On Tuesday, a 39-year-old woman named Nasim Aghdam shot and injured four people at YouTube's headquarters in San Bruno, CA, before shooting and killing herself.
When examining active shootings between 2000 and 2013, the FBI found that just six out of 160 attacks (3.8%) involved female shooters. A Secret Service study of mass violence in the US last year found 28 incidents, including the country-music concert massacre in Las Vegas — all of which were committed by men.
Investigators have not publicly announced a motivation for Aghdam's actions, but police and family said she was angry because she thought YouTube may have been censoring her channel, and she herself had complained that YouTube was filtering her content.
A disturbing number of people on Twitter — we won't name or link to any of them so as not to give them attention they don't deserve — decided that this horrific incident is a good time to invoke "toxic femininity". Fox News host Tucker Carlson once used the phrase, too, on a segment questioning the validity of the term "toxic masculinity" following the school shooting in Parkland, FL.
What they're doing is trying to discredit the necessary and overdue public conversation about toxic male behaviour happening in America. It's nonsensical and sad at best. But it serves a purpose: This rare female shooter — a PETA-loving, vegan one, at that! — affirms this group's cherished internalised misogyny. It also lets them ignore a deeply entrenched problem in American society; that men are taught to convey strength and not confide their emotions, and people often suffer for it.
"So when is America gonna address the toxic femininity that led to YouTube’s headquarters getting shot up huh?" one person tweeted.
Why is no one discussing this? Because, quite simply, it's not a thing. "I have never heard the term and it makes no sense," said Katherine Newman, PhD, a sociologist at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. "I cannot imagine any way in which this incident was provoked by a challenge to the shooter’s femininity. It sounds more like a play on words and it isn’t conceptually appropriate in my view."
In her book Rampage:The Social Roots of School Shootings, Dr. Newman discusses the origins of male violence.
"For boys, the social image that links masculinity to violence, guns, and the sadly admired image of the antihero is a distinctive map for attracting attention and social acceptance by peers," Dr. Newman told Refinery29. "This is not an image that encompasses girls. School shooters are trying to solve a social-image problem, and the maps popular culture provides for boys lead in this violent direction."
In other words, violent men are responding to a "cultural script" that teaches them masculinity means violence, she said. And this hurts women. The major connection between most mass shooters is that they exhibit anger and violent tendencies toward women: Nikolas Cruz reportedly threatened girls with rape, Austin Rollins shot his girlfriend in the head because she broke up with him, and the list goes on.
On average, women are far less likely to commit homicide than men. They only commit about 10 to 13% of all homicides in the US. While men committed 88 mass shootings between 1982 and October 2017, women only committed two. On top of that, women suffer a disproportionate amount of sexual assault and intimate-partner violence: One in five women is raped, compared to one in 71 men — and those are just the reported cases. According to a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, over half of murdered women are killed by romantic partners.
The fact that the shooter was a woman should not distract from the scary reality that in the US, it's all too easy for a person who wants to commit a violent act to get their hands on a firearm. That's what deserves to be tweeted incessantly — not some made-up term.
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