Tag Archives: fragile male identities

An exercise in misogyny: The EcolePolytechnique Shooting

Before the attack, the perpetrator, Marc Lepine, wrote a suicide note expressing strong contempt for feminists, stating that “they had always ruined his life.” Within the note, he listed nineteen women in Quebec that he wanted to kill. In particular, his rage appeared to be directed at women in three occupational groups: soldiers, police officers and engineers. Since these have traditionally been defined as ‘masculine’ roles, he perhaps extrapolated from this that females pursuing these jobs were ‘feminists’ trying to transgress gender expectations. Moreover, Lepine also had a personal connection to the military and engineering, both of which had rejected him. These rejections likely contributed to the fragility of his male identity (1).

 

During the attack, he ordered males and females to separate sides of the classroom and thereafter ordered the men to leave. Once alone with the females, he said to them “You’re all a bunch of feminists. I hate feminists.” After he had shot these students, he walked through the building and killed another seven females. In total, he killed fourteen females in the university. Notably, the site of the attack being EcolePolytechnique University and its target of female students were significant, given this institution had turned down his application to an engineering course and instead accepted female students. Following the shooting, a number of surviving students, suffering from the events that they had witnessed, committed suicide with some of them citing the attack as the reason why they were doing so.

 

It could, therefore, be said that this school shooting was an exercise in misogyny intended to make a political statement about the role of women in society, particularly in what were traditionally ‘male roles.’ Despite this, news coverage after the shooting only focused on his mental health problems, portraying him as a ‘madman.’ Moreover, the attention paid to this incident in scholarly literature and the news media has been far less than other incidents. (2) It may be surmised that had the situation been reversed — a female school shooter expressing hatred against men and their role in society — the incident would have received greater coverage and public commentary. That does not mean, however, that the massacre has not had an impact. It could be argued that Lepine has become a ‘hero’ to some. For instance, a threat to execute the ‘deadliest school shooting ever’ was sent to Utah State University in 2014, because it planned to host a talk from a feminist vlogger. Within the threat letter, Marc Lepine was described as “a hero to men everywhere for standing up to the toxic influence of feminism on Western masculinity.” (3) There are also dedication pages to Lepine on the internet, for disenfranchised voices. Considering the fact that this massacre was almost thirty years ago, it gives credence to claims from gender theorists that masculinity is in ‘crisis.’ This would be even more the case in contemporary society with the advent of third wave feminism, focusing on complete equality with men for all women. (4)

 

The commonality throughout all school shootings is the fact that almost all perpetrators are male and the motivations of perpetrators are entrenched within understandings of what it means to be a ‘man.’ To that extent, the EcolePolytechnique University massacre exemplifies the ‘failed man crisis,’ entrenched within the perpetrator’s diminished prospects, a lack of success with females and other personal issues.

 

[This blog post was the beginning of a new theme on school shootings taking place outside the United States. The next post will examine an attack that occurred in Germany in 2002, where the perpetrator targeted staff members at his former school.]

 

References

  1. Larkin, R. W. (2010) “Masculinity, School Shooters and the Control of Violence.” In W. Heitmeyer, H. G. Haupt, S. Malthauner and A. Kirschner (eds.). Control of Violence. New York: Springer: 315-344.
  2. Danner, M. J. E. and D. C. Carmody. (2001) “Missing gender in cases of infamous school violence: investigating research and media explanations.” Justice Quarterly 18(1), 87-114; Tonso, K. L. (2009) “Violent Masculinities as Tropes for School Shooters: The Montreal Massacre, the Columbine Attacks and Rethinking Schools.” American Behavioral Scientist 52(9), 1266-1285.
  3. Ashley Csanady. (2014) ‘The bizarre love for Marc Lepine among men’s rights groups.’ com News, 15 October. Retrieved from: http://o.canada.com/news/the-bizarre-love-for-marc-lepine-among-mens-rights-groups
  4. See, for example, the following sources: Carrigan, T, B. Connell and J. Lee.(1987) “Towards a New Sociology of Masculinity.” In H. Brod (ed.) The Making of Masculinities: The New Men’s Studies. Winchester: Allen and Unwin, 63-100; Jefferson, T. (2002) “Subordinating hegemonic masculinity.” Theoretical Criminology 6(1), 63-88.
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“Something is wrong in this country”: Why do most school shootings occur in the U.S.?

The above statement was made by Tom Mauser, the father of a Columbine victim, a few days after the 1999 attack.[1] The notion of school shootings being a particular problem for the United States is exemplified by the results of a study looking at global trends up until 2011: the United States suffered from 76 school shootings; whereas the combined total for incidents around the world was 44. The countries with the second and third highest levels of attacks were Canada and Germany respectively.[2] What is particular interest here is the fact that the three countries with the greatest amount of incidents are all democratic and economically prosperous. Notably, gun crime, particularly in the U.S., is usually associated with minority groups in poorer, urban areas. School shootings, by contrast, tend to occur in White, middle-class, suburban locations, where crime rates are generally pretty low. This is clearly not a problem caused by economic deprivation.

So, why do these events occur most often in the U.S.? Is there something ‘wrong’ with that nation? Applying Hofstede’s often-quoted cultural model[3] to school shootings shows a correlation between incidents and nations with two characteristics: high individualism, predicated on a sense of self-importance, personal privacy and a need for individual gratification; lower power distance, where the unequal distribution of power between social groups is rarely challenged.  There are, of course, limitations to Hofstede’s model, particularly the assumption that values are universally held throughout each nation and culture is a transferable entity, which can be ascribed to each country.

Looking at the U.S. does suggest the explanation may partially lie in cultural expectations. It is an individualistic society, meaning there are fewer tendencies to talk through problems. Ideals about masculinity are entrenched in a violent boy culture, evident in historical trends such as young boys carrying chips of wood on their shoulders defying others to knock it off and engage in a physical altercation. In the school environment, boys who meet the requirements of ‘hyper-masculinity,’ by displaying athletic prowess, toughness and dominance are rewarded with the status of popularity. Hegemonic ideals of masculinity are further explicated in gun usage, where firing a weapon is an overt way to assert power over others. Given the U.S. has the highest level of gun ownership in the world, using guns may also be seen as a means of ‘performing’ one’s national identity.

Creating the optimum conditions for school shootings to occur, therefore, are the following factors evident in U.S. culture: individualism, lower power distance, a violent culture predicated on elements of hypermasculinity and high levels of gun ownership, usage and accessibility. As previous blogs documented, school shooters tend to have ‘fragile male identities,’ meaning the attack on their institution becomes a ‘solution’ to their ‘problems’ and a way for them to make their statement. Trying to prevent school shootings, henceforth, requires a shift in cultural preconceptions — this is something which is currently underway, to some extent, in gun violence prevention circles and will be explored in future blog posts.

[Material for this blog was taken from Hofstede’s cultural model, studies about school shootings, U.S. gun culture and theories about masculinity. Future blogs will look at how GVP groups are trying to challenge cultural perceptions about gun usage in order to reduce school shootings and other types of gun crime occurring.]

[1] This was quoted in Michael Moore’s documentary Bowling for Columbine.

[2] Cited in N. Böckler, T. Seeger, P. Sitzer and W. Heitmeyer (eds.) (2013) School Shootings: International Research, Case Studies and Concepts for Prevention. New York: Springer Science + Business Media, 10.

[3] Hofstede, G. (2001). Culture’s consequences: Comparing values, behaviors, institutions, and

organizations across nations (2nd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

A Threat Assessment Model: Offline Behaviour

The blogs published on the 4th, 8th and 11th June documented the personality characteristics of past school shooters: fragile male identities, a specific form of overt narcissism and fitting the state of ‘egoism’ conceptualised by the sociologist Emile Durkheim. Previous school shooters have shared the following characteristics: feeling a sense of injustice at the world and seemingly blamed everyone else for this; persuaded to carry out their attacks, either by specific persons, groups or predicated on the feeling that they had suffered throughout their lives; blame was bestowed upon everyone else bar the perpetrator for all their problems, tying in with the sense of injustice and persecution they feel; a lack of romantic success exacerbating matters, sometimes leading to stalking and harassment of females; excessive individualism, where the perpetrators felt they were ostracised by others and a lack of connection to society. It seems that the homicide-suicide of school shootings could encourage those with fragile, narcissistic identities in a state of excessive individualism to go through with the violent fantasies in their minds. Moreover, they know that once they have gone through with the murders, the time will come where law enforcement either shoots them dead or arrests them; therefore, they go into the rampages with the clear intention of killing themselves at the end.

With this in mind, a threat assessment model can be developed to be applied to both offline, everyday behaviours. Applying overt narcissism traits — not covert narcissistic characteristics, given they tend to revolve around a general sense of hopelessness and despair, not any active plans to sustain a high sense of self-esteem and demonstrate superiority — to warning signs could be indicative of a potential case for threat assessment: over-reaction (commonly aggressive or passive-aggressive) to the slightest criticism, high self-esteem that needs constant validation; the desire to be infamous and extreme fantasies of success and power, delusions of grandeur; a feeling of superiority combined with a sense of worthlessness; a sense of isolation from others in a particular environment and/or society in general. Taking all this into consideration, it is advised that threat assessments take into account the factors the narcissism and egoism factors outlined above when investigating a potential threat. It is of key importance hereto avoid ‘profiling,’ given this can lead to ‘false positives’ (people who fit the profile but have no intention of carrying out a school shooting) and ‘false negatives’ (where there is no evidence of the traits, but someone has the intention to perpetrate an attack). It is when the traits outlined above are combined with more disconcerting aspects, like fantasising about having power over others, expressing the desire to harm people in the school and intensive shooting practice, that red flags should be raised. The next blog will explore how this model can be coupled with online threats to create a hopefully more robust and thorough model of interrogating potential threats for their harm potential.

[Interested readers are directed to the blogs published on the 4th, 8th and 11th June for further information. A more detailed version of this model will appear in a chapter co-written with Dr. O’Grady to appear in the edited volume Gun Violence in American Society.]