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Fatal Distraction: Manhood, Guns, & Violence – By Allan Johnson

Voice Male contributing editor ALLAN JOHNSON, a member of the magazine’s national advisory board, has written several books, including The Gender Knot: Unraveling Our Patriarchal Legacy and the domestic violence novel, The First Thing and the Last. The article below, “Fatal Distraction: Manhood, Guns, and Violence,” is featured in the print edition of the Winter issue of the magazine. It is also featured on his website,, where readers can see a range of his writings.

As I write this, it’s been only a few weeks since the mass murder of children and teachers in Newtown, Connecticut, less than 50 miles from my home. I have grandchildren of the same age as the children who were killed. So, I’m finding it especially difficult to listen to the latest national conversation about gun violence, because, like all the others, it’s being conducted in a way that guarantees that such violence will continue.

The problem is not what we talk about—guns and the media in particular. Both are important. The problem is what we don’t talk about, for we are once again allowing ourselves to be distracted from the underlying cause of this epidemic of violence, and with fatal consequences.

In the aftermath of the mass murder in Aurora, Colorado, for example, I watched the PBS Newshour display photographs of the four most recent shooters as the moderator posed to a team of experts the question of what the perpetrators all had in common. They looked at the photos and shook their heads. “Nothing,” they said, going on to explain that there were no significant overlaps in the men’s psychological profiles. All men, with nothing in common.

I watched again after the massacre in Newtown as a PBS moderator expressed her exasperation at the steady stream of killings that seem to defy explanation, adding to her earnest question, Why is this happening? what seemed almost like an afterthought—that all of the shooters are young men and might this hold a clue. The expert replied as if he hadn’t heard, and she did not bring it up again.

I pick on PBS only because they are so enlightened and serious compared with all the rest, and if they can’t see what’s right in front of them, then I don’t know who among the media can.

But, of course, the thing is, they do. I used to think they actually didn’t on account of ignorance—fish not noticing the water because it’s everywhere. I don’t believe that anymore. They have eyes that see and they’re not stupid. We know this because if you point out to them that all the shooters are male, they don’t say, “They are?” They know what they’re looking at and, even more, some of them feel moved to ask about it. So why, then, do they—and just about everyone else of consequence, it seems—act as if they don’t, as if the question isn’t worth the asking, much less a serious reply?

Many are in a state of denial or the wilful ignorance that Martin Luther King saw as the greatest threat. But denial and wilful ignorance are used for self-protection, which raises the question of what these educated, sensitive shapers of public policy and opinion are so afraid of.

The most immediate reason not to ask about the connection between men and violence is, quite simply, that men won’t like it if you do. We are a nation tiptoeing around men’s anger, men’s ridicule, men’s potential to withhold resources (such as funding for battered women’s shelters and sexual assault programs), men’s potential for retaliation, violent and otherwise, men’s defensiveness, and the possibility that men might feel upset or attacked or called out or put upon or made to feel vulnerable or even just sad. In other words, anything that might make them feel uncomfortable as men.

I have seen this again and again over the years that I’ve worked on the issue of men’s violence. Whether testifying before a Governor’s Commission or serving on the board of a statewide coalition against domestic violence or consulting with a Commissioner of Public Health, when I point out that since men are the perpetrators of most violence, they must be included in naming the problem—as in men’s violence against women—the response has been the same: We can’t do that. Men will get upset. They’ll think you’re talking about them.

Even when children are gunned down at school—shot multiple times at close range so as to be rendered unrecognizable to their own parents—people in positions of influence and power show themselves all too willing to look into the camera and act as though they cannot see and do not know.

As a result, when men engage in mass murder, the national focus is on the murder but not the men, beginning with a nationwide outpouring of broken hearts and horror and disbelief that this is happening yet again. All of this is undoubtedly heartfelt and sincere, but it gives way all too quickly to this country’s endless debate about controlling guns. Yes, we must talk about guns because they do kill people in spite of what their defenders say. Killing someone (including yourself) with a gun is far easier and quicker (harder to change your mind) and more certain and therefore more likely than is killing someone with a baseball bat or a knife. The rest of the industrialized world shows clearly how limiting access to guns lowers rates of murder and suicide. So, yes, we must talk about guns. And we must also talk about violence in the culture, from movies to video games. Even the National Rifle Association wants to talk about that.

But those debates are endless precisely because they are such effective distractions from what just about everyone is working so hard to ignore, which is the obvious connection between men and guns and violence. It is much easier to argue the fine points of the First and Second Amendments than to take seriously the question of what is going on with men. Such distractions enable us to avoid talking about the underlying reality that is driving it all, which, strangely enough, isn’t strictly about guns or even violence. Or even, in a way, just about men.

Guns and violence are not ends in themselves. People are not attached to guns because of guns. Nor is violence glorified for itself. Guns and violence are used for something, a means to an end, and it is from this that they acquire their meaning and value in the culture. It is that end that we must understand.

Guns and violence are instruments of control, whether used by states or individuals. They otherwise have no intrinsic value of their own. Their value comes from the simple fact that violence works as a means to intimidate, dominate, and control. It works for governments and hunters and police and batterers and parents and schoolyard bullies and corporations and, by extension, anyone who wants to feel larger and more powerful and in control than they otherwise would. The gun has long been valued in this culture as the ultimate tool in the enforcement of control and domination, trumping all else in the assertion of personal control over others. Can anyone forget the scene in Indiana Jones when ‘our hero’ is confronted with the huge man wielding an equally enormous sword, and the white man unholsters his gun and the crowd roars its approval as he calmly shoots the other man down? The gun is the great equalizer with the potential to elevate even the most weak, shy, or timid above anyone who lacks equivalent firepower. What this makes clear is that violence in this country is not an aberration or a simple product of mental illness. It is an integral part of the American way of life.

The key to understanding gun violence and the fact that all these shooters are men is this: an obsession with control forms the core of our cultural definition of what it means to be a real man. A real man is one who can demonstrate convincingly an ability always to be in control. Because violence is the ultimate and most extreme instrument of control, then the capacity for violence—whether or not individual men may actually make use of it—is also central to the cultural definition of manhood.

Every man and boy faces the challenge of signaling either their own capacity for violence or their support if not admiration for that potential in other males, if for no other reason than to solidify their standing as real men (or boys), if not to deter acts of violence and ridicule directed at them. It is a dynamic that begins early—in locker rooms and schoolyards—and extends in one form or another throughout men’s entire lives. However men and boys choose to deal with it as individuals, deal with it they must.

No one, no matter how powerful, is immune to this imperative of manhood as defined in this culture. Every Presidential candidate must first and foremost demonstrate their qualifications to be the nation’s Commander-in-Chief, which is to say, their willingness and readiness to make use of and direct the U.S. military’s massive capacity for violence in the overriding interest of controlling what happens in other countries. The record is clear, for example, that Lyndon Johnson kept us in the Vietnam War long after he knew it was unwinnable, for the pathetically simple reason that he was afraid of being seen as a President who could not control the outcome of that war. The horrific cost of protecting his manhood and the nation’s identification with it was not enough to keep him from it. The choices he made have been repeated by every President since, with the electorate’s enthusiastic support, right down to the present day where drone strikes routinely take the lives of innocent women, children, and men who happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, including weddings, family gatherings, and schools.

Men’s acceptance of the cultural association of manhood with control makes them complicit in its consequences, including the use of violence. Acceptance need not be conscious or intentional. Individual men need not be violent themselves. Mere silence—the voice of complicity—is enough to accomplish the effect, and to connect them to the violence that other men do. When a young man who is feeling wronged or is insecure in his manhood straps on body armor and takes up a gun, he is pursuing by extreme means a manhood ideal of control and domination that has wide and deep support in this society, including among men who would never dream of doing such a thing themselves. That our culture is saturated with images of violence—from television and video games to the football field—is not the work of a lunatic fringe of violent men. Nor is the epidemic of actual violence. All of it flows from an obsession with control that shapes every man’s standing as a real man in this society.

It would be a mistake to end the analysis here, as if the problem of violence was simply a matter of men and manhood. The Newtown murderer, after all, used weapons belonging to his mother, which she had taught him how to use. She would not be the first woman attracted to guns because they made her feel powerful and in control. It might seem that this would nullify the argument about manhood, control, and violence. But, in fact, the involvement of women merely extends the argument to a larger level. The argument, after all, is not that men’s violence is caused by something inherently wrong with men, but that such behavior is shaped and promoted by a social environment that includes women.

A patriarchal society—which is what we’ve got—is, among other things, male-identified, which means that men and manhood are culturally identified as the standard for human beings in general. Consider, for example, the routine use of ‘guys’ to refer to both men and women even though the word clearly and unambiguously points to men (if you doubt this, ask people to raise their hand if they’re a guy and see how many women you get). Or that for years, medical research on heart disease focused only on men, based on the (false) assumption that the male body could serve as the universal standard for the human being.

In a male-identified world, what works for men, what is valued by men, is generally assumed to work for and be valued by human beings in general. So if the obsession with control associated with true manhood includes defining power and safety in terms of domination and control and, therefore, the capacity for violence that comes with owning a gun, then this is seen as not merely manly, but as universally human. Cultural ideas that would preclude women being both feminine and interested in guns have been a device for excluding and marginalizing women and keeping them dependent on men for protection (from other men). As such limitations have been broken down by the women’s movement, it is inevitable that many women will adopt male-identified ideals about power and control as their own.

But the analysis of violence rooted in an obsession with control must go farther still, beyond issues of gender, because the obsession shapes every social institution, from economics and politics to education, religion, and healthcare. Our entire history has been inseparable from a continuing story of control and domination directed at the earth and nonhuman species, at Native Americans, at enslaved Africans and other people of color, at those who resist the building of the American empire and its exercise of global power, at workers, at immigrants. As Richard Slotkin argues in his brilliant history of the making of the American mythology, violence has played a central role in that history. Although the heroes of that mythology have always been men, the larger idea of America shaped by it—of American exceptionalism and superiority, and freedom as the right to dominate and act without restraint—is about more than manhood. It has become the heart of who we think we are as a society and a people.

Which may be why we are so ambivalent about guns and violence, and why we would rather focus on a few crazy individuals than on what this is really about, which is ourselves and an entire worldview that informs our lives, with cultural ideals about manhood at the center. The national silence about manhood and violence is about much more than either. It is about protecting a way of life even if it means failing to protect our children.

Any society organized in this way is a frightening place to be—people afraid to go to the movies unless they’re packing heat, parents afraid to send their kids to school. And the solution offered by that same society is, of course, still more control. If someone has a gun, get your own. Arm the teachers. Arm yourself. Arm your kids.

But every crisis is also an opportunity. Here we are once again. The prohibition against talking about violence and manhood in the same breath puts us in a state of paralysis which is where we find ourselves today. And it is where we will find ourselves when this happens again, as it’s all but certain to do if it hasn’t already.

Unless we do something to break the silence. History is full of examples of the power of ordinary citizens speaking out—on slavery and race; on the rights of working people, gays, immigrants, Native Americans, and women; on the exploitation and abuse of children; on the degradation, exploitation, and destruction of the Earth and its species; on capitalism and the power of the wealthy. We have done it before and we can do it again.

Monday, January 7th, 2013 Editor's Blog, Front Page

36 Comments to Fatal Distraction: Manhood, Guns, & Violence – By Allan Johnson

Pat Simon
January 11, 2013

This is the message that must be heard. Pressing the Media, by men and women – and especially by Religious faith groups – is essential for the national conversation to begin!!

Sloane H.
January 11, 2013

Great points! Wondering if Mr. Johnson considered race in his analysis and if there’s something specific about White men since they are typically the perpetrators of mass murders.

Robin Santiago
January 11, 2013

Dear Allan,

I applaud your well-written and well-thought out article. You are addressing real concerns and are willing to look at ALL aspects of the problems and open a discussion before indulging in knee jerk reactions that allows no debate and no dissension. This has become our way of dealing with all issues. Even the press seems to have lost the crucial abilities of independent analytical thinking, of open minded discussion and respect, even in disagreement for opposing viewpoints.

The courteous and scholarly tone of your article was truly refreshing in and of itself to say nothing of the valid points you address.

Keep writing!


Gwyndolyn Parker
January 11, 2013

Powerful, on point, with a clarity that needs to be brought out and talked about. It should be the basis for the next most important conversation since the Gender Knot.

Richard McBride
January 11, 2013

A question for the gun enthusiasts who have been rushing to buy AR-15 rifles in these weeks after the deaths at Sandy Hook Elementary School: If your son or daughter or niece or nephew or grandchild had been among the 20 children who died at Sandy Hook, would you be purchasing a copy of the gun that killed them? I doubt it. How could you?

There are those who respond to such tragedies by saying “We are all Newtown” and “These children are all our children.” But those who rush to buy AR-15s refuse to feel connected to Sandy Hope families. Instead, their desire to own military-style weapons is elevated.

As Allan’s essay indicates, each of us has responsibility for the level of violence in our culture. And that begins with how much fear and distrust we send out into our world, how much we arm ourselves, and whether we allow ourselves to feel empathy for those who suffer from gun violence.

January 11, 2013

Well put, Allan, thank you. This fear of upsetting men and the need to tiptoe around the real issue is a really important reality to look at.

Monica Mills
January 11, 2013

Absolutely brilliant Allan. You have hit the nail on the
head and potentially made each one of us stop and think.
Please broadcast your message everywhere – the violence
and desperate urge for CONTROl must stop. We can change -
even one voice at a time. Thank you Allan.


Maureen Smith
January 11, 2013

An insighttful article worthy of wide distribution. It should be sent to Congress and locally elected officials, and those who are in the throes of debating gun control and violence. Somehow as a society, we collectively need to awaken from our wild west gun toting past and get real. Violence will continue to escalate until we can relate to one another as sentient beings rather than disposable commodities.

January 11, 2013

It is shocking to hear the media cannot see or will not recognize the similarities between these offenders. Male, white, young, socially awkward with potentially undiagnosed mental health disorders.

Anne Symens-Bucher
January 11, 2013

Just today I was sent this link to an article that is 12 years old but still on point:

A short excerpt:
“White boy after white boy after white boy decides to use their classmates for target practice, and yet there is no profile? In the past two years, thirty-two young men have either carried out mass murder against classmates and teachers or planned to do so, only to be foiled at the last minute. Thirty of these have been white. Yet there is no profile? Imagine if these killers and would-be killers had nearly all been black. Would we still hesitate to put a racial face on the perpetrators? Doubtful.”

Beads Land-Trujillo
January 11, 2013

The rubric “men’s violence against women” is seriously problematic in a number of ways, not least of which the manner in which it essentializes not only men, but violence as identifiable with men, and women as reducible to “not men”, whether the coda “and children” is left unvoiced or–as often is the case when discussing domestic violence from a testimonial stance–stated explicitly. (The ease with which anti domestic violence discourse so readily paints a picture in which children abused by men grow up to be women abused by men, as if the categories of children and women were merely a difference in chronology, their ontological position vis a vis men being only a matter of terminology, would be absurd if it weren’t so very troubling.)

That all said, the author here gets at something important: not men–even if the author would anchor discussion in the media’s inattentiveness (or at least inarticulateness) to common gender of those known to have committed mass gun shootings–but manhood, our cultural norms and expectations concerning how male-bodied persons are to be in the world, and by patriarchal extension, how leadership and governance ought to operate in the world.

Yes, insofar as our common cultural narrative dictates that the ability (or rather, the tendency) to “intimidate, dominate, and control” is not only manly, but admirable, we will continue to respond to acts of violence by arguing over how best to control guns or gun ownership or control individuals who would use guns to harm others. Let’s be clear, whether the solution offered is to put armed police in every school in the country or create a national database to track those with mental illness or to ban the sale of certain devices for firing bullets or certain accessories thereto or to limiting such sales to those with access to a national database for tracking those who might buy guns, the discussion revolves around control, domination, and yes, intimidation.

Physical violence, whether by gun or other means, is a poor, coarse, and largely ineffective means of exercising control over others–but then if our lesson to one another is that we need only agree on a grand, refined, more effective means of exercising control over others, we might as well be telling mass shooters that they are doing it wrong: not that what they are doing is wrong, but that they’re doing it the wrong way.

This isn’t about “men’s violence” or about “men” or even “violence”, it’s about manhood as a patriarchal ideal of controlling others, an ideal that eats its own tail without respect to the gender of any given individual seeking better ways to attain it. Addressing this issue requires that we attend to our cultural ideals about manhood (and womanhood), not because men kill people any more than guns kill people, but because we won’t stop the killing by figuring out the right and good way to control and dominate others less fatally.

Susan Jorgensen
January 11, 2013

Thank you, Allan. Keep on writing. Keep on making us all think. Perhaps, together, we can turn the tide.

Carey Travis
January 11, 2013

Very thoughtful article that is able to separate the real cultural issue. Fear & control dominate much of our population. Your article & others like it may begin to break these barriers.
Carey Travis
Rochester, New York

Chuck Levenstein
January 11, 2013

I think that there is something missing in this analysis: other countries are also patriarchal — Canada, Europe as a whole — yet the levels of male violence of the sort we see in the US exceeds exceeds the violence elsewhere. Is there something particular — or peculiar — about American culture or the current social situation in the US that breeds such violence in white men? Could the violence be the result of major cultural changes in the US — ?

Adam Gala
January 12, 2013

Someone asked this: A question for the gun enthusiasts who have been rushing to buy AR-15 rifles in these weeks after the deaths at Sandy Hook Elementary School: If your son or daughter or niece or nephew or grandchild had been among the 20 children who died at Sandy Hook, would you be purchasing a copy of the gun that killed them? I doubt it. How could you?

My response is simply a parallel question…If your son or daughter or niece or nephew or grandchild had been killed by a drunk driver, would you be purchasing a car or an alcoholic drink…copies of the items that killed them? I doubt it. How could you?

Bea Cote'
January 12, 2013

Very well presented. I work with batterers; trying to explain male privilege is perhaps my most difficult task; especially when I’m explaining it to those men who don’t feel they come from a place of privilege. I have a tool that helps- the annual release by our local newspaper of the top 50 CEOs of publicly traded companies in the Carolinas- with photos. They are, each of the last several years, 48 men and 2 women. 1 (perhaps) Asian-American and 49 white folks.
When I attend domestic violence conferences I often hear “1 of 4, (or 1 of 3) of the women in this room will be abused by their male partner”. No one EVER says “1 in 6, (or 1 in 8) of the men in this room will abuse their female partner”. Oh, I’ve tried it. Total silence, except for uncomfortable movement and coughing. And I’m never invited back.

January 13, 2013

Interesting, as your work always is. Thank you. I am also left wondering about the need for control. Psychologically, control seems to me a response to anxiety. In so many ways, our culture makes people anxious. To give up control, one must be willing to deal with anxiety, vulnerability, etc. Not easy.

Adrienne Dessel
January 13, 2013

Dear Allan,
Thank you for this piece. I wrote a similar, shorter one that I’ve sent to the New York Times each time a shooting has occurred. They have yet to print it,

Every few years, I sadly add stories to this Op-Ed. In 2009, when I heard the words “surprise”, “how to make meaning of” and “out of the blue” used to describe the shooting at Ft. Hood, I was reminded of the massacre at Virginia Tech, and how clearly that event made sense. These events make me wonder what it will take for our society to recognize its violent male subculture. After the Virginia Tech rampage, the New York Times summarized all of the mass school and campus shootings over the last 50 years in this country, all of which were committed by men. The 2006 United Nations Secretary General report noted that violence against women, primarily perpetrated by men, persists in every country in the world.

Deborah Tolman’s research shows that the price of ideal masculinity for our youth includes acceptance of competition and aggression, among other things. Norah Vincent confirmed this in her ethnographic undercover study into the world of men, where she documented the suffering men experience as a result of their entrance ticket into malehood.

Research by prominent educators such as Marian Wright Edelman and psychologists Brad Bushman and Craig Anderson indicates that guns are a public health risk and exposure to even fake guns can induce violent behavior. Yet, two years ago, an old friend told me her eight-year-old son was invited to a Laser Quest birthday party. These are parties that celebrate a child’s birth with children shooting plastic guns at other children who are wearing target vests as they dash away to escape. When I asked her if she was going to let him go, she reluctantly said yes, and I sensed that peer pressure to socialize with friends was a deciding factor. A few ago, my eleven-year-old son was invited to a friend’s birthday party in the park, and I was told, “make sure he brings his gun”. That year, my daughter’s school musical glorified gun use.

One of my favorite children’s stories was The Emperor Has No Clothes, where the brave young boy stands up in a town square and yells” but can’t anybody see, the Emperor has no clothes!”. When are we to stand up and say “can’t anybody see, we are promoting continued socialization of our young men into a subculture of violence that is destructive for everyone!”?

Adrienne Dessel

David G. Davies
January 13, 2013

A powerful argument that just begs for systematic elaboration. The undeveloped young male brain incapable of sound judgement and prone to violence. The exploitation of this group by the military, especially the marines. Masculinity and social and economic hierarchy–the gun provides psychological relief to inferiority. It is a tool for the failed, psychological weaklings, for men who have little or nothing. It is a tool of politicians as when recent town hall meetings on health care were disrupted and attendees intimidated by NRA types arriving openly carrying firearms. There is no such thing as a “good” man carrying a gun. A good man does not need to intimidate. Here is a need for a lot of research to get it all out in the open.

Tina Stilley
January 14, 2013

Thank you for your insights, I hope your message will be heard by many, many, people. Surely great change begins with small steps taken one at a time by individuals. Women are smart enough and capable enough to teach the boys and men in their lives that being manly means being respectful, responsible, and hardworking. That they should care for, love and spend time with their families. Attempting to control everything is an exercise in futility, the only thing one can really control is oneself, and I feel bad for those that try. Perhaps we need something like AA for control freaks, Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change….

January 15, 2013

Brilliantly written Allan and thank you for bringing to light an issue that has been on my mind since becoming a dad of 2 boys almost 15 years ago. I believe this is where it begins! Dads at home with their sons! Big boys should cry, relinquish the need to control others and control themselves. Teach them compassion, empathy and caring about others and the world around them, and especially the need to treat all women with the honor and respect they would give to their own mother. Our collective future would look brighter if fathers would father their sons.

karen bercovici
January 15, 2013

Thank you, excellent article. The connection between men and violence is something that all women understand intrinsically, as most women, the world over, have suffered from it. Though many women, for the reasons you mention, prefer to deny what threatens their own tentative positions within the patriarchy. Perhaps when more men, as you do, speak out, we can begin to address the root cause of violence in our country, in the world. Men and women deniers tend not to listen to women when we cry out about male violence. Two other considerations should be thought about when trying to understand what drives men toward violence: male competition with each other, and misogyny.

Ann Moritz
January 15, 2013

Thanks, Allan. As always, you enlighten and you educate. We need more Allan’s in the world. May this writing effort bring all of us to a new understanding with one more important lens.

Cyndi Suarez
January 17, 2013

I agree with Sloane’s comment questioning the role of race. This is not just about what is happening to men, because if black men were the main perpetrators of mass killings, we’d probably be having a different conversation. The real question is what is happening with white men? This is not new. I remember seeing my first angry white man film about 20 years ago and noticing it for what it was, and thinking, “Oh, so now they’re the victims?” I wish we could have a conversation about THAT.

Must Reads | Julie Gillis
January 18, 2013

[...] One of the best pieces yet on men, masculinity, violence and guns. I’ll have more to say about this next week. [...]

January 18, 2013

I think this piece is a conclusion supported by facts rather than facts leading to a conclusion. And from the comments the author is preaching to the choir. I would say that such a broad brush, stereotypical speculation about women would be highly offensive to the readership. Why is the male gender and masculinity treated differently?

January 19, 2013

Allan Johnson responds:

In “Fatal Distraction,” my goal is to illuminate the connection between guns, violence, and the dominant cultural definition of manhood in this society, to which individual men can and do relate in many different ways. I also focus on the destructive silence around that connection, a silence enforced in part by the defensive reaction of many men who take personally any mention of manhood and its role in men’s lives as problematic.

In my work, for example, I encounter men who interpret a phrase such as ‘men’s violence’ to mean that all men are violent, which it does not, no more than ‘child abuse’ implies that all children are abused. Nor is ‘patriarchy’ simply a code word for ‘men’. The difference between the two—between stereotyping individuals on the one hand and describing social systems in which individuals participate on the other—is crucial to any productive conversation about the problems that plague us, including gun violence. For more on this distinction, see the “I’m Glad You Asked” section of my website at

If I have engaged in stereotypical descriptions of men or anyone else, I hope readers will point it out to me so that I can make it right.

January 19, 2013

This topic resonates with me because I’ve gotten involved in men’s peer support work through the ManKind Project ( It’s made me aware of the need to forge new ways for men to live in our society.

I think behavior results from interaction between individual wiring, the surrounding culture, and the people in that individual’s life. Saying that our culture causes individuals to be violent is too simple – it’s not like the culture infects people. Just as serious may be what the culture lacks – social structures and role models to help males channel their masculinity in a healthy way. Humans have instincts, and the expression or suppression of those instincts is learned. Violent tendencies are built in, but most of us manage that well.

Boys and men these days struggle with shifting gender roles (and I know women have their own struggles). I think society rightly criticizes male brutishness that doesn’t serve us anymore, be we largely have not replaced that with anything. Males are told to not express some of their male-hood, and at the same time not to express other “weaker” emotions like fear, sadness, etc. So for many, it gets bottled up and explodes in unhelpful ways. I think silence or criticism by men of the ideas in this article may be an ongoing feeling that they’re being feminized.

I think the way through this is to find ways for boys and men to express their masculinity, but in positive ways like protecting family and community, or struggling to improve something in the world. At the same time, boys and men need to feel more able and welcomed to feel and express their emotions fully, but do it in a respectful way. This is not easy work that happens overnight, but it is being done. I’m a part of it, with the ManKind Project.

Andrea van Noordennen
January 21, 2013

I have 4 sons. Three of them loved toy guns when they were little but do not own guns as adults. The fourth son has always had emotional problems and he is the one who reminds me of the mass murderers. I do not agree that our social system makes all men violent. But I do believe our society needs to help the young men who were born mentally ill. Europe is ahead of us in this area.

Beau Thurnauer
January 22, 2013

The next time I see you I will share with you an interesting parallel theory I have about how we enable our male [and sometimes female] youth be defending every bad behavior imaginable and then fail to understand why that same or similar bad behavior shows up later.

Angry Men Guns Violence
January 27, 2013

[...] article was originally published in Voice Male Magazine where Allan Johnson is a contributing editor and member of the magazine’s national advisory [...]

[...] If the numbers support that the majority of mass murders are carried out by one gender, will there ever be a serious study of the male genetic, psychological, social construct before the human species becomes extinct? Even some of the caring men I know brush this one off as “it is what it is” therefore, a man has to lead this discussion very seriously. [...]

May 29, 2013

Unfortunately in our society men are the decision-makers and hold positions of power and prestige, and have the power to define reality and common situations. If more men were to express their social problems and not keep them bottled up because of the shame of having such “problems” then maybe violence in our society would drop. It is not shameful to talk to others and try to identify ways in becoming a better and more healthy individual.

[...] essay was featured in the Winter issue of Voice Male, a magazine that chronicles the social transformation of masculinity and manhood, especially in [...]

M. Lisa Cruz
November 7, 2013

I have 2 boys and have never favored guns or violent vidoe games. They weren’t able to use Super Soakers until they were teens. When my son joined JROTC in middle school and became part of the Color Guard he learned about guns. The fact that he was taught in a classroom to respect a gun and the proper use made him appreciate that I had never let him misuse a gun even if it was just a toy. But the fact that our society so easily allows the misuse and disrespect of guns in movies and violent games completely disvalidates what was granted to us as part of our constitution.

Regina Rodriguez
February 4, 2014

Thank you for writing this important article. It has been my experience that most people don’t deny or overlook the fact that men are the majority of the people who commit violent crimes , instead they shrug this fact of as “normal” or “biological” (eg blaming testosterone on rape and the tendency for aggressive behavior of all kinds). They don’t know what to do with the question “Why are the majority of the perpetrators men?” because to many the answer is too obvious. They believe that if anyone is going to commit a violent crime it is going to be most likely a male , the “boys will be boys” turning into “men will be men” ideology . To consider that the way our culture socializes boys (to some extend even from infant on ) might have something to do with it does not occur to them. I recommend the movie which says it all.

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