Tag Archives: gender

Shoot First, Ask Questions Never: The Great Massacre Epidemic

I started writing this piece just one week ago, when the news broke all over social media that there had been another college campus shooting at Umpqua Community College in Oregon. I was heart-sick and overwhelmed, unable to articulate my feelings and ideas into coherence. I jotted down what I could, determined to come back to this piece later, when everything had calmed down some.

It did not.
It did not.

This morning I woke up to two news banners on my iPhone: One dead in campus shooting in Arizona. Developing: Texas University on lock-down after shots fired.

Again. It’s happened again.

I guess I’m just not like the numbed masses of American citizens who see these headlines and shrug: Oh, well, another one of those darn shootings. I care. I care about the people who have been robbed of their lives, I care about their families and friends who will now have to suffer unmentionable grief, and I care about the precedent that our society is establishing for future generations.

Future generations like my daughter.

My daughter is going to grow up in a world where one mass shooting can or will occur every week, and our politicians will say things like, “Crises happen.” She’s going to grow up to believe that this is how people are — cruel, jaded, and dangerous. I’m going to kiss her every morning and send her off to school, knowing that there is a possibility, however slim, that I will never see her again.

Some might say, “Well, that could be true in any case. Even in a perfect world, accidents happen.”

BUT THESE MASSACRES ARE NOT ACCIDENTS.

These are not accidents. And if we allow this to continue, then we are all responsible.


We need to start having the uncomfortable conversations that we have been avoiding en masse:

This epidemic — and that is the word we need to start using, because this is absolutely a national health crisis — isn’t just about mental illness. It isn’t just about lackadaisical weapons laws. It isn’t just about a society that has become numb to violence. It really isn’t about any of the things that mass media has been telling you it’s about.

It is high time we as a society come to grips with the fact that it is anger that causes violence, not mental illness, not guns, not exposure to video games and gratuitous violence. Other scapegoats need not apply. Let’s just look at some facts:

This profile is familiar because we’ve seen it before. The two killers of 13 people at Columbine High School in 1999? Eighteen and 17-years-old. Male. The murderer of 20 children and six adults in Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012? Twenty years-old. Male. The shooter who killed six people in near the University of California, Santa Barbara campus in 2014? Twenty-two years old. Male. The perpetrators of the Charleston, South Carolina church shooting in June 2015, the Aurora, Colorado shooting in 2012 and the Tuscon, Arizona shooting in 2011? All men under the age of 30. The list goes on.

The perpetrators of these crimes are not disenfranchised minorities like the population of American sufferers of mental illness. These shooters are in fact at the highest run of the social privilege ladder — white, cisgender males in the prime of their youth. Perhaps they do suffer from a mental illness, but so do tens of thousands of other Americans, people who are more likely to kill themselves than ever harm another human being. So what exactly causes a a group of men to completely rupture and evacuate their humanity? As mentioned by Cliff Leek in the above quoted article: these individuals, who were born into a society that granted them untold privilege based on their race and gender, are rapidly being taken down a peg by an increasing shift to a more egalitarian society. Simply put, these men seem to have just lost it once having to confront demands that they check their own privilege. Is it so surprising that after raising generation after generation of boys to believe that their manhood is tenuous and revocable based on how much or how little they assert themselves, that some young men have started to crack under that strain?

It’s time that we stopped pretending that toxic masculinity isn’t a thing, and start doing better by our men and our boys. They deserve better. We all do.

Toxic masculinity. It sounds like such a made-up buzz word. But it really is a thing, and a driving force behind this epidemic that we are all struggling to understand. We teach our boys, either directly or indirectly, that they have the right to power and status, and that power and status basically boils down to how many women they fuck, how much stuff they have, and how much ass they can kick. Then we teach them that if they don’t prescribe to this particular formula for success, they are wimps, pussies, or nancy-boys. Not only is our definition of masculinity so narrow as to exclude all but the most lumber-jacking of fellows, but it also excludes any conceits to compassion, emotion, or altruism. We’re raising our boys to be fucking sociopaths and whipping them when they break. If I were a dude, I’d be pissed as hell.

These shooters were pissed as hell. But for all the wrong reasons and at all the wrong people.

They were broken people, and we broke them. Not because girls refused to date them, or because they didn’t get the respect they deserved, but because we set them up to fail by teaching them that they had a right to take what they wanted with no recompense. We taught them that they must lash out, or else be forever condemned to sadness and isolation. Perhaps we have no right to be surprised, then, that these men sought to take their power back by force. That is precisely what we told them they must do.

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Not acceptable.

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Women can be misogynists, too.

In the wake of the shooting in Isla Vista, a conversation entered the mainstream media about the idea of male entitlement and the associated societal structures that breed this sort of mentality. Rape culture. Ingrained misogyny. Got me thinking, where else do I observe the abuse of dominance? It’s not just in the minds of the “friend-zoned” or out-and-out woman-haters. It’s in all of us. It’s everywhere. And women contribute, too.

In particular, it occurred to me that there is a fundamental conflict between what women say and what we do. For example, there are scores of books and movies dedicated to the average American woman’s notion of romance. You could call it “girl porn”, as seen in the film Don Jon: Men like to watch people getting it on, but women? Women like romantic comedies, romantic dramas, harlequin romance novels, Disney-style fairytales. (Parenthetically, it should be noted that OF COURSE there are females that enjoy pornography. But I’m going to wager a guess that most women go for the “romance porn” stuff.)

In these books and films we see male characters who are often disrespectful of a woman’s right to her own body, tending to act forcefully, or even aggressively, to assert their male right to female attention. These characters are written as Alpha-males, dominant over their women and their environment — they know what they want, they feel entitled to it, they are persistent, and they get it. Alternately, we have the “wounded soul” male — a person whose whole life experience has been so fraught that we can hardly blame him for being so flawed. We read Twilight (crazy obsessive stalker) and 50 Shades of Grey (emotionally unstable man-child who is borderline abusive, but has a heart of gold) and we swoon over these damaged male characters who treat their women poorly and possessively. Somehow, the lonely, needing quality gives these fictional men the right to exhibit aggressively toxic masculinity, particularly in their pursuit of the female protagonist. The stalking, the jealous rage, the single-minded focus of the male’s attention on the female — our culture has conditioned us to believe that these stunts are romantic. And we just eat that shit up. Men see that, see the hypocrisy in it, and come to the conclusion that all women a.) don’t really know what they want, b.) are sending mixed messages/being manipulative, and c.) that this crap:

This is what women want.
This is what women want.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve read them all. I like them. They’re my guilty little pleasure. Some romance novels are actually very well-written and well-balanced, depicting not an over-hyped ideal, but a realistic struggle that we can all relate to. In a genre largely written for women by women, there is a tremendous opportunity to extol the virtues of sexual equality. But even when it comes to less delicately written erotica, I enjoy getting lost in the romance, the intrigue — mentally substituting the weak female protagonist for myself (because that’s exactly what these books are for), and embarking on a whirlwind romantic flight of fancy.

But then I stop. I put the book down. And I think about how I would never, ever, EVER accept that kind of treatment from my partner in real life. I think it’s time to own up to the truth: that, unfortunately, my partaking of this form of media is complicit acceptance ingrained misogyny. And that it is a bit hypocritical.

Women can, and sometimes do, send mixed messages. But it isn’t because we’re emotionally manipulative or cunning. We’re taught that clear, explicit messages of arousal or consent are unromantic. That being assertive is slutty. That you have to wait for the man to make the move. A woman that propositions a man is a slut, but women who are selective or discerning when selecting a sexual partner are prudish and condescending. Those words in bold? I don’t want to be any of those things, but it’s a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” proposition. I know a lot of women who feel the same way.

I think it’s time that we all start taking responsibility for the ways in which our culture has altered our consciousness on sexual norms. For women, that means coming to grips with the fact that we are literally buying into patriarchy — not just by spending money on “romance porn”, but also spending billions of dollars every year on attempts to embody a standard of beauty that is unrealistic and psychologically, economically, and politically damaging.

Truthfully, I like getting dolled-up. I do my hair and make-up like a 1950’s pin-up model, not to attract male attention, but because it makes me feel good about myself and gives me confidence. But lest I forget that I am a product of my culture and my environment, I have to ask myself, how much of what I like is because I really like it and how much is because I’ve been conditioned to like it?

Girls grow up in a world where we are taught that our primary (if not our only) commodity is our beauty. While it’s not necessarily taboo to be an intelligent, articulate, or independent girl, it’s not so often praised either. I, for one, clearly remember feeling the need at eight years old to suck in my tummy when passing boys in the supermarket, but I didn’t begin pride myself on my smarts until I was in my 20’s. And that wasn’t because I was raised by misogynists (I wasn’t) or because I grew up in an environment that devalued educational accomplishments (I didn’t). It’s because even at that young age, I understood that my worth as a human being was inextricably bound to my appearance, so I had better make it good.

Women and men alike need to come together in the spirit of finding balance and establishing equality — first by confronting our previously unacknowledged hypocrisies and universally accepted “truths”, and then by making a commitment to change them. In the last few weeks I’ve heard a lot of people say “feminist” like it’s a dirty word, I think because there is a common misconception that being a feminist means “a women who hates men“. To assume such a thing is to miss the point entirely, and ultimately, to doom the fight by misdirecting the conversation (once again) towards hate and extremism. It’s about equality — and if that’s what we want, ladies and gents, then we all need to come to terms with the ways in which we directly or inadvertently add to the imbalance.