Female Shooters Are Rare Because Gun Violence Has a Masculinity Problem


This article was originally posted in Glamour.

Tuesday afternoon, breaking news headlines featured an all-too-familiar scenario: a shooting. Again. A gunman had opened fire in a public place, just 10 days after hundreds of thousands took the streets as part of the March for Our Lives, declaring “never again.” While the news itself felt disquietingly routine, there was something different this time: it was a woman who had fired shots at the YouTube headquarters in San Bruno, CA, wounding three people before killing herself.

In the aftermath of each new shooting, attempts often follow to diagnose the “real” problem. The pattern is getting relatively well-worn: first comes the insistence that mental health is the culprit—or, as Donald Trump has said, a “savage sicko.” And then comes the backlash to that: experts who say blaming mental illness for gun violence is shaming and stigmatizing.

Here’s the thing: Research suggests that women are actually more likely to be diagnosed with some form of mental illness than men, and yet less than four percent of mass shootings are perpetrated by women, according to FBI data among other sources.

The magazine Mother Jones has compiled a detailed database of mass shootings in America from 1982 to 2018, and if you scroll down the “gender” column, it’s an unbroken sea of “Male” save for two lone “Female” entries, and one male/female, out of 98 shooting incidents. So how can we attempt to explain the statistical anomaly of the female active shooter?

“If the issue was mental illness then 50 percent of mass shootings would be done by women. If the issue was guns and the availability of guns, then 50 percent of mass shootings would be done by women,” says Jackson Katz, Ph.D., an educator and author who specializes in the intersection of gender and violence. “The most important factor is gender.”

It’s not like women don’t buy, use, or, in some cases, ardently support guns. ”There’s a whole industry around women and guns—magazines, a line of purses that show how you can store your guns,” says Sheryl Kubiak, Ph.D., an expert in gender and mental health. But, she says, the emotional weight women give them is very different. In Dr. Kubiak’s opinion, “women think of [a gun] more as security and men think of it more as a symbol of power.”

Men represent 62 percent of gun owners but commit upwards of 96 percent of mass shootings. If we’re going to examine these shootings, we’re obliged to examine how masculinity—or what it means to be ‘masculine’ in our society—may play a role.

For example Sherry Hamby, Ph.D., a psychology professor at Sewanee, the University of the South and editor of the academic journal Psychology of Violence, says she believes that ”women are not socialized to be aggressive in the same way that men are.”

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