Masculinity and Mass Shootings

Mass shootings at the Gilroy Garlic Festival, a Walmart in El Paso and a night club in Dayton, Ohio in the past week have broken our collective hearts here in the United States. While mass shooters typically share some of the same individual traits—rage, suicidal urges and, in some cases, serious behavioral disorders—we must name toxic masculinity as a factor that is often overlooked in many public discussions about these events.

A male protestor at a Moms Demand action against gun violence. (CDEL Family / Creative Commons)

By nature, men are not more prone than women to commit mass shootings—yet virtually all mass shootings are perpetrated by men, which is a major indicator that masculinity is playing some role. As prominent feminist Jessica Valenti puts it: “The longer we ignore the toxic masculinity that underlies so many of these crimes, the more violence we’re enabling.” 

Nearly all mass shooters have a history of domestic violence and misogyny. According to a systematic analysis of 22 mass shootings by Mother Jones, there is “a strong overlap between toxic masculinity and public mass shootings.” Virtually all of them also suffer some form of aggrieved entitlement—“an existential state of fear about having my ‘rightful place’ as a male questioned…challenged…deconstructed.” 

According to the Good Men Project, “Aggrieved entitlement is being told ‘no’ when the prevailing mythos of the culture has taught that I have a ‘right’ to something because of my birth (as male, as white, straight, educated, able-bodied … the list goes on).” A society drenched in patriarchy teaches boys that their “rightful place” is above women, and racist and xenophobic rhetoric only serve to activate white men’s aggrieved entitlement toward people of color, immigrants and other marginalized groups who are targeted by politicians.

The link between toxic masculinity and mass shootings is not new. Dr. Jackson Katz’s 2006 film Tough Guise: Violence, Media and the Crisis in Masculinity draws an explicit link between toxic masculinity and mass shootings. Dr. Katz cited the media’s role in ignoring this distinction.

“In the many hours devoted to analyzing the recent school shootings, once again we see that as a society we seem constitutionally unable, or unwilling, to acknowledge a simple but disturbing fact,” he asserted. “These shootings are an extreme manifestation of one of contemporary American society’s biggest problems—the ongoing crisis of men’s violence against women [or any group that activates aggrieved entitlement for men].” 

This piece originally appeared at The Representation Project. It was republished with permission.

About and

Dr. Caroline Heldman is the Executive Director of The Representation Project, Professor of Politics at Occidental College in Los Angeles and a Senior Research Advisor for the Geena Davis Institute for Gender in Media. She also co-founded the New Orleans Women’s Shelter, the Lower Ninth Ward Living Museum, End Rape on Campus, Faculty Against Rape and End Rape Statute of Limitations. Her books include Rethinking Madame President: Are We Ready for a Woman in the White House?, Protest Politics in the Marketplace: Consumer Activism in the Corporate Age), Women, Power, and Politics: The Fight for Gender Equality in the United States, The New Campus Anti-Rape Movement and Sex and Gender in the 2016 Presidential Election. Her research has been featured in top academic journals like the American Political Science Review, the Journal of Politics, Political Psychology and Political Communications; and her work has also been featured in the New York Times, U.S. News and World Report, The Huffington Post and The Daily Beast.
The Representation Project inspires individuals and communities to challenge limiting gender stereotypes and shift norms, using film and media as catalysts for cultural transformation. Jennifer Siebel Newsom founded the organization in 2011, in response to the overwhelming public demand for ongoing education and social action in support of her first film, "Miss Representation." Since then, the Project has released two more films—"The Mask You Live In" and "The Great American Lie"—and launched popular social media activism campaigns such as #NotBuyingIt, #AskHerMore and #RepresentHer.