PORTLAND, Oregon — Adolescent males responsible in school shootings tend to feel insecure about their masculinity, a new study finds.
Researchers at Portland State University in Oregon looked at common characteristics shared between 31 boys involved in 29 mass school shootings over a two-decade-long period, hoping to see what drove such acts of violence.
Their findings showed that a shooter’s motive typically developed over time: a lack of acceptance among peers led to grudges against classmates and teachers, culminating in anger, depression, and violence.
Underlying all of this was a boy’s reputation for not being masculine enough, which required he be tough, heterosexual, and averse to “sissy stuff,” among other things. Not abiding by these expected standards could lead to a child being ostracized.
The researchers found all 31 boys were either bullied by classmates for not being “appropriately masculine” or rejected by female companions, which added to their distress. A lack of outward machoness could result in him being called any number of epithets, such as “homo,” “cry baby,” and “fag,” taunts that most of the individuals examined in the study reported being subjected to.
One’s background also played a significant role in their participation in school shootings.
Ten of the 31 perpetrators examined had documented “serious” mental health issues, and another 10 were determined to have grown up in abusive households.
The remaining 11 had demonstrated a tendency for reacting in an explosive and outsized manner to perceived slights, the researchers said.
Only six of the shooters weren’t white, and only one didn’t identify as being straight.
“Many of the adolescent shooters had personal troubles that affected their ability to manage their social performances at school,” notes lead researcher Kathryn Farr in a press release. “Moreover, the potential rampage of a boy with severe mental illness and rampage-related risk factors could be especially injurious.”
Still, many of the perpetrators demonstrated behavior somewhat inconsistent with their birth gender, which often prompted them to overcompensate among peers. This overcompensation may ultimately manifest in one’s decision to flaunt their violent tendencies against classmates and instructors.
Farr believes that schools can help prevent future shootings by informing their students about what led to previous incidents, while integrating discussion and lesson plans on male gender identity into the curriculum.
“Such classroom-based discussions could also help schools identify, provide, and give value to activities that appeal to boys whose interests and skills lie outside the norms of insider masculinity,” Farr concludes.
The full study on school shootings was published on Thursday in the journal Gender Issues.
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