In 2010, more than 38,000 people killed themselves in the United States – and over 30,000 of them were men, Helen Smith, a forensic psychologist, points out in her book Men on Strike.
“How many of these men had decided to kill themselves because they could no longer see their children, had a broken relationship, or were involved in a bitter divorce?” she asks. “Ironically, even when you look at the suicide statistics, most concern seems to be about women who kill themselves. Apparently, our society cares so little about men that those who kill themselves are hardly news.”
It’s the problem of a culture that often treats men as if there is something inherently wrong with masculinity, with what makes them different from women — and looks to feminize them. Men who are less interested in marriage and responsibility are only being rational in that context, Smith argues. In the wake of the Navy Yard shootings on Monday, Smith talks about violent video games, and men in America, with National Review Online’s Kathryn Jean Lopez.
KATHRYN JEAN LOPEZ: First of all, regarding the Navy Yard murders: What’s your view of people who point to violent video games as contributing to what Aaron Alexis did Monday? What’s your general view of violent video games and how they affect behavior?
HELEN SMITH: I wrote a book called The Scarred Heart: Understanding and Identifying Kids Who Kill and spent three years in the late 1990s looking into why young people commit murder. Many times our society wants to blame one factor for murder, often a political one such as guns, or others such as video games, or even evil spirits. But it is not one thing that causes people to kill, it is a number of factors that go wrong, with no intervention.
It is often a combination of mental illness, lack of treatment, and a triggering event such as unemployment or the end of (or trouble in) a personal relationship. People who already have violent fantasies might play violent video games repeatedly, but this does not mean the games cause violence, only that some people who have violent thoughts may enjoy them. However, in studies such as the New York Timesmeta-analysis of 102 rampage killers, violent-video-game addiction was not prevalent in the majority: “In only 6 of the 100 cases did the killers have a known interest in violent video games. Seven other killers showed an interest in violent movies.”
LOPEZ: Many are taken with what Dr. Janis Orlowski at a hospital press conference said about “something evil in our society” contributing to what happened at the D.C. Navy Yard. Would addressing some of the problems you discuss in Men on Strike contribute to a lessening of the coarseness of society, and perhaps even contribute to a reduction in the number of mass shootings?
SMITH: Our society leaves the mentally ill, particularly men, to go their own way these days without much intervention. One of the things I mention in Men on Strike is the high suicide rate of men. Of the more than 38,000 suicides in this country, over 30,000 are by men. There are many men in this country who are depressed or have issues that we as a society do not want to deal with. We are too busy trying to figure out what is wrong with girls and women, and men’s psychological issues go by the wayside. I say this because many mass shooters kill themselves, and depression, psychosis, or other mental illness plays a part. People are often afraid of dealing with men, they fear them or ignore the issues they have, such as problems with divorce or other personal issues. This is not to say that this is the case with the D.C. Navy Yard shooter; there are many factors that may have led him to commit such a heinous crime that will come out with time.
LOPEZ: Why are men going “on strike”? And whose fault is it?
SMITH: Men are going on strike because the rewards for them in the fields of marriage, education, career, and fatherhood are a lot less than they used to be, and the costs and dangers are higher. So some are opting out.
LOPEZ: Who are “White Knights” and “Uncle Tims” and why are they a problem?
SMITH: White Knights are typically conservative men who are chivalrous and always trying to protect women and have no problem with biased laws that punish men while protecting women. Uncle Tims are generally liberal guys looking to get sex or political favors by being male sellouts to their own gender. They are the Bill Clinton types who crack down on their own gender, using biased laws such as sexual harassment while sleeping with women and using them.
LOPEZ: Even among women who love men, and see the culture as attacking them, there is a bit of a condescending tone, treating men as immature and in need of domestication. But in any male reticence to get married, you see rationality. Why is this so important to understand?
SMITH: I am surprised how many women have no or little empathy for men. It is important to understand where men are coming from, how they think, and what they fear when it comes to marriage. The law and culture tend to protect women and to harm men. Men are starting to realize this, and women need to understand that men have few reproductive rights, have few legal rights in divorce, and are seen as the bad guy in marriages that go wrong. It is not immaturity for men to be reluctant to marry, it is a rational choice not to place oneself in a harmful legal contract that gives them no safety net.