Again, how did omnipotent patriatrchy allow that?

          If you say, oh, "well we are slowly erasing it," well I don't even really know what that means. Why are English departments, nursing, education totally full of women--how come they were able to really "erase it" when sports wasn't?

          Instead, if we talk about, say, "sports culture," then we are not forced think a certain way about what is going on. From what I see, I doubt all these female athletes are progressives, and like most young women, probably don't call themselves feminists. Second, they seem just as mean towards their opponents as the men (think of Tanya Harding). Third, I don't know if you read it, but apparentlly Olympic Village is sort of a non-stop orgy, with non-stop one night stands. One female athlete said: "Well, what do you expect. We are young, we are fit, and we are beautiful." So who's objectifying whom? I am saying BOTH men and women are objectifying each other.

          But that's sports culture. In my line of work, success is not based on being young, fit, or beautiful. We know do exams online and they are mostly comptuer-graded, so doesn't matter if it is a man or woman, beautiful or not. I'm not saying there is no sexim at universities, I'm just saying that we have a different culture than sports culture or pop music culture. Because of my looks, I could never in a million years become a pop star. But I could become a star in classica music, say.

          In short, I think it is better not to view these things with one overarching concept, but to view them as diverse cultures that differ but that exist concomitantly in the year 2012.

      •  It's still as relevant as it was fourty years (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        TiaRachel, CuriousBoston

        or two centuries ago. Just because you might be blinded by your own privilege doesn't mean the victims of it don't still get knocked down/obstructed, scorned, harassed and looked down upon by a society that is founded upon the idea of catering to males. We've made a little progress, yes. Emphasis on "a little".

      •  It's not 'marxian' (whatever you mean by that) (4+ / 0-)

        and it's much more subtle.

        "Patriarchy" isn't about men being paid more than women for the same work -- it's about men being the ones who are expected to keep their birth names (identities) for their entire lives, while women are expected to change their identities depending on who the (legally recognized) Most Significant Man in her life is.

        It's about the 'default human', the placeholder you have in mind when reading/talking about some unknown person doing something, generally expected to be male (unless you're thinking within certain female-gendered categories).

        It's part of the deep structure of society, much deeper than laws or trends or such. And as such, much like racism, it's something that most people are unaware of, even though it shapes the ways we all think.

        The riverbank, rather than the river.

        •  Yes, what you describe is based on the Marxist (0+ / 0-)

          concept of Ideology. It is the Superstructure that keeps the real conditions (men on top), i.e. the Base, the same, while at the same time making it all seem natural.

          I just replied at length to an earlier comment on why I don't think it such a useful term any more. At one time, yes, it may have been useful. But now? I dunno...

        •  Btw, a related Marxist concept that (0+ / 0-)

          2nd Wave feminists also use is "false consciousness."

          Those who are blinded, so to speak, by ideology/patriarchy and do what the "patriarchy" says--such as strippers, porn stars, or women athletes who, after they "won the war" against male-dominance in sports, suddendly go pose nude or in skimpy clothes in magazines!--they suffer from false consciousness. I.e. they are stupid.

          I think that is, again, not only not a good way to think about and understand these phenomena, but calling the majority of women "stupid" is maybe one of the reasons why so few women--esp. young women--aren't interested in feminism and do not call themselves feminists.

        •  I just checked, btw, as to how many (0+ / 0-)

          women call themselves feminists.

          A CBS poll in 2009 found that only 24% of women call themselves feminists. That is about the same percentage as those who are Palin and George Bush fans and those who believe Obama was born in Kenya. Sort of a fringe group. Does that 24% sound like feminism is succeding?

          No, feminism is not succeding. And I'm suggesting that it is not succeding because it is still clinging to outdated terminology and outdated ways of thinking about various social phenomena. I'm saying "the patriarchy," "false consciousness," "objectification of women" are all outdated terms.

    •  And that means (0+ / 0-)

      That men are typically subject to a lot more stress, as evidenced by the much higher rates of stress related disease, such as heart disease, high blood pressure,  depression, and suicide.   Time to examine a few things for sure

      Hay hombres que luchan un dia, y son buenos Hay otros que luchan un año, y son mejores Hay quienes luchan muchos años, y son muy buenos. Pero hay los que luchan toda la vida. Esos son los imprescendibles.

      by Mindful Nature on Mon Dec 17, 2012 at 03:06:36 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  These shooters seem to be mostly WHITE males... (6+ / 0-)

    Recent cases seemed to be brainy types, middle-class backgrounds as well.

    Lots of elephants are gathering.

    •  Those are the ones who gets press (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      WB Reeves

      There is a filter at work here

      Hay hombres que luchan un dia, y son buenos Hay otros que luchan un año, y son mejores Hay quienes luchan muchos años, y son muy buenos. Pero hay los que luchan toda la vida. Esos son los imprescendibles.

      by Mindful Nature on Mon Dec 17, 2012 at 03:07:16 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  Upon further reflection (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      If I remember, there've been thirty or so in the lst few years, and I haven't kept track of the demographics, but at least three I can think of were not by white males (Virigina Tech, Fort Hood, and the DC Sniper killings).  Since I haven't read about the others at all, I wonder actually how far off from representative we actually are.  (the numbers above would be 10% of the 30, which is well below the 30% or so from chance alone you'd expect, if you follow)

      Anyway, I wonder what the actual facts are.

      Hay hombres que luchan un dia, y son buenos Hay otros que luchan un año, y son mejores Hay quienes luchan muchos años, y son muy buenos. Pero hay los que luchan toda la vida. Esos son los imprescendibles.

      by Mindful Nature on Mon Dec 17, 2012 at 03:50:10 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  It seems to me that you're narrowing (10+ / 0-)

    your focus too much by focusing on mass shootings.  Men are overwhelmingly the perpetrators of violent crimes (murders, assaults, robberies, etc.).  The fact that they also commit most mass homicides seems, well...utterly predictable given all other crime statistics.  

  •  Best predictor of violent crime? (3+ / 0-)

    Having a Y chromosome.

    Sad but true.

    "When fascism comes to America it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross." - Sinclair Lewis

    by Bob Duck on Mon Dec 17, 2012 at 02:29:49 PM PST

  •  what other countries (0+ / 0-)

    fly military jets over sporting events?

    The cold passion for truth hunts in no pack. -Robinson Jeffers

    by Laurence Lewis on Mon Dec 17, 2012 at 02:31:18 PM PST

  •  I guess it sorta shows that men (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    vinny67, historys mysteries

    and women are very different. Some men do these things, but (almost) no women do. Certainly women have the same opportunities to shoot people, but they just don't. I am always leery of arguments that women and men should be equally represented in different careers, since I am not convinced we even want the same things to the same degree.

  •  "I Don't Like Mondays" (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    historys mysteries, WB Reeves

    "Well, I'm sure I'd feel much worse if I weren't under such heavy sedation..."--David St. Hubbins

    by Old Left Good Left on Mon Dec 17, 2012 at 02:56:46 PM PST

  •  Thanks for this. (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    TiaRachel, CuriousBoston

    I drafted a diary after the Aurora shootings along similar lines, but didn't like it and deleted.  When I researched I found that over the past several years, the vast majority of gun killings where two or more people were killed had male perpetrators.  There are females who mass murder with guns, but I'd guess less than 1-2%.

    The single most common situation, it seemed to me, in these shootings are cases when a man killed a female spouse or partner, along with shooting others.  Men in our patriarchy are socialized to feel that killing with a gun is an appropriate action to take to resolve issues.  

    I've never seen anything in the corporate media where the link between gender and mass murder is seriously discussed.  So again, thanks.  

    Proud to be a Truth Vigilante

    by Calvino Partigiani on Mon Dec 17, 2012 at 03:16:15 PM PST

  •  Man Card (5+ / 0-)

    An ad for the gun used by Lanza.

    "I'll tell you, if there's anything worse than dealing with a staunch woman. S.T.A.U.N.C.H. There's nothing worse, I'm telling 'ya!". Little Edie

    by vintage dem on Mon Dec 17, 2012 at 03:17:47 PM PST

  •  For all that has been accomplished (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    CuriousBoston, arlene

    over the past forty years to liberate women from Patriarchical expectations, almost nothing has been done to liberate men from them.

    Naturally, Feminism's focus has primarily been on the socialization of young women and the opening up of opportunities previously denied to them. Unfortunately this has led to a situation in which boys continue to be socialized along pre-Feminist, Patriarchical, lines only to discover that the model of maleness they have been trained for no longer fits the existing social reality.

    Training boys to behave as though they will be living in the social realities of the 19th century in the 21st century is a recipe for personal and social disaster. Sadly, even in supposedly progressive circles there seems to be little appreciation for this. All too often I witness people who ought to know better thoughtlessly accepting the idea that notions of maleness, systematically imposed and reinforced, are the essence of masculinity.

    This isn't to say that there are no innate differences between men and women. It is to say that until we deconstruct social expectations for boys and men to same degree that we have done for girls and women, we can't form and intelligent judgement of what those differences are.

    In the meanwhile, we continue to program successive generations of boys for psychological and social disfunction that will inevitably find, in some cases, violent expression.

    Nothing human is alien to me.

    by WB Reeves on Mon Dec 17, 2012 at 04:01:04 PM PST

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