Tuesday, 1 May 2007

Responding to Virginia – Gender Matters

Posted by Helen Jones, Criminology teacher at Manchester Metropolitan University

As the world’s media retreat from Virginia, it is worth looking at how the tragedy of the campus shootings has been interpreted and how a feminist analysis can go beyond the reports of the past week.

Multiple shootings are not unknown in universities. Many know of the killings at Columbine in 1999 and at Monash University Australia in 2002. These incidents connect to a history that can be charted at least as far back as 1989 when, in Montreal Canada, 14 women were killed by a man whose suicide letter made reference to ‘the feminists who have always ruined [his] life’. In the aftermath of such events, the question that first emerges is: Why? Journalists, academics and politicians struggle for answers and as the past week has shown, the focus tends to fall on a narrow range of explanations including the culture of violence in US society, the availability of guns and the individual characteristics (and mental health) of the killer.

Few articles pay attention to gender. That the killer was a man is so obvious as to be un-noteworthy. Even though the earliest reports linked the first two killings to a possible romantic rejection of the killer, the subsequent reporting was gender neutral. When reports of the first shootings (at 7.15am in West Ambler Johnston Hall) were made to the police, they assumed it was a ‘domestic incident’ and that the gunman had left the campus. The assumption was that a man willing to kill two people over a ‘domestic’ was of no danger to the wider community. This assumption led to the deaths of another thirty people. Gender matters and it is important to make masculinity visible.

Schools and universities are important places for ‘doing’ masculinity. The construction and reproduction of masculinity is achieved in two main ways, male dominance of females and dominance by high-status males of low-status males. The killer was not a typical student and wasn’t part of the male world of frat houses and football. His was a subordinated masculinity which finally pushed back against the alpha males and the hegemonic masculinity that had subordinated him and silenced him. Raging against this, he responded by asserting his own manliness, taking up hyper-masculine poses in a video and then methodically destroying what he saw as a high-status elite who had challenged his masculine identity.

In Virginia, as in Monash, Columbine, Montreal and in many other such incidents, the violence is not gender neutral. In every case the killer is male, usually a young man who feels aggrieved by some (real or imagined) attack on his masculine identity, but we should not focus simply on individual psychopathology. The news media has argued that these men were ‘crazed’ individuals who ‘snapped’, resulting in rare and isolated events which do not require societal change. But the events are not so rare and the killers tend to put a lot of planning into their actions: they do not ‘snap’. A gendered approach takes us beyond the incomplete explanations of these shootings which do little more than blame the individual or the gun. If we can make the connections between these killings and the wider culture of violence which is part of many men’s masculine identity, we may be able to move towards effective policy responses to tackle the gendered nature of violence.

Helen Jones teaches Criminology at Manchester Metropolitan University

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At 13 February 2008 at 06:00 , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Virginia could of been avoided, if the pre-warnings would have been viewed as critical for follow up.
Do we have to keep things gender neutral? I believe so. Does it matter that men committed those crimes? To a certain extent. What was failed to mention, these guys wanted an people to watch. When women get hurt and kill themselves they do so generally in private, because they don't want people to see them that way. Do they give signs. Of course. The 14 year old girl who killed herself in Colorado last year texted all her friends to say goodbye. A friend took her text serious and called authorities. While the authorities were outside speaking to her mom, the gun went off. Shot herself in the head.
At my church this was discussed about doing things different. We had people driving on multiple streets to make it to church. The method of execution was unimportant, what was that we all ended up at the same location. We didn't judge the direction they took. When looking at gender bias comments, it's the same thing. Violence against women. What about the 1 man in dv for ever 9 women who report it?
Without going into detail, I'm not afraid to admit. The way the laws are written now, and the approach to the issues are so far out there, they aren't going to put any dent in dv. As long as people look at getting into relationships dv will exist in one form or another.

At 13 March 2009 at 16:13 , Anonymous Helen Jones said...

Another man targets women in a spree shooting:

At 9 April 2009 at 07:11 , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don't know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.




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