Gun Violence and Toxic Masculinity: What Happened in Florida is No Anomaly

Home News & Politics Gun Violence and Toxic Masculinity: What Happened in Florida is No Anomaly

Society must be answerable to the lives of those lost to the ramifications of toxic masculinity, in both the moral and physical sense.

By Olivia Ahn

[TW/CW: discussions about gun violence, murder, domestic violence and misogyny.]

On Wednesday, at least 17 people were killed when 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz opened fire using a semiautomatic rifle at his former high school in Parkland, Florida. 14 other students were wounded, with five suffering from life-threatening injuries according to NBC news.

The Boston Globe reported that Cruz had shown violent tendencies, was abusive to his ex-girlfriend, and his expulsions were related to a fight in regards to her new boyfriend. Since the shooting, authorities arrested Cruz in Coral Springs. He has been charged with 17 counts of premeditated murder.

Nikolas Cruz
Nikolas Cruz

Since the beginning of 2018, there have been 1,827 gun-related deaths in the U.S.. In 2017, The Gun Violence Archive reported 15,590 gun-related homicide deaths, domestically and climbing. Approximately 20 of these deaths received widespread national-level media attention. Of the 20 nationally-covered gun-related homicides last year, 100% of the gunmen were male, with 40% of the motives classified as an extension or direct act of domestic violence, intimate partner violence, and/or sexual assault or harassment.  

The Violence Policy Center (VPC) reported from 2001-2012 that approximately 11,766 women were killed by their current or ex boyfriends or husbands. Over half of these women were killed using a gun. If we are to critically address the issue of gun violence in the U.S., we must confront toxic masculinity’s foundational role in influencing and perpetuating these outcomes, especially in regards to its explicit impacts on the behavioral and mental health of men that proportionately affect the survival of women.

The data above was featured in the 2015 documentary “The Mask You Live In”, which focused on the effects of toxic masculinity on young and adult men in The U.S.. The term toxic masculinity has been attributed to the cumulative work of psychologists and sociologists since the early 1980’s, stemming out of the Mythopoetic Men’s Movement. These men commonly defined toxic masculinity as the harmful, detrimental, and even destructive effects of high, demanding, and narrow cultural expectations of masculinity in society. Examples include socially acceptable male traits, such as dominance, emotional repression, the devaluation and subjugation of women, homophobia, extreme self-reliance, and most importantly, violence.


In late 2017, a gun-related homicide motivated by intimate partner violence in Manhattan, New York, Vincent Verdi, 62, shot and killed Elizabeth Lee Herman, 56. Verdi shot Herman three times and subsequently shot himself, but failed attempted suicide. Herman had been granted a protection order against Verdi, as Verdi was reported to have repetitiously followed her to and from work, stalked her, and relentlessly contacted her for several months after their separation. However, many other cases of gun violence further emphasize the prevalence of similar motives through the effects of toxic masculinity.

July 2016 in Everett, Washington, Allen Ivanov, 19, shot his ex-girlfriend, Anna Bui, 19, alongside two of her male friends. Ivanov’s motive was simply declared as “jealousy” in his court testimony. On April 2017 in Cleveland, Ohio, Steve Stephens, 37, held Robert Godwin, 74, hostage, killed him, and committed suicide. Stevens attributed his motive to the separation between him and his ex-girlfriend, Joy Lane. Before killing Godwin, Stephens said “She’s the reason why this is about to happen to you” and hashtagged #JoyLaneMassacre with a livestream of his murder of Godwin. Although Lane was not the victim of the homicide, Stephens’ vindication to kill Goodwin is not dissimilar to violence that Vince and Ivanov perpetrated against Herman and Bui.

Gun-related homicides that are cited with motives of domestic or intimate partner violence are often euphemized as “crimes of passion”. This vernacular rationalizes such violence as a conventional form of male emotional expression, further reinforcing the acceptance of toxic masculinity into society.

Enabling this narrative has kept the violence unto women as status quo, qualifying anyone’s entitlement to her body—and ultimately her life—in order to further justify taking it. The collateral damage of those who are killed at her expense refers back to her (i.e. Lee was reported to have suffered mass cyber bullying after Stephens’ livestream went viral, predominantly from male internet users), inadvertently holding her accountable to the inception of her perpetrator’s violence. This creates a dangerous societal standard and cautionary precedent for women to uphold—to not incite violence against themselves or others—thus potentially choosing to remain in violent relationships for their own and other’s safety. In 2011 alone, The VPC reported 264 women were killed by an intimate male partner during an argument.


Such high rates of male-committed homicide should incite a call to action amongst our society and most immediate communities. Resources should be designed to center young and adult men in understanding violence prevention and susceptibility due to the effects of toxic masculinity. For decades, anti-violence organizations (predominantly run by women) have impressively accumulated resources to react to emergencies, such as trying to escape conditions of intimate partner violence; or survivor recovery, such as counseling. Concurrent programs must exist that incorporate, accept, and encourage more men into the work of violence prevention and education surrounding toxic masculinity.

The prevention of toxic masculinity from targeting young men can be addressed through greater emotional intelligence education in our schools and accessible behavioral and mental health resources in our communities. Toxic masculinity demands to be seen as a public health issue that holds us accountable to the well-being of men autonomously, and thus society concurrently. Society must be answerable to the lives of those lost to the ramifications of toxic masculinity, in both the moral and physical sense.


Due to the flux in conversations about mental illness being a contributor to gun violence surrounding the Florida case, the author has added an addendum: 
Mental health amongst cis heterosexual men is directly affected by toxic masculinity. Many mental health issues and struggles are often exacerbated by extreme social stressors caused by toxic masculinity through the unrealistic standards its sets for those who aspire towards it. This ultimately manifests as heavy internalization and repression, only to be released through outlets such as aggression and violence—especially while concurrently experiencing factors such as abandonment, neglect, being outcast, alienation, rejection, and bullying, with no emotional tools or mental health resources by which to use in order to process these stressors with.
If those who have committed these past acts of gun violence had more support from others that similarly identify within their spectrum of masculinity, who would be able to provide supportive conversations and mentorship that challenged toxic masculinity, perhaps we would have very different stories and futures for these men and their victims.
Shooters are just as much a victim to toxic masculinity as the victims themselves. We must not allow future young men to be complicit in their own oppression as well as the oppression they may be subject to perpetuate in these inexcusable acts of violence.




Author Bio: Olivia is a full spectrum doula, lactation counselor, and sexual and reproductive health advocate in New York City. Olivia is dedicated to compassionate care and radical emotionality that is attentive to histories of trauma, abuse, and oppression amongst communities of color and the LGBTIAQ+ community. Olivia’s practice ultimately strives for empathy towards the multiple truths, experiences, and subjectivities of the human condition so that we may uplift our collective healing and rewrite our unwritten histories.


Featured Image: John McCall/South Florida Sun Sentinel/POLARIS