As a nation, we are reeling. On Friday, December 14, 20 young children — 12 girls, 8 boys — and six female teachers and school administrators were massacred at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut in one of the most harrowing acts of gun violence in this nation’s history. After a year of some of the deadliest shootings in U.S. history, Newtown’s was among the most sickening in large part because the majority of the victims were young children between five and seven years old. A number of writers have begun to offer policy suggestions to outline, as President Obama called it, “meaningful action” on gun control.
To truly address the problem of which Newtown reminded us in the most horrific way, gender, and its entanglement with culture, poverty, and mental health requires serious attention in addition to gun policy reform. On NPR’s Weekend Edition Saturday, Shankar Vedantam pointed out common characteristics of gunmen in the most recent gun massacres including Friday’s in Newtown:
“[I]f you look at the series of incidents that have happened in recent years, there are several things that stand out in terms of patterns….the shooters have always been men.”
Why is the gunman always male? After the Aurora, Colorado shooting during the opening of the Batman: The Dark Knight Rises Premiere in July, Feministing ran a piece by Eesha Pandit, Executive Director at Men Stopping Violence. Pandit wrote:
What we are missing in our collective understanding is the gendered nature of mass homicide…the acknowledgement of ‘male violence’ without conflating it with all different kinds of violence is particularly useful, because it helps us contextualize the violence in our society as a function of patriarchy and sexism.
On its face, the patriarchy and sexism about which Pandit writes seems to be rearing its head here. In this instance, the gunman, Adam Lanza, chose to first murder his mother and then drive to a nearby school where he massacred women and young children. At this time, there is no proof of gender animus as a motive specifically in this event. But the facts — the gender identity of the shooter and the gender identity of the victims — underly why policy solutions should include greater examination of gender, men’s relationship to women and to each other, in addition to advocating greater gun regulation. This event alone, along with domestic violence trends generally, makes clear that male-against-female violence persists and emerges in frightening ways.
Also important, Pandit pointed out that violent behaviors are deeply rooted in economic, health, and cultural factors, and that this context also tends to be underacknowledged in society generally: