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The role of masculinity in school shootings

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courtesy of four12/Flickr

(courtesy of four12/Flickr)

On Oct. 12, Umpqua Community College reopened after nine people were killed there on Oct. 1. Christopher Harper-Mercer, 26, opened fire in his English class, killing eight students and a teacher, as well as leaving nine wounded. Roseburg, Oregon has become the stage for the recurrent national discussion about campus safety, gun control and mental health. Another shooting has yet again been brought to our attention: the problems with how our country regulates firearms and understands mental health. But the national dialogue has left out our culture’s distorted view of masculinity.

According to Vanderbilt University researchers Jonathan M. Metzl and Kenneth T. MacLeish, “The ways our society frames the connections between gun crimes, mental illnesses, social networks, and gun access issues reveal as much about our particular cultural politics, biases, and blind spots as it does about the acts of lone, and obviously troubled, individuals.”

Our blind spot is our reluctance to accept how masculinity is manifested in our culture and how it played a role in Roseburg. President Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton have spoken out about increasing gun control while Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, Chris Christie and a majority of the Republican Party have called for mental illness reform. Harper-Mercer had mental health issues and legally obtained all of his 13 weapons, but what isn’t discussed is his gender.

Mass shootings (defined as shootings events killing at least 4 people) occur in the United States every two weeks. Per the bipartisan Mayors Against Illegal Guns, “between January 2009 and September 2013 there have been 93 mass shootings in 35 states.” It is not a coincidence that almost all of the perpetrators, like Harper-Mercer, are men. While we call to combat mental illness, we must take the same approach in examining gender and deconstruct what it means to be a man.

To be a “man” means to be straight and cisgender because masculinity is constructed to be heteronormative and cisnormative. Any signs of ‘femininity’ or diverging from a man’s gender role is discouraged, often invoking the use of derogatory terms. Men are emasculated for not conforming to our culture’s masculinity through the use of terms that are violently misogynistic, homophobic and transphobic. The violence that is encouraged in masculinity isn’t only physical or verbal, but systematic.

Men will teach their kids what their fathers taught them: to be physically tough and emotionally invulnerable. Growing up, we’re encouraged to repress all emotions except anger, and our masculinity is equated with intimidation and power. The “tough guy” and his use of violence to achieve power and respect is glorified through movies, videogames, advertisements, sports, politics, porn and more. Having played football in high school, I would be praised by my coach to cause the opposing team pain or emasculated for showing my pain and vulnerability.

There are countless movies that glorify men’s use of violence to achieve power – “Scarface”, “Drive”, “50 Shades of Grey”, “Rambo”, “The Expendables”, The Bourne Trilogy, “Gladiator” – and the pornographic ones sexualize men’s control and dominance over women in a heterosexual lens. Therefore when we examine the shooting at Umpqua Community College and Chris Harper-Mercer, we must recognize the trend of these mass shootings by examining the culture of masculinity. When these men are glorified, masculinity becomes distorted when attributed to power and toxic when means of attaining that power are violent and justified.

Like Harper-Mercer, men are constantly hearing the same message. A gun shouldn’t be the response to feeling powerless. How our culture constructs masculinity is toxic and present on university campuses, so while it is important to make reforms in gun policy and mental health, we must ask how the University of Massachusetts will address the elephant in the room.

Alsina Saee-Nazari is a Collegian columnist and can be reached at [email protected]

18 Comments

18 Responses to “The role of masculinity in school shootings”

  1. David Hunt 1990 on October 21st, 2015 9:50 am

    Thank G-d for “hypermasculine men” like Chris Mintz who put his own life on the line, getting shot multiple times, to try and slow that attacker down.

    And who do you think is going to protect you from a Beslan-style attack? Will you hold up your copy of “Our Bodies, Ourselves” and deter someone who wants to rape and then kill you?

  2. Rob on October 21st, 2015 10:59 am

    This is just ridiculous. Face it, there are differences between men and women that weren’t caused by our culture. It was caused by millions of years of evolution. Good luck changing that.

  3. Rob on October 21st, 2015 11:21 am

    I see no value in teaching boys to be weak, fragile and emotionally incontinent.
    And I was taught to restrain violent impulses. I have no idea what they teach mass shooters.
    There’s no one masculine culture. Not even in one country like America. There are many subcultures. And even within subcultures there are misfits and maladjusted outliers.
    The masculinity I was raised in is much less violent than the author suggests.
    Millions of American men manage to get through life without shooting anybody and we see no need to accept blame for the actions of criminals.

  4. KMFDM on October 21st, 2015 1:59 pm

    Yet another woman ‘femsplaining’ masculinity.

  5. SVI on October 21st, 2015 6:30 pm

    Until you call this what it is – sexism towards men and boys – they cannot listen to you and the only way they can respond is by resisting you. Sexism is not class oppression, and the Marxist class model of sexism is a male power fantasy that society sold feminists in order to destroy feminism.

    it worked. Men & boys cannot and should not listen to feminists who deliberately condone or cover up violence against males by claiming that women face more. I don’t support people owning assault weapons, but I’m not going to lift a finger to restrict them. Men & boys who grow up being told that the violence they face (at far higher rates that women) isn’t violence are under no obligation to respect human life.

  6. Zac Bears on October 21st, 2015 9:30 pm

    This is written by a male-identifying person.

  7. Ben on October 21st, 2015 11:23 pm

    I can hardly think of a greater “distortion” than to describe our understanding of our species, founded upon hundreds of thousands of years evolutionary history, as mere “distortion”.

  8. michael on October 22nd, 2015 3:05 pm

    I appreciate the broader vision of this article to explore such phenomena through the lens of an epidemiologist.
    We need to examine what is apparently appropriate and other related influences to be able to draw useful conclusion to deal with such a disease which is destroying our communities.

  9. KB on October 23rd, 2015 2:37 pm

    Could it be these nutjobs “powerlessness” really stems from a severe lack of “masculinity”?… Oh..gee wiz should I have included ‘trigger warning” for “nutjobs”? ..my bad

  10. Mike on October 25th, 2015 9:01 am

    When did it become “masculine” to murder people? Answer: Never.

    Mike

  11. Zac Bears on October 26th, 2015 12:14 am

    Masculinity is often represented through physical power and control. Killing is an act of power and control. Many media representations of men use killing/physical violence as the foundation of characters’ masculinity.

  12. Kris on October 26th, 2015 11:28 am

    Your perceptions about how other people perceive masculinity are terribly skewed. Maybe it’s the fault of college newspapers. Maybe skewed perceptions about other people’s perceptions of masculinity is what is causing lunatics to commit evil acts of mass murder. I just hope we can keep finding more people to blame, other than the shooter.

  13. Mike on October 26th, 2015 11:09 pm

    Its “masculine” to stand up for what’s right… even if that means using force or getting your hands dirty. That is quite different then murdering people.

  14. KB on October 27th, 2015 11:02 am

    Does “masculinity” breed “violence”..and if so ..so what?
    “Violence” is what we’re really talking about here and “violence’ is certainly associated with “masculinity” .. but violence is imbued with less moral significance than people sometimes assume. Violence is a tool. Violence used to enslave is evil. Violence used to free slaves, not so much. Violence used to rape? Evil. Violence used to subdue rapist? Fine by me. This is the problem with doctrines of non-violence. They end up being exercises in moral equivalence. As Bill Buckley famously said, if you have one man who pushes old ladies in front of oncoming buses and another man who pushes old ladies out of the way of oncoming buses, it simply will not do to describe them both as the sorts of men who “push old ladies around.”…which is what Alisina Saee-Nazari is attempting to do here …and it simply will not do..

  15. David Hunt 1990 on October 28th, 2015 12:59 pm

    @KB: An excellent point.

    When I see the phrase “War is not the answer” my immediate thought is “Well, what was the question?”

    WAR… was what it took to end slavery.
    WAR… was what it took to end Naziism.
    WAR… was what it took to defeat Communism (just because bullets aren’t flying doesn’t mean it’s not a war)
    WAR… is, IMHO, what it will take to defeat Jihadism.*

    * Besides just military efforts, there need to be massive cultural attacks. E.g., Egypt’s Sisi’s call to Muslims to reform.

  16. jeff benson on November 25th, 2015 11:22 am

    People sleep peaceably in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf. -George Orwell

    That has always been true and will always be true no matter how many pinheaded social justice warriors pen psychobabble like this.

  17. Rachelle on November 25th, 2015 12:20 pm

    This article is more evidence that the class/race/gender/etc. studies in modern universities are producing a generation of simpletons.

    I think in a decade or so this woman will be embarrassed that her name has been attached forever to such silliness.

  18. akima tendo on March 8th, 2018 4:11 pm

    In the name of our Constitutional Republican Mortal State and Liberal Democratic Mortal Society – and Nonviolence, avoiding aggression, and Nonsinning, avoiding harm to others – school shootings are the result of the Lust for Power. Teach all Genders that True Power does not come from Force or from a Weapon – but from the Heart… and that all Guns are Deadly. Solve your Problems with your Mind, Heart, and Soul – and across your Spirit… never with Force. Buddha, Tao, Kami (Gods), and Megami (Goddesses) Bless the Truce Makers from this humble little MTF Japanese American Shinto Shamaness. Cheers!

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