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[CONTENT WARNING: Mass murder, rape, and other darker parts of the human psyche]

Vice brings up a good point: Why Are So Many Mass Shootings Committed by Young White Men? One line of thought is that it’s what we’re telling them.

The Singulars looked at a number of factors that could potentially unwrap the complexity of young male shootings, particularly the issue of young males experiencing a crisis of masculinity in the 21st century. “Holmes didn’t want to tell his parents about what he was going through because he didn’t want to appear weak,” Stephen Singular says.

“I think we’re dealing with how we socially construct masculinity, and the extent to which being masculine means being aggressive,” adds Simi, the criminologist. “It’s not a simple cause and effect, but it certainly sets up a context that makes men much more likely to engage in violent behavior.”

We’ve built up this image of white males as the top of the food chain, the strongest of the strong. So what happens when these people feel weak? When they have a bad luck streak, and can’t just waltz in and own the place?

A 2013 study at the University of Washington looked at the disproportionately high numbers of mass killings – defined as having at least three or more victims during a single episode – committed by young white men in America, and found a correlation between feelings of entitlement among white males and homicidal revenge against a specific demographic.

“Among many mass killers, the triple privileges of white heterosexual masculinity which make subsequent life course losses more unexpected and thus more painfully shameful ultimately buckle under the failures of downward mobility and result in a final cumulative act of violence to stave off subordinated masculinity,” the authors wrote.

It reminds me of incarcerated rapists. Many of the men sent to prison for the crime never viewed it as such; they were just living up to the roles that society had given them.

At the time I didn’t think it was rape. I just asked her nicely and she didn’t resist. I never considered prison. I just felt like I had met a friend. It took about five years of reading and going to school to change my mind about whether it was rape. I became familar with the subtlety of violence. But at the time, I believed that as long as I didn’t hurt anyone it wasn’t wrong. At the time, I didn’t think I would go to prison, I thought I would beat it.

A man’s body is like a coke bottle, shake it up, put your thumb over the opening and feel the tension. When you take a woman out, woo her, then she says “no, I’m a nice girl,” you have to use force. All men do this. She said “no” but it was a societal no, she wanted to be coaxed. All women say “no” when they mean “yes” but its a societal no, so they won’t have to feel responsible later.[1]

The moment that caused these men to become rapists was when that image was shattered.

Over and over, these men described themselves as having been in a rage because of an incident involving a woman with whom they believed they were in love.

Frequently, the upsetting event was related to a rigid and unrealistic double standard for sexual conduct and virtue which they applied to “their” woman but which they didn’t expect from men, didn’t apply to themselves, and, obviously, didn’t honor in other women. To discover that the “pedestal” didn’t apply to their wife or girlfriend sent them into a fury.[1]

When you’ve been taught there are rigid standards for how people should act, you’re more likely to lash out when those standards are let down. When you’re taught other people are sub-human, be they brutal thugs or manipulative harpies, you’re more likely to mistreat them.

Or worse.

[1] Scully, Diana, and Joseph Marolla. “Convicted Rapists’ Vocabulary of Motive: Excuses and Justifications.” Social Problems 31, no. 5 (June 1984): 530–44. doi:10.2307/800239.