I don’t expect everyone to be some kind of practiced scholar of feminist or gender studies, least of all anyone who’s a member of the mainstream media– but I’ve definitely been disappointed in coverage of the shootings in Tuscon over the past week. It seems to me that every story on this takes one of three angles, all of which are true, and none of which are complete, and acts like it and the other approaches are mutually exclusive when, in fact, the world is much more complicated than that.
Yes, gun control “regulations” in America are awful and that’s why we have such grotesquely high rates of gun violence for an industrialized nation, though I would argue that’s also exacerbated by other cultural factors. (However, that comment is not an invitation to chime in to tell me that knives, cars, and swimming pools are just as deadly. If a mass murderer goes on a car or a swimming pool rampage or someone manages to kill multiple persons from a distance with a knife, we’ll talk.) But all our shitty gun control laws did was facilitate this– they were not the catalyst for it.
Yes, Jared Loughner was mentally unstable. Yes, we have terrible mental healthcare in this country and mental illness is stigmatized in a way that is incredibly alienating for those who suffer from it. But it seems to me that this argument is implied in a way that removes responsibility from cultural trends, like “crazy” people don’t have political beliefs when Loughner obviously did, though they were extreme and not particularly characteristic of any mainstream party. Also, after reading Dave Cullen’s Columbine, I tend to be skeptical of armchair psychology on the part of the media– though it seems to me that they are doing better this time around. And, again, not all people who suffer from mental illness commit violent crimes (in fact, they’re far more likely to be victims of them than perpetrators), nor are all people who commit violent crimes suffering from mental illness. So, this as lone explanation doesn’t really hold water for me.
Yes, our culture is incredibly violent, particularly our political culture. You can’t argue that violent imagery isn’t a normalized way of talking about ideological difference in our country, and, whether Loughner was directly inspired by it or not, political figures need to be held accountable for their speech. Again, I see this as a facilitator and not necessarily a catalyst for this event.
But, between trying to prove that one of these three theories is correct when, in fact, a very extreme combination of the three likely made it possible, very few people seem to think it’s significant that this was an intended assassination of a woman perpetrated by someone with an extreme misogynist ideology. Sady Doyle has written about it on both her Tumblr account and on Tiger Beatdown, but other than that? I’ve just seen passing mentions of Loughner’s rejection from and hatred of women in articles in the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal.
The most obvious examples came from an article published on the New York Times website yesterday, “Looking Behind the Mug-Shot Grin of an Accused Killer,” researched by Jo Becker, Serge Kovaleski, Michael Luo, and Dan Berry, and written by Dan Berry:
At a small local branch of a national bank, for example, the tellers would have their fingers on the alarm button whenever they saw him approaching.
It was not just his appearance– the shaved head and eyebrows– that unnerved them. It was also the aggressive, often sexist things he said, including asserting that women should not be allowed to hold positions of power or authority.
One individual with knowledge of the situation said Mr. Loughner once got into a dispute with a female branch employee after she told him that a request of his would violate bank policy. He brusquely challenged the woman, telling her that she should not have any power.
Not only did Loughner think women should not have power, some of his internet postings included some disturbing thoughts about rape. And he gunned down a female politician? What a strange coincidence!
It’s pretty clear that Loughner planned his attack, and it’s also apparent that he hated Rep. Giffords– not necessarily for political reasons, but, as the Wall Street Journal reported:
That interest might have triggered Mr. Loughner’s first meeting with Ms. Giffords in 2007. Mr. Loughner said he asked the lawmaker, “How do you know words mean anything?” recalled Mr. Montanaro. He said Mr. Loughner was “aggravated” when Ms. Giffords, after pausing for a couple of seconds, “responded to him in Spanish and moved on with the meeting.”
Wall Street Journal, are you trying to tell us that a man who clearly hated women got angry when a woman outsmarted him in a discussion? What? That never happens, except for, you know, on a regular basis to every woman who dares to overstep her “boundaries” in the presence of the people who are trying so desperately to keep her inside of them.
And that’s the worst part of Loughner’s misogyny: it’s not uncommon. People deny rape all the time, people still think women can’t be authoritative, people are still offended when a woman doesn’t hide her intelligence — despite plenty of evidence to the contrary. And maybe that’s why the media isn’t covering it– because they don’t think it’s unusual enough to be of interest. But something doesn’t have to be unusual for it to be notable, and the fact that these attitudes are so commonplace as to not be noted and called out? You cannot tell me that is not a huge part of the reason that they haven’t gone away. By not talking about this, we make it okay.
Not every person who thinks this way will commit an act of violence against a woman or women. But plenty of them will, whether on a public stage or in the privacy of their workplace or home. And instead of calling out the people who think and say and do these terrible things, we tell women to keep quiet and cover up, falsely implying both that the onus is on them and that passivity is somehow going to protect you from violence. And when a phenomenal act of violence is committed against an intelligent and authoritative woman by someone who hated intelligent, authoritative women? That’s as good a time as any to take note of this, to bring these attitudes into the light and point out why they’re not just unethical and incorrect but potentially dangerous.