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Class, Race, Gender & Crime: Social Realities of Justice in America, 4th ed

Up ] Intro ] Class chapter ] Race chapter ] [ Gender chapter ] Fatal Females ] Black Genocide? ] Race & Blood ]

Earlier editions of this book had Class as Chapter 2, but we have reorganized. Part 1 of the book now covers The Crime Control Enterprise and Its Workers (Ch 1) and Criminology and the study of Class, Race, Gender and Crime (Ch 2). Part 2 of the book is now Inequality and Privilege, with chapters for understanding Class and Economic privilege (Ch 3), Race and White Privilege (Ch 4), and Gender and Male Privilege Ch 5). (Chapter 6 covers the intersections of class, race, and gender, but it isn't on the website yet.)

Chapter 5, Understanding Gender and Male Privilege

The 1990s will be remembered for its attention to a relatively new kind of violence: “rampage school shootings.” During this period, there was a “wave” of shootings by white males in middle and high schools across rural and suburban (but not urban) America. Between 1994 and 1998, there were approximately 200 violent deaths: 83 percent homicides, 13 percent suicides, and 4 percent combinations of the two (Hammond 1999). In peak years like 1998, forty-two school-related homicides happened. Among the homicides, there were no particular groups targeted by the all-male, adolescent and preadolescent perpetrators of these killings (Newman et al. 2004). (The 2006 shooting at an Amish school in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, did involve five female victims, but it was done by a man in his thirties and not a student peer.)

While media attention to school violence has declined, preliminary data for 2010-2011 showed that among youth ages five to eighteen, there were thirty-one school-associated violent deaths (twenty-five homicides and six suicides) or about one homicide or suicide of a school-age youth at school per 3.5 million students. Youth homicides at secondary schools remained less than 2 percent of the total number of youth homicides ( Robers, Kemp, Turman and Snyder 2013, 6). This is consistent with other years surveyed as well. There have also been  a handful of acts of homicide and suicide on college campuses during the first decade of this century, the most infamous at Virginia Tech.

Those analysts who pay close attention to the wider organizational and societal features of community relations tend to distinguish between the more familiar revenge killings and the rampage shootings. The latter assaults involve a special kind of attack on multiple parties, selected almost at random. “The shooters may have a specific target to begin with, but they let loose with a fusillade that hits others, and it is not unusual for the perpetrator to be unaware of who has been shot until long after the fact” (Newman et al. 2004, 15).

These explosions are not attacks aimed at the popular kids, bullies, athletes, and/or harassers per se as many commentators and pundits have suggested. Instead, they are attacks on whole institutions—schools, teenage pecking orders, community social structures—and they represent “backlash” or “blowback” effects from male adolescents who are unable to successfully navigate the treacherous waters of doing teenage masculinity. Schools are the selected sites for these culturally played-out scripts of “becoming a man” and performing violence because “they are the heart and soul of public life in small towns” where there are “high levels of background violence, dysfunctional families, chaotic schools, [and] distracted adults too busy with town lives to pay attention to the local teens” (Newman et al. 2004, 15). These rampage school shootings thus contradict our most firmly held beliefs about childhood, home, and community: “They expose the vulnerable underbelly of ordinary life and tell us that malevolence can be brewing in places where we least expect it, that our fail-safe methods (parental involvement in children’s lives, close-knit neighborhoods) do not identify nascent pathologies” that may be part and parcel of patriarchy, gender, and coming-of-age for socially and marginally adolescent males living in nonmetropolitan America (Newman et al. 2004, 15).

Many popular explanations for these rural and suburban shootings include mental illness, family problems, bullying, peer support, culture of violence, violent media, availability of guns, and the copycat effect. But most of these explanations on their own do not hold up, while some of these explanations in combination with others and with qualification—such as peer support and culture of violence—are more helpful. But what is missing from these types of analyses is the importance of young adolescent males as the perpetrators. Misfit girls have their problems, too, but they do not resort to rampage or any other kinds of mass shootings. Since all the perpetrators are male, masculinity should be a central part of the investigation—and certainly if all the perpetrators had been girls, the question would be “What’s going on with girls?” (or “girls gone wild!”) rather than “school violence” and “what’s wrong with kids?” (Katz 1999).

Of course, both boys and girls seek status, perform for peers, find identities, and cope with their parents and other adults. The point is that the process of finding a workable niche in society is distinctive along gender lines. The all-male club of rampage shooters shares at least in their own eyes and perceptions (if not in the eyes and perceptions of others, too) a dual failure—failing at adolescence and failing at manhood. For adolescent males, demonstrating masculinity is central to what makes a popular boy high on the social pecking order. As the authors of Rampage: The Social Roots of School Shootings have stated:

To be a man is to be physically dominant, competitive, and powerful in the eyes of others. Real men exert control and never admit weakness. They act more and talk less. If this sounds like Marlboro Man, it is because adolescent ideals of manliness are unoriginal. They derive from cultural projections found in film, video, magazines, and the back of comic books. In-your-face basketball players, ruthless Wall Street robber barons, and presidents who revel in being “doers” and not “talkers” all partake of and then reinforce this stereotype (Newman et al. 2004, 144).

The most powerful source of stigma for an adolescent boy coming of age in the United States today is being labeled “gay.” The assumption is that being a man means being heterosexual, and even the specter of homosexuality compromises a boy’s status and place on the social ladder because “gay” constitutes a failure at achieving masculine gender. “Gay” does not merely refer to a sexual orientation, preference, or reference, but also to a broader connotation now used as a slang term for any form of social or athletic incompetence to an array of other mistakes and failures. One fifteen-year-old girl explained: “Boys have a fascination with not being gay. They want to be manly, and put each other down by saying ‘that’s gay’” (in Newman et al. 2004, 146). Thus for boys, “the struggle for status is in large part competition for the rank of alpha male, and any kind of failure by another boy can be an opportunity to insult the other’s masculinity and enhance one’s own. It’s a winner-take-all society, and any loss one boy can inflict on another opens up a new rung on the ladder that he might move into” (146).

As for those socially marginal and psychologically distressed youth who end up at the bottom of the social pecking orders as a result of their real or imagined failure to do masculinity, a few of them ultimately find themselves trapped in a limited repertoire of cultural scripts or strategies of action that resolve their feelings of shame, humiliation, and inadequacy. Various rampage school shooters all felt at the moment of crisis that they had no other options but to come forth and fire their weapons. They had all considered suicide, but that wasn’t the manly thing to do. Going out in a blaze, perhaps shooting it out with the police, would certainly allow them to go down in school infamy as full of machismo. In carrying out these scenarios of killing, these adolescent males are not simply reacting to glorified violence, but rather they are immersing themselves in violent roles that they believed were powerful and would thus enhance their status as men.

In short, having violence, aggression, and domination as cultural norms for masculinity provides a framework for their behavior. These gendered rampage shootings provide these young males with a way to demonstrate their “anger with an entire social system that had rejected them. . . . For this purpose, any target [will] do just as well as any other, so long as the shootings [occur] on a public stage for all to see” (Newman et al. 2004, 152). In the process, these truly rare rampage killers, characterizing the extreme end of trying to do masculine gender, are able in a “twisted” way to claim the power and status their peers had denied them.

 

I have been teaching a seminar called Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault and served on the board of the local shelter SafeHouse. So a colleague asked me to come into her class and do a presentation on domestic violence. My blog entry and presentation are below.

 

Understanding Domestic Violence

Last semester, a colleague invited me to do a presentation on Domestic Violence for her into to women and gender studies class. It was a good opportunity to draw on my teaching, service on the board of SafeHouse, and interest in art by survivors of domestic violence to create a presentation.

Enjoy and feel free to use it if you think it will be useful. It covers some of the basics and I hope to add to it over the long run. 

Understanding Domestic Violence: Why You Should Care, What You Should Know and How to Help

 

Download .pdf of presentation (3MB)

Download original .pptx files  (24.6MB)

RELATED

Understanding Domestic Violence: Why should medical students care, what should they know and do

Bob Herbert's Op-Ed.TV: Dr. James Gilligan on our Culture of Violence. Dr. James Gilligan, Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at the New York University School of Medicine, discusses the links between many of our country's tragic mass shootings, and masculine insecurity. 

 

 

 

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