A response to Jim Dowd’s The Shootings Are Not Senseless
Recently a friend posted a link to an article by Jim Dowd in The Gloucester Clam that posits a theory for why disaffected young men in the United States are taking to their civilian population with guns.
The author makes a compelling case, likening the phenomenon that has led to mass-shootings in the United States to that which gave rise to Al Queda in Saudi Arabia: these are young men who feel systemically powerless, disaffected by the inequities built into their societies, along with a sense of entitlement to those things that seem unobtainable.
One of those ‘things’ Dowd argues, is access to women. Women as mates, women as breeding partners, women as status symbols.
Further, through technological advances and economic shifts, we have taken away these men’s place in the workforce, limiting opportunity to obtain status and meaning through employment. These men are at a loose end; no longer husbands and fathers or gainfully employed providers, they feel humiliated, and it is society’s fault.
Dowd writes, ‘The most recent attacker, Christopher Harper-Mercer, follows the strict pattern of highly-aggrieved men trapped in a cultural paradox from which they cannot escape’, adding, ‘Young men don’t regularly kill large numbers of innocent members of their own society in a healthy culture’.
By giving women their own role, we have eliminated the role of men as providers without offering a substitute.
Dowd suggests that with the rise of equal opportunities for women, we have reduced women’s dependency on men. Women have a choice, and when faced with a choice, they are less likely to pair up with undesirable mates, i.e. those most prone to becoming gun-wielding mass-murderers.
Dowd has a point. We know for instance that divorce rates increase as women gain social and financial independence. Women are choosing to marry later or not at all. Many are choosing not to have children that might limit their independence. We also know women are more likely to stay in abusive relationships when they feel dependent: shackled to their partner, whether financially, socially or as a parent.
From the point of view of these disaffected young men, society is to blame for allowing women independence. By giving women their own role, we have eliminated the role of men as providers without offering a substitute. We have exposed their unsuitability as sex and/or relationship partners and taken away their opportunity to shackle females to them, while maintaining the basis on which their social status hangs: having access to women of their choice.
Dowd concludes, ‘…the most effective, cheapest and least blood-soaked way to reduce and remove the motivation for the attacks is to alleviate the fundamental grievance of inequity.’ He puts the onus on society to help: ‘Put simply—we can’t let a generation of young men flounder. Yes, they can be assholes and no we don’t need as much of what young men are traditionally good at anymore—dangerous, dirty and difficult jobs requiring brute strength and a lack of self-concern, but we need young men to grow up into reliable citizens. And for them to do so there has to be an acceptable pathway, not just a stew of grievances they marinade in until they get their shit together.’
The goal shouldn’t be to ‘secure’ a ‘high-status’ mate, or a succession of sexual ‘conquests’; it should be about finding meaning and connection in quality relationships, and that starts with where we place our value: not on obtaining people as things, but on experiencing relatedness.
Yet even if we were to somehow (and Dowd does not offer a strategy) provide a pathway for these young men to find a sense of purpose and meaning, this still doesn’t address many of the social structures that underpin the way these men view themselves, women, and relationships.
This isn’t about redefining the role for disaffected men; it is about the way we socialise men and women, what we teach them about gender roles, about sexuality, about how we relate to one another. It is about what we value in ourselves and in mates, and learning social skills and connectedness. The goal shouldn’t be to ‘secure’ a ‘high-status’ mate, or a succession of sexual ‘conquests’; it should be about finding meaning and connection in quality relationships, and that starts with where we place our value: not on obtaining people as things, but on experiencing relatedness.
These are ‘less desirable mates’ not because we have taken away their jobs or because women don’t have any option but to hook up with them; they are less desirable mates because of who they are as people. Because they have a sense of undeserved entitlement, and because they see women not as people with whom they might form genuine connections, but as shallow status objects.
While feminism narrowed the gap of equal opportunity for women, the gender roles that underpin our relationships did not similarly evolve.
Where in Dowd’s argument is the onus on these disaffected men to improve themselves and become more desirable companions? From where does their sense of entitlement stem? Why do they not view women as people? Perhaps as importantly, why are women buying into these values, measuring their worth by their sexual attractiveness, wearing chastity rings and slut-shaming each other?
While feminism narrowed the gap of equal opportunity for women, the gender roles that underpin our relationships did not similarly evolve. Instead of evening out or becoming more flexible, women’s roles expanded, yet men’s contracted. Women are now carers, nurturers, responsible for emotional health AND paid employees. Women have more opportunity, but also greater responsibility. Meanwhile, men can today choose to take up any, all, or none of these roles, but we have not provided the social support for them to do so. Their role options have diminished, yet we still value them as though the old social structures were in place.
This isn’t about providing for the men who slip through the mate selection gap; it is that this model focuses on all the wrong things.
Further, when we allowed women their financial independence, we should have also allowed them their sexual freedom. In 2015, it is hard to believe that men still aspire to be sexual ‘studs’ while men and women resort to slut-shaming other women as a means to control sexual expression and behaviour. We treat women not as people but objects, prizes, for men to use and denigrate as they see fit. We value a woman for her sexual attractiveness, yet if she ‘undervalues’ her sexuality and gives sex away too easily, she is worthless. As long as we socially proscribe female promiscuity and sexual freedom, women are less likely to behave sexually, and now they can afford to be more selective in their choice of mates: a formula that works for almost no one.
This isn’t about providing for the men who slip through the mate selection gap; it is that this model focuses on all the wrong things. Our earliest socialisation needs to begin with changing the way we view men, women and relationships, and the value we place on one another, not as objects, but people, who can carve out their own roles, regardless of their gender.