Ending Gender-Based Gun Violence: A Discussion on Toxic Masculinity and Gun Violence with IANSA

By Paige Wright and Lea Hilliker, Nonviolence International Interns

Gender-based violence and domestic violence have plagued the lives of women across the world. Lea and I take the opportunity in this article to walk through the ties between the stereotypes of masculinity and gun violence and how nonviolent action can promote nonviolent masculinity. We spoke with Ivan Marques and Amelie Namuroy of the International Action Network on Small Arms (IANSA) on masculinity and violence to better understand the causes of gender-based violence and what can be done to stop it. 

Masculinity and Gun Violence

On February 19th, 2020, a shooter opened fire at a shisha bar in Hanau, Germany. The shooter killed nine people and injured more before returning home, to kill his mother and committing suicide. Before his death, the shooter wrote a manifesto detailing his racist and patriarchal motivations for the attack. The manifesto titled “Topic Women” contained 24 pages of misogynistic conspiratorial tropes in which the shooter objectifies women and believes they should be  submissive to men. These patriarchal beliefs are widespread and are learned from an early age.

Men are socialized under misguided norms of masculinity in which they must be tough, unemotional, heterosexist, and aggressive. Boys live under this intense pressure to be “masculine” and develop more dominant, aggressive behaviors into their adulthood. Males use aggression and violence to assert their power over another or to defend their masculinity when it is threatened. Ivan notes that forcing men to identify with the “warrior” or “soldier” perception urges them to act aggressively and use guns to execute their. Men are overwhelmingly more likely to commit more gun violence than women.

Domestic Violence and Guns

In addition to widespread beliefs and socialization in male supremacy, the widespread availability of both legal and illegal guns in many countries often leads to high rates of gun violence and domestic violence. In the USA, women are five times more likely to be murdered by an abusive partner when the abuser has access to a gun. This problem extends beyond the U.S., and impacts many societies around the world. 

In Australia, after a decade of violence and a terrifying climax of this individual’s partner threatening behavior, this survivor was brave enough to leave her husband. During her abuse, the abuser threatened the survivor with a gun on more than one occasion by holding the gun to her throat. While domestic violence is not always carried out with guns, guns in the household put women at greater risk of firearms violence perpetrated by an intimate partner.

A sign stating "Believe Survivors" at an anti-Kavanaugh protest in October 2018. The paid leave proposal in the Build Back Better plan would specifically provide paid leave for people who need to "find safety from assault, stalking and sexual violence." (Source: Ms. Magazine)

Moreover, women are not the only demographic group impacted by gun violence. The easy access to household guns poses a risk to young children. Around 41,000 individuals under the age of 24 are injured or killed by individuals that use firearms. Many of these casualties occur when weapons are not properly stored and secured in a household. These guns  lead to accidental shootings and numerous suicides. We communicated the risks guns pose in school settings in our last article following the tragedy in Oxford, Michigan, USA. This incident is one of many examples of gun violence  involving children, and unfortunately will not be the last. NVI believes that the heightened risk of gun violences and domestic abuse on  women and children, and the potential for larger scale violence in their communities resulting from guns, demands significant reform to restrict the accessibility to guns. 

Interview with IANSA

After researching information on the ties between masculinity and violence, Lea and I turned to Ivan and Amelie from the International Action Network on Small Arms (IANSA) to discuss their work in ending gender-based violence and creating a nonviolent masculinity.

Ivan notes that the stereotypes of masculinity, a societal concept, identifies with the character of a “warrior” and “soldier.” Not only does toxic masculinity favor aggression, but it also favors the use of guns to express that aggression. The stereotypical version of masculinity prevents women from being part of the conversation on guns and gun violence– a problem IANSA seeks to solve through their advocacy.

When asked about the purpose of IANSA and their gender-based work, Ivan and Amelie noted that IANSA represents the voices of civil society on the proliferation and misuse of small arms. IANSA also addresses a deep flaw in gun violence discussions, as Ivan notes, “Violence affects the whole population which we know 50% is composed of women and women are not granted access to any of these decision making processes (i.e. conferences on violence, debates, etc.).” In response. IANSA created the Women’s Network, a project run by women, to push for this change.

The Women’s Network’s gender project continues efforts to “mainstream gender into this international agenda on small arms.” In particular, the gender project seeks to involve youth in the discussion of gender stereotypes and the pressure that surrounds masculinity and gun violence. Amelie described two creative projects the organization is working on: creating a coloring book that teaches boys and girls that do not have to adhere to gender stereotypes and publishing a comic book that transforms ideas of gender norms. Both of these resources counter the education of aggressive masculinity and encourages the inclusion of all genders.

While advocating against toxic masculinity, Ivan and Amelie note that it is important to pass effective legislation on firearms and domestic violence, provide educational material on what gender is and the transformation of gender norms, and promote the role of women and other gender identities in gun violence discussions. As Amelie says, “We must recognize there is gender equality… to masculinity, there is femininity.” While guns are part of reality for a majority of countries and the guns are tied to masculinity, IANSA examining gun violence through a gender perspective calls us to transform our notions of masculinity and promote a form of nonviolent masculinity where men’s emotions are valued and guns are not the solution to aggression.

Efforts from groups like IANSA will break the link between violence and masculinity while preventing gun violence around the world. IANSA recently launched their 16 Days of Activism against Gender Based Violence that seeks to raise awareness to the issues related to gun violence. The Women’s Network also began the Gun Free Valentine’s Day campaign (February 14th - March 8th, 2022) to raise awareness of intimate partner violence, the increased risks to women when a gun is present in the home, and how laws can be used to save lives. We seek to challenge the status quo, and support initiatives that undercut gender based violence. 

IANSA's Gun Free Valentine's Day Advertisement (Source: IANSA)

Educating men on male supremacy and showing how some of their behavior perpetuates the oppression of women all help prevent male supremacy and violence against women from continuing. Cultures and societies that push hypermasculine values must also shift their value system. Men must be allowed to be emotionally vulnerable and give space to have open and honest conversations about their struggles with their understanding of masculinity. It is a process of unlearning that must be made available to all men.

Here is what you can do to help:

  1. Join, Support, and Donate to our partner organizations like IANSA , Control Arms, and to Nonviolence International.
  2. Educate yourself on toxic masculinity and how you can contribute to nonviolent masculinity.
  3. Support men and women around you by giving them a safe space to share their emotions.

We are calling for action to change the socialization of men to allow men to be human and ensure women are protected and valued in society. We call for society to allow for men to be openly emotional and accept themselves beyond the oppression of ideal masculinity. We call for gun reforms to protect women and give them the right to live without harassment, assault, and death caused by male violence. We call on our leaders to raise women’s rights and take into account their perspectives on guns and gun violence. We call you to stand with us as part of all collective humanity, and may we collectively cut the ties between gun violence and masculinity.

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