Why are Men So Violent?: The Missing Angle on the Boston Bombers
Why are men so violent? That is the question on my mind as I try to wrap my head around the tragic events that unfolded at the Boston Marathon just over a week ago…but why isn’t it the question being asked by the media, by policy makers and by our nation’s thought leaders? As journalists, investigators and politicians try to understand why the Tsarnaev brothers planned and executed a deadly attack on innocent civilians they run through a veritable laundry list of descriptors related to the identities of these two young men. For example NPR asks, “What Drives Young Muslim Men to Violence?:”
It’s been a week since the Boston Marathon bombing, and people are still wondering why they happened. Media sources have suggested possible motivations, like the suspects turning to radical Islam. Host Michel Martin gets perspective on how young Muslims are reacting to this case, and how Islamic extremists are spotted. She hears from AbdelRahman Murphy, a youth director at a Tennessee mosque; and Mohamed Elibiary, who works with radicalized Muslim youth.
Despite featuring ”young [...] men” prominently in the title and recognizing that women don’t commit these crimes the actual discussion quickly turns to “Muslim youth,” apparently ungendered Muslim youth if we take our cues from how the discourse unfolds. What about being a young Muslim, in other words, becomes the operative question. Here the NPR interlocutors join their many colleagues in throwing around a number of descriptors that are supposed to help us understand this horrific event: Muslim, Chechen, immigrant, radical, devout and in this case even young. But “male?” What about being male?
As Todd May points out in a recent New York Times editorial, “we are a violent country:”
We might begin by asking the question, Who are we now?
Clearly, we are a violent country. Our murder rate is three to five times that of most other industrialized countries. The massacres that regularly take place here are predictable in their occurrence, if not in their time and place. Moreover, and more telling, our response to violence is typically more violence. We display our might — or what is left of it — abroad in order to address perceived injustices or a threat to our interests. We still have not rid ourselves of the death penalty, a fact that fills those in other countries with disbelief. Many of us, in response to the mindless gun violence around us, prescribe more guns as the solution, as the Republicans sought to do during the gun debate. And we torture people. It is as though, in thinking that the world responds only to violence, we reveal ourselves rather than the world.
May should be commended for asking us all to face the marathon tragedy as part of a larger problem our nation has with violence. In other words let’s not get bogged down with all those descriptors that point away from us to cast blame on outsiders and forces beyond our control. This is our violence problem. Let’s own it. In his attempt to own it May points to three significat (causal) variables: ‘[c]ompetitive individualism, insecurity, neoliberalism.” These are all clearly important factors that need to be explored if we wish to reduce violence in America, but the one most glaringly correlated variable here is still missing — maleness.
Between 1980 and 2008 males committed nearly 90% of all murders, according to the Department of Justice. What’s more, men accounted for an even higher percentage (94%) of mass murders, or the kinds of events that include the bombings of the Boston marathan and Oklahoma City or the shootings in Columbine, Aurora and Newtown. And of course we all know the names associated with perpetrating these tragic events — Dzhokhar and Tameran Tsarnaev, Timothy McVeigh, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, James Holmes, and Adam Lanza. All young men. This is not to say that being male causes one to be violent, or specifically that being a young American male does, but there is clearly something about being male that relates to why some Americans, sometimes from the ranks of the socially maladjusted or “mentally ill,” react violently to various life circumstances. Why is that? While there is clearly a growing scholarly literature that tackles this problem there is yet to be a serious national conversation about it. Isn’t it time that we, as a nation, start asking why our men are so violent and what we can do to prevent them from being so?
UPDATE: I just noticed an article by Paul Campos of Salon, from this past December: “Why is the shooter always male?” Here’s hoping more people will ask these questions publicly.
UPDATE 2: It has also come to my attention that Caryn Riswold has a very insightful piece in her Patheos blog today on this very topic: “Why Guys Throw Bombs.” Although the piece is short Riswold moves beyond merely asking the question, by utilizing Mark Juergensmeyer’s work on religious violence – the same work I talked to him about last fall.