We must not ignore role of toxic masculinity in mass shootings

I’m beyond fed up that the gender of the murderers are still largely absent from conversations about America’s mass shootings crisis.

While we cannot, of course, overstate the role racism and white supremacy played in the May 14 mass shooting in Buffalo, New York, we ignore gender at our peril.

Let’s tighten restrictions on poisonous hate speech on social media. It’s imperative we conduct threat assessments. Absolutely, more gun control regulations. We must deconstruct racist, anti-Semitic, homophobic, misogynist, white supremacist manifestos.

But if we do all that and continue to minimize or ignore how these murderous men were socialized as boys and men, mass shootings will continue to plague us.

We have to start in preschool, carefully attending to how boys are socialized. We must cultivate their emotional intelligence. Who would deny the value of educating boys to examine their inner lives; to talk about their feelings?

Who in Congress is going to introduce legislation calling on the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) to conduct a nationwide study on how we socialize boys? Who is going to push for a comprehensive, multiyear pilot program with preschool boys in Head Start? The data amassed will help not just reshape our understanding of boys and men, but could ultimately transform masculinity.

Mass shooters’ gender remains central in my writing. Here’s a sampling of columns that, sadly, demonstrate how far we have to go:

o Aug. 9, 2019: “(In) the killing sprees in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio … the media, politicians and pundits rarely cite the most significant common denominator of virtually every mass murder in the U.S. — the shooter’s gender … a message I’ve been repeating since Columbine and before Tree of Life, Thousand Oaks, Parkland, Sutherland Springs and Las Vegas; even before Virginia Tech, Sandy Hook and Aurora.” (Gender Belongs at Center of the Gun Debate, Ms. magazine);

o May 23, 2018: “Heart contracts; numbness and tears collide. Ten dead, 13 wounded; this time Santa Fe, Texas … If we’re ever to end the blood baths … highlighting the shooter’s gender is essential to gain insights to prevent future tragedies … Virtually every murderer is male, usually white.” (Let’s Talk About the Obvious: Most Mass Shooter are Male, Dallas Morning News);

o Oct. 5, 2017: “Again. Worse than ever. A horrifying mass murder by a lone killer. This time in Las Vegas … (A) clue stares us right in the face to prevent this madness and mayhem: The race and gender of the shooter. White and male. Let’s organize … challenge men to chart a new course in the gun violence debate … accelerate the transformation of our ideas about masculinity and manhood — including, especially, how we raise boys. (Needed: A ‘Men Against Gun Violence’ Campaign, Women’s eNews);

o June 16, 2016: The massacre at the Pulse nightclub was carried out as an act of rage. By a man … Until or unless we make the murderer’s gender central (to) not just this story, but of the larger effort to prevent mass shootings … we won’t succeed in preventing such horrors in the future. (Why is the Orlando Murderer’s Gender Not Central to the Story? CounterPunch);

o Oct. 9, 2015: “Again. This time a community college in Roseburg, Oregon … This time, nine people murdered. … How many more lonely, alienated, disconnected, (usually) white males perpetrating murder and then committing suicide need we see before admitting the irrefutable fact that the shooters are all male? (After the Oregon Shootings: A Campaign to Raise Healthy Sons, Ms. magazine);

o Dec. 16, 2013: “As we arrive at the gut-wrenching first anniversary of Newtown, I teeter back and forth between sadness and anger … Was it a man or a woman who killed innocent people at the Washington Navy Shipyard, the Boston Marathon, Santa Monica College, homes in Hialeah (Florida), Manchester, (Illinois) and Fernley, (Nevada); a barbershop in New York’s Mohawk Valley; and Los Angeles International Airport? Get it?” (Masculinity Question Still Missing Post Newtown, Truthout).

The day after Adam Lanza murdered his mother, six staff and 20 6- and 7-year-olds at Sandy Hook in 2012, women launched the group Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense. The day after. How many more “days after” another mass shooting must we wait to launch another group: Dads Demand Action to Raise Healthy Boys?

This month’s violent rampage in Buffalo was not only a racist attack against the Black community; it was also an affirmation of male supremacy.

Men, men, men. It’s the toxic masculinity, people.

Rob Okun (rob@voicemalemagazine.org) syndicated by PeaceVoice, writes about politics and culture. He is editor-publisher of Voice Male magazine.