Male Socialization – the Unconsidered Factor in Mass Shootings

By Rob Okun

There’s a man with a gun over there

Telling me I got to beware

I think it’s time we stop, children, what’s that sound

                          Everybody look what’s going down

—Stephen Stills

As we prepare for the gut-wrenching first anniversary of Newtown on Saturday, I teeter back and forth between sadness and anger. Sadness that 20 six and seven year-olds were murdered—along with a half-dozen Sandy Hook Elementary School educators—and anger that public officials and most of the media still largely ignore the missing component in the Connecticut tragedy—the gender of the shooter.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s urgent we implement gun control legislation and increase mental health services. Some states—including Colorado and Connecticut—have passed new gun laws, doing an end run around the National Rifle Association and their minions in Congress. And kudos to Vice president Biden for shepherding $100 million in additional money for mental wellness programs. Still, like a two-legged stool, those efforts can’t stand up to this type of violence if we don’t add a third leg: male socialization.

Raising Healthy Boys and Treating At-Risk Men

Take this simple quiz. Don’t worry; you’re sure to get 100 since—spoiler alert—the answer isn’t “woman.” In the year since Adam Lanza began his rampage by murdering his mother, 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 at Los Angeles International Airport? Get it?

It’s been nearly 15 years since two male students murdered 12 classmates and a teacher at Columbine High School. Since then there have been close to a hundred mass shootings; in all but one the killer was male.  How can we expect to reduce the numbers if we don’t put raising healthy boys and treating at-risk men at least as high on the national agenda as gun control and mental health?

A New Coalition

Now is the time for gun control advocates, mental health professionals, and those working to redefine masculinity to form a new coalition that recognizes the irrefutable relationship between men and guns, men’s mental health, and men and power.

Now is the time for educators to begin cultivating boys’ emotional intelligence, making it as high a priority as is teaching math and reading.

Now is the time for the president to direct the Department of Education to create a curriculum that emphasizes boys’ emotional wellbeing.

Now is the time for the Centers for Disease Control—perhaps in concert with the Department of Veterans Affairs—to coordinate a national “Men and Mental Health” campaign to reach men who underreport their depression and are averse to mental health checkups—all health checkups for that matter.  The families of the Sandy Hook shooting victims deserve nothing less. As do all the other families in the club no one ever wants to join that stretches from Boston to Los Angeles.

Redefining Masculinity

While experts on gun control and mental health fill Congressional hearing rooms  and dominate the opinion pages and the airwaves with analysis and commentary, it’s time to share the microphone with those working to redefine masculinity. Inspired by women, a growing legion of men has been working since the 1970s to prevent domestic and sexual violence and to transform traditional ideas about manhood, fatherhood, and brotherhood.

Today, men’s organizations across the country have experienced staffs working to prevent domestic violence and rape; to coach fathers, and to assist sons on the journey to healthy manhood.

In the 1990s I facilitated batterers’ groups working with lonely, isolated men who had been abusive to their spouses. While none was as mentally unstable as the mass shooters, all were products of the same male socialization.

Today no one may be shrugging, dismissively saying, “Boys will be boys” to explain away aberrant male behavior. Still, when “boys” kill their mothers, children, strangers—committing suicide by mass murder—isn’t it time we took the crisis in masculinity seriously? If we care about the parents of Sandy Hook the answer to this quiz question must be yes.Φ

Rob Okun is editor of Voice Male magazine and writes for PeaceVoice. His new book, Voice Male: The Untold Story of the Profeminist Men’s Movement will be published in January.

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