From what I know about yesterday’s shooter, he was angry because he lost his job. This guy reminds me of many other men who kill—off the top of my head I can think of at least five mass murders where the killer was fired from a job, dumped by a girlfriend, or rejected. Ending lives essentially because they didn’t feel like they were getting what they deserve. Entitlement.
Patriarchy does all of us dirty in varying ways. This includes men. We live in a society that often does a piss-poor job at teaching men emotional literacy. It does an even worse job at teaching men how to handle rejection. Even tiny moments of perceived slight are enough to deeply wound and necessitate avenging. And it is other people, often women, who bear the brunt of that.
I do not suggest, of course, that all men lack these skills, but I am suggesting that many do, and that it manifests itself in various, troublesome ways. It seems to me that we must do a better job of teaching our children, especially our sons, that your ego does not own you and the world does not owe you. That a woman has the right to not be interested. That you might get fired. That your ex-wife might meet someone else. That your ego may not only bruise but shatter, and you will be okay. That it is not anyone’s job to protect it, only your job to make sure it is durable. Your job is to practice humility.
Of course, these deaths cannot in any way be blamed entirely on ego. People like Bryce Williams, Dylann Roof, James Holmes, and Adam Lanza have other serious mental ailments besides outrageous entitlement. And I realize that this is a very binary heteronormative frame.
But that is the frame that many of us are trapped under. I think about the female superiors I know who have been harassed and disrespected by threatened male subordinates, the women who have been verbally denigrated for saying no to someone on the street, others who’ve been abused by partners for what are perceived to be even slight dismissals. I think about the number of arrests, assaults, and even murders that have happened because someone in law enforcement felt quote unquote disrespected.
I think about how early in life women are conditioned to live through our own bruised egos and rejection and how early we are taught the importance of soothing, wrangling, and navigating the male ego. And while that has its own downsides; it did arm me with some tools I’m glad I have now. I just wish it went both ways.
I focus on men specifically because it is men who are more likely to do things like Williams did. Forget terrorism or video games or gangs. Its the bruised ego that’s responsible for a lot of the violence we see.
Let us not forget that while we’re teaching our boys to be tough, we must teach them this too.
[Illustration by Tara Jacoby]