Our Opinion: Aggrieved male entitlement and mass shootings
Mass shooting are on the rise in the United States, and men are almost always to blame.
Tristan Bridges and Tara Leigh, writing for Sociological Images, note "This type of rampage violence happens more in the United States than anywhere else. But, gun control is only a partial explanation for mass shootings in the U.S. ... it's a problem related to American masculinity and to the ways American men use guns."
Bridges and Leigh conclude there are two reasons why American men commit more mass shootings than anywhere else in the world. The social psychological explanation demonstrates that when an identity someone cares about is called into question, they are likely to react by over-demonstrating qualities associated with that identity. "Some sociologists call this 'masculinity threat,'" a result of threats from their peers and, sometimes, "simply from an inability to live up to societal expectations associated with masculinity (like holding down a steady job, being able to obtain sexual access to women's bodies, etc.) ..."
In studies, men who have their masculinity experimentally "threatened" are more supportive of violence, less likely to identify sexual coercion and more likely to support statements about the inherent superiority of males, note Bridges and Leigh. "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."
A cultural explanation for mass shootings "articulates the role that American culture plays in influencing boys and young men to turn to this kind of violence ..."
In addition, social movements have progressively chipped away at the privileges "white, educated, middle and upper class, able-bodied, heterosexual men" have historically benefited from and some men have not responded well. Michael Kimmel calls this "aggrieved entitlement," a sense that you are entitled to certain things such as power, wealth, sex, and that you are entitled to use violence to restore what you believe is rightfully yours.
Many of men who commit this type of violence perceive themselves as "the perfect guy," a "supreme gentleman," constantly rejected in favor of "brutes," and "jerks" including African-Americans, Asians and Latinos. "It only made me fume with rage," wrote one. "I could go nowhere without being insulted by my enemies. The mere sight of them enjoying their happy lives was an insult to me, because I deserve it more than them."
"In the upside-down world of male entitlement, it's women who commit the injustice," writes Kimmel. "You forced me to suffer all my life, now I will make you all suffer."
In many of these cases, the perpetrators justify their violence as a restoration of their manhood. In that sense, notes Kimmel, many mass shooters are not crazed deviants or mentally ill, but rather over-conformists "to certain ideas about what it means to be a self-described 'alpha male,' what men are entitled to, and what they deserve. It may be necessary to disarm those over-conformists, yes, but we have to first see them. And often they are hiding in plain sight."
Bridges and Leigh point out that mass shootings "can be understood as an extremely violent example of a more general issue regarding changes in relations between men and women and historical transformations in gender, race, and class inequality. ... Mass shootings are also enactments of masculinity. And they will continue to occur when this fact is combined with a sense among some men that male privilege is a birthright — and one that many feel unjustly denied."
It's important that our young boys growing up into men learn they aren't owed anything by society that is not also guaranteed to women and people of color. Our children, male or female, should have the opportunity to blossom into unique people, free of the roles that have suffocated their personalities and forced them into small boxes that are easily categorized but crush souls. Is it any wonder so many of our young men are angry and lash out in violence when they are not given the freedom to explore their individuality and are bullied and criticized for being slightly different? Is it any wonder they resort to violence when our culture is filled with vengeful, muscle-bound men who use their fists and guns to right what they perceive to be a wrong?
We may not be able to change the way society portrays masculinity in the United States, but we surely have the power to raise our sons to be thoughtful, considerate, kind, gentle and rational ... and teach them strength comes in many different forms and shapes.
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