After Pittsburgh: Hate Crimes, Gun Violence, and Toxic Masculinity

Truth be told, I’ve been avoiding writing about the tragedy in Pittsburgh. I didn’t want to read any of the numerous articles that were shared, I didn’t want to engage with the flood of posts on social media, and I didn’t want to talk. Except it’s more than not wanting to do any of those things; I felt that I couldn’t. I couldn’t acknowledge what had happened because I was scared I would fall apart. I couldn’t read my friends’ posts because every time I saw them, I was hit with a pang of fear for their safety and for my own. I couldn’t afford to make this tragedy real, because doing so meant grappling with the hard questions.

What do we do now?

Why does this keep happening?

How do we stop it from happening again and again and again?

Who’s next?

In the back of my mind, I knew that I would eventually have to face these fears and questions. I chose the Women’s Center blog as the forum to struggle with them because I recognized the capacity of the people around me to support me as I do so. That said, I don’t intend for this to merely be a personal reflection. There are larger societal factors which continue to influence the culture of violence in this country, and those need to be addressed.

 

Baseline Information

First things first, let’s look at the numbers. There is no specified definition of the term “mass shooting” nor is there a government agency that keeps track of them. This makes data collection difficult, so many activists have had to rely on media outlets or nonprofits that have taken on the task. As a result, it is easier to identify trends. Here is a really useful video explaining several of them.

Despite this gap in the data, we do know that America has more guns than any other developed country–even when adjusted for population size–and, consequently, more gun deaths. It is important to note that a very small proportion of gun deaths occur from mass shootings, even though they happen so frequently. This is because the leading cause of gun deaths is suicide, followed by homicide (which is defined separately from mass shooting). The specifics are even harder to pin down when it comes to the shooter’s identity, but there are two key trends: the first is that a majority of the shooters are white, and the second is that all but three of these shooters in the last few decades have been men.

 

Masculinity and Violence

It’s no coincidence that nearly every mass shooter has been a man; it’s a symptom of how society teaches gender. From an early age, we’re taught that men are supposed to be strong, physically aggressive, and that roughhousing is just what boys do. For example, if a boy chases a girl around the playground and pulls her hair, we say that he likes her. This dismissal of boy’s actions teaches them that violence is natural and an acceptable outlet for negative emotions. Think about the playground scenario from a different perspective: what I see is not a little boy expressing positive feelings about a girl, but rather him acting on the negative feeling of frustration that he can’t have her. We don’t just teach boys violence; we teach them a desire to control everything except their emotions.

When we get older, and these actions become more serious (such as sexual violence), we as a society still focus on women as victims. We do not, however, focus on men as perpetrators of this violence. As one of my friends put it, “we teach women not to get raped instead of teaching boys not to rape.” At the Women’s Center, we recognize that sexual violence affects a multitude of people, and that there is no one way a survivor should look; however, this is still a heavily gendered issue, and much of that has to do with patriarchy. With this in mind, we need to consider how we as a society teach and reinforce masculinity. Arguments like “men can’t help themselves” and “boys will be boys” are endemic of both toxic masculinity and rape culture–which often reinforce one another.

Within this context, let’s return to the issue of mass violence. A key piece of the conversation that often gets left out in the media is the history of the perpetrator. For white shooters in particular, people are quick to search their past for mental illness or redeeming qualities, but they often gloss over a common thread, which is a history of commiting domestic violence, interpersonal violence (IPV), and/or sexual violence. For example, it came out that the man who killed over 50 people at a Las Vegas country music concert in October 2017 had abused his ex-girlfriend when they were together. Closer to home, the boy who shot and killed a classmate at Great Mills High School in St. Mary’s County had expressed anger that she had rejected his unwanted advances

Conceptually, this link makes sense. Much of these acts come not from a place of desire, but a place of needing to have power. We teach men that to be masculine means having control and authority over others, so many men view these violent acts as a means of maintaining control over their partners. It’s horrible, but when we don’t teach men a socially acceptable way of expressing negative emotions (and tell them that to be emasculated is to lose status in society) they often turn to violence. Furthermore, if a man views his partner as an object to be controlled, it’s unsurprising that he could view groups of people he’s prejudiced against or feels have wronged him the same way.

Moreover, we continue to normalize and stoke this misogynistic anger in online communities and forums where many men who feel entitled to have a sexual partner, and cheated that they do not, blame women for their problems and often celebrate men who hurt women. In fact, several of these men have used guns against women they do not know, and explicitly stated this misogynistic reasoning. It’s important to be mindful of the way we interpret the numbers here. Because mass shootings make up such a small portion of the gun violence in America, there are very few abusers that actually go on to commit those atrocities. On the flip side, many mass shooters have a history of violence, and it is necessary to understand that correlation. Their possession of assault weapons only makes their acts of violence all the more deadly.

 

Anti-Semitism and Hate Crimes

Hate crimes have been on the rise over the last few years, across lots of different marginalized groups. An FBI report indicates that overall hate crimes have increased by 17% and that ant-Semitic hate crimes have increased by 37%. Based on data collected by the FBI and the Southern Poverty Law Center, anti-Semitic hate crimes comprise about 11% of hate crimes overall, and 58% of hate crimes against religious groups. For comparison, Jewish people make up about 2% of the United States population, and 0.2% of the world’s population. So why are we so targeted?

It would take an entirely separate post to delineate the long history of violence and persecution against the Jewish people, but it is practically as old as the religion itself. Even in modern history, there are countless examples of anti-Semitic violence, many of which have been forgotten (this article lists just a few over the last hundred years). Many people who commit these acts are fueled by hateful rhetoric they see online.

Most of this anti-Semitic rhetoric stems from ancient stereotypes that still persist today. From Shakespearean villains to old movies to today’s political campaigns, anti-Semitic tropes have a long and ugly history. Samantha Bee did an amazing job of explaining that history and how it’s connected to today’s politics in a segment on her show. Essentially, the use of dog-whistle politics is not explicitly anti-Semitic, but its implications and allusions to deep-rooted stereotypes are like a language that sends a clear signal to those who already speak it.

 

Where do we go from here?

I really wish that I could conclude this piece on a positive note. I wish I could point to some positive trends that indicate understanding and acceptance are on the rise, while fear and violence are fading away. I wish I could, but I have nothing to point to. Instead, as I finish writing this blog, I get an email notification from the UMBC Police Department alerting the community of yet another display of anti-Semitism on this campus.

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I’m tired of this. I’m tired of anti-Semitism being dismissed in progressive movements that advocate for diversity and acceptance. I’m tired of Nazis being referred to as “very fine people” and of free speech being used to defend them. I’m tired of centrists trying to hear “both sides of the story,” as though hate should be treated as a valid political ideology. I’m tired of social media executives bending over backwards to promote community guidelines, but doing nothing about literal neo-Nazis using their platforms. I’m tired and I’m angry. I’ve heard too many Holocaust jokes, had too many stereotypes hurled in my face, and seen too many concerns about anti-Semitism get brushed aside.

I don’t want to see any more swastikas drawn on bathroom walls. I don’t want to be scared for my safety when I go to see one of my favorite shows, and I don’t want to see people–especially people on this campus–use anti-Semitism as the punchline of a joke. Jewish people cannot and should not be the only ones fighting this bigotry. We need people who aren’t Jewish to step up and show some support. Find organizations that combat anti-Semitism, educate yourself on Jewish history and culture, and confront this hatred when you see it. You don’t have to be the loudest voice in the room, but we can’t take any more of your silence.

 

Sources/Further Reading

https://www.independent.co.uk/voices/stephen-paddock-las-vegas-domestic-violence-fantasy-boston-bomber-orlando-shooting-a7993186.html

https://www.npr.org/2017/10/07/556405489/the-relationship-between-domestic-violence-and-mass-shootings

https://www.newyorker.com/news/daily-comment/searching-for-motives-in-mass-shootings

https://www.statista.com/statistics/476456/mass-shootings-in-the-us-by-shooter-s-race/

https://www.politifact.com/punditfact/statements/2017/oct/06/newsweek/are-white-males-responsible-more-mass-shootings-an/

http://www.phillytrib.com/news/majority-of-mass-shootings-carried-out-by-white-men/article_8b8b0145-c512-525a-8a7d-256bfb3a959f.html

https://www.cosmopolitan.com/sex-love/a23088401/domestic-violence-coercive-control/

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September Knowledge Exchange Roundup: A Voter Resource Guide

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Student staff member Hannah Wilcove provides a recap of the semester’s first Knowledge Exchange

Last week, we had our first Knowledge Exchange of the Fall 2018 semester. With the midterm elections coming up in November, our overarching theme for these Knowledge Exchanges is political and civic engagement. The topic for this Knowledge Exchange was knowing your voting rights, and over the course of the event, we talked about the history of the fight for the right to vote, some of the reasons people don’t vote (such as gerrymandering and voter suppression), and issues of accessing information. We also did an activity to demonstrate the overly-strict matching standards some states use to maintain their voter rolls, and discussed the accessibility of political engagement in the United States as well as stories of feeling encouraged or discouraged from voting. For people with family and friends that are active in politics, it can be hard to think that there are people who don’t know how to vote, but the truth is, seeking out that information can be difficult and time-consuming. From this conversation, the need for a voter resource guide was born.  

Side note: This blog is meant to be a general resource, and election laws vary by state, which means it’s hard to cover all the complexities and variations. Because so many people at UMBC are from Maryland, that’s what my examples will cover, but if you want more detailed information about a specific state, I encourage you to look up your state’s name and the information you’re looking for (ex: “Virginia voter registration deadline”).

  • Registration: The first step in voting in the United States is registration. Unlike some other countries, voter registration in the U.S. is not automatic. So if you’re not registered to vote and you would like to be, take 2 minutes to register here. Make sure to do that before your state’s voter registration deadline, and if it’s passed, check whether or not they have same-day registration (you can do all of that here). In case you didn’t know, Maryland’s voter registration deadline is October 16th, 2018 at 9:00 pm. One thing we focused on in our conversation was voter suppression and the fact that many people–including active voters–have been purged from the voter rolls in recent elections. If that’s something you’re concerned about, you can take 30 seconds to double check your registration status here.nu1110_vote
  • Voting Method: So you’ve got your registration all worked out; now it’s time to figure out how you’re going to vote. Depending on your situation, you have a few different options. If you have some time on Election Day (Tuesday, November 6th), then you can go the traditional route: go to the polls, wait in line, and vote. However, that option won’t work for everyone. If that’s the case, fear not. Maybe you have some time before Election Day, but not on that Tuesday. If that’s the case, you should look into early voting. The details vary by state, but here is a link where you can look into which states have early voting (Maryland does), and here is a calendar that tells you when the early voting period for each state is. If that still doesn’t work, you can look into absentee ballot. With absentee ballots, you don’t have to go to the polls because you just mail in your ballot. This is a great option for people who don’t have reliable transportation, but note that there are two downsides to doing this. The first is that absentee ballots aren’t counted unless the difference in other votes is close enough to warrant it (i.e. if Candidate A is 100 votes ahead of Candidate B, and there are only 20 absentee ballots, those 20 votes won’t be counted because they won’t change the outcome), and the second is that you don’t get a sticker. Still, you shouldn’t assume that your vote won’t be counted, so if absentee voting looks like the best option for you, then check out your state’s rules for it here. Just like early voting, the deadlines around absentee ballots vary by state, so take a look here at what your state’s deadlines are.computers-clipart-confusion-7
  • Action Plan: Once you’ve figured out how you’re going to vote, the next step is making an action plan. This might seem like overkill, but given the craziness that is life, an action plan can help you make sure that you don’t forget to vote or run out of time on election day. So what do you need to know? If you’re voting via absentee ballot, then you just need to make sure that you apply for your ballot and send it in by your state’s deadlines (links are in the above section). If you’re going to the polls, either during early voting or on Election Day, then there’s a little bit more to it. First, you need to figure out where your polling place is, so you can actually go there. You can use this link to find your polling place, but the most reliable method is to use your state’s board of elections website (a list of those is provided on the linked page). For early voting, there may be fewer polling locations open, but you can use this website to find out the specifics for your state and county (you just click on “early voting” under topics and your state, and voila). With these sites, you should also be able to find the specific hours that your polling place is open. Lastly, once you figure out where and when you’re voting, you just need to figure out how to get there. If you have access to a car, then that’s taken care of, but if not, have no fear. If you can’t get a ride from someone, check if your polling place is accessible by public transportation. If so, look up the schedule and make sure that there’s a time you can get there. Not the case? Not a problem. The rideshare company Lyft is offering 50% off rides to the polls on Election Day. For UMBC students, SGA is providing free transportation to early voting in six counties across the state, which you can learn more about here.action
  • Research: You’re all set; you know how you’re going to vote and when, and you’re ready to head to your polling place and vote for…oh, right, you actually need to know who’s on the ballot and what they’re running for. At our Knowledge Exchange, we talked about how hard it can be to figure out all the details because, frankly, not everyone has the time to do that kind of extensive research. The good news is that there are people who have already done some of the work for you. If you need to know what district you’re in, you can use this website if you live in Maryland (just click on the button that says “who represents me” at the top right), and this one if you don’t. The League of Women Voters also has a great tool on their website where you can enter your address and see all the races on your ballot, learn about candidates’ backgrounds, and compare their answers to various questions. For all you Maryland folk reading this, The Baltimore Sun has a voter guide just for you, with comprehensive bios, questionnaires, and articles about each candidate running for elected office in our state.

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  • Tell your friends! Now you’re really all set. If you want to increase the voter rate in the U.S., then one of the best ways to do so is word of mouth! As I’ve said before, it can be difficult and time-consuming to figure all this out, but now that you’re basically an expert, you can help your friends work through it. Plus, with all the links right in front of you, you don’t have to reinvent the wheel; just share this guide with your friends to make voting a little more accessible.

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Further Reading:

  • A video about gerrymandering that we played at the Knowledge Exchange
  • An article that lists and describes 12 current methods of voter suppression (note that this article does have a clear slant, however it does a great job at explaining each method)
  • A webpage by the League of Women Voters that has several articles about current efforts to combat voter suppression and increase voter turnout

 

Women and the Environment Roundtable Roundup

Last Thursday, October 12th, the Women’s Center held the second roundtable discussion in our fall series. This one was titled Women and the Environment, and prompted a conversation about how women’s work with regard to the environment was different from men’s, as well as how the environment has disparate impacts on women. Ultimately, we set out to answer the daunting question of how we can bring awareness to the intersections of gender, race, and class with regard to environmental justice.

women in enviro rt - fall2017.1

We started off by looking at some of the statistics about women’s employment in environmental fields, which were harder to come by because of its broad and interdisciplinary nature. Still, by looking at large trends (only 12% of the jobs in the green energy industry are held by women), case studies at a few prestigious universities, and patterns of leadership, we found large discrepancies in the rates at which women and men were employed in these sectors.

 

From there, we moved on to hear what our panelists had to say about larger themes regarding women and the environment. Dr. Dawn Biehler, a professor in the Geography and Environmental Systems department here at UMBC talked about the history of environmental organizations and how many of the white men who ran them blamed women and people of color for environmental degradation and then silenced their voices when it came to conversations about reparations. Dr. Biehler explained ways in which these patterns are seen today, such as the narratives that blame the higher fertility rate of women in the developing world for problems like poverty and hunger, rather than looking at factors like colonization and the unequal distribution of resources.

 

Sustainability coordinator Tanvi Gadhia talked further about a global perspective and the differences between her work in India with Vandana Shiva and her work in the United States with various sustainability groups. Ultimately, she argued that the hierarchical structures seen in the West benefit those with privilege and hurt marginalized groups like women and people of color. Additionally, she argued that tokenistic inclusion of women and minorities in these groups is not enough; representation does not matter if an institution is not receptive to the voices and leadership of everyone, especially those who have a history of being silenced.

 

Lastly, graduate student Macey Nortey talked about her work studying disaster relief and the concept of holistic recovery. Because of the bureaucracy associated with receiving aid, it is often difficult for communities to wait for the aid of the federal government. Furthermore, government officials may also be selective about who they deem worthy of receiving aid (see Puerto Rico). Therefore, it is necessary for communities to do some preparation themselves to make up the difference. Holistic recovery is also beneficial in that it allows for everyone’s voice to be heard with equal weight.

 

Ultimately, the main themes that came out of this conversation were how to be inclusive of marginalized groups and why it’s necessary, understanding how different groups of people have different relationships to the environment and environmental labor, and how access to resources shapes who gets a say in environmental policy. The inclusion of suppressed voices is integral to our social justice ideals–different communities have different needs, and only by including all voices will all needs be met. The disproportionate impacts certain groups of people face in the aftermath of environmental disasters are not coincidental; they are the result of human intervention and it is our responsibility to correct them.

 

Further Reading:

Women in Politics: No Way to Win

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Having grown up right outside of D.C., Women’s Center student staff member Hannah has spent most of her life following politics, and uses that passion here to reflect on its lack of gender parity.

 

Did you know that if you say “women in politics” three times while looking in a mirror, Hillary Clinton appears behind you? Okay, maybe that theory isn’t 100% accurate, but she is the first person many people think of when hearing that phrase, and it’s easy to see why: as a former Senator, First Lady, Secretary of State, and presidential candidate, she has had a long career in the public eye, and with that has come the added burden of being one of a few successful women in a male-dominated field. With the release of her new book about what happened in the 2016 election (aptly named What Happened), this seemed like the perfect time to reflect on how we talk about women in politics and why it matters. From blatant sexism to the demonization of women’s ambition, the double standards and stereotypes these women face all serve to perpetuate misogyny and exclude women from some of the highest leadership positions our country has to offer.

~Disclaimer: This post is not a commentary on or endorsement of Hillary Clinton’s (or any other politician’s) stances. People on both sides of the aisle have perpetuated sexism in politics, and we are all responsible for taking steps to combat it.~

 

The Biggest Red Flag

It’s easy to see blatant sexism being used against Hillary in many parts of the 2016 election,  the most obvious of which being pro-Trump merchandise. Slogans like “Trump that bitch,” “Hillary sucks, but not like Monica,” and “Life’s a bitch; don’t vote for one” were worn proudly by many Trump supporters. Now, attacking one’s opposition–no matter what side of the aisle they are on–has been a part of campaigning since this country began, but criticism of policy ideas, voting records, and political experience is entirely different from pointedly gendered attacks. What’s troubling about this kind of rhetoric is the way it normalizes harmful gender stereotypes and makes people believe that this is an acceptable way of talking about others.

When I mentioned one of these slogans to someone I knew, he laughed and said that he “hates Trump,” but the slogan was funny. In my opinion, if you claim to hate a man who brags about sexual assault, you should also hate the misogyny that many of his supporters have no problem perpetuating.

 

The Demonization of Women’s Ambition

Men–especially those in positions of authority–are rarely pigeonholed as sex objects or domestic figures and then labeled as too aggressive or domineering when they seek positions that don’t fit those labels. There are lots of examples of male actors who have ran for or contemplated running for high-level elected office (Ronald Reagan, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Dwayne The Rock Johnson), yet very few people have said that they’re too shallow or inexperienced to hold these executive positions. This is not the case with women. In fact, Hillary Clinton’s openness about her ambition caused such a backlash that it spawned a cookie-baking contest between the two potential First Ladies. Seriously. During the 1992 primary race, California Governor Jerry Brown accused Bill Clinton of using his time in office as Arkansas’ governor to help his wife’s legal practice. Hillary Clinton then fired back by saying “I suppose I could have stayed home and baked cookies and had teas, but what I decided to do was to fulfill my profession, which I entered before my husband was in public life.” This struck such a chord with the American public–among both men who viewed her comment as “bitchy” and women who took offense to the notion that she viewed herself as being above domestic work–that the magazine Family Circle saw a way to capitalize off the controversy. Thus began a cookie-baking contest that has survived the last 25 years of politics. Oh, and another fun fact: Even though Hillary Clinton was the candidate in the 2016 election, she was still the one competing against Melania Trump. While I have nothing but respect for those who bring cookies into this world, we’re not living in the 1950s; domestic work should not be the only option available to women.

Most of the men I know would probably agree with that stance, but there is still a pervasive fear of powerful women. Many social psychologists attribute this to a phenomenon called precarious manhood. Essentially, men are afraid of being emasculated and consequently losing their manhood, and ambitious women can invoke such fears. Case in point: Hillary Clinton’s favorability rating has historically always been lower when she runs for office and demonstrates this ambition compared to when she is in office and less in the public eye.

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What’s more important: Hillary Clinton’s policies or her appearance?

 

Finding a Solution

If you’re reading this and thinking “I voted for Hillary Clinton so I can’t be sexist” or “I didn’t vote for Hillary Clinton, but that’s not because I secretly hate women!” then slow your roll. The point of this post is not to call all Hillary supporters perfect advocates for women or to claim that everyone who voted against her did so because of misogyny. In fact, people on the left are just as capable of perpetuating sexism as people on the right. Take Sarah Palin: while many people during her 2008 candidacy for Vice President had concerns about her experience and choices as Alaska’s governor, their criticism quickly blended with misogynistic commentary about her appearance and her more typically feminine persona (I wouldn’t recommend spending too long looking at google image results for “Caribou Barbie”). The point is to raise awareness about the way we as a society view women in politics, and why they are treated so differently than men. Double standards are everywhere: If a woman is too traditionally feminine, then she is too stupid to do the job, but if she demonstrates capacity, then she is too aggressive. If she isn’t domestic enough, then she is forced to release a chocolate chip cookie recipe, but once she does, then she is seen as fake and trying too hard to be likable. If she shows emotion, then she is too sensitive, but if she doesn’t, then she’s too robotic. If she doesn’t have much political experience, then she should let someone more qualified do the job, but if she has the experience, then she should step back because her time in politics has gone on too long. With all of these sentiments weighing so heavily on the conversation, it’s hard for a woman winning an election to feel like much of a victory.

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Even SNL recognizes that there are women all along the political spectrum: maybe their ideas aren’t the reason why there are so few women in politics

If we want to improve representation in politics and promote women’s empowerment, then we have to improve the way we talk about the few women who are already in the public eye. This is about more than just “girl power.” Representation in politics–and in every other institution–does more than just make a prettier picture; it allows for everyone to feel that their voices are heard and their experiences matter. The Women’s Center here was founded in part to meet the unique needs that many women in college have, and the same principle applies in government. By listening to women’s voices, the UMBC community was able to better provide services that had been previously overlooked. If women are heard in local, state, and federal governments, imagine what can be accomplished. There is no one ideology held by all women in elected office, just as there is no one monolithic voice of all American women: when I talk about wanting equal representation in politics, I don’t want people to vote for a candidate simply because she’s a woman; I want there to be enough women running so that they don’t have to.

Further Reading:

At UMBC: