On October 12, 2011, a gunman walked into a beauty salon in Orange County, California and began shooting people. He killed 6 women and 2 men. Police have not yet released the motive of the shooter, who was apprehended, but many speculate that he acted out of a desire to harm his ex-wife, whom he was in a custody battle with.
Even though media narratives imply that gender is irrelevant in crimes like these, whenever I catch snippets on the news of a "shooter" going on a "rampage" in middle-America, my mind automatically fills in the blanks: It was probably a man**, and he was likely pissed off about women.
I'm often right.
How often do we hear "the gunwoman entered the supermarket and....."?
How often do we explore, through a gendered lens, where this entitlement to unleash violence comes from?
Sure, the media provides insinuations and quotes regarding possible motives, and "we profess to be shocked." But we're not, really. We expect such acts of violence from men. Even if this gendered expectation isn't uttered aloud or even noticed.
But, with their clumsy "explanations" of motives, the media often creates sympathetic portraits of the killers, invisibilizing the very real pain they have inflicted on societies, and obscuring other relevant details that might be pertinent to a killer's motives. Like gender. For instance, in many articles regarding this latest shooting, we learned:
"Dekraai’s neighbors described him as an outgoing man who invited them over for pool parties at the house he’d lived in for about six years. They said he doted on his son, playing catch with the boy in his yard.
Neighbors said they were aware Dekraai was in a custody battle with his ex-wife over their son, who neighbors said is 7 or 8 years old.
'It was a very difficult battle and he was trying to get more time' with his son, said Jo Cornhall, who lives across the street from Dekraai.
Next-door neighbor Stephanie Malchow, 29, said she was shocked when she saw the photo of the stocky man with thinning hair being detained by Seal Beach police.
'I’m like, no, not this neighbor, no way, he’s the nicest guy ever,' Malchow said.
Dekraai married his current wife two or three years ago in his backyard, said Malchow, who attended the wedding.
'He seemed very happy, he was just so happy he found someone new who loved his son,' she said.
Dekraai walked with a limp after a tug boat accident that killed a fellow tug boat operator about two miles off the coast in 2007. Cornhall said he uses a brace for his leg."
Awwwwwww. He was a super nice guy who just loved his son and walked with a limp. And he was in a custody battle. That explains everything.
What we do know is that this man somewhere picked up the notion that other people's boundaries and human integrity don't matter when he feels like acting out certain feelings. What a responsible observer might do is note how this notion might parallel other notions in society regarding certain people's entitlement to traverse other people's boundaries.
Like, say, as women, we receive many mixed messages regarding what to think and what not to think about violence, boundaries, and men. On the one hand, we have to maintain vigilance lest we dangle our meat in front of the proverbial tiger's cage (ie- we have boundaries, but it's stupid to expect men to respect those boundaries).
But then again, it's totally sexist, misandrist, and akin to racial profiling to assume that all men are capable of raping or killing us (ie- we have boundaries, but men's feelings about our defense of those boundaries is more important).
But, watch out, ladies! even Nice Guys can commit heinous acts of violence against you! (ie- we have boundaries, but we basically can't win no matter what we do).
When compiled, these messages are not exactly helpful.
And, each time we learn of yet another man going on yet another violent spree, I again wonder: What are the complementary PR messages that are aimed at men? What are boys and men learning about setting and respecting boundaries?
In the US, we're very good at policing the behavior of women, to keep women "safe" from men (see also, "slutwalks"). But the ways society seem to best police men is to reward them for living up to certain ideals of so-called Real Manhood. How might this form of policing be complicit in entitling some men to violence? Or... do we want to keep (dare I say politically correctly?) calling such inquiries "misandrist"?
Browsing Internet, at sites which I refuse to link to, I saw a scary large number of men sympathizing with this latest killer. As they said things like, "well, if the courts ROBBED this man of his kids, what do you expect?", they totally ignored the fact that maybe if dude was capable of going on a shooting spree, maybe the courts "robbed" him of his kids for good reason.
I also saw a lot of, "Well, if people WON'T LISTEN to men, we'll just take matters into our OWN HANDS! [insert threat about turning the US into the Middle East and taking away women's rights]".
I don't have enough information about this killer's motives to be able to say whether it was an act of terrorism on his part, but when men's rights types "sympathize with" incidents like this and hold them out as threats and a-taste-of-what's-coming to "the family court system," uppity women, feminists, and ex-wives everywhere, we need to call it what it is.
It's not just dudes blowing off steam. It's political terrorism. It doesn't happen in a vacuum. Maybe we don't call it what it is because, seeped in it as we are, the thought processes of such terrorists too closely parallel our own.
My condolences and sympathies to the victims, their families, their friends, and all who are affected by this tragedy.
**[Note: I am not suggesting that all men are violent, that no woman can perpetrate violence, or that no man can be a victim of violence. I instead contend that we live in a culture that is better at training men to engage in violence than it is at training women to engage in violence as a way of "solving problems."]