The death of San Bernardino shooting suspect Tashfeen Malik poses the question: Why are female shooters so rare? According to the FBI's definition of "mass shooting" — four people fatally shot, not including the shooter — Malik is allegedly the first female mass shooter since 2006, when Jennifer San Marco killed six fellow post office employees. According to TIME, as a general rule, authorities can expect the shooter to be male 98 percent of the time. But why?
The United States Department of Justice calculated that between 1980 and 2008, 89.5 percent of homicide offenders were male. The trend is so prominent that we oftentimes forget the first school shooting in the United States was committed by a female assailant, a 16-year-old girl, in 1979. These numbers clearly show that gun violence is a gendered issue in the United States. In an article written for TIME magazine in 2014, the executive director of Men Can Stop Rape, Neil Irvin, calls male violence "the most critical public health issue facing our nation."
Why does this disparity between gun violence in men and women exist? A number of social theories, which draw on traditional gender assignments and the perpetuation of masculinity, help to explain why this might be the case. Although experts cannot offer one concrete answer to the polarity, their speculations can help us better understand it.
Men Are Taught That Violence Is Masculine
Gender stereotypes are ingrained at a shockingly young age. In 1993, professor of sociology James Messerschmidt hypothesized that violence is a "masculine-validating resource" for boys and men who are pressured by society to conform to gender norms. Young boys are expected to abide by a general rule: fight back. If someone throws a punch, hit them back harder. American social psychologist Leonard Berkowitz suggests that parents are more accepting of aggression in young boys — aka "boys will be boys" — than in girls. Consider the way toy aisles are separated according to these gender specific attributions. Boys receive toy guns, and girls receive stuffed animals. The Telegraph's Celia Hall interviewed Dr. Sebastian Kraemer, child and developmental psychologist at the Whittington Hospital, and discussed the negative outcomes of raising boys to be "tough."
You hard-wire in self-confidence that is not based on bluster — a self-confidence that is genuine and doesn't need to be constantly asserted. In other words you will have a more confident but less aggressive male. ... Boys are encouraged to keep the lid tightly screwed down on emotions and develop hardness, sporting prowess and coolness.
He said he believes that if boys were raised to embrace sensitivity, they would be able to exercise greater self-control and express themselves through other avenues. Instead, according to Maria do Mar Pereira, deputy director for the University of Warwick's Centre for the Study of Women and Gender, they are encouraged to exercise "everyday low-level violence" to prove themselves masculine.
Women Suppress Their Aggression
Historically, young girls are taught to be more passive than boys. Ian Marsh, professor of government at the University of Sydney, explains the gender role for girls.
In the world of organised, professional, crime, sex-segregation is the norm. Women are likely to be viewed in terms of traditional sex-role stereotypes, as unreliable, emotional, illogical and so on. Moreover, males tend to see the crimes they commit as too dangerous for women, or too difficult, or their masculine pride may not be willing to accept women as organisers of crime, as "bosses".
Traditionally, women are taught to take on a motherly role that requires them to be sensitive, caring, and most importantly, non-aggressive. Jacquelyn W. White and Robin M. Kowalski co-authored a feminist analysis titled "Deconstructing The Myth Of The Nonaggressive Woman" for Psychology of Women Quarterly, and refuted the misconception that women are naturally non-aggressive.
Because of opportunities, resources, and socialization pressures, the situations in which women will display aggressive behaviors appear to be more circumscribed, limited specifically to situations in which opportunities and social sanctions for aggressive behavior are present.
Instead, White and Kowalski suggest that women suppress their aggression to appease gender norms, suggesting that females are more accustomed to having no choice but to compose themselves and resist retaliation.
Women Generally Only Murder As A Last Resort
Statistics show that if women do kill, they are less likely than men to choose their victims at random. Instead, they murder those who are close to them. According to the Department of Justice, 10 percent of murders between 1976 and 2005 were carried out by women, but when it came to the murder of intimate partners, women played a role in almost 35 percent of cases. James Alan Fox, who is a criminologist at Northeastern University, told ABC News that women are more likely to use alternate forms of murder, such as suffocation or poisoning, as a last resort. He adds that in contrast to women, who often use violence as a "defensive move," men often use violence as an "offensive move," and are therefore more likely to kill indiscriminately in a mass shooting.
Or Because Something Has Happened To Them In The Past
ABC News interviewed Columbia University clinical psychology professor Xavier Amadour, who commented on the identity of women who carry out murder.
There are a number of different roads that lead to someone taking someone else's life. ... In women, in my experience, it tends to be typically related to a history of abuse or psychosis.
Women Blame Themselves First
This last theory involves women's more self-effacing justification for acting out. In an interview with NPR, Candice Batton, who is the director of the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice at the University of Nebraska, explained the dichotomy.
Some research supports the idea that males are more likely than females to develop negative attributions of blame that are external in nature, that is: "The cause ... of my problems is someone else or some force outside of me." And this translates into anger and hostility toward others ... [Women] are more likely to develop negative attributions of blame that are internal in nature, that is: "The cause of my problems is some failing of my own: I didn't try hard enough, I'm not good enough."
Women are more likely to be tough on themselves before they take action against someone else.