10 Mar How Do We Stop Men Killing Us?
Thailand has been in a state of shock since Jakrapanth Thomma’s killing spree in a shopping mall in the north eastern city of Nakhon Ratchasima. From 15.30 on 8th February to 09.13 the following morning, the 31-year-old soldier shot 29 people dead and wounded another 58 before being killed by Thai security forces. That this man was a Sergeant Major in the highly respected Thai army, has only added to the national grief and soul-searching.
Despite having extensive gun ownership, Thailand had till then avoided the horror of random mass shootings by men. But whatever assumptions Thais once held about their unique Buddhist culture somehow offering immunity against such terror, that has now disappeared. Thailand has been brutally woken to the fact that like every other country, every other community, it too is now on the front line of the war against society being waged by men with toxic masculinity. Only days after this massacre, the first sign of copy-cat behaviour by young men is surfacing in Thailand; a 22-year-old male arrested for posting on Facebook that he wanted to buy a rifle for a shooting spree at a popular shopping mall in his home city and a 40-year-old man firing a gun indiscriminately at passers-by in the centre of Bangkok.
Thailand’s response to the Nakhon Ratchasima massacre is typically Thai. First a mass pray-in and merit-making ceremony at the mall where most of the killings took place, led by Buddhist monks. Second, the government proposing to amend the school curriculum by increasing study hours for religion (Buddhist culture and values) and morality. The aim being to “make kids more mindful and enable them to differentiate between good and bad acts.’
As I explain in my book, Toxic Masculinity: curing the virus, making men smarter, healthier, safer, schools most definitely have a major role to play in curbing male violence and aggression. This process should begin in kindergarten and continue through compulsory education. In effect, we need to create a different way of being a man, one which is not emotionally dysfunctional, unreflective, lacks empathy, but is the very opposite of these negative traits. However, to place this responsibility solely with teachers will not solve the problem. Fathers play an even more important role in helping ensure boys do not catch the toxic masculinity virus. And make no mistake, the TM virus is deadlier and more dangerous to global society than anything you’ll catch from a sneeze or a dirty loo.
Like many countries, the Thai government has yet to openly recognise the gender issue at the root of this problem. Right now, their immediate response is to see the violence as ‘ungendered’. They make no attempt to address the issue of masculine identity. But inevitably, they must. Because violence is overwhelming a male issue, not a female one.
The statistics speak for themselves: 99% of mass shooters are male. 96% of all murderers are male. The vast majority of domestic abusers are male. Globally, one in three women will suffer violence from men. A U.N Report reveals that 87,000 women were murdered in 2019, 50,000 of them by their intimate partner. And it is getting worse. In the UK, there were 241 female homicide victims in 2019, the highest figure since 2006. In the USA, up to 50 women are killed each day. A few days after the Thai killings, hundreds of people were gathering in Mexico City to protest against yet another murder of a woman. From Mexico to South Africa, Iraq to Honduras, India to the USA, Turkey to Spain, femicide, the gender-based killing of women, is on the rise. Around the world, women are being killed with impunity.
Yes, we can continue to look at each incident of male violence and compartmentalise it and thereby seek to ‘explain it’; for example, Jakrapanth Thomma appeared to have a grievance against his commanding officer. We can blame testosterone, male libido, poverty, social media, unemployment, easy access to knives and guns, lack of morality, a secular society. We can assuage our own guilt, fear and complicity by blaming the victim; ‘wrong place, wrong time’, ‘shouldn’t have been wearing a short skirt’, shouldn’t have gone home alone in that taxi’, ‘shouldn’t have stayed out late’, ‘should have checked the lock on that window’, ‘shouldn’t have married him’, should have not been there at all. Just unlucky. How many women have been unlucky? How many more will be unlucky?
Toxic masculinity is so ingrained in society we interpret it as a ‘progressive act’ when urban planners start focusing on how to design cities so as to make the streets safer for women, enabling them feel more secure when moving around a city. We applaud when trains and subway cars start having ‘women only’ carriages. We consider it a sensible move when cities such as Seoul find it necessary to introduce women-only taxis. And we look with some incredulity when a quarter of a million Japanese women feel it necessary to download an app designed to stop men groping them on rush-hour trains. This is how bad it is. So bad we have stopped seeing it. A terrible indictment of modern man and for which every man should feel some shame and take responsibility for seeing it doesn’t continue.
The good news is that male violence is not a biological imperative. It is not caused by genes, DNA, testosterone or any other biological condition. It is a social disease and one which can only be reduced by changing male social behaviour.
That many men around the world today do not have toxic masculinity is encouraging. There are at least two other major masculinities in global society: progressive masculinity and collapsed masculinity. Neither of which lead men to behave like murderous killers. But toxic masculinity prevails. It is now recognised by the American Psychological Association as a mental illness. The fact that so many men acquire this mental illness is the worry.
Until we take active measures to deal with this problem, and do so from childhood onwards, then any notion that human society is civilised is at best an illusion, and at worst a fatal one, for which we will all continue to pay the price.