Last Friday—in another chapter of a tragic pattern—22-year-old Elliot Rodger killed six people and wounded more in Isla Vista, California. Rodger also left a manifesto on YouTube in which he laid out his plan to take revenge on women who “shunned him.” The video sparked national conversation over the weekend, including the twitter hashtag #YesAllWomen to share stories of daily gendered and sexual harassment women face. Mass shootings are rare, but the culture that creates them is not. Researchers find strong elements of masculine gender performance in many of these acts—with young men attempting to assert power through violence.
The kind of attack carried out by Rodger closely matches researchers’ profile of other shooters—a clear, sustained pattern of challenges to their masculine identities. They do not just “snap,” but are shaped over time by the way our society polices gender.
- Katherine Newman, Cybelle Fox, David J. Harding, Jal Mehta, & Wendy Roth. 2005. Rampage: The Social Roots of School Shootings. New York: Basic Books.
- Jack Levin & Eric Madfis. 2009. “Mass murder at school and cumulative strain: A sequential model.” American Behavioral Scientist, 52, 1227-1245.
- Michael Kimmel and Matthew Mahler. 2003. “Adolescent Masculinity, Homophobia, and Violence: Random School Shootings, 1982-2001.” American Behavioral Scientist, 46(10): 1439-1458
- Adam Lankford. 2012. “A comparative analysis of suicide terrorists and rampage, workplace, and school shooters in the United States from 1990 to 2010.” Homicide Studies, 17, 255-274.
Feelings that lost masculinity can only be reclaimed through violence are tied to a broader pattern of threats against women. While there have been declines in violence against women and other crime over the past generation, violence against women remains an enormous problem in the United States and around the world.
- Manuel Eisner. “Long-term historical trends in violent crime.” Crime and Justice (2003): 83-142.
- Michael Planty, Lynn Langton, Christopher Krebs, Marcus Berzofsky, and Hope Smiley-McDonald. 2013. “Female Victims of Sexual Violence, 1994-2010.” Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice.
- Claudia García-Moreno, Christina Pallitto, Karen Devries, Heidi Stöckl, Charlotte Watts, and Naeemah Abrahms. 2013. Global and regional estimates of violence against women: Prevalence and health effects of intimate partner violence and non-partner sexual violence. World Health Organization. Geneva, Switzerland.
For more on the sociology of mass violence, check out this TSP Roundtable.