Something is broken

This is an opinion piece that I wrote in response to the Isla Vista shootings that occurred nearly one Screen shot 2014-05-30 at 10.01.28 AMweek ago. It was printed in New Times‘ May 29 issue, and you can read it on the paper’s website, if you prefer. I have very strong feelings about what happened, about why, about the fact that some people are arguing there’s nothing we can do–especially about that last part.

In any case, it’s called “Something is broken” and here it is:

No editorial team wants to arrive at the office after a three-day weekend and have a discussion about how to write about a tragedy that robbed seven young adults of their lives. Whatever we decide, there’s no winning in this situation, there’s no feeling good about our decisions, or about the world we live in, the society we’ve collectively created and occupy.

We don’t want to talk about the way it happened, or offer any more fame to the student who committed the killings. There’s plenty of that information already choking the Internet—compelling you to consume more facts and quotes and opinions about an event that keeps goddamn happening, and yet we don’t even have a proper term for it. Massacre? Rampage? Tragedy? These words are too generic to apply to the loss of so many young lives, and they carry the taint of sensationalism anyhow.

And we’d like to talk about the victims, to find a way to honor their short lives, but we didn’t know them, and calling up their family and friends while they’re in mourning feels like the worst possible invasion of privacy. Much of that information is already out there, and in greater detail than we could hope to piece together.

We’d rather talk about the why of it, and before you get huffy and start talking about your constitutional rights or how there’s no one single responsible party, allow me to state: You’re correct. But you’re also wrong. You’re correct in stating that there are many issues that need to be addressed when a 22-year-old decides to kill his peers. But when your first reaction to a violent attack that has claimed seven lives is to defend a tool used to kill people, you need to reassess your priorities and values as a human being. A possession—however much you might love it—is not more important than human life.

I think, so far, The Onion said it best with its piece, “‘No Way To Prevent This,’ Says Only Nation Where This Regularly Happens.” Wikipedia has a page titled “List of school shootings in the United States.” So far it lists 39 separate incidents in 2014, and the year’s not even half over. Think about that.

Thus far, in almost every one of these incidents in which innocent lives are claimed by a wrathful person we later label a “monster,” the response is emotional, but disappointingly formulaic. We squabble along partisan lines—one side clutching their guns and insulting the families trying to come to terms with the fact that someone they love is suddenly, startlingly dead; the other side parading out talking points about gun control and support for the mentally ill. On the latter point, at least, most people will agree.

What we rarely talk about, and at great cost to the potential progress of this country, and potentially at the expense of the six innocent college students killed in Santa Barbara, is how misogyny plays into our violent culture. We don’t talk about the connection between a boy who wrote “How dare those girls give their love and sex to those other men and not me” and the high school student in Connecticut who stabbed a girl to death after she refused to go to prom with him last April. And the man in Stockton who, mere hours after the murders in Santa Barbara, shot at three women leaving his house for refusing to have sex with him.

The only thing that puts people on the defensive faster than a proposed discussion about gun control is a proposed discussion about misogyny. Unfortunately for those of you whose first inclination is to insist there’s no connection between a man who wrote a 140-page manifesto swearing vengeance against the women who deprived him of his right to intimately access their bodies and the fact that he went to a sorority house with a gun and actually began shooting, the conversation is already happening.

All around you.

It’s happening on Twitter, under the hashtag YesAllWomen, and it’s raw and heartbreaking and honest. And it’s happening on Facebook, where people, mostly women, are talking about something we’ve always known to be true: that misogyny kills.

And, frankly, we’re tired of being told how to avoid being raped while walking across a parking lot at night, and how to dress in order to avoid unwanted attention. We’re tired of being told by strangers to smile, as though we’re performing seals in an amusement park PETA is trying to shut down. We’re tired of having to invoke a boyfriend or husband in order to defer unwanted attention. And we’re tired of seeing those signs claiming that you should care about sexism because we’re someone’s mother, sister, daughter, or wife; we don’t simply exist within the context of our relationships to men. We’re human beings, and the very least we deserve from this society is the ability to cross a parking lot without having to recite everything we’ve ever learned about not attracting the wrong kind of attention.

Does this emphasis on eradicating sexism and gender violence overlook the fact that there were male victims in this horrific nightmare? No. Neither does it imply that their lives were any less valuable, that their loss is anything less than indefensible. The same misogyny that took the lives of those young women at the sorority house also claimed the murderer’s roommates and those who had the misfortune merely to cross his path. And their lives are all equal.

If I’m going to be brutally blunt—and I may as well be, because we have a brief window before this event we don’t even have a proper word for simply becomes another line in a lengthy list of mass killings in America: If a foreign government was doing this to us, traveling to our children’s schools and apartments and slaughtering them, we’d declare war. We would spend millions of dollars and produce highly inflammatory rhetoric about protecting our children, about their right to live at least into adulthood, to not be gunned down just because someone felt like it. But when it turns out that we are our greatest threat to our children—that our lust for weapons and unwillingness to take on an organization that spent $19 million lobbying politicians in 2012—we sit back and talk about how it’s a tragedy that we can’t avoid, we act as though weekly reports of school shootings are simply to be expected, the price we pay for being good ol’ America, the country where one person’s right to own a deadly weapon trumps a child’s right to reach adulthood.

I don’t buy that argument. I don’t support the America that sits silently, seemingly in shock over an event that just keeps happening. We had a right to be stunned into inaction the first time, maybe even the first five times this happened. But after 50? One hundred? It’s not surprising anymore, and it’s time for us to make it stop while we can still remember that this isn’t any kind of way to live—in grief and fear and disappointment. We can do so much better. And we have to, because if we don’t, then we’re knowingly sacrificing our kids to a monster of our own making.

Managing Editor Ashley Schwellenbach can be reached at aschwellenbach@newtimesslo.com.

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Comments

  1. But when it turns out that we are our greatest threat to our children—that our lust for weapons and unwillingness to take on an organization that spent $19 million lobbying politicians in 2012—we sit back and talk about how it’s a tragedy that we can’t avoid, we act as though weekly reports of school shootings are simply to be expected, the price we pay for being good ol’ America, the country where one person’s right to own a deadly weapon trumps a child’s right to reach adulthood.

    EXACTLY. This is the part that drives me insane. I hate that you can neither appeal to their sense of logic nor their sense of humanity. Whenever I ask, “If not gun control, what is the solution?” and I unfailingly get amorphous BS about curing social problems like poverty and education and mental illness (and most recently, single parents, wtf). Yes, I firmly agree those things matter a lot where deaths from firearms are concerned. Yet I never, ever hear a single “DON’T TOUCH MY GUNS!!” type person speak or advocate as passionately about those issues as they do about retaining their rights to own murder weapons.

    How did we get so spineless and selfish?

  2. Thank you for this very well-written, expressive article. There is a news item that is connected to misogyny and American values, but I’m not sure how it relates: the honor-killing of a 25-year-old woman in Pakistan by her own male family members. I know that these honor-killings happen frequently and are basically allowed by Pakistani laws, but I can’t help but think about it, and its proximity of currency and ideology to the Santa Barbara shooter. Is it part of human nature for men to mistreat women? History certainly provides evidence, and we’ve had two occurrences within the same week of 2014 on this planet: a mass-shooter pre-records his misogynistic rant before recklessly shooting, and a father cooperates with an angry mob by hurling bricks at his own daughter for marrying out of love instead of tradition. I don’t care about the weapon used in bringing this up (just to prevent gun-enthusiasts from retorting); my question: how can human beings in this civilized world continue to disregard human life so recklessly, especially women? America gives it a pass because of our defeatist, stubborn attitude of “helplessness,” while Pakistan has the gall to attribute the word “honor” to the senseless slaughter. Can we ever cure the human condition of its careless inclination towards innocent deaths? Can we at least TRY to cure ourselves in our country?

    • I was actually thinking about that honor killing as well. It’s so disheartening that the same patterns of misogyny occur throughout history and around the world. People point to the fact that it’s gotten better, and it has improved somewhat in some places, but it does become overwhelming when you look at the full picture. And the weird thing is that I think America sees itself as this plucky, can-do revolutionary (which we were maybe 300 years ago) but I think we seem to have sunk into a smug, complacent stupor we need to be shaken out of.

  3. I was going to read what you wrote but decided to search for “schizophrenia” first. Didn’t find it. Means you don’t know shit about Elliott. So why bother reading what you wrote?

    lwk

    • Why bother commenting if you didn’t read what I wrote? I might not have mentioned schizophrenia, but I know the definition of an Internet troll and you fit the bill perfectly. For a troll, you express yourself reasonably well. Nonetheless, kindly refrain from visiting my site again.

  4. Mignon Khargie says:

    Ashley, thanks for all of your clear thinking on this issue, and for continuing to talk about it.

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