America woke up this weekend to the news of the deadliest civilian mass shooting in the nation’s history. The senseless tragedy will undoubtedly evoke anger, sadness and helplessness.

In the meantime, many will forget to think and talk about Stanford swimmer Brock Turner’s crime and his “summer vacation” jail sentence: three months for the vile sexual assault of an unconscious woman.

As a sociologist, I was struck not by the abrupt shift to a new moral crisis, but by the continuity. Sociologists look for the bigger picture, and in my mind, Mateen’s crime didn’t displace Turner’s. Yet the media simply replaced one outrage with another, moving our attention away from Stanford and toward Orlando, as if these two crimes were unrelated. They’re not.

Status, masculinity and sexual assault

Brock Turner was an all-American boy: a white, Division I swimmer at one of the nation’s top universities. What he did to his victim was arguably all-American, too, confirmed by decades of research tying rape to a sense of male superiority and entitlement.

I study sex on campus, where sexual violence is perpetrated disproportionately by “high-status” men – fraternity men and certain male athletes in particular. These men are more likely than other men to endorse the sexual double standard, believing that they are justified in praising sexually active men, while condemning and even abusing women who are less sexually active.

They are also more likely to promote homophobia, hypermasculinity and male dominance; tolerate violent and sexist jokes; endorse misogynistic attitudes and behaviors; and endorse false beliefs about rape. Accordingly, athletes are responsible for an outsized number of sexual assaults on campus, and women who attend fraternity parties are significantly more likely to be assaulted than those who attend other parties with alcohol and those who don’t go to parties at all.

Status, masculinity and violent homophobia

Omar Mateen’s crime is related to this strand of masculinity. Mateen’s father told the media that his son had previously been angered by the sight of two men kissing, and reports claim that he was a “regular” at the Pulse nightclub and was known to use a gay hookup app.

Anti-gay hate crimes, like violence against women (Mateen also reportedly beat his ex-wife), are tied closely to rigid and hierarchical ideas about masculinity that depend on differentiating “real” men from women as well as gay and bisexual men. Men who experience homoerotic feelings themselves sometimes erupt into especially aggressive homophobia.

As the sociologist Michael Kimmel has argued, while we talk ad infinitum about guns, mental illness and, in this case, Islamic identity, we miss the strongest unifying factor: these mass murderers are men, almost to the last one. In his book Guyland,” Kimmel argues that as many boys grow into men, “they learn that they are entitled to feel like a real man, and that they have the right to annihilate anyone who challenges that sense of entitlement.”

He means “annihilate” literally.

We now know that many boys who descend on their schools with guns are motivated by fears that they are perceived as homosexual and that attacking suspected or known homosexuals is a way for boys to demonstrate heterosexuality to their peers.

It makes sense to me, as a woman, that men would fear gay men because such men threaten to put other men under the same sexually objectifying, predatory, always potentially threatening gaze that most women learn to live with as a matter of course. Being looked at by a gay man threatens to turn any man into a figurative woman: subordinate, weak, penetrable. That can be threatening enough to a man invested in masculinity, but discovering that he enjoys being the object of other men’s desires – being put in the position of a woman – could stoke both internalized and externalized homophobia even further.

Meanwhile, gay men, by their very existence, challenge male dominance by undermining the link between maleness and the sexual domination of women. It’s possible that Mateen, enraged by his inability to stop men from kissing in public and struggling with self-hatred, took it upon himself to annihilate the people who dared pierce the illusion that manhood and the righteous sexual domination of women naturally go hand-in-hand.

The common denominator

Mass shootings, frighteningly, appear to have become a part of our American cultural vernacular, a shared way for certain men to protest threats to their entitlement and defend the hierarchy their identities depend on. As the sociologists Tristan Bridges and Tara Leigh Tober wrote last year for the website Feminist Reflections:

This type of rampage violence happens more in the United States of America than anywhere else… Gun control is a significant part of the problem. But, gun control is only a partial explanation for mass shootings in the United States. Mass shootings are also almost universally committed by men. So, this is not just an American problem; it’s a problem related to American masculinity and to the ways American men use guns.

Some members of the media and candidates for higher office will focus exclusively on Mateen’s Afghan parents. But he – just like Brock Turner – was born, raised and made a man right here in America. While it appears that he had (possibly aspirational) links to ISIS, it in no way undermines his American-ness. This was terrorism, yes, but it was domestic terrorism: of, by and aimed at Americans.

I don’t want to force us all to keep Turner in the news (though I imagine that he and his father are breathing a perverse sigh of relief right now). I want to remind us to keep the generalities in mind even as we mourn the particulars.

Sociologists are pattern seekers. This problem is bigger than Brock Turner and Omar Mateen. It’s Kevin James Loibl, who sought out and killed the singer Christina Grimmie the night before the massacre at Pulse. It’s James Wesley Howell, who was caught with explosives on his way to the Los Angeles Pride Parade later that morning. It’s the grotesque list of men who used guns to defend their sense of superiority that I collected and documented last summer.

The problem is men’s investment in masculinity itself. It offers rewards only because at least some people agree that it makes a person better than someone else. That sense of superiority is, arguably, why men like Turner feel entitled to violating an unconscious woman’s body and why ones like Mateen will defend it with murderous rampages, even if it means destroying themselves in the process. And unless something changes, there will be another sickening crisis to turn to, and another sinking sense of familiarity.

Cross-posted at The Conversation, New Republic, Special Broadcasting Company (SBS)United Press InternationalNewsweek Japan (in Japanese), and Femidea (in Korean).

Lisa Wade, PhD is a professor at Occidental College. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture, and a textbook about gender. You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Americans, and even the sociologists among us, tend to think about crime as a problem related to people and their economic characteristics. Crime, we theorize, is caused by poverty or relative poverty (larger differences between the haves and have nots), joblessness, more lucrative underground occupations, or an insufficient safety net.

Other scholars have examined non-economic correlates of crime. One study of serial killing, for example, found that these crimes were more common in big cities with higher percentages of single-person households. The anonymity of a bustling metropolis, plus the likelihood of finding people all alone in their apartment, may attract killers, tempt people who otherwise wouldn’t kill, or both. Reducing people’s isolation might be protective.

Another interesting non-economic factor that has gotten recent attention is lighting. When early lighting companies began lobbying cities to install the first street lights at the end of the 1800s, they argued that bright lights would certainly deter crime. Historian Ernest Freeberg, in his book The Age of Edison, writes that:

…lighting companies marketed their product as noting less than a police force on a pole. After nightfall, urban parks became notorious danger zones, a haven for the city’s dregs and an infernal playground of indecency. Now all that could end, not by converting sinners or reforming criminals, but by harnessing light’s power of exposure.

City leaders were swayed and artificial nighttime lighting in parks and streets eventually became an expected and routine part of city-building.

Photo by Shinichi Higashi, Flickr Creative Commons.

But does it work? The consensus appears to be maybe a little and no. The no comes from a new study, a natural experiment published in 2015. Since 2000, cities in England and Wales have reduced street lighting to save money and reduce carbon emissions. The study, led by social and environmental health researcher Rebecca Steinbach, found no clear correlation between turning the lights down and a rise in crime (or car crashes, for that matter).

I’m excited by this research on the relationship between crime and non-economic characteristics of cities, whether the hypotheses bear out or not. It gives us creative ideas about how we might reduce crime — above and beyond the all-important economic issues — and may also show us where we might be wasting our resources.

Lisa Wade, PhD is a professor at Occidental College. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture, and a textbook about gender. You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

At Vox, Evan Soltas discusses new research from Nextoins showing racial bias in the legal profession. They put together a hypothetical lawyer’s research memo that had 22 errors of various kinds and distributed it to 60 partners in law firms who were asked to evaluate it as an example of the “writing competencies of young attorneys.” Some were told that the writer was black, others white.

Fifty-three sent back evaluations. They were on alert for mistakes, but those who believed the research memo was written by a white lawyer found fewer errors than those who thought they were reading a black lawyer’s writing. And they gave the white writer an overall higher grade on the report. (The partner’s race and gender didn’t effect the results, though women on average found more errors and gave more feedback.)

Illustration via Vox:


At Nextion, they collected typical comments:


This is just one more piece of evidence that the deck is stacked against black professionals. The old saying is that minorities and women have to work twice as hard for half the credit. This data suggests that there’s something to it.

Lisa Wade, PhD is a professor at Occidental College. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture, and a textbook about gender. You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Police brutality is a problem in US criminal justice. Police-worn body cameras are one potential “remedy” to these violent encounters, but they have both benefits and drawbacks. The cameras may increase transparency and improve police legitimacy, promote legally compliant behavior among both police officers and citizens; enhance evidence quality that can improve resulting legal proceedings; and deter officers’ use-of-force. Conversely, body-worn cameras could create privacy concerns for the officer and the citizenry and place a large logistical and financial burden on already cash-strapped law enforcement agencies.


This issue is so timely that research is only now starting to see publication, but we do have some early insights. The first observational studies examining the use of police-worn body cameras were carried out in England and Scotland. They found rates of citizen complaints dropped after body cameras were introduced. Preliminary results from an experimental study in Phoenix, Arizona also suggest that the use of body cameras reduces both self-reported and official records of citizen complaints.

The first experimental evidence concerning use-of-force comes from a large study in the Rialto, California Police Department, and the results should encourage advocates of body cameras. The study randomly assigned particular police shifts to wear body cameras (the “treatment”). Police shifts in the treatment condition are associated with reduced use-of-force and citizen complaints against the police were significantly reduced. Shifts in the control condition, in contrast, saw roughly twice as much use-of-force as the treatment condition.

The research so far suggests that body cameras are a promising way to reduce unnecessary use of force.

Ryan Larson is a graduate student studying the sociology of crime at the University of Minnesota. His research interests extend to statistics, sport, and media. He writes for and is on the Graduate Editorial Board of The Society Pages. This post originally appeared at There’s Research on That! 

Flashback Friday.

Americans tend to conflate the law and morality. We believe, that is, that we make things illegal because they’re immoral. While we might admit that there are exceptions, we tend to think that our laws generally reflect what is right and wrong, not a simple or arbitrary effort to control the population in ways that people who influence policy want.

This is why changing laws can sometimes be so hard. If it isn’t just about policy, but ethics, then changing a law means allowing something immoral to be legal.

In some other countries, people don’t think like this. They see law as simple public policy, not ethics, which leads to a different attitude toward enforcement.

In Amsterdam, for example, possession and cultivation of marijuana is a misdemeanor. Despite the city’s famous and deserved reputation for the open use of marijuana and the”coffee shops” that sell it, it’s illegal. The city, though, decided that policing it was more trouble than it was worth, so it has a policy of non-enforcement.

An even more fascinating example is their approach to street level sex work. While prostitution is legal in Amsterdam, “streetwalking” is not. Still, there will always be sex workers who can’t afford to rent a work space. These women, some of the most economically deprived, will be on the streets whether the city likes it or not.

Instead of adding to their problems by throwing them all in jails or constantly fining them, the city built a circular drive just outside of town equipped with semi-private stalls. In other words, the city decided against enforcing the law on “streetwalking” and instead spent tax money to build a location in which individuals could engage in behavior that was against the law… and they considered it a win-win.

I thought of this when Julieta R. sent in this picture, shot by her friend at the Aberdeen Pub in Edinburgh, Scotland. Sex in the bathroom, it appears, had begun to inconvenience customers. But, instead of trying to eradicate the behavior, the Pub just said: “Ok, fine, but just keep it to cubicle no. 4.”

Americans would never go for this. Because we think it’s immoral to break the law, not just illegal, we would consider this to be hypocrisy. It doesn’t matter if enforcing the law is impractical (marijuana), if doing so does more harm than good (sex work), or if it’d be easier and cheaper not to do it (cubicle no. 4), in America we believe that the person breaking the law is bad and letting them get away with it is letting a bad person go unpunished.

If we had a practical orientation toward the law, though, instead of a moral one, we might be quicker to change laws, be more willing to weigh the benefits of enforcement with its costs, be able to consider whether enforcement is ethical, feel more comfortable with just letting people break the law, and even helping them do so, if we decided that it was the “right” thing to do.

This post originally appeared in 2010.

Lisa Wade, PhD is a professor at Occidental College. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture, and a textbook about gender. You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Last week PBS hosted a powerful essay by law professor Ekow Yankah. He points to how the new opioid addiction crisis is being talked about very differently than addiction crises of the past. Today, he points out, addiction is being described and increasingly treated as a health crisis with a human toll. “Our nation has linked arms,” he says, “to save souls.”

Even just a decade ago, though, addicts weren’t victims, they were criminals.

What’s changed? Well, race. “Back then, when addiction was a black problem,” Yankah says about 30 years ago, “there was no wave of national compassion.” Instead, we were introduced to suffering “crack babies” and their inhuman, incorrigible mothers. We were told that crack and crime went hand-in-hand because the people involved were simply bad. We were told to fear addicts, not care for them. It was a “war on drugs” that was fought against the people who had succumbed to them.

Yankah is clear that this a welcome change. But, he says, for African Americans, who would have welcomed such compassion for the drugs that devastated their neighborhoods and families, it is bittersweet.

Lisa Wade, PhD is a professor at Occidental College. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture, and a textbook about gender. You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Law professor and critical race scholar Kimberlé Crenshaw developed the term” intersectionality” to draw attention to the way that all of our socially salient identities work together to shape the stereotypes that apply to us. The experience of being black, for example, is shaped by gender, just as the experience of being a man is shaped by race.

Once a person has internalized an intersectional lens, the old model — epitomized by the famous phrase “all the women are white, all the blacks are men” — can be jarring. It has a way of making certain kinds of people and their experience invisible. In the above case, women of color.

At this weekend’s debate, Bernie Sanders made exactly one of these jarring statements in response to an inquiry about “racial blind spots.”

When you’re white, you don’t know what it’s like to be living in a ghetto. You don’t know what it’s like to be poor. You don’t know what it’s like to be hassled when you walk down the street or you get dragged out of a car.

I imagine poor white people, middle class blacks, and women everywhere sat up and were like “What!?”

Author Joy Ann Reid noted on twitter that Sanders was conflating race and class, making poor white and middle and upper class black people invisible. Most African Americans are not poor and most poor people are white. She noted, as well, that white immigrants have lived in what we call the “ghetto” for much of American history.

I’ll add that one doesn’t need to be black to get hassled when walking down the street, as most women of all races can attest. Or, for that matter, how about being a feminine-presenting or gender queer man? And being dragged out of a car is something that happens to black people who are being accosted by the police, but also those who are being victimized by violent boyfriends or husbands.

Ironically, Sanders was saying that his racial blind spot was not being able to fully understand the black experience, but he revealed a different blind spot: intersectionality.

The comment starts at about a minute, twenty seconds:

Lisa Wade, PhD is a professor at Occidental College. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture, and a textbook about gender. You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

2 (1)Following the recent mass shooting in Charleston, South Carolina on June 17th, 2015 – a racially motivated act of domestic terrorism – President Barack Obama delivered a sobering address to the American people. With a heavy heart, President Obama spoke the day following the attack, stating:

At some point we as a country will have to reckon with the fact that this type of mass violence does not happen in other advanced countries. And it is in our power to do something about it. I say that recognizing that politics in this town foreclose a lot of those avenues right now. But it would be wrong for us not to acknowledge.

President Obama was primarily referring to gun control in the portion of his speech addressing the cause of attacks like this. Not all mass shootings are racially motivated, and not all qualify as “terrorist” attacks — though Charleston certainly qualifies.  And the mass shooting that occurred a just a month later in Chattanooga, Tennessee by a Kuwati-born American citizen was quickly labeled an act of domestic terrorism. But, President Obama makes an important point here: mass shootings are a distinctly American problem. This type of rampage violence happens more in the United States than anywhere else. And gun control is a significant part of the problem. But, gun control is only a partial explanation for mass shootings in the United States.

Mass shootings are also almost universally committed by men.  So, this is not just an American problem; it’s a problem related to American masculinity and to the ways American men use guns.  But asking whether “guns” or “masculinity” is more of the problem misses the central point that separating the two might not be as simple as it sounds.  And, as Mark Follman, Gavin Aronsen, and Deanna Pan note in the Mother Jones Guide to Mass Shootings in America, the problem is getting worse.

We recently wrote a chapter summarizing the research on masculinity and mass shootings for Mindy Stombler and Amanda Jungels’ forthcoming volume, Focus on Social Problems: A Contemporary Reader (Oxford University Press). And we subsequently learned of a new dataset on mass shootings in the U.S. produced by the Stanford Geospatial Center. Their Mass Shootings in America database defines a “mass shooting” as an incident during which an active shooter shoots three or more people in a single episode. Some databases define mass shootings as involving 4 shootings in a single episode. And part of this reveals that the number is, in some ways, arbitrary. What is significant is that we can definitively say that mass shootings in the U.S. are on the rise, however they are defined. The Mother Jones database has shown that mass shootings have become more frequent over the past three decades.  And, using the Stanford database, we can see the tend by relying on data that stretches back a bit further.


Additionally, we know that the number of victims of mass shootings is also at an historic high:


We also produced a time-lapse map of mass shootings in the United States illustrating both where and when mass shootings have occurred using the Stanford Geospatial Center’s database to illustrate this trend over time:

Our map charts mass shootings with 3 or more victims over roughly 5 decades, since 1966. The dataset takes us through the Charleston and Chattanooga shootings, which brought 2015 to 42 mass shootings . The dataset is composed of 216 separate incidents only 5 of which were committed by lone woman shooters. Below we produced an interactive map depicting all of the mass shootings in the dataset with brief descriptions of the shootings.

In our chapter in Stombler and Jungels’ forthcoming book, we cull existing research to answer two questions about mass shootings: (1) Why is it men who commit mass shootings? and (2) Why do American men commit mass shootings so much more than men anywhere else?  Based on sociological research, we argue that there are two separate explanations – a social psychological explanation and a cultural explanation (see the book for much more detail on each).

A Social Psychological Explanation

Research shows that when an identity someone cares about is called into question, they are likely to react by over-demonstrating qualities associated with that identity.  As this relates to gender, some sociologists call this “masculinity threat.”  And while mass shootings are not common, research suggests that mass shooters experience masculinity threats from their peers and, sometimes, simply from an inability to live up to societal expectations associated with masculinity (like holding down a steady job, being able to obtain sexual access to women’s bodies, etc.) – some certainly more toxic than others.

The research on this topic is primarily experimental.  Men who are brought into labs and have their masculinity experimentally “threatened” react in patterned ways: they are more supportive of violence, less likely to identify sexual coercion, more likely to support statements about the inherent superiority of males, and more.

This research provides important evidence of what men perceive as masculine in the first place (resources they rely on in a crisis) and a new kind evidence regarding the relationship of masculinity and violence.  The research does not suggest that men are somehow inherently more violent than women.  Rather, it suggests that men are likely to turn to violence when they perceive themselves to be otherwise unable to stake a claim to a masculine gender identity.

A Cultural Explanation

But certainly boys and men experience all manner of gender identity threat in other societies.  Why are American boys and men more likely to react with such extreme displays?  To answer this question, we need an explanation that articulates the role that American culture plays in influencing boys and young men to turn to this kind of violence at rates higher than anywhere else in the world.  This means we need to turn our attention away from the individual characteristics of the shooters themselves and to more carefully investigate the sociocultural contexts in which violent masculinities are produced and valorized.

Men have historically benefited from a great deal of privilege – white, educated, middle and upper class, able-bodied, heterosexual men in particular.  Social movements of all kinds have slowly chipped away at some of these privileges.  So, while inequality is alive and well, men have also seen a gradual erosion of privileges that flowed more seamlessly to previous generations of men (white, heterosexual, class-privileged men in particular).  Michael Kimmel suggests that these changes have produced a uniquely American gendered sentiment that he calls “aggrieved entitlement.”  Of course, being pissed off about an inability to cash in on privileges previous generations of men received without question doesn’t always lead to mass shootings.  But, from this cultural perspective, mass shootings can be understood as an extremely violent example of a more general issue regarding changes in relations between men and women and historical transformations in gender, race, and class inequality.

Mass shootings are a pressing issue in the United States.  And gun control is an important part of this problem.  But, when we focus only on the guns, we sometimes gloss over an important fact: mass shootings are also enactments of masculinity.  And they will continue to occur when this fact is combined with a sense among some men that male privilege is a birthright – and one that many feel unjustly denied.

Cross-posted at Feminist Reflections and Inequality by (Interior) Design.

Tristan Bridges and Tara Leigh Tober are sociologists at the College at Brockport (SUNY).   You can follow them on at @tristanbphd and @tobertara.