Women are perpetrators of gun violence, too

*Trigger warning*

Much has been written in the wake of the Newtown tragedy about the connection between the culture of masculinity and the culture of gun violence. In the past 30 years, all but one of the past 62 mass murderers in the country who have used guns have been men.Gun makers equate gun ownership with manliness. The speculation as to why is rampant. Men are dangerously threatened due to the rise of minorities and women. Men are more sensitive to slights than women. Growing up to be a man is hard.

It’s important to consider the gendered context under which these shooting crimes are committed, and particularly how many of these murderers choose their victims. The rubric of gun culture, mental health, and mass violence has myriad elements, and much of it is tied to what it is to be a man in America.

But we lose a critical part of our understanding, and therefore a critical part of any solution, when the conversation is built solely on a platform of masculinity. And I say this because I have only been personally touched by one mass shooting in my life, and it was done by a woman.

On May 20, 1988, Laurie Dann walked into Hubbard Woods Elementary in Winnetka, Ill., and shot six children. One of them, Nicholas Corwin, died. He was 8 years old. In the past few days, his mother has been interviewed. It is a wound that never heals, not for his family or for the other children who were at the school. Though I wasn’t a student there, my family lived in Glencoe, a neighboring suburb, when the shooting occurred. I was in the same grade as Nick Corwin, and as a kid acutely felt the reign of terror and anxiety shook the cloistered north suburbs Chicago. It does every time a school shooting occurs. High school friends say they have been freshly traumatized by the Newtown shooting. Many, nearly 25 years later, can remember every detail from that day, down to what they ate and which parents were in the classroom. Some still suffer from regular nightmares.

Dann’s family was from Glencoe, perhaps a 10-minute drive from Hubbard Woods Elementary, and she went to the same high school I eventually graduated from. She was living with her parents in Glencoe when she murdered Corwin. In a close-knit community, many knew she was disturbed, as did her family — after years of erratic and paranoid behavior and a messy divorce, during which she legally acquired a gun, they put her in intensive therapy in a community in Madison, Wisc. Her family unsuccessfully attempted to commit her, but eventually she moved back into her parents home after sending death threats to her ex-husband, former babysitting clients, former friends, and her psychiatrist. Not long after she became a murderer.

Before she began her shooting spree, Dann mailed arsenic-laced food to numerous contacts. She then drove to another nearby school, Ravinia Elementary in Highland Park, and set a small fire, because she believed her ex-sister-in-law’s children were in school there. She attempted to set fire to a day care in the community, but was thwarted. Eventually, she made her way to Hubbard Woods, shooting four boys and two girls, injuring five of them but murdering Corwin. She escaped and took a local family hostage in their home, shooting their college-aged son before killing herself in their home.

By now, this script is eerily and horribly familiar. A mentally unwell person obtains several guns. Seeks revenge against an ex-spouse and their loved ones due to perceived slights. Appears to target victims based on gender. Destroys lives and families.

Except in this script, the perpetrator is a woman. The culture of violence and domestic violence in this country is not solely about men and masculinity. Our analysis of it can’t be, either.

Join the Conversation

  • http://feministing.com/members/somalirose/ somali

    Actually, scientific experiments don’t consider one of 62 with different characteristics a pattern, or even equally deserving of research. Perhaps you have sons. Perhaps it is incredibly difficult for you to admit the major problem with this nation’s violence rest solely in the hearts and hands of men. Whatever the reason, it appears you are desperate to take the responsibility away from men in our society to do something about violence. It appears you are very upset by this event 25 years ago. Understandably. It was terrible. But to say women need the same level of research and examination for their gun violence is ludacris.

  • http://feministing.com/members/smash/ smash

    No. The majority of violence is perpetrated by men. http://www.offourbacks.org/malepat.htm

    This article is anti-feminist BS.

  • http://feministing.com/members/havenmi/ havenuproot

    I understand wanting to expand and complicate this conversation because it’s definitely not one-dimensional, but I can’t help but feel that this post is trying to shift the conversation away from masculinity entirely. Since 1982, there have been 62 mass murders carried out with firearms. Out of all of those only one of the killers was a woman. When I read this piece, all I could hear was the people (mostly men) who interrupt my presentations about domestic violence (my job is educating people about gender-based violence) to say “women abuse men, too!”. Sure, women batter men, but 95 percent of the time it’s men abusing their female partners. Please, do not obscure the fact that men commit violence and domestic violence at far higher rates than women do. Against women. I’d like to hear more about why it’s important to you to talk about women right now. People (outside of the feminist community) are barely talking about masculinity and violence. I don’t think that’s a problem solved. I don’t think highlighting the few times that women have committed similar acts of violence serves this discussion in the way that you are insinuating. I am willing to be wrong. I’d like to hear more, Amy.

    • honeybee

      Um actually this false – in that the rates of domestic violence between men and women are not 95% for men – it’s actually very close to 50/50. It’s just the the types of abuse may differ, the results from physical abuse may be more extreme when a man does it, and men report it even less then women.

      We shouldn’t try to hide from these numbers but rather the opposite. We only alienate tons of victims and men/women by ignoring these facts. They need to be part of the conversation.

      • http://feministing.com/members/cg11/ none of your business

        um actually that is a lie perpetrated by MRAs. The stats are based on faulty data and premises. Maybe you should try being a little more skeptical when people try to tell you BS things like that.

  • http://feministing.com/members/smash/ smash

    We know there are exceptional cases where women are violent. That doesn’t mean we can’t recognize patterns of male violence when doing feminist analysis.


  • http://feministing.com/members/femrad/ Kara

    As is usually the case with male perpetrators of violence, there will be little to no discussion, in the mainstream media, of the part hyper masculine attitudes play in male violence against men, women and children.
    What often happens is that in taking time out to consider women’s violence, we end up staying with that discussion too long while once again missing the bigger and more menacing picture. It is rather like saying, “white people are hurt by racism too”. This is true but the volume and extent of the suffering is incomparable.
    I am concerned about the effects of derailing what are already sporadic discussions of male violence in order to offer an “equal opportunity” explanation for mass murder by citing rare instances as evidence.

  • http://feministing.com/members/sarah518/ Sarah Podber

    First, I’m sorry that you were affected by this violence, Amy.

    But, I totally second the commentary others have already contributed that points out your post can very much read as derailing a dialogue about violence and masculinity that barely even takes place within mainstream discourse – and that is very troubling.

    Also, I’m hoping that you’ll take a moment to elaborate on your thoughts. If you think that “the culture of violence and domestic violence in this country is not solely about men and masculinity” and that “our analysis of it can’t be, either,” then I’m wondering what else you would add to the analysis? Because, it seems to me, that all you’ve basically said with your post is “Hey, some women commit these types of violent acts too.” And I’m not sure what that adds. What else do think needs to be analyzed?

    Finally, I would add that even the actions of women who commit violence are totally influenced by the society in which they happen – i.e. a white-supremacist capitalistic patriarchy that is inherently violent.

  • fyoumudflaps

    Here is my haiku I usually refer to in political discussions, when people pull the “both sides do it!” nonsense. It applies to this article at least as much:

    On one side, drizzle;
    On the other, a monsoon;
    Look, both sides are wet!

    • http://feministing.com/members/havenmi/ havenuproot

      THIS. yes. I’ve been needing this haiku. thank you! thaaaaaaank you.

  • http://feministing.com/members/danipettas/ Dani Pettas

    Great post..

    I think that gender norms and out-dated ideas of masculinity are definitely part of the problem with gun culture and violence in the US.

    It’s worth noting that the shooter’s mother was the gun-enabler, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/12/17/nancy-lanza-firearms-purchases_n_2318599.html

    For the Newton shooting, I don’t think the masculinity dynamic is so clear cut.

    • http://feministing.com/members/smash/ smash

      I would appreciate it if folks would quit mother-blaming.

      Adam Lanza was the violent perpetrator who murdered many– including his mother.

      “It is inevitable in patriarchy that women will be blamed for men’s violence.” -Wipeout Misogyny


  • http://feministing.com/members/tallon/ tallon

    Amy, this is poor processing, and analysis. People don’t usually become fearful after isolated incidents, they become fearful when they see a pattern, and there is no pattern of female mass killers. There IS, however, a pretty obvious pattern of male violence, a friend refers to it as male pattern violence. It isn’t talked about all that much, even though I’ve been talking about it for many years, most people react to the topic by either calling me names, yelling at me, trying to change the subject, leaving, and bringing up the ole “women do it too!” argument. When you say something like women do it too, you are actually contributing to male violence, by stopping people from acknowledging male pattern violence, and focusing on solutions. If we can’t talk about male violence, we can’t end it.

  • http://feministing.com/members/nefarious/ nefarious

    I am disappointed that feministing is out-feministed by salon.com, and a male commentator to boot: http://www.salon.com/2012/12/17/why_is_the_shooter_always_male/

  • http://feministing.com/members/hecuba/ Drew

    Data from the National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey shows that males commit crimes overwhelmingly more than females. This includes violence crimes and yet every time a male commits femicide we hear the same pathetic attempts at deflecting attention away from male accountability.

    The example given of lethal female violence occurred in 1988 and yet we are told women are as violent as men! I’ve lost count of the number of times men have chosen to commit femicide because it is so common malestream media doesn’t bother to report these cases. This means women’s and girls’ lives are not deemed important whenever a male decides to murder them.

    Only reason this latest femicide is being widely reported is because femicide murderer chose to murder female and male children as well as female adults.

    Radical feminists have never said women do not commit violence but female violence is predominantly committed in self-defence whereas males commit violence against women and children in order to maintain male power and male domination over all women and girls. Not all men need to enact violence against women in order to maintain the Male Supremacist System, but there are many, many males who commit violence against women and children because these males believe women have not accorded them sufficient deference/respect because these males are male not female.

    Adam Lanza was just another ordinary male who took lethal revenge upon women and children but malestream media and male supremacist system seeks to excuse/minimalise/deny Lanza’s accountability because apparently Lanza’s mother is to blame; or perhaps Feminists are to blame or even ‘guns are to blame’ – none of these excuses are true. Lanza is accountable and there are many, many other men like Lanza who believe because they are male they should be accorded sexual access to females; be accorded power over women; be accorded greater socio-economic power than women and all these men are one step away from committing violence against women.

    Attempting to claim women are as violent as men is a non-issue and reason malestream media avidly reports a’woman committed violence’ is because these incidents are rare compared to the mundane everyday male violence continuing to be committed with impunity against women and children globally.

    • honeybee

      Some good points though in all fairness criminal statistical data also clearly shows that the rates of violence perpetuated by women is growing each year while the rates of men is actually decreasing.

      I remember seeing a detailed analysis from the Canadian stats a few months ago that showed a very noticeable and large increase in violence perpetuated by women now compared to even just 20 years ago. It is not something we should just ignore.

  • http://feministing.com/members/cfrost1/ corey

    I must agree with other commenters on here that the fact that a small number of women have committed acts of horrific violence does not alter the larger pattern of male violence in our culture. It is irresponsible and harmful to ignore the larger pattern and to not ask questions about why that pattern exists. We do need to talk about gun control laws and the sorry state of our mental health system, but manhood needs to be central to the discussion.

    Another excellent analysis of mahood and violence

  • http://feministing.com/members/havenmi/ havenuproot

    Feministing, where are you? Is anyone going to take accountability for this? What is going on?

    • http://feministing.com/members/maya/ Maya

      Thanks for the comments. We hear them. I’m working on a followup post right now. Stay tuned!

  • http://feministing.com/members/dervio/ adam

    Unless any of the author’s opponents have had a little bit of education in statistical analysis, you’re not taking in account that a a lot of what you’re trying to cite against her is faulty due to experimenter bias and probably lacks peer-review. Statistics can be skewed in so many ways to benefit the study. Most cases of violent or other predatory behavior of women are often under reported or seen as lesser crime. The problem is that things like sexism and racism are two-way streets. It’s right to say that there is no such thing as reverse-racism/sexism, because it literally implies the opposite of the meaning of sexism and racism. It simply is racism/sexism; as for the argument of the power needed to perpetrate these., power isn’t always physical or societal. Power can be acted out in so many other ways and have just as much of a lasting effect. Don’t let your own hatred, mistrust or what ever incident have power over the truth.

  • http://feministing.com/members/awesomechoi/ Amy S. Choi

    Hey all,

    My apologies for being MIA on the conversation — there was no intention to drop a post and step away! I appreciate all of the comments being made and the views being expressed. I absolutely agree that male violence and masculinity is a framework, if not the dominant framework, that needs to be considered while analyzing gun violence, domestic violence, any kind of violence in this country. But I do not believe it is the ONLY one. I believe we also need to consider at economic, racial, religious frameworks, consider what resources are available to people and why.

    Some of you have pointed out that with such a low frequency of violence committed by women, pointing out that women are also perpetrators of violence distracts from an important national conversation about male pattern violence. I respect your point of view. But I never said that women are as violent as men, or equated female violence with male violence. I don’t believe that considering all the cases of violence, like the one that I experienced, and accepting and understanding that there are outliers in all behaviors, does that. Rather than simplifying the argument or denying a side of the argument, I think it offers a more complete picture of the expanding well of violence that is done in this country.

    I believe we, as a community, and as feminist advocates, can give ourselves credit enough to be able to have a discussion that does not shut out other lenses of analysis, that does not paint our understanding of violence in this country in black and white and ignore some of the subtleties. Violence isn’t black and white — it’s a horrible, sad, murky shade of gray that lingers, and lingers indefinitely.

  • http://feministing.com/members/tallon/ tallon


    I can appreciate your point of view, but here’s the thing, do you think that there is anyone walking this earth, who thinks that women don’t commit violent crimes? It isn’t that female violence is subtle, it is just less than that of male violence, FAR less, the difference is so stark, that it seems really important to take a good long look at what is happening. Our society has very little motivation to do this, because our society is run primarily by males, and patriarchal values, so when we do start talking about male violence, it really isn’t necessary for anyone to remind all of us, that women commit violent crimes too, it serves only to derail the necessary conversation. We need to keep talking about male violence, we need to try as hard as we can to talk about it honestly, directly and with great determination, and posts like yours, actually work against this. The comments expressing disappointment over your post, aren’t about trying to shut down a feminist perspective, they’re about not allowing a patriarchal tactic (derailing) to be used to shut down the conversation that actually needs to be had in this country.

  • http://feministing.com/members/lb101/ LB101

    More than presenting a tired “women do it too!” argument, Amy is calling for an expanded framework with which to consider a range of violent acts. She never disregarded the fact of male pattern violence (in fact, she cited several sources to show that the dialogue is very much happening) — rather, she suggested that adding instances of female-perpetrated violence to the conversation could illuminate the conditions under which all heinous acts occur. Just as black does not exist without white, notions of masculinity do not exist without notions of femininity, and to divorce the two is to limit our capabilities to evaluate – and perhaps change – the histories and societal pressures that created such categories in the first place.

    To call a post like this “anti-feminist” is to demonstrate an outdated idea of what “feminist” is – in the 1970s it may have meant something for straight white ladies to march alone, but decades of critical thinking have given us more nuanced ways to understand gendered issues – precisely at the economic, racial, and religious intersections that Amy suggests.