Gun Violence Research Project: Redefining Masculinity in the Modern World

Throughout 2018, and following the Parkland Shooting in Florida, Redwoods has committed to exploring the topic of gun violence in our communities, and how community-serving organizations can play a role in tackling this epidemic. While it is right and proper that there is an ongoing discussion about how and when to regulate guns—and access to guns—in our society, another aspect of the topic has been on our minds lately:

And that’s the fact that it is overwhelmingly boys and men who are pulling the trigger.

This holds true both for mass shootings, and for one-on-one gun violence. And it holds true whether we are talking about domestic violence, gang-related killings or suicide-by-gun (which accounts for more than half of all gun-related deaths in the United States). A few statistics to put this into perspective:

  • Of all murders—where the gender of the perpetrator is known—90% are male.
  • When it comes to mass shootings, fully 98% of all shooters are male. 
  • 87% of suicide-by-gun victims are male. 
  • 45% of female murder victims in the US are killed by a male domestic partner. The risk of becoming a victim increases five-fold for women if their male partner has access to a firearm. 

Back in 2013, we partnered with The Prevention Institute to host a Child Sexual Abuse Prevention webinar. In that webinar, we focused on the role that negative gender norms—the sexualization and objectification of women and girls, and the promotion of reinforcement of machismo and aggressive sexuality among men—can contribute to a culture where sexual violence in general, and child sexual abuse in particular, are more prevalent.

These same trends play a role in terms of gun violence too.

Clearly, there is an urgent need to promote healthy, positive visions for what it means to be a man in the 21st Century, and to also actively challenge gender norms that may contribute to violence and emotional or mental health.

As youth-serving organizations and professionals, you are critically important in shaping how young people see themselves in this world. And you give them the tools they need to navigate life successfully and ethically, regardless of their gender. Of all the ways that we, as a movement, can help tackle this epidemic, engaging in dialogue about how masculinity is defined in a changing world might be some of the most important. Here are just a few of the questions on our mind:

  • How can youth-serving organizations ensure that their staff and volunteers are modeling healthy gender roles?
  • How can gender-specific programming encourage young people to explore and question ideas about what it means to be a man/woman in the 21st Century?
  • What opportunities are there for outreach and intervention among young men who may be at risk of developing violent behaviors—be that gang related activity, domestic violence or self-harm? 
  • And how do we make sure we are protecting and nurturing potential victims of such violence too?

We would love to hear your thoughts on how we—as a movement—can work together to encourage healthy gender roles and norms in the communities we serve. And for those interested in taking a deeper dive into this topic, WNYC’s The Takeaway recently broadcasted a fascinating exploration of masculinity and how gender roles are changing.