When Masculinity Turns ‘Toxic’: A Gender Profile Of Mass Shootings

Soon after a 19-year-old man killed three people and wounded more than a dozen at a festival in Gilroy, Calif., in late July, California Gov. Gavin Newsom noted something often taken for granted about mass shootings.

“These shootings overwhelmingly, almost exclusively, are males, boys, ‘men’ — I put in loose quotes,” Newsom said during a press conference. “I do think that is missing in the national conversation.”

From January 2013 to August 2019, there were 11 shooting rampages in California in which the perpetrator indiscriminately shot victims in public places and killed three or more people, according to an open source databasemaintained by the nonprofit news organization Mother Jones. Nine of those mass shootings involved a sole male suspect, one involved a sole female suspect, and one involved a male and a female couple.

Nationwide, there were 53 indiscriminate mass shootings in public areas during that time, and all but three involved male suspects. (The Mother Jones database excludes murders motivated by robbery, gang violence or domestic abuse in private homes.)

Newsom had his explanation for the difference. “I think that goes deep to the issue of how we raise our boys to be men, goes deeply into values that we tend to hold dear: power, dominance and aggression over empathy, care and collaboration.”

We asked a range of experts what might explain the gender disparity.

Eric Madfis, an associate professor of criminal justice at the University of Washington-Tacoma, said research shows that men who commit mass murder tend to feel their masculinity has been diminished in a fundamental way.

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