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How Masculine Stereotypes Fuel Mass Shootings

Male Rage

Men who feel they can't measure up to society's expectations often respond by killing themselves or others, writes Kurt Niece.

A while back, NPR did a program on high suicide rates in the Mountain West. The majority of the suicides were white males. Underlying the topic was gun safety and mental health, and as usual; the debate felt like an amped-up version of Ice Capades. Everyone skated around as people always do when the Second Amendment flares up -- heels dug in, and then the usual squabbling about too many or not enough guns. I listened to this on my morning commute, watching the road but rolling my eyes, and I wondered why no one ever asked the obvious question: Why are all these white guys killing themselves, and why is it almost always a white guy who goes on a shooting rampage?

There was a station break, and Joshua Johnson announced his next guest would be a former Navy SEAL promoting his children's book, The Way of the Warrior Kid. There'd be advice on how to raise tough boys and tough girls. He'd speak about manhood and overcoming nerdiness.


This back-to-back programming had an unspoken missing link amid the hushed reality of white male suicide, and the irony was both funny and tragic. One can't help but speculate.

Perhaps some of those suicides were ashamed because they'd never be a Navy SEAL or the rich, sexy, brilliant, successful business equivalent of a Navy SEAL. Perhaps they thought it was too late to ever reach such a high bar. Maybe these guys were closet nerds, and maybe suicide was the only way to end bone-crushing societal pressure. Maybe grabbing an assault rifle and shooting up a crowd is the only way some men think they can rid themselves of cancerous rage. So maybe it's a good time for men to take a look in the mirror and ask, "What is it going to take for me to feel good about myself, and whose expectations am I really trying to fulfill?"

Women weren't part of the discussion that morning, and for obvious reasons. According to, from 1982 to 2018, two women committed mass shootings in the U.S. Men were responsible for 98 mass shootings during the same period. If the site is to be believed, men are 50 times more likely to pick up a gun and run amok. So I wonder if the solution to male angst is for men to follow the path of women, a very clear path they forged decades ago, and speak the equivalent of "Enough of your expectations. I'm not going to accept pearls, babies, and baking brownies as my only options. I'm going to hit a boxing bag and body-build and run marathons, and you'll see our tough sweaty images selling millions of dollars worth of sports drinks!"

Women said "No more!" the moment the first bra smoldered in a 55-gallon drum. They were finished with societal limitations. They turned their backs on the caricatures, and many of them reclaimed the essence of being a woman on their own terms. Maybe now is the time for men to demand an end to male stereotyping as well. The moment seems ripe for men to step up to the plate and not worry about how tough and butch and warrior-y they appear. If that were to happen, I believe there'd be an enormous decrease in crazy-ass white guys taking their own lives or shooting up total strangers. Men and boys do a lot of damage with guns, and the reality is that male rage should be viewed as an issue of national health. The good news is both quantitative and qualitative. Male rage is a problem that can be addressed if we take the time to understand the mechanisms.

Most American men, especially in the South or the Midwest, feel the same societal pressures that women once felt. Looking like June Cleaver 24/7 was a lot of work, but now we know that a strong and tough woman, sans pearls, is beautiful too. Women freed of girly constraints are far better positioned to grow spiritually and emotionally. Of course misogyny is still alive and well, but misogyny is no longer legally or ethically acceptable, even in the age of Trump. However, misandry, perpetuated by male self-loathing, is unabated. If suicide is an indicator, men are their own worst enemy. For every woman who dies by suicide, there are three men who can't take it anymore.

Men kill themselves because they're exhausted from keeping their heads above water in sports-fueled, testosterone-poisoned, post-9/11 militarized America. In this Trumpian dystopia, the land of sniggering, pussy-grabbing braggadocio, kindness is weakness, sympathy is for losers, and anyone who thinks otherwise is a snowflake.

It's a lot of work to be a "man" these days.

It's time to detoxify an outdated paradigm. Maybe it's time to ignore a Navy SEAL's expectations. Maybe those expectations are a secret source of shame for many heterosexual men in America. Barbie created unreasonable standards for girls, so it stands to reason that G.I. Joe may not be for every boy. But we're in America, a land of double standards, and for now those young boys have no support system because much of 21st-century American culture hates sissies and victims.

I'm reminded of a funeral I attended a few years ago. A friend showed up with a black eye. His wife had punched him the night before. Had the circumstances been reversed, the man would probably have been jailed. However, this poor straight schmuck was embarrassed. He joked about opening a cabinet door on his face. Later, when I pointed out that the cabinet door looked like it had knuckles, he tearfully and shamefully confessed the truth.

Straight men are ashamed of victimhood, afraid of appearing weak. Admitting to being married to a husband-beater would be a confession and decidedly un-warriorlike. Men are taught early in life to suck it up, take it like a man, man up, and shut up. We'll never really know how many males are victims and the true weight of the male burden.

Is every male gun suicide or murder due to unrealistic role modeling? No, of course not. But are men casualties of the war on nerds and distaste for sensitive, loving, or feminine straight males? I'm guessing some of those Mountain West Marlboro Man wannabes were weary of the Sisyphean task of never quite making the mark. They'd never be rich enough or big enough or brave enough or manly enough. They had no one to talk to, no brotherhood, and no support system, so they just gave up.

Male liberation and overcoming outdated stereotypes is a significant safety issue in the United States. We're drowning and dying in a sea of posturing, militarized testosterone. I think one simple truth would do wonders into help us survive male rage in 21st-century America.

Real men really do eat quiche, and sometimes they even bake it.

KURT NIECE is an artist, jeweler, and author of The Breath of Rapture and Mercury Fields. He and his partner, Gary, live with their beloved feline in the crystal valleys of Hot Springs Village, Ark.

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