ANOTHER INCONVENIENT TRUTH: The Tragedy at Virginia Tech
ANOTHER INCONVENIENT TRUTH
The tragedy at Virginia Tech on April 16th, 2007 is no doubt on many of our minds. We struggle with the impossible task of trying to understand how such a horrific act of violence could occur on a beautiful, thriving college campus. Some of us have to try to explain this to our young children. We turn to the media for information, for facts, evidence, and perhaps, an explanation for something that is so difficult for us to comprehend.
As those who work in the media work tirelessly to gather information and share it with the public, we cannot help but notice that almost all of the attention thus far seems to be on individual, blame-centered explanations for why this troubled young man took his and 32 othersâ€™ lives. Certainly, this is understandable and necessary to help us to make sense of such incredulous violence. Yet, we wonder why not also focus on the larger, cultural, macrolevel factors that are common denominators in our nationâ€™s acts of mass murder in the workplace and in educational institutions?
We would like to raise our voices to encourage the media to follow one of the most important aspects of this story. One which can provide us with an understanding of this tragedy and a way in which we can create positive and necessary social change out of this tragic act. As professors of Sociology, we study and teach courses on Sex & Gender and Criminology. It is obvious to us that the time is now to face the issue of gender and gender based violence. This is not just a gun control or â€œhawk versus doveâ€ debate and this is not just a womanâ€™s issue. To quote Jackson Katz, an anti-violence educator who writes and lectures on gendered violence, â€œwe need to say this is a menâ€™s issueâ€, too (www.jacksonkatz.com).
In 2003, according the F.B.I.â€™s arrest-based Uniform Crime Reports, 90.1% of homicides were perpetrated by males and 77.5% of their victims were other males. The perpetrator of these violent acts at Virginia Tech was male. In fact, this crime is only the most recent of a long history of mass shootings committed by males in this country â€“ many of them committed by young men and boys at educational institutions. You may recall the stories: 2 killed and 7 wounded by 16 year old Luke Woodham in Pearl, Mississippi in 1997; 3 killed and 5 wounded by 14 year old Michael Carneal in West Paducah, Kentucky in 1997; 5 killed and10 wounded by 13 year old Mitchell Johnson and 11 year old Andrew Golden in Jonesboro, Arkansas in 1998; 2 killed and 22 wounded by 15 year old Kip Kinkel in Springfield, Oregon in 1998; 15 killed and 23 wounded by 18 year old Eric Harris and 17 year old Dylan Klebold in Littleton, Colorado in 1999; 2 killed and 13 wounded by 15 year old Charles Andrew Williams in Santee, California in 2001; 2 killed by 15 year old John Jason McLaughlin in Cold Spring, Minnesota in 2003; 10 killed by 16 year old Jeff Weisse in Red Lake, Minnesota in 2005; 6 killed and 5 wounded in an Amish school house by 32 year old Carl Roberts in Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania in 2006; 33 killed and 15 wounded by 23 year old Cho Seung-Hui in Blacksburg, Virginia in 2007. These are not the only stories of male-perpetrated gun violence, but those that received the most media coverage over that past decade. In the coverage of each of these stories, including the murders at Virginia Tech, the media has failed to appropriately address the fact that men and boys are committing these crimes. It is time for that to change.
Addressing the issue of male-perpetrated violence is not about blaming men, nor is it about locating the cause of violence in a biological explanation of aggression, given that the rates and contexts of male violence vary significantly across cultures and among individual males within them. It is also not about expensive, band-aid solutions such as metal detectors and armed security, over long-term, meaningful societal transformation. Rather, we must address the ways in which we socialize our young boys in our culture. Masculinity becomes associated with dominance, aggression, power and violence and these characteristics are encouraged, accepted and perpetuated. We have to stop believing that â€œboys will be boysâ€ who grow up to kill people with guns. Boys are taught, and they see, hear and live what they learn.
If these crimes had all been committed by young women, we would no doubt be asking ourselves â€œwhy?â€ How could a young woman perpetuate such an act of horrible violence against someone else? It would be even more unthinkable than it already is. Yet current social trends show that we are increasingly socializing our girls into more traditionally masculine characteristics as they seek to gain power and equality in our patriarchal society. As long as masculinity, and more importantly power, is associated with aggression and violence, it may be just a matter of time before females start lashing out in similar mass, destructive ways.
Well, we should be asking ourselves that same question now instead of ignoring the fact that these perpetrators are male. In doing so, we are accepting the association of aggression and violence with masculinity. That should be unacceptable to all of us â€“ men and women. We must stop ignoring the importance of gender socialization and its strong, consistent correlations with many forms of violent crime. We owe it to our sons and daughters to have this conversation and to start changing the way we raise our young men.