It's Time to Admit That Toxic Masculinity Drives Gun Violence
Our national attachment to dominance models of manhood is a major reason why we have so much violence.
It's Time to Admit That Toxic Masculinity Drives Gun Violence
By Amanda Marcotte / salon.com
Jun 14, 2016

In the wake of the horrific shooting in Orlando that left 50 dead, a political struggle is forming on whether to define this act as an anti-gay crime or an act of radical Islamic terrorism.

The answer, it’s quickly starting to seem, is both of these, and more. A picture is quickly starting to form of who Omar Mateen, the shooter, was. His ex-wife describes a man who was controlling and abusiveA colleague says he was always using racial and sexual slurs and “talked about killing people all the time.” Both his ex-wife and his father describe him as homophobic, with his father saying he spun into a rage at the sight of two men kissing. He was clearly fond of guns, having not one, but two concealed carry licenses. He worked at a security firm, a career that can be attractive to men with dominance and control issues. He was investigated by the FBI in 2013 for making threats to a coworker.

There is a common theme here: Toxic masculinity.

Every time feminists talk about toxic masculinity, there is a chorus of whiny dudes who will immediately assume—or pretend to assume—that feminists are condemning all masculinity, even though the modifier “toxic” inherently suggests that there are forms of masculinity that are not toxic.

So, to be excruciatingly clear, toxic masculinity is a specific model of manhood, geared towards dominance and control. It’s a manhood that views women and LGBT people as inferior, sees sex as an act not of affection but domination, and which valorizes violence as the way to prove one’s self to the world.

For obvious political reasons, conservatives are hustling as fast as they can to make this about “radical Islam,”  which is to say they are trying to imply that there’s something inherent to Islam and not Christianity that causes such violence. This, of course, is hoary nonsense, as there is a long and ignoble history of Christian-identified men, caught up in the cult of toxic masculinity, sowing discord and causing violence in our country: The gun-toting militiamen that caused a showdown in Oregon, the self-appointed border patrol called the Minutemen that recently made news again as their founder was convicted of child molestation, men who attack abortion clinics and providers.

Toxic masculinity aspires to toughness but is, in fact, an ideology of living in fear: The fear of ever seeming soft, tender, weak, or somehow less than manly. This insecurity is perhaps the most stalwart defining feature of toxic masculinity.

The examples are endless: Donald Trump flipping out when someone teases him about his small fingers. (Or about anything, really.) The ludicrously long and shaggy beards on “Duck Dynasty,” meant to stave off any association with the dreaded feminine with a thicket of hair. The emergence of the term “cuckservative,” flung around by hardline right wingers to suggest that insufficient racism is somwho emasculating. Conservatives absolutely melting down about an Obamacare ad that suggested that, gasp, sometimes men wear pajamas.

(This ad traumatized them so much that many conservative pundits are still freaking out, years after the fact, that the Obama administration dared suggest the emasculating fabric of flannel pajamas, ever touched the skin of the American male. Indeed, it’s probably emasculating to suggest men have skin at all, since “skin” is such a ladified concept in our culture, what with the moisturizers and stuff.)

If toxic masculinity was just about men posturing around each other in a comical fashion, that would be one thing, but this persistent pressure to constantly be proving manhood and warding off anything considered feminine or emasculating is the main reason why we have so many damn shootings in the United States. Whether it’s Islamic terrorism or Columbine-style shootings or, as is the case with some of the most common but least covered mass shootings, an act of domestic violence by a man who would rather kill his family than lose control, the common theme is this toxic masculinity, a desire on the part of the shooter to show off how much power and control he has, to take male dominance to the level of exerting control over life and death itself.

Toxic masculinity is also the reason it’s so easy for men with major issues to get a hold of the high-powered weaponry necessary to commit these crimes. Sure, the pro-gun movement in this country likes to roll out a bunch of half-baked pseudo-arguments pretending at rationality to justify the lack of gun control in this country, but really, the emotional selling point of guns is that they feed the cult of toxic masculinity. Being able to stockpile weapons and have ever bigger and scarier-looking guns is straightforward and undeniable overcompensation insecure men, trying to prove what manly men they are.

That’s why any attempt to discuss putting even the smallest, most commonsensical restrictions on guns turns into a bunch of right wing dudes squeeing about how the liberals are coming to taking their guns. This isn’t a discussion being held on the plane of rationality, but is a psychological drama about these men’s fears of emasculation, represented in an unsubtle way over their attachment to guns and their fear that liberals, stereotyped as effeminate in their imagination, are coming to steal the guns away.

And, of course, in the Orlando situation, we have the added problem of homophobia, which is called a “phobia” for a reason, since it’s so often rooted in toxic masculinity and the terror of anything even remotely feminine.

What is particularly frustrating about all this is that, even though toxic masculinity is clearly the problem here, you have a bunch of conservatives running around and pushing toxic masculinity as the solution, as if all we need to end violence and terrorism is a bunch of silly posturing about who is the biggest man of all the menfolk out there.

Trump, of course, was leading the pack on this, posturing about how we need“toughness,” which he appears to define as a willingness to tweet ignorant, belligerent nonsense. Posturing a lot, in general, is the preferred strategy of the toxic masculinity crowd in response to terrorism. Lots of chatter about how Democrats refuse to say “radical Islam,” supposedly out of cowardice, and how the bravest and manliest of men will say it and the sheer force of the bravery demonstrated by the words they use will somehow be the magic ticket to ending the problem.

That, and, of course, you have the chorus of conservatives who imbue their tokens of toxic masculinity, guns, with near-magical powers to somehow stop the violence.

“Under Florida law, guns can’t be carried into bars,” John Hinderaker of Powerline tried to argue. “So Pulse was a gun-free zone. That is one legal change that should be made.”

The idea that a bunch of drunk people dancing around a nightclub are safer with loaded weapons on their bodies is clearly not coming from a rational place, but from a place of deep insecurity and gender weirdness that treats phallic symbols like they are magical totems. But the reality is that there was armed security at the club, an off-duty police officer who did engage Mateen, but failed to take him down. Our country is saturated in guns, and yet the mythical “good guy with a gun” who is promised to stop mass shootings has yet to actually produce himself. That is because the “good guy with a gun” is a myth, propped up to justify toxic masculinity’s obsession with guns, and nothing more.

The horror story of Orlando lays bare what damage that this kind of dominance-oriented masculinity does to our society, right during an election when a overcompensating bully who is completely immersed in the discourse of toxic masculinity is the Republican nominee for president. It’s a stark reminder of why we, as a country, need to get past the politics of tough guy posturing and move towards a more thoughtful, inclusive society. One with more dancing and less waving guns around while talking about what a manly man you imagine yourself to be.

Amanda Marcotte is a politics writer for Salon. She's on Twitter @AmandaMarcotte. 

1.8 ·
1
Trending Today
Looking Forward to the Day That Nationalism Is as Reviled as Racism
Tim Hjersted · 8,389 views today · Nationalism is a form of geographical racism that makes some lives matter more than others, and explicitly justifies that logic without apology. While today, not even lying...
Why It's Crucial for Women to Heal the Mother Wound
Bethany Webster · 4,796 views today · The issue at the core of women’s empowerment is the mother wound
Supporters 'Ecstatic' After Obama Commutes Chelsea Manning's Sentence
Nika Knight · 4,666 views today · Whistleblower to be released from military prison in May
John Lennon's "Imagine," Made Into a Comic Strip
John Lennon. Art by Pablo Stanley · 3,104 views today · This is easily the best comic strip ever made.  Pabl
How Mindfulness Empowers Us
2 min · 3,052 views today · Many traditions speak of the opposing forces within us, vying for our attention. Native American stories speak of two wolves, the angry wolf and the loving wolf, who both live...
Escape! From the Cult of Materialism (2016)
50 min · 1,307 views today · Does the philosophy of materialism work to destroy our identities, experience, and environment? Join narrator Daphne Ellis on a radical romp through the evidence and decide for...
What Is My Activism Really About? to Love, Serve and Remember
Tim Hjersted · 983 views today · I have made a promise to this world that I will carry with me to my last days. It is my vow to lessen the suffering of the world while I am here - it is to ensure that every...
Dinosaur explains Trump policies better than Trump!
8 min · 891 views today · Donald Trump is actually the corporate triceratops, Mr. Richfield, from the 90's TV show sitcom, "Dinosaurs". 
Before He Was Assassinated, MLK Jr. Was Advocating For An End To Income Inequality
10 min · 671 views today · We can honor MLK Jr. by pursuing the causes he was advocating for before he was killed.  ​​ Part 2: The Basic Income, A New Human Right (3 minutes) MLK's idea of a basic...
Today I Rise: This Beautiful Short Film Is Like a Love Poem For Your Heart and Soul
4 min · 656 views today · "The world is missing what I am ready to give: My Wisdom, My Sweetness, My Love and My hunger for Peace." "Where are you? Where are you, little girl with broken wings but full...
The Invention of Capitalism: How a Self-Sufficient Peasantry was Whipped Into Industrial Wage Slaves
Yasha Levine · 598 views today · “…everyone but an idiot knows that the lower classes must be kept poor, or they will never be industrious.” —Arthur Young; 1771 Our popular economic wisdom says that...
Coping With Narcissistic Personality Disorder in the White House
N Ziehl · 567 views today · I want to talk a little about narcissistic personality disorder. I’ve unfortunately had a great deal of experience with it, and I’m feeling badly for those of you who are...
One "Piece of the Oppressor" That I Have Discovered Within Myself
Tim Hjersted · 547 views today · One "piece of the oppressor" that I have found in myself during my inner activist journeys is my use of shame as a method of engaging with the world's problems. Having learned...
The Top 100 Documentaries We Can Use to Change the World
Films For Action · 406 views today · A more beautiful, just and sustainable world is possible. Take this library and use it to inspire global change!
The Greening of the Self: The Most Important Development of Modern Times
Joanna Macy · 370 views today · Something important is happening in our world that you are not going to read about in the newspapers. I consider it the most fascinating and hopeful development of our time...
Stunning Photos By Alexander Semenov Showcase The Alien Beauty Of Jellyfish
Earth Porm · 335 views today · Jellyfish appear like beautiful aliens in Alexander Semenov’s photography, calling a new attraction to a magical species of marine life. Alexander Semenov is a marine...
This Woman Gets No Applause...Why? They Are Too Creeped Out...
7 min · 326 views today · Think you aren't being fooled by advertising tricks? Take a look at this so-called expert revealing food marketing's secret weapon. No amount of marketing makes factory farming...
90 Inspiring and Visionary Films That Will Change How You See the World in Profound Ways
Tim Hjersted · 284 views today · The world today is in crisis. Everybody knows that. But what is driving this crisis? It's a story, a story that is destroying the world. It's a story about our relationship to...
What Martin Luther King Jr. Can Teach Us about Nonviolence
John Dear · 265 views today · I've been reflecting on the principles of nonviolence that Martin Luther King Jr. learned during the historic yearlong bus boycott in Montgomery, Ala. After Rosa Parks refused...
The Corporation (2003)
145 min · 254 views today · The Corporation is today's dominant institution, creating great wealth but also great harm. This 26 award-winning documentary examines the nature, evolution, impacts and future...
Load More
What's Next
Like us on Facebook?
It's Time to Admit That Toxic Masculinity Drives Gun Violence