Understanding the Role of Gender in Mass Shootings

“The same system that produces men who abuse women, produces men who abuse other men, and men who abuse themselves.”

Al Jazeera Plus (English) released a fascinating short video recently, where Jackson Katz, an educator, author and social activist, talks about trying to understand the role that gender plays, in all the mass shootings that take place in the United States of America. He discusses how because men and boys are most of the shooters, the discourse shifts from gender, to other causes like mental illness, and access to guns, which would not be the case is most of the shooters had been girls.

In the video, Jackson Katz discusses that while dealing with the aftermath of the shootings is important, what is of even more relevance is the understanding of the societal causes that lead to these unfortunate incidents. He talks about toxic masculinity and says that it is in the immediate interest of men, to deal with these issues at a broader, societal level, so that crimes against men and women diminish.

So far, the ideology that has been followed when attempting to analyze the various incidents of mass shootings in the United States, has focused on issues of gun control, and mental health. This video turns this philosophy on its head, and urges society as a whole to examine the significant role played by gender, in perpetrating various crimes. It is an interesting thought, because it shifts the focus from abstract and policy level issues, to very basic, ground level issues of toxic masculinity, and the gender stereotypes which men are often forced to adhere to.

Amitabh Kumar, Head of Media and Communication at Centre for Social Research, had this to say on watching this video “It is essential that we detach violence from masculinity. Popular culture, Hollywood/Bollywood has defined masculinity by the ability to practice violence. While leaders such as Gandhi, Mandela & Martin Luther Kin have a single movie dedicated to them, other blood shedding surrogates are seen on our screens every 5 seconds. Unless sensitivity / tolerance / peace is promoted in a cool & hip-hop way, we are heading for a true dead end”

It is interesting that a developed country like the United States of America, is dealing with the severe consequences of toxic masculinity. Needless to say, India has multilayered issues which add to the impact of toxic masculinity- we have issues of economics, caste and class, adding on to the all pervasive misogyny and patriarchy which boys in our culture are subjected to. Thus, it becomes a matter of grave concern for India, as a society, to address these issues, and raise boys to be responsible and sensitive men, rather than ‘macho’ men.