The Overwhelming Maleness of Mass Homicide

Why aren't we talking about the one thing mass murderers have in common?

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RJ Sangosti / Getty Images

Accused movie-theater shooter James Holmes makes his first court appearance at the Arapahoe County courthouse on July 23, 2012 in Centennial, Colo.

There’s a predictable cycle of mourning and recrimination that follows a massacre like the shootings last week in Aurora, Colo. First come the calls for unity and flags flown at half-mast. Then the national fissures appear: the gun lobby stiffens its spine as gun-control advocates make their case. Psychologists parse the shooter’s background, looking for signs of mental illness or family disarray. Politicians point fingers about “society run amok” and “cultures of despair.”

We’ve been down this path so many times, yet we keep missing the elephant in the room: How many of the worst mass murderers in American history were women? None. This is not to suggest that women are never violent, and there are even the rare cases of female serial killers. But why aren’t we talking about the glaring reality that acts of mass murder (and, indeed, every single kind of violence) are overwhelmingly perpetrated by men? Pointing out that fact may seem politically incorrect or irrelevant, but our silence about the huge gender disparity of such violence may be costing lives.

(MORE: Christopher J. Ferguson: Don’t Blame Batman for the Aurora Shooting)

Imagine for a moment if a deadly disease disproportionately affected men. Not a disease like prostate cancer that can only affect men, but a condition prevalent in the general population that was vastly more likely to strike men. Violence is such a condition: men are nine to 10 times more likely to commit homicide and more likely to be its victims. The numbers are sobering when we look at young men. In the U.S., for example, young white males (between ages 14 and 24) represent only 6% of the population, yet commit almost 17% of the murders. For young black males, the numbers are even more alarming (1.2% of the population accounting for 27% of all homicides). Together, these two groups of young men make up just 7% of the population and 45% of the homicides. And, overall, 90% of all violent offenders are male, as are nearly 80% of the victims.

(MORE: Jon Meacham: A Gun Owner’s Case Against Assault Weapons)

We shouldn’t need Steven Pinker, one of the world’s leading psychologists and the author of the book, The Better Angels of Our Nature, to tell us the obvious: “Though the exact ratios vary, in every society, it is the males more than the females who play-fight, bully, fight for real, kill for real, rape, start wars and fight in wars.” The silence around the gendering of violence is as inexplicable as it is indefensible. Sex differences in other medical and social conditions — such as anorexia nervosa, lupus, migraines, depression and learning disabilities — are routinely analyzed along these lines.

For millennia, human society has struggled with what to do with young men’s violent tendencies. Many cultures stage elaborate initiation ceremonies, presided over by older men, which help channel youthful aggression into productive social roles. But in contemporary society, we have trouble talking about the obvious: the transition from boy to man is a risky endeavor, and there can be a lot of collateral damage.

(MORE: Christopher J. Ferguson: Don’t Get Distracted by Anders Breivik’s Oddities)

Skeptics will claim that the perpetrators of horrific acts like the Aurora shootings are such aberrations that we can hardly build public policy around their evil behavior. But it’s a mistake to view mass murderers as incomprehensible freaks of nature. For example, we know that the young men who go on murderous rampages are not always sociopathic monsters but, rather, sometimes more or less “regular” men who suffered from crushing depression and suicidal ideation.

No reasonable person can imagine how despair could possibly lead to premeditated mass homicide. However, the fact that depression is so frequently accompanied by violent rage in young men — a rage usually, but not solely, directed at themselves — is something we need to acknowledge and understand.

(MORE: Christopher J. Ferguson: Video Games Don’t Make Kids Violent)

Our refusal to talk about violence as a public-health problem with known (or knowable) risk factors keeps us from helping the young men who are at most risk and, of course, their potential victims. When we view terrible events as random, we lose the ability to identify and treat potential problems, for example by finding better ways to intervene with young men during their vulnerable years. There is so much more we need to learn about how to prevent violence, but we could start with the sex difference that is staring us in the face.

MORE: After Aurora, Lessons from Columbine

698 comments
Mr.Chen
Mr.Chen

What is failed to be mention here is that thanks to feminism and the whole "we don't need men" attitude has put our young men in incapable hands. Women just do not have what it takes to earn the kind of respect a adult male (father) can. AN example of this is seen in elephants. A park in Africa was having trouble with young bull elephants fighting. Not just each other but they were killing other animals too. After much consideration it was finally decided to put an older bull elephant in with them. Upon doing so the younger males immediately calmed down and behaved much more proper. The gorings stopped, there were no more deaths of other animals. This is the same role MEN play in the family structure. Young males especially during puberty need that strong guidance only a father can bring. Due to so many women deciding on selfish desires of doing it alone, have brought up generation delinquent males.  

To say that only men start wars is completely false and misleading. How many wars has Britain been in since it has been ruled by a queen? I suppose Margaret Thatcher never had anything to do with war. Nor Cleopatra. Right? The only reason anybody can make that statement is because there just has not been that many women leaders. Nor do I think this writer has a firm grasp on how and why wars are started and fought.  

 It may be true men commit more murder than women. Could it be because more women than men are abusing their children? Especially, the boys. Strong possibility there. This article seems biased and sexist.

polkabee
polkabee

Maybe more research needs to be done on possible links with males and greater incidence of mental illness, greater lack of ability to control their emotions or impulses. Maybe we do need to take a second look at the 2nd amendment, and qualify it to apply to females, since statistically they have to defend themselves against male aggressors.

CherylKentner
CherylKentner

Does anyone know how difficult it is to pull up information on that subject? VERY difficult...next to impossible.  The feminist media does not agree with it, so therefore you can't read about it.


I wonder how many of you can draw a direct line between the destruction of the family by feminists, and the recent spike of violence in males?


Men don't process things by feel...yet they are brought up by single mothers FULL of FEELINGS... I wonder if that has anything to do with why boys are raging inside?


Of course you can't ask that question because feminists have a monopoly on how the media portrays single mothers, and the children they raise.


Just another traitor who has seen the light at the end of the tunnel, and the tunnel led me away from feminism, thank god!

Noin007
Noin007

@CherylKentner Also worth asking, how many of them were on psychiatric drugs which list violent or suicidal impulses as a side effect?

CherylKentner
CherylKentner

Just curious, how many of these mass shootings were perpetrated by males brought up by single mothers?


How many of them had an amicable child custody arrangement, you know one where the father was allowed to see his child more than once a month....?


Anyone ever bother to ask if having no father figure due to the biased nature of how the world thinks of men nowadays may have affected the child?


Of course not.

aegispenguin
aegispenguin

After reading some earlier comments I must say that she has a point, and she is not being sexist. However, I think some of these discussions are rather misandrous and digressing to what she is actually conveying in her article. I believe parents have to blame for this. Parents should talk more with their kids and watch out for them. Apathy toward children in adolescent is the corrupter of society, because children need love and they are our future. I hope one day society puts an end to tragedies like this one.

Kathymiller94
Kathymiller94

Maybe we need to take a lesson from the cattle industry.  They castrate bulls to make them calm.  While, on the 3rd violent offense by a male, cut his balls off and if he is violent to women cut his balls off in public.  Dead males do not abuse women or kids.

Kathymiller94
Kathymiller94

It is not just mass homicide.  MALES commit over 90% of all murders but at least they usually kill other males.  Oddly enough, the few women who kill usually kill males too but these males most likely provoked it.  Any woman should be able to kill any male who is attacking her or her children.  Now if the males would just kill other males and leave women and children alone, I could accept that.  In fact, the more the better.  A reduction of the male population by about 25% would make for a far better society.

Mr.Chen
Mr.Chen

@Kathymiller94 You are a misandrist pig. You are the problem not the solution. The truth is WOMEN kill more children than men. 60% of those murders are boys. I suppose they provoked it though. Right? Perhaps you should read this before you stroll around on your high horse you cretin.

Kathymiller94
Kathymiller94

That is easy.  Many researchers think we all start out as females but  at an early stage, they say "something goes horribly wrong and many end up as males.  For something to go horribly wrong to become a male appears that means males are a defective person.  My brother taught me at an early age that we women are by far the superior gender and not males such as himself.  He readily accepted that he was the inferior and I was the superior gender.  


Why do so many males kill?   They are defective and since most males kill other males, could it be they also recognize women are far superior to them and they are killing the inferior gender?

LieslDiesel
LieslDiesel

Male sociopaths outnumber females 20 to 1. 

DaveSale
DaveSale

I feel for the countless young males who are turning aggression inwards. This does show up in the extreme spree at times but it mostly shows up as deep and hidden despair or depression by countless silent sufferers(Think heroin etc)  We are a society in denial that our high brains are still attached to primitive midbrains. No amount of cortical action can think away the truth that we are still irrational aggressive animals underneath. Suffocating instinct is causing a great societal sickness,

DavidKelzenberg
DavidKelzenberg

Something about testosterone affects the brain (surprise).  It tends to push some males toward the extremes.  If you wish to observe that most crime of all sorts is committed by males (which is true), you must also observe that the greatest achievements of mankind:  science, music, architecture, art, literature--have been mostly accomplished by males.  (And spare me that tired cliche that this is because women have been held down by the patriarchal system; if anything this gave them more time to be creative.)  Obviously this is a generalization--many women have accomplished great things, and many women have committed crimes of violence.  But just as there have been few female Ted Bundys, there have been few female Mozarts, Shakespeares, Renoirs, and Einsteins.  Somehow more males are at the extremes of human behavior than are females.  I believe testosterone has something to do with this.

Mr.Chen
Mr.Chen

@blondiepopo Being a wife and a mother is a total cop out. History is full of women that did not let a lame ass excuse like that stop them. You seem to forget as well, that the men that built this world were husbands and fathers. You act as though women were chained to the kitchen stove or something.  

AllisonVachon
AllisonVachon

"I have suffered silently with all of this discrimination my entire life."  Gee, David, that tirade and the following tirade "whatthehay" sounds like a "manifesto" to me ... kinda sad and wandering.  Apparently, you do not see the "elephant in the room."  There is an overwhelming maleness in mass homicide in recorded history.  Your judgement that an "idiot, lesbian male hater" made a valid statistical point in an article is challenging.  You are writing and questioning, and further, like we all do, you have incorporated your own experiences in your ideas--as we should.  Erika Christakis isn't the enemy, David; she is us. 

LieslDiesel
LieslDiesel

@DavidKelzenberg Hmm...your blatant chauvinism is so interesting to me. Mozart, Shakespeare, Renoir and Einstein were all Caucasian. Do your hypotheses apply to race as well? So all of us women and non-white people simply languished about doing nothing for the past ten thousand years while you white guys did all of the important stuff like writing novels and symphonies and waging wars?

AidanReilly-Treat
AidanReilly-Treat

This article is simply idiotic. If this is actually your opinion, I don't think you deserve to be writing for such a prestigious website as CNN. As sora said, your argument is an extremely outdated one, and your data is flawed and perhaps biased. Your point about males being more likely to commit mass homicide is not inherently offending in itself. However, the timing and the reasoning behind the article is questionable. I get that a 20 year old male just committed mass homicide, but does that warrant an article that explores an opinion that could be very controversial? Also, why would you want to post an article like this one? What was your motive? Do you believe this yourself? Finally, I find the comment about young black males to be slightly racist. It wouldn't have been, except you gave no reasoning for the claim, and it was such a tiny detail, snuck into the middle of your article, that I wonder what your true beliefs are. 

FKVPhotographics
FKVPhotographics

I don't know who or what this DARVO thing is but it does seem from recent history that mass murder is in the pervue of the male species. From my own observation and experience males are by far more aggressive than females. Not saying females are never aggressive. I've worked as a bouncer and can tell you some are vicious but overall males have the edge in aggression. There is no one reason for that but a combination of elements that leave young men acting insane with violence.

The first is lack of male role models or role models who received their advice from an even longer list of men who could not control their violent behavior. I was exposed to male violence by and abusive father. Many nights, as a child, I wake up to screaming to find my mother lying on the floor after being beaten by my father. I was eight! This happened in the day when hitting your wife was "no big deal". In the day of "POW Alice, to the moon!" People laughed because it was treated as a joke.

Boys from early on are encouraged to be violent. It's everywhere around us! Images of violence sell! Who, in all honesty, will pay money to watch a move about two men talking things out? That's a chick flick and we find it boring. All movies with enormous amounts of things getting shot, blowing up and buckets of blood running through the gutters are popular with who?....Young men! Video games played endlessly letting you kill in the most violent way are top sellers. In my day it was blamed on TV shows but video games are a whole other thing. They immerse you in violence, they create an entire world of violence and encourage high body counts and the more gruesome they are the popular they become. Their world becomes of unending violence with seems to not only take over their thinking but blurs that line between reality and fantasy. Anyone with a 8 year old boy can tell you just how real those games become when your child can describe in detail the "action".

I have a 12 year old grandson. He is not allowed to purchase or play any of the current games which glorify war, killing and mayhem. He does play Pokemon....and can tell you in detail their names, their powers and what happens when they "battle".....and this is just a simple, and to me, uninteresting past time. To him it becomes a real world. Even in it's simplicity it does on a minor level encourage aggressive behavior one that I take every spare moment to discourage. That is the key! As one who he looks up to and tries to emulate I steer him away from such dribble. We play Monopoly along with his 10 year old sister. We talk, we laugh, they learn strategy, how to conduct business, use money and communicate for the hours we spend together. I make the time to listen as we enjoy our time together.

In general, our society, is becoming more violent. I see it! It doesn't take a genius to understand it! The fastest growing "sport" is watching two men beat the shit out of each other in a cage!!....the more blood the bigger the audience! Sprinkle some sexy women in the mix, as adoring females strutting their stuff as if to say...."I go to the winner" and are we that far from the gladitorial games of ancient Rome where men fought to the death for fame and the pick of any woman in the empire?

We need to stop this and we need to do it NOW. No more weak chinned politician who keep shoving this problem down the road as the wring their hands and utter protests against violence. It is real and now it's reached to the level of children so young and pay for it with their lives. We need to BAN all assault weapons in this country. The Bushmaster used in this recent bloodletting is painted as "sportsman's weapon" while it characteristics make it a a weapon of war, to kill as many and as fast  possible. Saying this weapon is for hunting perverts the word "hunter." The farthest thing from "sportmanship" possible. Or do we tell young men that killing is now a sport????

FYI.....I served in Vietnam on a river patrol boat. I have seen my share of violence and have killed by necessity. I used to wonder if such a world would ever come to us........it's here!

sora
sora

Hi Erika, your idea of the link between violence and gender is in fact over 500 years old.  Shakespeare said it first in the below soliloquy by Lady Macbeth.  As can be clearly seen in the below quote, Shakespeare has linked the concept of association between gender and the impulse to destroy/kill in Lady Macbeth's request to be 'unsex'ed, so that the 'compunctious visitings of' her feminine nature not shake her 'fell purpose' to murder Duncan.

Come, you spiritsThat tend on mortal thoughts, unsex me here,And fill me from the crown to the toe top-fullOf direst cruelty! make thick my blood;Stop up the access and passage to remorse,That no compunctious visitings of natureShake my fell purpose, nor keep peace betweenThe effect and it!

In the Elizabethan era, the society did strongly believe in the innate delineation of personality traits according to gender, such as violence being masculine and gentleness being feminine; though mind you, they also believed that our bodies were ruled by the four elements.  

As for violence in the modern world and its link to gender, so far, I believe the evidence does support your proposition.  However, the question is whether the hypothesis is valid because so far all we have are examples of male mass killers, or whether it is valid because there is an intrinsic desire/nature in male gender to kill.  I don't believe you have sufficient evidence for the second diagnosis at this stage.  Not to mention, the only thing you need to disprove your hypothesis is one example of a female mass killer (I really hope you never do).

While you have raised an intriguing question, I'm more concerned with the dangers of making such suppositions.  Because it's too much like the suppositions that maintain that Black men are more inclined to be criminals because there are more Black men who are arrested and charged as criminals.  A self fulfilling prophecy.  Besides which, what do you intend to do with the fruits of research like this anyway?  Argue that we need to reduce the number of male births?  Reduce or limit the rights of men in our society?  Unless you can clearly present your intended conclusion and consequences of this line of research, I don't believe you will or should receive support in following this further.  To be honest, I would horrified about targeting male students to discuss the possibility that because of their gender, they would have greater likelihood to commit such monstrous acts.  I can't think of one off the top of my head that I would remotely suggest as a potential candidate for this kind of 'talk'.  I would suspect that teachers of Lanzo, who was described as a quiet, polite student, would probably have felt the same way before Friday.

Rather than gender, why don't you try mental illness as a common element?  The shooter at Port Arthur suffered from mental illness, I'm pretty sure that Brevik is certifiably insane.  I suggest that it'd be more beneficial to track down what kind of mental illnesses or instability leads to/contributes to mass killings and then examine if there is a gender connection to the kinds of mental instability, instead.

sleepinginspace
sleepinginspace

Does the writer even have a Doctorate in science, psychology, or history?

probably not...Everyone who is either getting mad, deffensive, aggreeing, or disagreeing are all doing it ignorantly.Objectively the article is obviously trying it's best to point out that men are the ones committing the crimes and that men are the most violent. But that doesn't necessarily make it their fault. And besides if it's even true... men can equal it out and get away with it because they have pushed society the most when it comes to technology and intellectual subjects... so far.i don't ever remember a women being the first person on the moon? or a women first discovering Newtons laws of physics... i'm sure dying of radiation is bad, but i'm sure more men have died in the name of science and good will of humanity then women.

If you make a list i'm sure more men would be on it.

dr. zada johnson
dr. zada johnson

Seems like your stats in paragraph 3 are a little misleading, the article is about MASS HOMICIDE--there are no alarming rates of black males when it comes to MASS HOMICIDE ( random shooting of a large number of strangers)--in this case you can't lump black men with white men in terms of stats

dr. zada johnson
dr. zada johnson

We should also talk about the racial dimensions of mass homicides in U.S--white men....young white men

dr. zada johnson
dr. zada johnson

We should also talk about the racial dimensions of mass homicides in the U.S....white men, young white men

NI MEN HAO-DY TRAMPOLINA
NI MEN HAO-DY TRAMPOLINA

 Narcissists LOVE to play the victim when they are called out on something that's a PROVEN FACT.

NI MEN HAO-DY TRAMPOLINA
NI MEN HAO-DY TRAMPOLINA

 YOU don't get it. And you never will. You are a male narcissist doing the DARVO dance!

NI MEN HAO-DY TRAMPOLINA
NI MEN HAO-DY TRAMPOLINA

 TONE ARGUMENT. Whatever works to discount the facts she presents is what men use. How predictable, and narcissist, and MALE of you.

NI MEN HAO-DY TRAMPOLINA
NI MEN HAO-DY TRAMPOLINA

 Two campers on the other side of the lake from the island of Utøya, where the Norwegian massacre happened,

heard gunfire and screams while they were eating their supper. Without

thought for their personal safety, they took their boat and crossed

towards the firing. Bullets hit the boat, but they pulled the fleeing

youngsters from the water and crossed back and forth repeatedly. It was

not a very big boat, so it took four trips to save 40 teenagers who may

otherwise have been shot, or drowned trying to escape. Without them, the

massacre could have been considerably more bloody even than it was. So

why have we hardly heard about them?In the first place, Hege Dalen and Toril Hansen are women.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/comm...

NI MEN HAO-DY TRAMPOLINA
NI MEN HAO-DY TRAMPOLINA

 A Voice For Men is missing one of their "flock"! How's it feel to be classified as a hate group by the SPLC?

NI MEN HAO-DY TRAMPOLINA
NI MEN HAO-DY TRAMPOLINA

 Go over to Askmen (or any other site, for that matter). You'll find your misogyny fix.

STATS AND FACTS are sexist now? HAAHAHAHAAHAHAAAAA!!!! Oh, the poor, POOR MEN. HOW DARE THE AUTHOR STATE PROVEN FACTS ABOUT MALE VIOLENCE?!

NI MEN HAO-DY TRAMPOLINA
NI MEN HAO-DY TRAMPOLINA

 As if this problem isn't staring you in the face. Nice attempt to blame male violence on women- typical male abuser "logic". Also: cool story, bro. lol

NI MEN HAO-DY TRAMPOLINA
NI MEN HAO-DY TRAMPOLINA

Someone has no grasp of history! Surprise. Let's erase thousands of years of female labor and innovation because PATRIARCHY! If you read books I'd suggest The Caliban and the Witch. Men are SO brave being all protector-y and stuff. Who are they protecting people from? Oh, right: YET MORE VIOLENT MALES.

NI MEN HAO-DY TRAMPOLINA
NI MEN HAO-DY TRAMPOLINA

 "The Overwhelming History of Women Being Denied Education and Autonomy By Violent Males"

NI MEN HAO-DY TRAMPOLINA
NI MEN HAO-DY TRAMPOLINA

 Well, you see what happens when we draw attention to male violence? Men swarm in and try to silence the discussion- often using, ironically, threats of violence.

NI MEN HAO-DY TRAMPOLINA
NI MEN HAO-DY TRAMPOLINA

 Still boring us with your incoherent BS, I see... lol

Wow, are you a dumb male or what?