The problem is men

OPINION: Ninety-eight percent of mass shootings are done by men. What is wrong with men?

Yet another male mass shooter. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast, Pool)

Editor’s note: The following article is an op-ed, and the views expressed are the author’s own. Read more opinions on theGrio.

There were 692 mass shootings last year and this year we have had over 300 mass shootings, and the variable connecting the overwhelming majority of mass shooters is that they are men. Ninety-eight percent of mass shooters are male. Most members of that 98 percent are white, but just for now, let’s leave race alone. America is clearly suffering from having to deal with men who are armed and angry. I mean, we take it for granted that mass shooters will be male, but why is it that so many men want to shoot other people?

1. American masculinity is particularly toxic—we link masculinity with violence and dominance and with a sense that might makes right and the toughest one is the rightest one. From John Wayne movies to Boyz N the Hood to The Sopranos to The Wire, America lionizes men who are tough and unafraid to pull the trigger.

2. American toxic masculinity teaches men that being hurt means being weak and that exploring your feelings or even talking about them is weak. This leads to men who are in pain and refusing to deal with it.

3. America makes buying guns extremely easy—they’re more available in America than in any major country in the world. So men who want to blame the world for their problems have an easy time getting guns. Forty-five percent of American men own guns while just 19 percent of women do.

4. American toxic masculinity—yes, back to that—is the problem. “If you ask American men, what’s the role of a man? He will tell you, ‘To provide for and protect my family,'” said Michael Kimmel, author of Angry White Males. “In this uncertain economic world, being a provider is actually far more difficult than it was in my father’s generation than it was in his father’s generation. I think some part of American men’s fascination with guns and arming themselves has to do with, ‘If I can’t be a provider, at least I can be a protector.'”

5. America has a Toxic Masculinity Industrial Complex, an ecosystem in which people like Jordan Peterson and others teach men a dangerous brand of masculinity where they are victims in a war against things like feminization and they are robbed by the success of non-white people. They are helping to breed more toxic men. Also, there’s a robust online world that allows men to talk and to teach each other to be toxic, hateful and homicidal. In the fever swamps of the internet, more mass shooters are being created every day. A recent New Yorker piece called “The Online Spaces That Enable Mass Shooters” said, “Extremists don’t become radicalized solely by perusing the automated algorithmic feeds that the rest of us see on Facebook or YouTube. They seek out forums for those who have similar views, follow charismatic voices, and egg one another on.” It’s not the video games. It’s the secret Discord group chats.

6. Some hypertoxic potentially homicidal men are paying attention to the others who have already committed notorious mass murders—they are watching and noticing what worked so that they can copy. James Densely, a professor of criminal justice, and one of the founders of the Violence Project, which has studied hundreds of mass shootings, told Politico, “Mass shooters study other mass shooters. They often find a way of relating to them, like, “There are other people out there who feel like me.”

7. Densely’s partner in the Violence Project, Jillian Peterson, a criminology professor, said their research found several commonalities linking mass shooters. “Early childhood trauma seems to be the foundation, whether violence in the home, sexual assault, parental suicides, extreme bullying,” she told Politico. “Then you see the build toward hopelessness, despair, isolation, self-loathing, oftentimes rejection from peers. That turns into a really identifiable crisis point where they’re acting differently. Sometimes they have previous suicide attempts… Their self-hate turns against a group. They start asking themselves, “Whose fault is this?” Is it a racial group or women or a religious group, or is it my classmates? The hate turns outward. There’s also this quest for fame and notoriety.” The quest for fame, or infamy, seems particularly American—we seem obsessed with fame. 

8. It’s really about toxic masculinity, not mental health or psychosis. The Violence Project found that “psychosis played no role in 70% of mass shootings.” According to the Violence Project, mass murderers are more often set off by domestic or relationship problems, or workplace issues, or an interpersonal conflict, or hate, in addition to early childhood trauma and the other life events mentioned earlier.

9. Just so we’re clear, what is toxic masculinity? From the New York Times: “Researchers have defined it, in part, as a set of behaviors and beliefs that include the following: (1) Suppressing emotions or masking distress, (2) Maintaining an appearance of hardness, and (3) Violence as an indicator of power (think: “tough-guy” behavior).” 

10. Toxic masculinity teaches men to believe that violence can solve problems. It makes them believe that anger can make them powerful. It also tells them we can blame others for our problems. It also teaches them that talking about your feelings is weak, that even having feelings is weak and not for men.

Look at this equation—America teaches men that violence can solve problems and that men must be protectors. Dealing with your emotions is for women and might makes right and, also, guns are really easy to get and if you watch TV you can see what happens if you shoot up a school or a movie theater or something—you sort of become famous, in a way. The Violence Project says hatred and fame-seeking are on the rise as reasons why men commit mass murder but this country will have a significant shooting problem until we deal with both the accessibility of guns and, perhaps more importantly, the way we teach men what it is to be men.


Touré is a host and Creative Director at theGrio. He is the host of the podcast “Toure Show” and the podcast docuseries “Who Was Prince?” He is also the author of seven books including the Prince biography Nothing Compares 2 U. Look out for his upcoming podcast Being Black In the 80s.

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