Tag Archives: masculinity

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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‘The Allure of the “Masculine” Identity’: The Gendered Nature of School Shootings

Gender is the proverbial elephant in the room when it comes to school shootings. The gender-neutral term of ‘school shooter’ or ‘perpetrator’ is commonly used in public discourse to describe the attackers of these tragic incidents. Despite this, save a handful of incidents like Brenda Spencer and her ‘I just don’t like Mondays’  attack on Cleveland Elementary School in 1979, school shootings are perpetrated by males. Studies examining the patterns within the psycho-social characteristics of school shooters have found the commonality of a fragile sense of masculinity. In this sense, masculinity acts as a descriptive element of the cultural ideologies and observed behaviours of men. It is socially constructed and exists within the gender ideals, which have been circumscribed within a particular social, historical and cultural context.
Applying Erich Fromm’s  socio-psychological argument that individual problems are influenced by the social structures in society finds that the cultural environment of the school itself in the case of contributed to the ‘crisis of masculinity’ felt by internal attackers in middle and high schools. The theorist Jessie Klein  drew upon Pierre Bourdieu’s original conceptualisation of ‘cultural capital’ relating to one’s position in the habitus (world) and their perception of it, to devise a model of popularity for male students in U.S. high and middle schools: proving one’s manhood, athletic prowess, sophisticated social skills (also known as ‘savoir-faire’), romantic success with females and high socio-economic class. This also involves the display of prescribed ‘masculine’ traits, such as toughness, challenging authority, belligerence, and dominance over others, whilst repressing emotions and avoiding any behaviour considered ‘feminine’ in nature.
School shooters at Columbine High, Heath High and Pearl High were called ‘gay’ by their peers, despite there being no actual evidence to suggest they were homosexual. Relating this to gender theory finds a hierarchical positioning exists of heterosexual (dominant) and homosexual (subordinate) men. In this sense, the use of derogatory terms like ‘gay,’ ‘fag’ and rumours in the school that school shooters had male lovers suggests that perpetrators were not considered ‘masculine’ enough by their peers. Further ‘threatening’ their masculinity is the fact that the shooters suffered from girlfriend problems or rejection by girls. The girlfriend of the Red Lake school shooter had just broken up with him; the Pearl High perpetrator had also had a relationship come to an end and wrote in his journal: “With this writing, I do swear, that I shall never get myself in a position where I can be hurt by a woman ever again.” The Westside Middle School, Heath High and Columbine High shooters were all rejected by female students at their school. A disturbing element of this frustration was demonstrated in a diary entry written by one of the Columbine High shooters describing fantasies in which he raped females in his class at school.
When school shooters equate violence and aggression with ‘masculinity,’ the attacks themselves become the ‘tool’ to ‘gain’ masculinity. This generally begins with the perpetrators conflating guns with feelings of strength and power: one of the Columbine High shooters said “I feel more confident, stronger and more God-like” when using guns; the Heath High attacker claimed: “More guns is [sic] better. You have more power.” These notions of masculinity then translate into a ‘cultural script’ of vengeance prescribing violence and killing: once this has been infiltrated into the public sphere vis-à-vis the news media and other outlets, potential school shooters then have a framework of action to carry out. A commonality of school shooting attacks has been the targeting of girls who rejected the perpetrators and hence ‘threatened’ their masculinity. The Pearl High and Westside Middle School perpetrators all targeted their former girlfriends in their shooting attacks, whilst the Heath High shooter killed two girls who spurned his advances. The relationship between guns, power, violence and the misogynistic view that females who spurred their advances must be ‘punished’ to ‘performing’ and ‘asserting’ masculinity is a dangerous one for fuelling school shooting attacks. 

 

[Gender theories, previous studies relating to school shooters and assessment of journal writings of the school shooting perpetrators cited were used to put together this post. A longer version of it appears as a chapter in the edited book volume Exploring the Facets of Revenge.]