I’m sure by now you’re well aware of last week’s tragic and dramatic events in Boston (i.e. the marathon bombing, murdered MIT police officer, critically wounded MBTA police officer, shootout with cops and eventual capture of one suspect and death of the other). There’s still a whole lot we don’t know about these suspected bombers and why they did the things they did. Over the next few weeks we’ll learn a lot more about their motives, but there’s one motivation that I guarantee you we won’t hear much about, even though we should: Masculinity.
No matter what the bomber’s stated motivation; be it revenge, radicalization, hatred of America, mental illness, or god knows what, there is one common denominator between Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, Adam Lanza, James Holmes, Jared Loughner, The 9/11 hijackers, Timothy McVeigh and the hundreds of other mass-murders that consistently goes unmentioned…. the vast majority are male. Now, I’m sure it’s tempting to look at that list of names and say “whatever Duane… male or not, bombers, plane hijackers and a men with guns have nothing in common!” I understand how you may think that, but I’m hear to tell you that it’s a mistake to do so. It’s also tempting to separate the violence that was religiously motivated, vs political, vs caused by mental illness. But that too is a mistake. Sure these were all factors, very important factors, but in the end they are trumped by the role masculinity played in these men’s decision to commit mass-murder.
Consider this… according to the World Health organization (WHO) “Overall rates of psychiatric disorder are almost identical for men and women.” There are definite gender differences in terms of disorder prevalence (for example; statistics tell us that depression is more prevalent in women and alcoholism more prevalent in men), but overall men and women suffer from equal amounts of mental illness. So why don’t women go on shooting rampages, bomb events or poisoned-letter mailing sprees like numerous men have? Women have the same access to guns, bombs and poisons that men do, yet we don’t see them committing these same crimes. Women do commit violent crimes mind you, they just don’t commit the types of mass-murders I’m discussing here.
Women also get angry and want revenge against those that harmed them. Considering the rates of physical and sexual violence women experience at the hands of men, you’d think there’d be plenty of pissed off, vengeful women ready to start offing groups of men. Yet that just does not happen. Here’s a though experiment for you; I frequently hear men accusing feminists of being “man haters,” so lets imagine for a second that they’re right. Lets pretend there’s been a bunch of angry man hating feminists walking around since the 60s. Why then haven’t we seen any women go on a killing spree that targets only men? Why haven’t there been any women bombers? What we’ve seen instead are plenty examples of the opposite as there have been numerous instances of men going on shooting sprees that target only women. Remember Charles Carl Roberts? The man who walked into an Amish school house in 2006 and proceeded to take hostages then shoot only the girls, 10 in total (killing 6)? Explain that to me without pointing to male privilege, anger and hatred of women (aka misogyny).
To be clear, I’m not lamenting the lack of female mass murders. Quite the contrary, I’m only trying to point out that ignoring the role that gender plays in these acts is asinine. I’m also not arguing that all or even most men are likely to act out in these ways. All I’m saying is we need to stop ignoring the role gender expectations and male privilege play in motivating and nurturing these violent men. I’m not the first person to say this either. Mentors of mine like Jackson Katz and other colleagues in the field of violence prevention have been saying this same thing for years. But it bears repeating. Every time we have an event like the Boston Marathon bombing, or another mass shooting or any other form of mass violence committed by men it will bear repeating again. And mark my words, until we begin to redefine masculinity these things will continue to happen.
This post is dedicated to officer Sean Collier (who I met through trainings I conducted with the MIT Police force… RIP) and all the other victims and survivors of the bombing and the ensuing aftermath.