There is at least one trait that the Boston Marathon terrorists; the Newtown, Connecticut and Aurora, Colorado shooters; the Virginia Tech, Columbine, and Tucson, Arizona murderers all have in common. It’s not hard to figure out. You don’t even need a scientific study.
They are all men.
It’s such an obvious thing, yet no one seems to really talk about it. Yes, much of our public conversation over the past several years has featured a lot of hand-wringing and real questioning about the possible underlying causes of this seeming uptick in horrific mass shootings. Violent video games, undiagnosed mental issues, the ready availability of firearms, and unstable home environments are just a few of the “reasons” given for why these acts occur. There is always a flurry of activity both in the media and in Congress each time another shooting occurs, and invariably the response is to try and fix one or all of these underlying causes. (Or at least bloviate about trying to fix them.)
“If only Hollywood wouldn’t make such violent video games and movies.”
“If only we had stricter gun laws.”
“If only the support system for people with mental issues was adequate.”
But women, living in the same society and faced with the same issues, don’t resort to mass murder.
Invariably, even the family members and personal acquaintances of these mass shooters seem baffled. You see the stunned parents and siblings and neighbors of the killers clutching one another in the driveways of their (mostly) suburban homes, crying out to the hordes of reporters, and to us, “We had no idea it would come to this.”
Mass shootings are not the only violent acts that men are much more likely to commit. Men are also significantly more likely to commit acts of domestic violence than women are. Men in political power have started terrible wars and pogroms. Men rape and women don’t.
When women commit violent acts, it is usually against their own partners or even their own children. There have also been more instances in recent times of female suicide bombers in countries wracked with ongoing political upheavals. Those rare acts make the top of the news because they are so unusual.
Scientists and historians might offer up other reasons to explain male violent behavior: cavemen protecting their turf, DNA, testosterone, hard-wiring in the brain. Any combination of these scientific and historical generalities might be trotted out as evidence that men will just be men.
But it’s also not as simple as lumping all men together like some amorphous mass whose members will kill and maim if given half a chance. Men also try to stop war. They are killed in significantly greater numbers in wars than women are, because they are still mostly the ones fighting in wars. There are men who are seriously studying male violence and trying to find answers. There are firemen and policemen who spend their lives trying to protect us. There are teachers and clergymen and community activists who devote their lives to helping others achieve their potential. I have a son and a brother and a husband. They are all three stellar human beings, as are most of the men I know.
In a society such as ours, with what we like to think of collectively as a “stable democracy,” we are outraged and shocked by these terrible acts perpetrated against our own innocent citizens, killed in the acts of running marathons, attending elementary schools, going to movie premiers and grocery stores and collegeclasses.
So why don’t we seem to be able to ask that larger question about the perpetrators of the most violent acts — the one that no one seems willing to ask? Why are they all men?
Kathy Stevenson’s work has appeared in many major newspapers and magazines. Her historical novel “The Lake Poet” was published in 2001, and she has published two essay collections. In 2010, her short story collection “Death, Divorce, and Other Tales of Women’s Liberation” was published as an e-book on Amazon’s Kindle. She received an M.F.A. in creative writing from Bennington College in Vermont. She can be reached at KASLF@aol.com.