Republicans careful not to mention guns as they blamed mass shootings on the media, mental health, and violent video games were apparently confident that toxic masculinity didn’t make the list. So much so that shortly after the El Paso murder spree stunned the nation, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s campaign tweeted out a picture of a graveyard with a grave belonging to his opponent, Amy McGrath.
Around the same time, a photo was posted on social media of young men in Mitch T-shirts “groping and choking” a cardboard cutout of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. It was almost as if the turtle was trying to double down on the toxic masculinity.
While Democrats came much closer to the target in blaming the racist president, the NRA and the Republican Party, I feel like there is one obvious and underdiscussed theme in many of these killing sprees: The murderers are often young men steeped in a culture of misogyny.
The Ohio shooter told a girl he wanted to murder her, kept a “rape list” and began his murder spree with his own sister. The El Paso shooter was a white supremacist who was obsessed with interracial marriage and a paranoid theory that treats women more or less as breeders.
The Pulse nightclub shooter beat his wife, the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooter was abusive to his ex-girlfriend, the shooter at the yoga studio in Florida was “a self-described misogynist who had a history of arrests for grabbing young women.” The guy who shot his ex-fiancée outside a hospital in Chicago had a long history of domestic violence and an ex-wife with an order of protection against him.
Some of these women-hating murderers followed the twisted example of Elliot Rodger, the “incel” or “involuntarily celibate” who murdered six people because he thought women wouldn’t have sex with him, and proclaimed in his own incoherent manifesto that “I am the true victim in all of this. I am the good guy.”
These are not normal, healthy men; these are men who hate women.
HuffPost’s Melissa Jeltsen writes “In America, the eternal subtext of acts of mass violence is toxic masculinity.” And the Washington Post’s editorial board pointed out after the Stoneman Douglas shooting that “Mass shooting in the United States are carried out, overwhelmingly, by men with a history of domestic violence.”
That’s no exaggeration. The majority of U.S. mass shootings are related to domestic or family violence, according to Everytown for Gun Safety, which also found that 54 percent of mass shootings included the murder of a partner or family member.
But while Democrats aren’t encouraging toxic masculinity with the same zeal Republicans are, they aren’t nearly aggressive enough in calling it out, with the exception of California Gov. Gavin Newsom, who pointed out that these mass murderers are “overwhelmingly, almost exclusively males, boys, men.” He added, “If there was anything more obvious, I don’t know what is, why it is that we’ve just come to accept that, that it’s been so normalized and sort of baked in, that it’s not even debated any longer.”
There has been a lot of talk over the last few days about the media changing how it covers mass shootings. Well, a first step would be not to ignore a fundamental aspect of them. This is a phenomenon that needs to be called by its name, addressed and treated, not ignored and pushed to the side. Sensible gun laws should include legislation that prevents domestic abusers from being able to legally purchase firearms.
We can walk and chew gum, and talk at once about the many different types of rot that got us here. Yes, let’s talk about how America has a gun problem. How the president is a white supremacist who doesn’t want to call out racism because he doesn’t want to alienate his base. How the Republican Party is in the pocket of the NRA.
But let’s tie all that to the culture of toxic masculinity that underlies the motivations of so many of these shooters. It’s misogynistic to talk about mass shootings, let alone craft legislative solutions, without addressing the misogyny.
Not talking about the misogyny that is underlying these crimes helps perpetuate that same misogyny. And that, in turn, helps perpetuate this horrific new culture of mass shootings by young men.