Social Issues

mass shootings are a feminist issue

If you haven’t heard about the mass shooting that took place at Umpqua Community College yesterday, the New York Times gives a decent summary of the facts we know at this point– which, honestly, isn’t much. There’s been a lot of speculation about what drove this particular attack. I followed the #UCCShooting tag for a few hours last night, and the dominant consensus was that the police weren’t releasing the shooter’s identity because they were a bunch of “libtards” who didn’t want to admit that it was a “radical Muslim” who’d “targeted Christians.”

That theory came about because one witness has said that the shooter was asking if any of his targets were Christians, and others who are the friends and family of victims have made similar statements. While I don’t believe that these people are lying, I’m doubtful that this person intended to target specifically Christians because he hated Christianity just that much.

I feel that this man wanted nothing more than attention, and one of the best and guaranteed ways for a mass shooter to garner as much attention as possible in this country is to invoke Columbine and Cassie Bernall. Making Christians think that they’re being persecuted is a surefire way to make sure your story makes it into — and stays in— the popular consciousness. The only reason why I heard of Columbine, back before social media and “going viral” was a thing, was because of Cassie.

I think he “targeted Christians” for the attention because of two reasons. The first reason is that the experts say that mass shooters exist because of the attention we give them.

We’ve had twenty years of mass murders, throughout which I’ve repeatedly told CNN and our other media that if you don’t want to propagate more mass murders, don’t start the story with sirens blaring, don’t have photographs of the killer, don’t make this 24/7 coverage, do everything you can not to make the body count the lead story, don’t to make the killer some kind of anti-hero. Do localize this story to the affected community and make it as boring as possible to every other market. Because every time we have intense saturation of coverage of a mass murder, we expect to have two more within the week.

Dr. Park Dietz

The second reason is that he said he was doing this for the attention on 4chan’s /r9k (one of the places where #GamerGate was spawned, and is a board dedicated to “relationship advice”). He posted his intentions, added that “This is the only time I’ll ever be in the news I’m so insignificant,” and was encouraged by the community and given advice on how to kill as many people as possible.

I’ve read through that particular thread multiple times, and it’s clear from that thread as well as breakdowns like this one (only go there if you can stomach it) that the /r9k community is filled with self-described “betas,” who are pretty obsessed with how wronged they are by women not having sex with them. Even though the shooter didn’t state that he was doing this because women had wronged him like the Isla Vista shooter, the instantaneous reaction in the thread was to call this “The Beta Uprising.”

And then this happened:

4chan 1

“If only he had been consoled or had a [girlfriend] then maybe he wouldn’t have went off the deep end like this and many lives would have been saved.”

4 chan 2

“A [girlfriend] could have prevented this … state mandated [girlfriends] when?”

4 chan 3

“If only he had a girlfriend this wouldn’t have happened. We need to save the troubled souls not make fun of them. You all make me sick.”

4 chan 4

“If only he had a girlfriend he wouldn’t have resorted to this. #betalivesmatter”

4 chan 5

“Also it’s because all the girls date douchebags rather than the [Original Poster] or moi.”

That last one especially made me sick because it’s apparently possible for “willing to commit mass murder” not to appear on someone’s “this makes you a douchebag” list. The whole thread made me sick because it was essentially a bunch of people either praising the shooter, calling him “legendary,” or saying that it’s women’s fault that this happened. We’re not willing to date mass murderers and that makes it our fault.

The feminist critique of that should be obvious, so I’m not going to spend much time on it.

We know that these mass killings usually happen because men want attention. Women do similar things, too, but much more rarely, and for different reasons. There’s been a lot of conversation happening recently on toxic masculinity, like with the #masculinitysofragile tag on Twitter, and it seems intuitive to me that actions like mass shootings are an outgrowth of this reality in our culture. Boys are taught from a very early age that violence and aggression are two of the principle methods to gain respect– when you combine that with how men aren’t allowed to respond to their emotions in natural, healthy ways, the result is that men frequently respond destructively. Often that includes suicide, but it often makes it possible for men to be violent in ways like mass shootings.

However, I think this is bigger than just toxic masculinity. I think it’s our entire patriarchal culture. Toxic masculinity tells men that they need to be dominant and aggressive, but patriarchy tells men that they have a whole plethora of rights. Among these “rights” are things like “I deserve to have women sleep with me.” Most relevant among the messages that patriarchy screams at men is that they deserve to be at the top of everything– to be in control of the money, of government, of companies, of universities, of departments … Patriarchy tells men that if they are not the center of things, if they do not have total control of their environment, that they have to do something to assert their masculinity and superiority.

Sometimes this means abusing their partners.

Sometimes this means neglecting their families in favor of overtime.

Sometimes this means mass shootings.

As a friend put it: “entitlement is a hell of a thing.”

Gun violence in America is a real concern, and I think something fundamental must change in our gun laws in order to avert these kinds of situations in the future. But, I don’t think that largely unregulated firearms and ammunition is the only problem. Some would like to use the red herring of “mental illness,” but more and more often these people are telling us exactly why they’re willing to commit these acts. In Charleston it was blatantly racism. In Isla Vista it couldn’t have been more clear that it was misogyny. And now, in Oregon, this shooter felt robbed of the attention he felt he naturally deserved– from women and society– and he was willing to murder people in order to get it.

Feminism is an answer to this problem. We know that when gender parity and egalitarianism becomes common, violence declines. It is not a given that society must be this violent, must be this wracked with terror and grief. Feminism has taught me to prioritize empathy and understanding, and I believe that if those were to become the virtues of our society– instead of power and wealth, the virtues of white supremacist capitalist patriarchy— our world would be a much better place.

And maybe, just maybe, mass shootings would become a thing of the past instead of a daily reality.

Photo by John Spade
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  • Beroli

    These men really have no idea what they’re revealing about themselves, do they? “The ‘girls’ date douchebags, rather than mass murderers and mass murder cheerleaders!” Dear me, I wonder why women don’t date that man. Truly mysterious! Every time a “beta” opens his mouth, he makes a case for the women he knows having good judgment.

  • HypercubeVillain

    It’s just ludicrous that multiple shooters could spell out their motivations so clearly, and women or the mentally ill still get thrown under the bus. Or their motivations get attributed to a nebulous form of “sign of the times”

    • Or psychiatric drugs. Yup, had someone tell me that antidepressants were to blame for Charleston.
      I really can’t express how angry this foolishness makes me.

    • This reminds me of the Charleston shooter.

      Media: “What could the shooter’s motivation have been? A young white man entering a black church and gunning down black people who were at a Bible study? It’s such a mystery why he could possibly have done it! surely SOMEONE will have an explanation!”
      Shooter: “I shot them because racism.”
      Media: “… We’ll never know why he REALLY did it…”

  • D Liston

    A lot of killers have had girlfriends, wives, and/or concubines and it never stopped them from being murderers …
    Source: all of human history

  • A. Noyd

    You’re “crazy” if you’re a true believer in the lies we tell ourselves as a society. Whereas you’re “sane” if you only half believe them and fail to take them to their logical conclusions. It’s like “sanity” depends on maintaining a certain degree of cynicism, but it’s a cynicism that no one can admit to because half believing in lies is more comfortable than having to wholly replace our conventional wisdom.

  • Yes. We will do absolutely anything to refuse to admit that the problem is, frankly, a shockingly common one – that there are men -everywhere- walking around with a dangerous hostility to women and a sense that they are entitled to a woman, whether she wants to be anywhere near him or not. Sexism is a basic fundamental stone in the foundation of our society. If we admit it can and does cause terrible violence to happen, in public and not just behind closed doors – where we can ask what she did to provoke it or what she was wearing or why was she out so late, anyway – then we will have to admit that everyone is complicit, to some extent, who is not actively working for change. And that’s a reckoning almost no one is willing to face.

  • J.B.

    The mass shootings get the media attention but every time I think of the daily acts of violence that don’t make the news or only local news. Domestic violence or disputes where someone gets shot being prime examples of violent impulses.

  • Jeremy Stansell

    This article was a good read. Thanks for the point of view

  • I remember attending a talk by Rebecca Goldstein a couple years back, where she talked about the idea of “mattering” and that people have a deep need to for their lives to matter. I was looking at it at the time in the context of why women were so reluctant to leave extremist religion, but I think this applies to this most recent shooter as well. He needed to matter, and he only saw mattering in terms of the ways that his patriarchal environment accepted as valid. (Sex, power, aggression, violence, public attention.)

    The talk is here:

  • Timothy Weaver

    Are you losing the debate (all those mass shooting in gun free zones, crime rates going down in conceal carry states)? Is reality is not as biased towards liberalism as you led you to believe? Use the gender card and cry “SEXISM!”. By screaming “MISOGYNY!” you poison the well and slander your political opposition. This will allow you to claim victory even when the evidence is stacked against you.