Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Bookforum Omnivore - The Age of White Male Mass Shootings

This is an interesting collection of links on masculinity, guns, and gun violence from Bookforum's Omnivore blog. One article in particular jumped out at me so I included parts of it below the link collection.

The age of white male mass shootings

JAN 22 2013

One of the articles above, from the Southwest Journal of Criminal Studies, looks at the role of "hegemonic masculinity" in mass murders in the U.S. Here is the abstract, and then a section from later in the paper.

  • Deniese Kennedy-Kollar, Ph.D., Molloy College, Rockville Center, New York
  • Christopher A.D. Charles, Ph.D., King Graduate School, Monroe College, New York
This exploratory study examines the act of mass murder as an attempt by the perpetrators to lay claim to a hegemonic masculine identity that has been damaged or denied them, yet that they feel entitled to as males in American culture. Biographical information was gathered for 28 men who have committed mass murder in the United States since 1970 and examined for evidence of stressors to the perpetrators’ masculine identities. The majority of the sample demonstrated financial (71%), social (61%), romantic (25%), and psychological stressors (32%) and other stressors (18%) that indicated a failure to attain the hegemonic masculine ideal in American culture. There were co-occurring stressors such as financial-social, financial-psychological and social-psychological. These stressors suggest that the motivations for mass murders are numerous and complex. There is no psychological profile unique to mass murderers and many authors have speculated on their motivations. However, in this study, the range of interrelated stressors experienced by the majority of mass murderers threatened their hegemonic masculine identity and these men engaged in violence to protect their identity.

* * * * *
Hegemonic Masculinity

Hegemonic masculinity is the socially supported and dominant masculinity, which informs normative male behavior and unequal gender practices seen in the subordination of women in the society. This dominant masculinity which is associated with power, high status, authority, heterosexism and physical toughness, and legitimizes patriarchy, not only subordinates femininities but also other masculinities deemed to be weaker in the society’s gendered order (Beasely, 2008; Connell, 1995; Lusher and Robins, 2009). Hegemonic masculine violence is not only confined to the urban milieu in the United States, because the socio-economic and political changes that also take place in rural areas, lead to internal and external male violent expressions which are strategic patriarchal practices used to create an imagined rural gendered hierarchy (Carrington and Scott, 2008).

Some critics of the hegemonic masculinity thesis suggest that it does not take into account the inequalities of class based power, and the political economy that produces and reproduces traditional physical male violence. This conceptual oversight means that hegemonic masculinity, is applied outside of relevant historical contexts and material processes, that make the use of the term hegemony a misnomer and the concept an inadequate explanatory factor for patterns of male violence (Hall, 2002). Moreover, the concept is also used in a monolithic way which ignores plural masculinities that take into account the heterogeneity of masculine identity and power (Beasely, 2008). Despite these criticisms, there is an evolutionary perspective which locates masculine violence in the descent of man. This perspective argues that violent masculinity is an expression of the survival of the fittest and the drive for reproductive success which has its genesis in human ancestral environments (Polk, 1998).

School is one of several social domains in which hegemonic masculinity is created and expressed in the contemporary era. Very few Americans link school shootings to the gender of the shooters (which is male) although criminologists have consistently argued that there is a relationship between masculinity and violence. The masculinity which influences male aggression and violence is socially constructed (Watson, 2007). In other words, the incidences of hate crimes, bullying in schools and school shootings among other violent expressions of masculinities are influenced by the approaches, processes and codes of the societal construction of men. Schools are very much reflections of this social construction as the bullying and school shootings just mentioned suggests. The ways of man making, which starts before the pre-K level and goes up to manhood, supports and approves subtle and physical expressions of violence. Therefore, the hegemonic masculinity taught in American schools jeopardises the safety of students and the society (Serriere, 2008).

The context of the inner city streets is also used by youth to express violent masculinities. Respect is central to male identity where masculine street behavior is driven by a code that regulates norms surrounding how grievances and conflicts are resolved. There is also an interaction driven ecology of danger, which is influenced by perceptions of threatening or deadly social interactions with rival males, whether they have hostile intentions and whether or not they are willing to use violence to hurt others (Wilkinson, 2001). The anatomy of violence is evident in the narrative of a young male, who was constructing his masculine identity which required the projection of a preferred presentation of self. This self presentation was achieved through creating boundaries about the use of violence, the reasons for fighting and whom one should fight. Masculine characteristics were made salient in the narrative by sorting and positioning the characters of the story. Several varying depictions of other men emerged in the discourse such as non-men, villain and hero. The foregoing discourse of violence, suggests that that masculine identity was constructed and negotiated through the gendered positioning of the negative other (Andersson, 2008).The use of the life history method to understand adolescent male violence, also suggests that boys use the ideals of hegemonic masculinity to construct their emerging manhood. This identity was buttressed in school by the institutionalized bodily and sexual practices that created subordinate masculinity which is linked to sexual violence and an opposition masculinity which is connected to assaultive violence (Messerschmidt, 1999).

The growing body of evidence in the literature that hegemonic masculinity is related to violence was contradicted by the findings of a study of the relationship between masculinity and violent and nonviolent situations. The findings of the study indicate that there is no relationship between violence and masculinity but the presence of a third party is a significant predictor of violence (Krienert, 2000). In keeping with the overall trend of the data on violent masculinity, the positive presence of a father in the life of a son constructing his hegemonic masculine identity is a key means of preventing the emotional problems that triggers male violence (Pope and Englar-Carlson, 2001). The prevalence of male violence suggests that there is a crisis of masculinity which provides opportunities to stop the violence and challenge the masculinities supported by the status quo (Hurst, 2001). However, masculine violence continues unabated in the United States and the most blatant expression of this form of violence is the action of mass murderers.

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