Philip Zimbardo – “Sticks and stones may break your bones, but names can sometimes kill you.”
Since the latest massacre in the US hit the headlines in the past week the internet has simply erupted with articles, videos and commentary addressing the topics of toxic misogyny, white middle-class male expectation and sexual harassment. Here, only 30 days ago did we argue these same points.
The facts remain that 2 women and 4 men are dead and once again in the wake of a killing spree the victims identities are of less interest than that of their executioner. Browsing through countless reports in the last 6 days I only once came across the victims names, in brackets. Most of the media-obsessed globe knows about the killer, knows his name, wants his entire medical and family history, wants to read his ‘manifesto’ and has seen the image of his sun-drenched face as he sat relaying the woes of his existence days before his final performance.
No one can object to opening discourse on subjects that have been under-debated for years but the problem is that it’s extremely difficult to foresee any real change coming from this. The Isla Vista gunman will have his fifteen minutes of infamy and so will the issues his crimes have shone the spotlight on. By focusing on him as the archetypal white male misogynist only gives him the attention and platform he craved all along. Why not sever all reference to the ‘Virgin Killer’ and leave him and his hatred to live in the dust where it belongs.
Roughly 88 people suffer from gun deaths each day in the US, someone is sexually assaulted every 2 minutes, 97% of rapists will never spend a day in jail and there are an estimated 5,000 honour killings internationally per year.
So while discussing gender based violence is an essential endeavour in ending it major online publishers need to maintain this dialogue because as tragic, horrifying and reprehensible as this massacre was it was one instance in an hourly, global epidemic.
And it seems ironic that once again for attention to be called to an international phenomenon it takes a white, middle to upper class man to do it, in the most deranged way he could imagine. All the while organisations of both women and men such as The Joyful Heart Foundation, The Representation Project, Ms. Magazine, Jezebel, RAINN, The Everyday Sexism Project and countless others have been vying for this kind of media coverage on gender based violence for years.
We, as a species, are supremely susceptible to suggestion. It is how the most heinous war crimes are committed, how genocide is justified and how prejudice and discrimination thrive. I have spoken before of the devastating effects of dehumanisation and of the ‘us’ and ‘them’ dynamic. Where, in the Western world, religion and politics once dictated social attitudes the media is now our president, our lord and our moral compass.
It’s as if in the last 7 days since the killings the world has suddenly realised that misogyny still exists, in every race, class and age group. Only instead of such men thinking, ‘Women should be homemakers and child bearers’ they are thinking, ‘Women should accept my sexual advances without question.’ How utterly devastating it is however that since asking in my last post – When will it be enough? I have in a way received my answer. A mass murder incited by sexist hatred is what it took when any given day we can find news reports of women being stoned to death for no reason.
Mind-boggling doesn’t even cover it.
Every meaningless loss of life is equally tragic but every meaningless loss of life does not receive the same press coverage.
All we can do is hope that this discourse does lead to social change but unfortunately I fear that the media, the kingpin of culture, will still go unnamed, unmarred and unblamed.
Katherine Breann Cooper
Veronika Elizabeth Weiss
Cheng Yuan Hong
Christopher Ross Michaels-Martinez
To learn more on any of the topics raised in this article, here are but a few interesting resources: