By now you’d have to live under a rock to have missed this week’s edition of “there’s a mass shooting, but let’s not talk about it.” Once again, a young white man obtained military-style weapons and took his rage out on innocent people. And while we’ve all offered Hopes and Prayers (trademark pending) and wrung our hands over the State of the World, I’d say it’s safe we stop here and wait until next week to start the cycle again. If I sound cynical, it’s because I am. As a nation we refuse to discuss the actual factors these things have in common and so we insist there’s nothing we can do. Tho there is.
Probably by now you’ve seen that the shooter this week had a domestic violence record. We know that many if not most of the men who propagate these kinds of massacres have some history of hitting their partners, who are overwhelmingly women. We know that men who hit women often do so out of rage, out of a sense of ownership, and because violence is a means of demonstrating power. Similar things could be said of why people shoot up innocents–it’s about anger, power. We know that there’s a whole culture in the US of men who feel entitled to women’s time, attention, and genitals, and who fly into a rage when they feel they’re not getting their due (see MRA douchebags). Similarly, these men seem to feel entitled to shoot up others in their anger. We have what’s called a correlation here–men who perpetuate massacres often hit their wives and girlfriends. This is not to say that domestic violence alone isn’t a problem that needs eradication on its own merits–it absolutely does–but that there’s also a predictor here that our society is ignoring.
So let’s contemplate that situation. Why isn’t anyone at the policy-making level looking at this?
My argument is that if you don’t generally see women as autonomous individuals–human beings–you don’t see hitting them as a problem. If you see women as a caste subordinate to men, you might see them as hittable when they step out of place. You probably run the whole list of “well, she must have done something to deserve this” excuses through your head before you ponder what’s wrong with the male who did the hitting. As a nation, that’s where we’ve been headed more overtly lately. Take, for example, the Violence Against Women Act, which our current Department of Justice hates. As a senator, Jeff Sessions said the bill wasn’t “sound” and so voted against it. Recently, an undocumented teenager was held hostage by the Justice Department, which wouldn’t let her get an abortion until weeks later, she and the ACLU won a lawsuit against them. Our own VP calls his wife “mother,” and our president has public recordings of his brags about assaulting women. A Wisconsin lawmaker recently gave a speech in which he alleged abortion hurt the economy, as it eliminates potential members of the labor force–women, in such a scenario, are just breeders. These are just a few example at the highest levels–you can peruse any number of websites to see much more run-of-the-mill discussion of women as object, breeder, housekeeper, and not autonomous humans.
A consequence of not seeing women as autonomous humans (literally, culturally, or otherwise) is that domestic violence against women is not taken seriously. Sure, we’ve got lip service, but look at how stuff plays out. The NFL has plenty of players who have records–no one cares. Women who fear deportation don’t report, because they are especially non-people–women AND of color AND undocumented. Dual-arrest laws, in which both members of a fight are apprehended, were well-intentioned efforts to defuse fights between partners and sort out what happened have led to declines in reporting by victims who don’t want an arrest record. NPR here talks about a woman who had several restraining orders against her ex, but still would be arrested if she called for help.
So if, as a nation, we have a track record of seeing women as non-persons and if we don’t take domestic violence as seriously as we might and we combine that with white supremacy, well, here we are.
Because whiteness is a key piece here. Overwhelmingly, the men murdering civilians in theaters, in churches, at concerts, are white. And we have a system that functions to hold white men in place at the top–we have a patriarchal, white supremacist system. So when you and I say, “DAMMIT if we’re not going to talk about gun bans, can we talk about banning men who engage in domestic violence from having access to them?” we get a firm “tut tut” and no desire to engage from our dear congresspeople. Overwhelmingly. And the reason for that is that if they begin to look at this shit–REALLY look at it–they’re going to note that white men who don’t see women as humans, who feel entitled to women, are carrying it out, and then for many congressmen, they’ll see themselves. Perched atop the patriarchal white supremacist pinnacle, investigating the commonalities among those men and deciding to hold them responsible implicates those men and implicates themselves.
So until we’re rid of those men in the echelons of government, beholden not just to the gun lobby but to a vision of themselves in which they are entitled as white men to all the spoils, we won’t see an end to the carnage.