We’re still collecting all the pieces from the massacre in Newtown, but one thing we do know, is there’s a clear link between this country’s gun culture and rape culture and that link is white male masculinity with something to prove.
Don’t take my word for it. Instead, take a look at the ad campaign from Bushmaster, the manufacturer of the assault rifle used to murder almost thirty people, most of them children, in Connecticut. Bushmaster grants “man cards” to visitors of bushmaster.com who can prove their masculinity by answering a series of manhood questions. Complete the quiz successfully and get a card that proves you’re a man. Or buy their weapon and presumably use it. In as assault. Because it is an assault weapon, after all.
Let’s get the obvious components out of the way. A company called “Bushmaster” is suggesting that purchasing, and presumably using, its assault rifle will restore spurned masculinity. I’m no Freudian but I think there’s something about overcompensation in there somewhere.
All snark aside, what we do know, and what we must confront, is the fact that while more men die of gun violence than women in a given year, gun deaths are overwhelmingly committed by men. Since 1982 there have been 62 cases of mass shootings in this country and the vast majority were committed by young white men. As Soraya Chemaly smartly notes “White boys and men are not biologically or genetically predisposed to be homicidal mass murderers or domestic abusers. However, violence is part of how American masculinity is defined. And guns are part of that violence.”
Which is what makes the Bushmaster ad campaign, and the countless other pro-gun = pro-man ad campaigns so dangerous. They play on a white male cultural sense of entitlement that feels under threat while signaling that ultimately violence, and specifically gun violence, is the surest means to restore that entitlement and undo that emasculation. As Bushmaster’s tagline says, ” Consider Your Man Card Reissued.”
It’s this tie between American male masculinity and violence that is at the core of rape culture as well, and it’s what fuels the Tea Party Congress. White men may be an ever-shrinking portion of the American electorate, but they have a deadly grip on gun control policy in this country. 56 percent of white men oppose stricter gun control laws, while overall 53 percent of non-college educated whites oppose such laws. And while ten percent of women in this country own a gun, 59 percent of women support stricter gun laws. And while there’s no evidence to show that mass shootings like the Newtown tragedy have women in mind as victims, when 11 of the 62 mass shootings take place in schools, there’s a greater likelihood more women will be victims.
Until we break this tie between violence, sex and American masculinity we can’t expect rape culture or gun culture to go away. And we can’t break that tie if we’re too afraid to admit it exists.
Top photo from Mike Saechang via flickr.