When we recognize that the vast majority of mass shootings in the U.S. are committed by men, we are faced with a specific challenge; we must try to understand how and why gender is linked to these extremes of violence. This then involves the evils of generalization to an extent, but this is a reality within most sociological exploration, and one necessary to gain some ideas of how American culture actually motivates this form of violence. American males, in plain terms, seem to be “fighting back,” from the noted shootings to an increasing outrage expressed by them at the social need to be politically correct. A kind of rebellion or anger is seen in the society’s men and, when the realities behind it are examined, it also seems to be virtually inevitable.
To begin with, there is the important matter of American culture, which has traditionally insisted upon defining masculinity as aggressive and removed from the aesthetic, artistic, and intellectual model of manliness usually associated with European cultures. Without question, U.S. history is based on defiance and a show of power, as in the Revolutionary War. Sheer strength was needed to create the nation and white American men assumed the responsibility – and right – to wield this strength, which in turn enabled male privilege and the subsequent weaker roles of women and minorities. Centuries of this ideology then shape an idea of what a man must be as inflexible, and white American men have long enjoyed the benefits of being the most powerful element in the society. As this has been challenged by feminism and movements for minority rights, the standardized privileges white American males have known have been lessened (Bridges, Tober, 2015). For the white American man, then, there has been a gradual and growing lack of confidence or regard for what he has done and represented. The response, then, is a form of rage because his status is greatly challenged, and this rage takes forms ranging from mass shootings to deliberately mocking or insulting any idea of true equality. In other words, even subtle transfers of power from white males to those traditionally denied power triggers a resentment which demands expression.
Interestingly, feminism is of little help here, and because power is the usual focus of feminism. More exactly, it is about women seeking access to power primarily held by men, so the gender factor is one-sided; as men are perceived as having what women desire, there is no real address of what advantages women enjoy and which could alter the masculine role for the better, creating a lessened emphasis on aggression and reinforcing the humane values of compassion, caring, and communication. Post-feminism comes near to addressing this, but inadequately, and: “Nothing tells men that they have the right to the traditional female role” (Farrell, 2012, p. 9). Because female roles have always been more passive and powerless, their inherent values have been disregarded, and there remains a barrier to men being in any way motivated to take on such “weaker” qualities. A more correct statement would then be that nothing inspires men to adopt any aspect of the traditional female role.
Ultimately, this issue will likely only grow in import, and because the shootings and other expressions of male anger are symptomatic, and the cause of the symptoms is deeply rooted in American culture itself. Just as racism is not eliminated by legislation, and because it is still ingrained in the society, so too is aggressive masculinity a fundamental aspect of the culture so embedded, it becomes an accepted definition of manliness itself. For any real change to occur, then, American society must assign new values to gender roles, and dispense with insisting upon gender attributes by no means innate to gender, but more developed and adhered to as only American “ideals.” As this would eliminate the threat perceived by American men, they would then no longer be motivated to react to threat.
- Bridges, T., & Tober, T. L. (31 Dec. 2015). Mass Shootings in the U.S. Are on the Rise. What Makes American Men So Dangerous? Society Pages. Retrieved 10 April 2016 from
- Farrell, W. (2012). The Myth of Male power: Why Men Are the Disposable Sex. New Male Studies, 1(2). pp. 4-33. Retrieved 10 April 2016 from