In an online essay published yesterday at the Society Pages site, Tristan Bridges and Tara Leigh Tober ask why it's men who commit the mass shootings in the United States. Here's Fred Clark commenting on the essay:
We all can see this. We all know this. The pattern is so overwhelming and obvious that it goes without saying, and so we rarely mention it. But it’s something we should discuss and explore. Mass shootings are a lethally violent form of male behavior. This is a thing that men do. Why? . . .
If the killer is a white man, he will later be described as an aberrant, mentally disturbed exception to whiteness. If the killer turns out to be a black man, he will later be portrayed as an example of the inherent menace of blackness. If the killer turns out to be a Muslim, or to have a foreign-sounding name, then he will be portrayed as evidence of the terrorist menace that we’re all supposed to support by being sufficiently terrified.
Bridges and Tober: mass shootings are a distinctly American problem, and they're quite specifically "a problem related to American masculinity and to the ways American men use guns." Moreover, the incidence of these events is skyrocketing in the U.S.
Social psychological studies find a persistent common denominator in these stories, something that can be tagged as "masculinity threat." Some males taunted for things like their inability to hold down a steady job or gain sexual access to women's bodies lash out violently against such perceived threats to their masculine image. Bridges and Tober report that laboratory studies have been able to replicate this pattern by experimentally "threatening" men in research settings, with the following finding:
Men who are brought into labs and have their masculinity experimentally "threatened" (see here for more details) react in patterned ways: they are more supportive of violence, less likely to identify sexual coercion, more likely to support statements about the inherent superiority of males, and more. This research provides important evidence of what men perceive as masculine in the first place (resources they rely on in a crisis) and a new kind evidence regarding the relationship of masculinity and violence. The research does not suggest that men are somehow inherently more violent than women. Rather, it suggests that men are likely to turn to violence when they perceive themselves to be otherwise unable to stake a claim to a masculine gender identity.
And so why are incidences of violence that appear to be fueled by the perception of some American men that their masculinity is threatened on the rise? They're becoming more common because the culture is changing: as Bridges and Toper note,
Men have historically benefited from a great deal of privilege–white, educated, middle and upper class, able-bodied, heterosexual men in particular. Social movements of all kinds have slowly chipped away at some of these privileges. So, while inequality is alive and well, men have also seen a gradual erosion of privileges that flowed more seamlessly to previous generations of men (white, heterosexual, class-privileged men in particular). Michael Kimmel suggests that these changes have produced a uniquely American gendered sentiment that he calls "aggrieved entitlement."
It's getting worse, and it's going to get worse, until our culture begins to address the thorny question of precisely why white, heterosexual, privileged men have felt so strongly entitled for a very long time. Things cannot and will not change for the better until white, heterosexual men begin to see the power and privilege they have long taken for granted as their birthright, and begin to ask themselves probing questions about why the possession of a penis and the penchant to use that body part in socially approved ways should translate into claims of superiority over women and gay males.
Yesterday, predictably, there was yet another shooting in an American theater in which people were shot in cold blood by a man wielding a gun — this time in Lafayette, Louisiana, a state governed by a right-wing Catholic governor that has, as Ian Millhiser notes this morning, "the laxest gun laws in the nation — and the worst rate of gun violence." Governor Jindal has worked to make those lax gun laws even looser, and is now stating that he never "imaged" [sic] that the result would be a mass shooting in the state he governs.
The script of right-wing Catholics who claim to be culture warriors representing some viable and "moral" alternative to mainstream culture appears not to be useful to us, then, if we want to solve the problem of mass shootings — by aggrieved men — in the U.S. It would seem, in fact, to be part of the problem.
As, it would also appear, is the claim of His Eminence Raymond Cardinal Burke that the culture needs to be "emangelized," since, as we all know, evangelization is equivalent to emangelization — a silly claim echoed throughout the Catholic blogosphere, as right-wing Catholics diagnose the malaise of the priesthood as due to a paucity of "manly men" in rectories, and as they predict a new blooming of the priesthood if church leaders only come to their senses and start recruiting "manly men" to the clerical life.
Though this prescription emanates from a sector of the church that claims to be stalwartly countercultural, it could not be more captive to cultural norms — specifically, to ones that enshrine heterosexual males as the pinnacle of creation. That's what it's all about, after all. It's about resisting cultural changes that have begun to draw women and members of sexual minority groups into various socioeconomic structures that were once the exclusive preserve of heterosexual males.
And it's a prescription that, insofar as Catholic leaders buy into this mentality, makes the Catholic community part of the problem when it comes to the quite specific kind of violence described by Tristan Bridges and Tara Leigh Tober, which is rooted in a sense of "aggrieved entitlement" on the part of heterosexual males, which translates into mass shootings in the case of at least some such males when they imagine their masculinity is under attack. Perhaps a church committed to the healing of the world ought to consider exploring the value of the feminine, for a change, instead of lusting after the mythic model of the "manly man" as that model begins to be critiqued by various social groups for very compelling reasons.
The graphic is from the Mass Shootings in America Database of the Stanford Geospatial Center, and is included in Bridges' and Taber's article.