I have two pieces of writing to finish today, a chapbook manuscript that I want to submit to a contest and a blog post about Alyssa Royse’s in-so-many-ways-shameful “Nice Guys Commit Rape Too” essay on The Good Men Project that life and end-of-semester work kept interrupting, but I cannot bring myself even to look at them. It’s the day after Adam Lanza murdered his mother and twenty-five other people, twenty of them children, and then killed himself and all I’m feeling right now is despair, and horror and shame and grief, and anger and frustration and then more anger and then anxiety and fear. And all those feelings just keep turning around and around and around in my head and in my gut. My wife and I are both teachers. She is teaching pre-K this year; I teach college. In addition to the way in which any parent would identify with the parents of the children Lanza killed–we have one son–the way any brother, sister, husband, wife, aunt, uncle, friend, neighbor must be identifying with all those whose lives have been torn open by the bullets Lanza used to kill twenty children, six adults, and himself, in addition to that, it’s hard not to think what if someone like Lanza chose to target my wife’s school or my campus.
The State University of New York (SUNY), the college system I work for, has an alert system in place (as do university’s throughout the nation) so that if there ever is a shooter on campus, or some other dangerous and lethal situation, I will receive, as will my colleagues and my students, messages on our cell phones telling us what’s going on and what we should do. Emergency procedures are posted in every classroom. Whether and how much these measures will help if a shooter ever comes to my campus, I don’t know–and I hope I never have to find out–but it is good that the people responsible for public safety at my school are being as clear-eyed as possible about these things.
I don’t know if the New York City Department of Education, for which my wife works, has a similar system in place for its employees and students, or if her school has taken any measures on its own to do what it can to protect itself in the event an Adam Lanza ever walks through its doors; but I am very aware that, demographically at least, someone like that is far more likely to appear in the suburb where I work than in the inner city neighborhood where my wife does. In a paper called “Suicide by mass murder: Masculinity, aggrieved entitlement, and rampage school shootings,” authors Rachel Kalish and Michael Kimmel point out that since 1982, the overwhelming majority the “rampage school shootings” that have taken place in rural or suburban United States have involved a “white boy (or boys) [who] brings semi-automatic rifles or assault weapons to school and opens fire seemingly at random.” The paper, which attempts to answer the question of why this is the case, is worth reading, as is “Connecticut Shooting, White Males, and Mass Murder” by William Hamby, who summarizes Kalish and Kimmel’s conclusions: “It’s called ‘aggrieved entitlement.’ According to the authors, it is ‘a gendered emotion, a fusion of…humiliating loss of manhood and the moral obligation and entitlement to get it back. And its gender is masculine.’”
I am quoting Hamby’s article, and not the Kalish and Kimmel paper itself, because as far as I can remember, Hamby is the first journalist to introduce into a mainstream discussion of incidents like the Newtown massacre the possibility that masculinity and manhood might have something to do with why they happen and it’s that fact that I want to highlight, not Kalish and Kimmel’s analysis. I’m not the first person to have noticed the fact that killers like Lanza are overwhelmingly men and that this fact is the elephant in the room no one seems willing to talk about. Rob Okun, editor and publisher of Voice Male magazine has also written about it (here as well), and the very fact that Kalish and Kimmel wrote their paper suggests that others too have been noticing the lack of this discussion. What I particularly liked about Hamby’s article, however, is the way he connected the idea of men’s aggrieved entitlement as expressed in the shootings Kimmel and Kalish examine to the “less brutal but equally mind-numbing examples [that we all witnessed during the 2012 election season] of [Republican] white men going mad because they are losing their power.” Hamby doesn’t mention specific instances, but Donald Trump’s “birther obsession” with President Obama comes to mind, as do all the ridiculous pronouncements Republican men, like Todd Aiken, Rick Santorum, and Richard Mourdock made about rape.
Rape. Another kind of violence that is committed almost entirely by men and, outside of the prison system, overwhelmingly against women. One of the most shameful things, for example, about the way Todd Aiken tried to distinguish between “legitimate rape” and whatever other kind of rape he obviously thought existed–in addition to his obvious misogyny–is the way this distinction removes manhood and masculinity from the discussion. This too is the problem with Alyssa Royse’s “nice guys” essay, though I am sure she would like to think she disagrees entirely with the likes of Aiken, Santorum, and Mourdock. In blaming “society” for the mixed sexual messages that, in her estimation, make rape pretty much inevitable, she also avoids dealing with the question of a rapist’s gender, and the logic of that avoidance is no different than the logic which focuses exclusively on the need for better gun control laws or better mental health services or better school security procedures in cases like the Newtown massacre: Men may do these things, but the fact that they are men has nothing to do with it. They are simply people whom society has, in one way or another, failed.
While my initial impulse is to agree with Rachel Kalish and Michael Kimmel’s analysis of rampage shootings and with the way William Hamby brings that analysis to bear on other aspects of our society, I don’t know that they are right in any objective sense of that term. More to the point, even if they are right, I don’t think that fact will make it any easier to figure out what to do, except perhaps make sure that we are directing our efforts in the right direction. What I know now is that I’m glad William Hamby has brought the discussion of Adam Lanza’s gender a little bit further towards the center of the spotlight, because along with the need for better gun control and better mental health services (which we absolutely do need), if we are not also talking about how being a man might have contributed to Adam Lanza’s becoming the person who killed his mother in her own home and then walked into the school where she taught to kill twenty five other people, twenty of them children, and then himself, we are never going to find a solution.