Gender Roles Must be Part of Dialogue on Gun Violence

By Lisa Bennett, NOW Communications Director

The Dec. 14 shooting in Newtown, Conn., was truly horrific. A troubled young man shot his mother to death in their home and then drove to Sandy Hook Elementary, where he used an assault rifle to murder 20 children (none older than seven) and six dedicated educators. Before the police could reach him, Adam Lanza committed suicide inside the school.

That same day, in a Las Vegas hotel, a man shot and killed a woman he had previously dated and then ended his own life. The next day, a man opened fire in an Alabama hospital; this time only the gunman died, while three others were injured.

These events came on the heels of a deadly shooting at a mall in Oregon, which resulted in three dead, including the shooter. Just two days earlier a man killed the mother of his child as she boarded a Washington, D.C., bus; one of the bullets he fired injured his young daughter, and he was found dead later of a self-inflicted gunshot wound. All this (and more) in a month that started with a professional football player committing a murder-suicide that ended the life of the mother of his infant daughter and his own.

I could go on. And on. But this country can’t — we can’t go on this way any longer. Too many people have already died, and more are dying each day as we struggle to find the appropriate course of action. In the coming weeks, months and, no doubt, years, we will talk about mental health care and gun control, as well we should. We will also talk about our violent culture.

But the aspect of this crisis that deserves more time and thought is our society’s continued attachment to rigid gender roles. The killings listed above involve people of various races and income levels, but the one thing they all share is a male perpetrator.

You may have seen it by now, but zooming around on the internet is an advertisement from Bushmaster Firearms, the maker of the rifle Lanza used to kill 20 schoolchildren. The ad shows a picture of a rifle with the words “Consider your man card reissued.”

That’s not a feminist claiming men are more violent than women — that’s the maker of an assault weapon telling men they aren’t really masculine until they’ve got a deadly gun in their hands. No, Bushmaster didn’t make up sexist stereotypes, but they are cynically exploiting and perpetuating centuries of sexist bullsh*t.

We must find a way to disentangle ourselves from the lethal gender narratives that lead men to violence, that lead men to kill women they seek to control, that lead them to kill large numbers of people to exact revenge on a class of people or a world they believe has done them wrong.

Sexism and “masculine” posturing fuel the fire in countless murders each year. Let’s work together to put an end to this crime spree that disgraces us all.

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