Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Men. God. Guns: Conversation about Privilege of Straight White Men Continues after Recent Isla Vista Atrocity

The tweet above, by Alyssa at #YesAllWomen, has become emblematic of a new feminist movement of resistance to male violence spawned by the recent Isla Vista shootings. For The Atlantic, Conor Friedersdorf comments on the movement and the preceding tweetAs Rebecca Leber notes at Think Progress, 

In the online reaction to the tragedy, nothing has matched the conversation that began with a simple hashtag, #YesAllWomen.

Commentary I've found well worth reading:

The main statistic is inarguable—69 males to one lone female. Being a man is the single most common characteristic of every mass shooting in the last 32 years.

Our culture has always looked the other way or even validated gendered violence, particularly against African-American women. Yet in an era of lightning-fast cultural transmission, this historic violence seems to be both mutating and becoming more perniciously commodified before our eyes.

It's time for America to admit what it's long resisted: White male privilege kills.

Yet we cannot begin to address the culture of violence that is literally exploding all around us without acknowledging that "manning up" in American culture too often involves actions aimed at the subordination of others—women, children, nature—to the will of a man who, it is assumed, embodies the will of God.

"Not all men" is an objection that’s used to dismiss the issue of violence against women and misogyny in society, simply because not all men are like that. Turning that language around with #yesallwomen refocuses the conversation on the fact that all women, at some point, face objectification.

For some time now misogynist extremism has been excused, as all acts of terrorism committed by white men are excused, as an aberration, as the work of random loons, not real men at all. The pattern is repeatedly denied: these are the words and actions of the disturbed.

I think of the millions of other women and girls whose names the public does not know, but who have been forced all the same — by institutional forces larger than themselves, by systemic and enduring misogyny and racism, by the sheer bad luck of being at a given place at a given moment — to become statistics or symbols of our culture’s profound disregard for the humanity of women and girls.

Some readers of this blog have grown weary (and have told me so) of the unrelenting way in which I keep trying to isolate the problem of straight white male privilege as one of the key social problems of many cultures today — as what has to be overcome by all of us, if we want to build a more humane world for all of us. One of the reasons I hammer again and again at the centrist dodges that want us to pretend that someone "objective" and "disinterested" should be in the driver's seat of our culture, through its primary institutions like the media and the academy, is that these dodges want to mask the fact that this objective and disinterested someone is almost always a straight white man — who is not in the least objective and disinterested. Who is as politically intentional as any of us is politically intentional . . . . 

How can I not keep focusing relentlessly on this problem, when so much is at stake, including the lives of women and girls? How can all of us not decide to focus on this problem, when this is what is at stake — and at stake for all of us?

I'm glad, frankly, that many people are now pressing for this conversation in the wake of the Isla Vista atrocity. And as it's being reported that Nigerian officials know where the girls abducted by Boko Haram are being held, and that President Goodluck Jonathan has pulled out of negotiations to free them. And as it was reported yesterday that a woman was stoned to death by relatives in Pakistan as she sought to marry against her family's wishes.

We, the human community, have a problem, and that problem exists everywhere across the planet. We have a problem if it's a more humane world we're all about — a more humane world for all of us. The problem is not isolated to any one culture or religious group. It is everywhere in the world.

It's deeply rooted in notions of male privilege and entitlement reinforced by religious warrants, and compounded, in many cultures, by racial prejudice and a belief in heteronormativity as God's plan for creation. And unless we begin to face this problem squarely and to talk honestly about it, more Isla Vistas (and more domestic violence, and more rape, and more stonings, and more abductions of girls) remain the horrific future of many members of the human community, simply because those members of the human community are born without penises.

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