The recent fatal shootings of four Washington state police officers again brings up the recurring problem of mass murder in the United States. What motivates these men to go on a shooting rampage?
Psychologist Andrew Smiler says, “These men killed because they understood that masculinity accepts and justifies violence. There has been little discussion about the masculinity behind the murders, which are generally attributed to stressors like work conflict, debt, unemployment, or marital discord. When men lose their jobs, go deep into debt, are rejected by their wives, feel underappreciated or bullied by coworkers, or lose connection with their children, masculinity tells them they have two options. The un-masculine reaction is to passively accept the situation.The masculine reaction is to do something about it, and for some men, that means performing the kind of violence that we see in movies and television programs where the male hero regains his status through violent vengeance against the people who caused the problem and ‘deserve it.'”
Should we count on plastic to change this, or do we need help from somewhere else? One possible remedy would be to define masculinity in healthier ways by teaching men and boys the skills to manage their feelings without hurting other people, but that would be a major cultural change. Smiler says, “It is very difficult to resist a pressure that one cannot name, and when we attribute family mass murder and other men’s violence solely to the individual, as if gender were not part of the equation, we avoid naming it.”
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