Shootings, whether they’re in Parkland, Orlando, Las Vegas or Sutherland Springs, all tend have one thing in common. It’s not that they’re done by mentally ill people (there is no true connection between people with a mental health diagnosis and mass shootings, according to experts), or that they’re radicalized minorities we should place travel bans on (white men have committed more mass shootings than any other group), or any of the other rhetoric we often hear from leaders.
It’s that they’re almost always perpetrated by men.
Of all the mass shootings since 1982, only three have been committed by women. While women comprise about 50 percent of the victims of mass shootings, female mass killers are “so rare that it just hasn’t been studied,” according to James Garbarino, a psychologist at Loyola University Chicago.
If basically all mass shooters were women, I can assure you we’d be talking about that.
So let’s start talking about the culture of toxic masculinity that makes men believe they should get a gun and shoot people with it.
We live in a culture that worships men with guns. You can probably think of many off the top of your head—John Wayne, Indiana Jones or James Bond come immediately to mind. They’re all men who get what they want. Women are all eager to have sex with them. They have the respect of their peers and their communities.
Most of the men who commit mass shootings were not those widely admired men. They were men who felt they were owed something, and that the world was not providing what they were owed.
In many of these mass shootings, the desire to kill seems to be driven by a catastrophic sense of male entitlement. In some cases, the perpetrators seemed to feel that if people did not give them precisely what they wanted, then those people did not deserve to live. The only just world, in their minds, was a world they were the center of.
You can see that attitude at work in some of the notorious post office shootings that seemed to dominate news coverage during the ’80s and ’90s. Two shootings from Michigan and New Jersey in 1991 both featured men who felt they were owed a job. In both cases, these recently fired men turned a gun on co-workers. In the Michigan case, after the shooter was fired, “many workers said Mr. McIlvane [the shooter] had several times threatened violence if he was not reinstated.” In New Jersey, the shooter left a two-page note about the ways he had been wronged by the Postal Service where he worked. The Country prosecutor wrote, “He felt he was treated unfairly. It basically indicated that these people are going to pay. He was doing this as an act of revenge.”
Workplace violence incidents aren’t confined to the post offices in the mid-’90s of course, although those were well publicized. Nearly 30 percent of mass shootings have occurred in workplaces, typically by disgruntled (male) employees. Less than a year ago a former employee returned to his workplace in Orlando to fatally shoot five people.
When men like Billy Bush say that “For a man, [losing your job is] the ultimate degradation” well, I can’t help but feel that men may be overstating the importance of maintaining a job. Certainly, I can think of more degrading things. Having to grovel for my life before an incompetent former co-worker who felt he was owed a job or he’d kill everyone, is one of them.
Even the most innocent seeming victims, who could not possibly have “wronged” these men in any way don’t seem immune from their rage.
A great many mass murderers have a history of domestic violence. They range from Omar Mateen, who killed 49 people at the Pulse nightclub shooting, whose ex-wife claimed he took her paychecks, forbade her from leaving the house and beat her if she did not live up to what he perceived as being her duties; to Robert Lewis Dear, who killed three people at a Planned Parenthood Clinic and had been accused of domestic violence by two of his three ex-wives.
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