He couldn’t get a date.
Or he hated Black people.
Or he was bullied in school.
If any of that sounds familiar, it should. Every time there’s a mass shooting in this country — which, as a functional matter, pretty much means every day — those are the kinds of explanations routinely offered in the aftermath. A simple trip to the store, seeing a movie, going to school — or, as was the case last week in Highland Park, north of Chicago, going to a parade — ends up in carnage, and reporters dutifully waylay the shooter’s parents, teachers and friends to ask how this could have happened. And the portrait emerges.
He hated Jews.
Or he was depressed.
Or he was a loner.
But curiously enough, no one ever seems to consider, much less interrogate, the neon thread woven through it all. Meaning that pronoun, “he.” Always, “he.” We take it for granted. It hardly even registers. But maybe it should. In a government-funded study of 172 mass shootings since 1966 — defined as a shooting in a public place where four or more people were killed — The Violence Project, a nonpartisan and nonprofit anti-violence think tank, found that just four of the shooters were female. That’s a little more than 2 percent.
So, while we debate mass shootings as a bigotry problem, a mental health problem, an access to guns problem — and make no mistake, we should — it seems past time we also began debating it as a men problem. Especially since the numbers suggest it is more a men problem than any other kind. That we seldom broach it as such speaks to the fish-don’t-know-they’re-wet myopia of most of those framing the discussion. Meaning, of course: men themselves.
When you are considered the implicit norm, self-reflection doesn’t come naturally. But self-reflection is long overdue. And here, a riposte from the old sitcom “Living Single” suggests itself.
Synclaire asks, “Did you ever stop to think about what the world would be like without men?”
Khadijah replies: “A bunch of fat, happy women and no crime!”
It is, as they say, funny because it’s true. And painful for the same reason.
That said, it is insufficient merely to indict men. Other countries have men — and for that matter, private gun ownership. Yet they don’t have the random gun violence this country does.
Which suggests the question is not “What’s wrong with men?” but “What’s wrong with American men?” What is it in our culture, in the things we teach them, in the way we socialize them, that so often leaves boys and men with this grotesque sense of entitlement, this ability to decide that because they are having a bad day, because they got their feelings hurt, because life hasn’t gone as they wished, they have a right to whip out a gun and make innocent strangers pay?
Everyone has bad days. Everyone gets their feelings hurt. Everyone grapples with life not going according to plan. Only American men seem to routinely take this as an excuse to shoot up churches and schools.
After which, we get thoughts and prayers, candlelight vigils and signs proclaiming “__Strong” while media probe for why this terrible thing happened — and keeps happening. Yet, time and again, we run right past the most promising line of inquiry there is. Yes, it’s important to know that he hated Asians. Or he wanted revenge. Or he got fired.
But it’s also important to take into account that “he” is always “he.”
It’s time we asked ourselves why.