Thursday, August 6, 2009

Woman-Killing, Media, and How We Report Misogyny

[this disturbing image is the even more disturbing avatar for a 21 year old straight man, who calls himself "Misogynist". For more on him, see here]

This post exists, in part, to honor the tragic loss of humanity of three women who were recently assassinated by a misogynist murderer:

Betsy Gannon, age 49;

Heidi Overmier, age 46; and

Jody Billingsley, age 37.

There are nine other women to whom I offer prayers and best wishes for their healing:

Ashley Ferragonio, 23, seriously injured;

Gretchen Lewis, 26, critically injured;

Heather Sherba, 22, seriously injured;

Jackquilyne Gallagher, 25, seriously injured;

Lisa Fleeher, 27, critically injury;

Mary Primis, 26, critically injured;

Melinda Williams, 22, seriously injured;

Srimeenakish Sankar, 31, seriously injured; and

Stephanie Latusick, 33, treated and released Tuesday night.

For more about these women, please click here. And note the overt sexism and heterosexism that informs how some the women are described. If one or more is lesbian, would we know? The reports seem obsessed in telling us all about these women's connections to men. One of the women, Jody Billingsley, is shown in a photo in which she appears to be sitting close by another woman, who is partially cropped out. We are given the following information about her: 37, Mt. Lebanon, deceased. Single. Master's in physical therapy. Worked as sales representative for Medtronic. Enjoyed gardening, sports. "She was a beautiful girl, very sweet, very nice, very friendly," neighbor John Williams said.

And if she weren't beautiful, sweet, and nice, and if she weren't friendly, would her death be any less tragic?

It is no accident that the dominant news media want us to know the extent to which the three murdered women, and the nine other women injured by the white heterosexual male woman-killer George Sodini, 48, were partnered with men or were, or would soon be, mothers. So we learn right away that one of women was "a newlywed" (I presume wed to a man) and one of the surviving women, the instructor of the Latin Dance class, was "pregnant": Mary Primis, pregnant fitness trainer, shot once in each shoulder. Being treated for injuries at hospital. Unborn child survived.

I get the sense that if Ms. Primus had survived but not the fetus, this would be more tragic than if the fetus survived and Ms. Primus did not. Is it not "crucial" here to know how the woman is doing? Can the news of her pregnancy remain none of our business? Will the news of a woman having recently married a man ever be irrelevant in a report about a group of women being shot in the dark, by a man--some to death? Why aren't women's lives valued as human lives, on their own, independently of whether or not they were married to men, or had children, or were pregnant? Or "a beautiful girl". Or sweet. Or nice.

In mass misogynist media, a woman gains human status and worth by being in relationship with men, and by mothering "men's" children. Hence the hatred directed at single mothers, especially if of color, at women who do not bear children through sex with a man, such as Nadia Suleman, and at lesbians who are partnered and parenting their children with women.

On to other matters related to this horror.

CNN reports: "He felt lonely, said he hadn't had a girlfriend since 1984. He said his father didn't love him. And he detailed plans to kill young women."

As if these follow in some logical sequence. Given this information, why didn't he show up at a gathering of fathers, turn off the lights, and let bullets fly? Because women are supposed to be the targets of men's wrath or loneliness?

What follows is part of a news report about the contents of his diary:

The December 22 entry says: "Time is moving along. Planned to have this done already. I will just keep a running log here as time passes. Many of the young girls here look so beautiful as to not be human, very edible. After joining this gym, started lifting weights and like it."

Two days later came an entry about loneliness.

"Moving into Christmas again. No girlfriend since 1984, last Christmas with Pam was in 1983. Who knows why. I am not ugly or too weird. No sex since July 1990 either (I was 29)."

By December 26, the writer seems to have picked a date. "I will shoot for Tuesday, January 6, 2009, at maybe 8:15. I have list of to-do items to make."

In an entry dated January 5, he laments, "Every evening I am alone, and then go to bed alone. ... Why should I continue another 20+ years alone? I will just work, come home, eat, maybe do something, then go to bed (alone) for the next day of the same thing. This is the Auschwitz Syndrome, to be in serious pain for so long one thinks it is normal. I cannot wait for tomorrow!"

Then he loses his nerve.

"It is 8:45PM," reads an entry dated January 6. "I chickened out! [Expletive] I brought the loaded guns, everything. Hell!"

What is in bold was made so by me. To my knowledge Auschwitz Syndrome was not typified by a male concentration camp survivor going out and killing women due to his emotional and physical pain. And apparently his pain wasn't normalised sufficiently. He was well aware of it, focused on it quite intensely, and used it as a terrible excuse to execute a killing spree against "girls so beautiful as to not be human, very edible." Given that horrendous understanding of their humanity he wasn't, in his view, killing anyone; he was merely fixing his dinner. Too bad for them he wasn't vegetarian. The question remains, why didn't anyone stop him? How much information do men need to know about a man who is going to kill women before we prevent it from happening?

Apparently, there is no reasonable answer to this question. He can proclaim his plans and still only be seen as harmlessly expressing himself. As we know, men who threaten to kill women and have restraining orders placed against them do find and kill the women they wish to kill. As we know, men's ways of expressing their feelings for women often result in women being injured and killed. Clearly, men's right to express their feelings about and to women is not abridged or "repressed" in our patriarchal society, it is revered and protected.

If you think "protected" is too strong a term, note this, by a police officer:

George Sodini "had a lot of hatred, he was hell-bent on committing this act, and nothing was going to stop him," Allegheny County police Superintendent Charles Moffatt said at a news conference Wednesday. (Source: here.)

[image of Officer Moffatt is from here]

So even when a man tells the world he's planning on killing women "nothing was going to stop him"?!? What about you, officer? Isn't that your job? (Or is just harassing people of color?)

Take note of this particular murderer's stated intentions. (More detailed portions of his online diary can be read but be warned: this is utterly disturbing.) There and elsewhere we are reminded that this regular misogynist was "a lonely man", in "despair"; he was a man who hadn't had much heterosex in his life--according to Nightline's report, a man who was not asked out on dates by women. This probably describes many men, and what we are being told is that one way for such men to act is to become a mass killer of women. (If, by preventing radical feminist women from speaking on the air, we are given no other explanations for how it is that he came to be a woman-killer, other than this inadequate psychological sketch, what other conclusion are we supposed to arrive at?) He was especially well-armed with four guns. Does the number of guns a man carries reflect his level of despair? I wish the media would spare us all this patriarchy-denying psychologising.

For millennia, men, without any systematic interference from other men, have chosen to misogynistically and in many racist ways express their feelings of hurt and upset--or boredom, or loneliness, or need for pornographised sexual gratification, or out of a inhumanely self-serving wish to control, dominate, humiliate, subordinate women. Male supremacist media claim that there's some inevitable connection between women not paying enough attention to men and those men retaliating with violence against women; this histerical hypothesis, mired in the protection of patriarchal imperatives, is not new. But it remains dangerous. It is wrong information about why men harm women. Every man I know has been hurt in the context of intimate relationships with women (and, um, men).

Even the media is into showing us how heart-broken men can be. In the latest run of "The Bachelorette" the nice guy who is told he's not the one reflects on his heart-break and sorrow:

"It's the day of the final rose ceremony and we're a bundle of nerves, just like Jillian. Our heart sinks a little when we see that Kiptyn's limo is the first to arrive. It's never easy to let a great guy go but Jillian manages it with class. Kiptyn is not happy to hear that she's fallen in love with someone else, but as he exits, he's glad he put himself out there and told her how he felt."

In the follow-up show, we ought to note that Kiptyn didn't come back armed with weaponry with which to kill her and the man she did chose to be with. He did return, at the producers request (or mandate), and tell her that he's glad she is happy, even though the experience was deeply painful for him. See men, our violence against women is not biological or inevitable; it is willful, not adequately discouraged, not opposed en masse by men, and is, to the contrary, overwhelmingly and systematically supported.

Consider the following all-too-typical story by one woman about her experience with a man she doesn't know, on the street. It is a comment by a woman who goes by the name sojourner truth, and is located here, on the blog, Celie's Revenge:

I honestly believe that women in urban areas, particularly Black women in urban areas, should daily document the same race sex harassment that we have to endure daily in case people think that we are being 'hysterical' or exaggerating. I am seriously considering carrying a hidden camera and microphone and using the footage in an art installation project.

I was walking down the street again today in my urban, gentrification-resistant 'hood. Again, walking with a clear purpose, blinders on, earplugs in, going about my business, covered up much more than I wanted to be on a muggy, humid, late spring day.

At crosswalks, I am constantly scanning ahead to navigate which side of the street has more people, to make sure that no just released parolee or sex offender ex con who may happen to be watching my movement does not take my choice to simply WALK down the fucking sidewalk as an opportunity to stalk, harass, other otherwise menace me without witnesses. As I am doing this, waiting for the light to change, who do I spy? This same "bruuuutha" who, just a few days ago, questioned my sanity and sobriety for having the unmitigated GALL to have ignored his attempts to 'holla' at me as I attempted to walk down the street. He saw me and yelled, "Ay, ay". I ignored his obnoxious lack of home training and continued to wait for the light. My attempts to ignore him spur him on to further engage me. I have no idea why he insists on continuing this masochistic game of being obviously and painfully ignored by me in spite of his constant bellowing, perhaps in his pea sized brain, I am being a 'challenge' and playing hard to get, so of course, he ratchets up his efforts to get my attention, this time whistling and crooking his ashy finger at me as if I am his errant dog run astray. Yet again, I continue to ignore him. He crosses the street and walks alongside me, looking at me, then says, "It seems like we are having a communication problem". I do not respond, pretending to be mute and deaf as he walks alongside me, wanting to shout, "No, mutherfucker, WE do not have a 'communication problem', YOU have a self-entitlement and boundaries problem!"

Of course, I continue on my way and he FINALLY left me alone, probably because more people were gathering on the sidewalk, and he didn't want any witnesses to his harassment and sidewalk stalker bullshit.

I got to thinking, who are these males, and who taught them to think that this shit is ok?

I believe the answer to who teaches men to think that this shit is ok is other men, not women. And society-at-large, including its media, teaches men how to operate oppressively inside white heteromale supremacist systems of domination and entitlement.

A heterosexual woman I once knew for years in a professional context left her boyfriend; she broke up with him. After that, armed with a loaded gun, he came back to her rural home where she lived alone and killed her. He did this why? Because she did not wish to be with him any more? Because he was "in pain"? Because he "felt rejected"? If that's your answer, you're not paying attention to how society works against women. Clearly nursing his grief alone or with male friends wasn't sufficient; and in his social world it may not even have been a viable option. But he terrorised and murdered her not because he was ill-equipped to handle his pain. He had to remove her from his world, a man's world, which is the world. He did it because he learned from other woman-killers that murdering your ex-girlfriend is doable. He did it because there were no men to stop him from doing it. He did it because he knew how and where to have access to her. He did it because he had the means to do it.

Over two decades ago, a self-defined antifeminist walked into a college in Montreal and massacred many women, for being women. At that time, news coverage focused on how he must be "mad" (meaning insane, not angry), and that such a thing was inconceivable. In a society in which men kill and injure women by the minute, how can such an act be perceived as inconceivable? He wasn't the first to conceptualise it, after all. Men's mass murder of women has a long, long history.

Weekly, daily, hourly, minute by minute, women are violated and killed "by the men who love them" or the men who don't love them any more, or the men who don't know them at all. Men are taught to believe we should be endlessly appreciated and attended to by women, even women we don't know. Women are punished in ordinary and heinous ways by men in society, for being women who are human, with wills, with senses of self and personal agendas that are not wrapped neatly around men; women are punished if and when they do not behave the way one man or many men demand that they behave. (And even then.) Harassment is seen by men as appropriate if a woman he doesn't know doesn't respond to his hello (or whatever other derogatory four- or five-letter words he uses to open up lines of communication).

Rape is the a gendered collective punishment men routinely enforce directly on women for disobeying a cardinal patriarchal law: "You (woman, women) must want to be socially and sexually subservient to me (man, men) always, at any time of day or night. But regardless of your (any woman's) wishes, you will be accessible to me(n)." The gross predatory video voyeurism targeting ESPN broadcaster, Erin Andrews is not surprising, while it is horrifying. Gross (meaning here, both on a large scale, and egregious) predatory video and digital camera voyeurism/violation/victimisation is now normal. It relatively innocuous terms like "up-skirting". Websites, which get millions of hits, are dedicated to providing men with images from other men who have taken photos of women's bodies by positioning their cell phones or video cameras in ways that women don't know they are being physically and psychically violated.

The continued murder of women by men is likely--but not inevitable outside of a patriarchal context--in a society that, in so many ways, subordinates women to men's wills and wishes. When the subordination, the exploitation, the degradation of women by men is routinely called "just the way things are" we can be sure there's not likely to be a mass revolt against the status quo. What's the point of organising resistance to a turbulent sea? You accept fate or get out of the way. But for women, there is no where to go where they are "out of the way". And when battered, raped, and pimped women leave patriarchally possessive men to try and find that place, far too often they are hunted down and killed for it.

This particular murder of three women and maiming of nine is only the most currently media-reported story of such misogynist violence.

For more information on this story and specifically on Sodini's expressed hatred of women, see this video report, this webpage, and also this one. And please keep in mind, this is but the latest story of a normal man whose normal hate was expressed in a variety of ways. One way was him "spraying" (the media's terminology) bullets in a room at exercising women. However much exercise women do, women cannot, quite apparently, exercise their unofficial right to not be harmed by men.

There is much more to note in this latest crime and how it has been reported. For now, I'll mention one portion of a television news report. (It is linked to above, but to make things less complicated, I'll re-link to it. The relevant part is "-3:40" into the video report. In it, a sweet white woman in a lime green t-shirt who appears to be a neighbor, says with regret, "I never knew that he was that bad off or I would have invited him over more, you know, maybe to have coffee or to have a picnic, or something." My first reaction to hearing her say this was to be very frightened for her. When one hears this, one might temporarily forget how powerful the misogynistic cultural mandate is for women to never treat men harshly or unkindly; to never ignore or refuse a man's offer of contact; that men's pain is women's responsibility; that it is women's job to ease the hurt and appease the anger of men. So when one hears a woman says out loud what men want and expect women to do silently, we might remark, "Is she nuts?!" But let's not forget: In the patriarchal media and beyond it the woman-killing man (a term I prefer to the more romantised one used ubiquitously in the dominant media: "gunman") is always humanised well beyond the level of humanity he demonstrates in becoming a notorious public figure. We are all asked to withhold judgment--news reports must tell us what he allegedly did. We are allowed to offer pity or sorrow for this "lonely man", for this misogynistic mass murderer who didn't get asked out on enough dates by women. We are inundated with messages that the real victim here was the a poor dear heterosexual white man who was in such profound emotional pain that, well, he just had to plan for a long time how he was going to obtain guns and kill lots of women. Does the media care about the pain women are in because of all-too-typical woman-hating assholes like this guy? Apparently not so much.

To answer Catharine A. MacKinnon's politically significant while rhetorical question: "No; according to patriarchal men, women are not human."

A note to the fortunately dead George Sodini, who also expressed his sentiments this way: "Women just don't like me. There are 30 million desirable women in the US (my estimate) and I cannot find one".

Wrong, George. YOU didn't like women. And whether you found them desirable has nothing to do with whether they would or should find you desirable. Women not giving you the time of day is not the same thing as you not being liked, fuckhead. I don't like you, for example. And I wish you had killed yourself, and no one else, years ago. Before your final atrocious actions most women couldn't care less about you. And that's exactly as it should have been and should remain, you despicable self-absorbed prick. May you burn in hell.