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Sunday, August 09, 2009

Mass Murder of Women

Bob Herbert: Women at Risk
"I actually look good. I dress good, am clean-shaven, bathe, touch of cologne — yet 30 million women rejected me," wrote George Sodini in a blog that he kept while preparing for this week's shooting in a Pennsylvania gym in which he killed three women, wounded nine others and then killed himself.

We've seen this tragic ritual so often that it has the feel of a formula. A guy is filled with a seething rage toward women and has easy access to guns. The result: mass slaughter.

Back in the fall of 2006, a fiend invaded an Amish schoolhouse in rural Pennsylvania, separated the girls from the boys, and then shot 10 of the girls, killing five.

I wrote, at the time, that there would have been thunderous outrage if someone had separated potential victims by race or religion and then shot, say, only the blacks, or only the whites, or only the Jews. But if you shoot only the girls or only the women — not so much of an uproar.


Or, can you imagine if the gunman was Arab, Muslim or black. The news would be filled with analyses of black violence or Muslim misogyny or whatever. Just look at how some people try to make Mark Lepine into a secret Muslim, so that the violent impulses can be blamed on his Algerian-ness instead of his male-ness. Why is it when a white man commits a similar act, neither whiteness nor maleness are examined?


According to police accounts, Sodini walked into a dance-aerobics class of about 30 women who were being led by a pregnant instructor. He turned out the lights and opened fire. The instructor was among the wounded.

We have become so accustomed to living in a society saturated with misogyny that the barbaric treatment of women and girls has come to be more or less expected.

We profess to being shocked at one or another of these outlandish crimes, but the shock wears off quickly in an environment in which the rape, murder and humiliation of females is not only a staple of the news, but an important cornerstone of the nation’s entertainment.

The mainstream culture is filled with the most gruesome forms of misogyny, and pornography is now a multibillion-dollar industry — much of it controlled by mainstream U.S. corporations.

One of the striking things about mass killings in the U.S. is how consistently we find that the killers were riddled with shame and sexual humiliation, which they inevitably blamed on women and girls. The answer to their feelings of inadequacy was to get their hands on a gun (or guns) and begin blowing people away.

What was unusual about Sodini was how explicit he was in his blog about his personal shame and his hatred of women. “Why do this?” he asked. “To young girls? Just read below.” In his gruesome, monthslong rant, he managed to say, among other things: “It seems many teenage girls have sex frequently. One 16 year old does it usually three times a day with her boyfriend. So, err, after a month of that, this little [expletive] has had more sex than ME in my LIFE, and I am 48. One more reason.”

I was reminded of the Virginia Tech gunman, Seung-Hui Cho, who killed 32 people in a rampage at the university in 2007. While Cho shot males as well as females, he was reported to have previously stalked female classmates and to have leaned under tables to take inappropriate photos of women. A former roommate said Cho once claimed to have seen “promiscuity” when he looked into the eyes of a woman on campus.

Soon after the Virginia Tech slayings, I interviewed Dr. James Gilligan, who spent many years studying violence as a prison psychiatrist in Massachusetts and as a professor at Harvard and N.Y.U. “What I’ve concluded from decades of working with murderers and rapists and every kind of violent criminal,” he said, “is that an underlying factor that is virtually always present to one degree or another is a feeling that one has to prove one’s manhood, and that the way to do that, to gain the respect that has been lost, is to commit a violent act.”

Life in the United States is mind-bogglingly violent. But we should take particular notice of the staggering amounts of violence brought down on the nation’s women and girls each and every day for no other reason than who they are. They are attacked because they are female.

A girl or woman somewhere in the U.S. is sexually assaulted every couple of minutes or so. The number of seriously battered wives and girlfriends is far beyond the ability of any agency to count.

There were so many sexual attacks against women in the armed forces that the Defense Department had to revise its entire approach to the problem.

We would become much more sane, much healthier, as a society if we could bring ourselves to acknowledge that misogyny is a serious and pervasive problem, and that the twisted way so many men feel about women, combined with the absurdly easy availability of guns, is a toxic mix of the most tragic proportions.


I don't for a minute believe that all men hate women or that all men are violent or whatever the right wing wants you to think feminists believe, but that there is an undercurrent in our culture which accepts too much violence in general and too much violence against women in particular.

We need to take a good honest look at our society and take responsibility for these sick people we raise. We need to promote healthier ways to deal with anger and other strong emotions. We desperately need a healthier masculinity. We also need to abandon our antisocial and ultra-competitive society that rewards domination.

3 comments:

sandra said...

I think an excellent place to start looking at where the misogyny in our societies spring from is our churches. There are all kinds of men in bible stories, the heroic, the tested, the fallen and redeemed, the martyr, the victim, the faithful, the traitor, pick a religion and you'll find a character to match. However, the starring role and the supporting roles for women in religion are far, far fewer. The most popular is the Virgin, and the Harlot. Occasionally you get a martyr tossed in, and a faithful servant, but that's about it. So, the big roles that men are taught by the people informing them about god, are the Virgin, (also a mother? how does THAT work?), and the whore. THEN many relgions don't let women "in". They can be nuns, but they will never be in a direct line to god, or to power. Then, we tell the kids we send to church to go out and live their lives according to what they have been taught in church and wonder why a woman still earns only 70% of what a man does, and wonder why so many mass shooters target women, and wonder why in instances of domestic murder/suicide, 95% of the victims are women and children.

I think we need to publicly address this. I think we need to get the Canadian church leaders together and say, it's time to drop this inequality *hit if you want to keep your tax exempt status. You open up leadership to women, or call yourselves a private club and get taxed.

We can teach equality all we like in schools, except then you can home school and teach inequality. There is a distinct portion of our society bent on restricting and demeaning the role of women in society, and I think the time for tolerating it is over.

sooey said...

Great comment, sandra!

Lender said...

What Sodini did on that fateful day will make people question their own ethics and values. May those poor women rest in peace.