Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Gunning Down Women

On the subject of gender, this is an important, if poignant, read. -Angela

Coverage of "School Shootings" Avoids the Central
Issue: Gunning Down Women

In the many hours devoted to analyzing the recent
school shootings, once again we see that as a society
we seem constitutionally unable, or unwilling, to
acknowledge a simple but disturbing fact: these
shootings are an extreme manifestation of one of
contemporary American society's biggest problems --
the ongoing crisis of men's violence against women.

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, so let's
take a good hard look at these latest horrific cases
of violence on the domestic front. On September 27, a
heavily armed 53-year-old man walked into a Colorado
high school classroom, forced male students to leave,
and took a group of girls hostage. He then proceeded
to terrorize the girls for several hours, killing one
and allegedly sexually assaulting some or all of the
others before killing himself.

Less than a week later, a heavily armed 32-year-old
man walked into an Amish schoolhouse in Pennsylvania
and ordered about 15 boys to leave the room, along
with a pregnant woman and three women with infants. He
forced the remaining girls, aged 6 to 13, to line up
against a blackboard, where he tied their feet

He then methodically executed five of the girls with
shots to the head and critically wounded several
others before taking his own life.

Just after the Amish schoolhouse massacre,
Pennsylvania Police Commissioner Jeffrey B. Miller
said in an emotional press conference, "It seems as
though (the perpetrator) wanted to attack young,
female victims." How did mainstream media cover these
unspeakable acts of gender violence? The New York
Times ran an editorial that identified the "most
important" cause as the easy access to guns in our

NPR did a show which focused on problems in rural
America. Forensic psychologists and criminal profilers
filled the airwaves with talk about how difficult it
is to predict when a "person" will snap. And countless
exasperated commentators -- from fundamentalist
preachers to secular social critics -- abandoned any
pretense toward logic and reason in their rush to
weigh in with metaphysical musings on the
incomprehensibility of "evil."

Incredibly, few if any prominent voices in the
broadcast or print media have called the incidents
what they are: hate crimes perpetrated by angry white
men against defenseless young girls, who -- whatever
the twisted motives of the shooters -- were targeted
for sexual assault and murder precisely because they
are girls.

What is it going to take for our society to deal
honestly with the extent and depth of this problem?
How many more young girls have to die before
decision-makers in media and other influential
institutions stop averting their eyes from the lethal
mix of deep misogyny and violent masculinity at work
here? In response to the recent spate of shootings,
the White House announced plans to bring together
experts in education and law enforcement. The goal was
to discuss "the nature of the problem" and federal
action that can assist communities with violence
prevention. This approach is misdirected. Instead of
convening a group of experts on "school safety," the
president should catalyze a long-overdue national
conversation about sexism, masculinity, and men's
violence against women.

For us to have any hope of truly preventing not only
extreme acts of gender violence, but also the
incidents of rape, sexual abuse and domestic violence
that are a daily part of millions of women's and
girls' lives, we need to have this conversation. And
we need many more men to participate. Men from every
level of society need to recognize that violence
against women is a men's issue.

A similar incident to the Amish schoolhouse massacre
took place in Canada in 1989. A heavily armed
25-year-old man walked into a classroom at the
University of Montreal. He forced the men out of the
classroom at gunpoint, and then opened fire on the
women. He killed fourteen women and injured many more,
before committing suicide.

In response to this atrocity, in 1991 a number of
Canadian men created the White Ribbon Campaign. The
idea was for men to wear a white ribbon as a way of
making a visible and public pledge "never to commit,
condone, nor remain silent about violence against
women." The White Ribbon Campaign has since become a
part of Canadian culture, and it has been adapted in
dozens of countries. After the horrors in this country
over the past two weeks, the challenge for American
men is clear: will we respond to these recent
tragedies by averting our eyes and pretending that
none of this happened? Or will we at long last break
our complicit silence and work together with women to
turn these tragedies into a transformative cultural

Jackson Katz is the author of "The Macho Paradox: Why
Some Men Hurt Women and How All Men Can Help"
(Sourcebooks, 2006).


  1. Very interesting. Jackson Katz spoke at one of our conferences and I drove him back to the airport. This is a really good point about gendered violence. Thanks

  2. Jackson Katz calls for a national conversation on the subject of violence against women by men. I hope the society will consider the possible consequences of fifty years of discrimination against white, Caucasian males. By definition, if one group is given preferences, there will be another group which is unpreferred(to coin a word). Affirmative action in all it's forms, including Title Nine and the various forms of "diversity", results in creating a large disadvantaged group. It is possible that some of this group will take this condition personally.
    I do not condone this sort of behaviour...just pointing out a possible cause for it. I agree with the point that there is a serious problem and I am only pointing out another instance invoking the Law of Unintended Consequences.