Teen Shooting Sprees: A Gender Issue?
by Dana Sherman
May 24, 1999
The teen shooters in Paducah, KY, Springfield, OR, Littleton, CO, and Conyers, GA, had certain things in common. They were all loners, all troubled, all into violent games and fantasy play, all interested in guns to the point of obsession, all outsiders who were picked on by classmates and who had few friends. The mass media has spent a lot of time exploring these connections. We have read reams of paper and heard myriad amounts of television commontary about violent culture, guns, movies, video games, teasing, bullying and the internet.
But they had one more thing in common that has not been investigated, dealt with or even noticed by anyone in the media. The teen shooters at all these schools were all boys! Not one single girl has shot up her school or killed her classmates. No matter how picked on, how lonely, how isolated, how into fantasy games or the internet, no matter what movies they see or what music they hear, girls simply never do this. Why is that?
Or to put it a different way, why do boys do it? What is it that drives angry isolated males to commit violence, when angry isolated females do not? Is it just that girls are "nicer" or "less violent" than boys? I don't think so. I think the answer lies in the loss of distinct gender roles and is a perfect example of why it is vital to bring them back.
Once upon a time, before the 1960s, being a man was a positive concept. What made a man a man were essentially good things. A "man" worked hard, supported his family, did his civic duty by voting and paying taxes. A "man" was expected to marry a woman, have children with her, support both his wife and his children, give his children guidance, authority and love. A "man" was expected to stay with this woman he had married for the rest of his life. He was expected to be a loving respected father and eventually grandfather. A young boy growing up in the pre-60s era had this concept of manhood to look forward to. It didn't matter if you never shot a gun or beat anyone up. If you were a decent upstanding citizen, you were a man.
Then came the 60s and 70s, blurred gender roles, feminism, no-fault divorce, legal abortion, and the general disrespect for anything masculine in our society. The traditionally masculine qualities of physical strength, stoicism in the face of danger, and the ability to engage in logical mathematical thought were soon considered mere macho posturing. No longer was it considered upstanding and manly to support your wife. Now you were "oppressing" her. No longer was being a respected, caring father considered a vital and positive attribute. Now you could just run out on the mother of your children the minute some pretty 18 year old walked by, and the "old lady" wouldn't have a bit of recourse. Now if you got a girl pregnant, you didn't marry her. You just drove her to the abortion clinic. If you did that much, you were applauded for being supportive.
What did young men and teen boys learn from this? Well, they learned one thing, that there are very few, if any, positive aspects to manhood. The once valued signs of manhood vanished or were watered down as women joined men's schools, clubs and locker rooms. As gender roles (and even gender distinct clothing) vanished into thin air, there became very little left that made a man a man.
No, there are two things left. Irresponsible sex and random violence. No longer can a boy aspire to manhood with a good job and the ability to support his wife and children. No longer can he consider his time in the Army as a benchmark of his arrival into manhood. No longer can he look at the fulfillment of his civic duty as an opportunity to demonstrate his gender specific qualities. There is precious little left that men do that women don't do. Except of course for raping people and killing people. Which brings me back to the point of this essay. Shooting up your school is one of the few things that the girls in high school don't do. What better way to prove your "manhood" (if you are a mixed up kid who thinks he has to prove it) then to do something that no girl ever does?
If we brought back specific gender roles, certain positive aspects of life that belong only to men or only to women and in which the other gender did not generally involve themselves, we could drastically cut down on the amount of vicious violence committed by teenage boys. These shootings are most definitely a gender issue. When every single perpetrator of a crime is male and none are female, then being male clearly has something to do with it.
We have spent the last several decades dwelling on girls. We have analyzed their self-esteem, their body image, and their Barbie dolls. We have heard how girls are shortchanged in school, how girls suffer from self-loathing and unrealistic expectations. We have taken our daughters to work. We have done everything possible to encourage their feelings of worth and self confidence.
Meanwhile, our sons are left to fend for themselves. They are not the subject of educational theories, government studies or mass media hype. If boys are regarded at all, it is merely as troublemakers, disrupters, and probably potential rapists and killers. Is it any wonder then that boys start to look at themselves as exactly that. Ignored by the educational system, the mass media, teachers and parents, and completely devoid of positive male images in the entertainment that they see, does it shock anyone that many boys absorb the message and become exactly what they are expected to be?
This is not the only solution of course. The culture does need to change. Guns, violent games, movies, the internet, taking morals and religion out of civic life, are all part of the problem. But the gender started teaching boys that there is nothing masculine except violence, boys started considering violence as the sign of what made a man. If we can bring back the cultural values that said that other things, such as being successful, earning the money or being the head of the family are the true signs of manhood, then I am certain that much of this random senseless violence by boys will disappear.
This article copyright © 1999 by Dana Sherman and may not be reproduced in any form without the express written consent of its author. All rights reserved.