Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Commentary on Manchester Terrorism: "Women [and Girls] Are the Canaries in the Coal Mine for Male Violence"

Thought-provoking commentary I have read on the Manchester terrorist bombing as in all likelihood an attack quite specifically targeting girls:

Eight-year-old Saffie Rose was not collateral damage. 
She was a target. 
She had been deliberately murdered with icy premeditation along with 21 others at the specific place and time that the bomber chose as the most likely to produce the highest body count. Twelve more children were among the 59 who were injured. 
The youth of the victims and the concert setting had a deep effect on counterterror investigators, for many of them have kids of their own who attend such events. And many have gone along when the kids were younger and know the protective feeling that comes when you are exiting at the end.

The Grande fan demographic also includes a number of older millennial women, gay men, and general lovers of pop music, of course, but her live concerts are largely populated by tween and teenage girls and their moms. By staging the attack at a Grande show, the perpetrator or perpetrators chose to target children who may or may not have had an adult around to help them through an emergency situation. 
And they targeted fans of an artist whose global brand is one of blissful, unsubdued feminine sexuality. Grande has long been the target of sexist rhetoric that has deemed her culpable for any sexual objectification or animosity that’s come her way. Her songs and wardrobe are sexy, yet she's maintained a coy, youthful persona; the combination has led some haters to argue that she’s made her fortune by making people want to have sex with her, so whatever related harm befalls her is entirely her fault. 
Like her pop-superstar predecessor Britney Spears, Grande has advanced a renegade, self-reflexive sexuality that’s threatening to the established heteropatriarchal order. If the Manchester bombing was an act of terrorism, its venue indicates that the attack was designed to terrorize young girls who idolize Grande’s image. Terrorism works by making people afraid to go about their daily lives, doing the things that make them feel human and whole: going to work, shopping at the mall, traveling by plane, dancing to Latin music at a gay club, singing along to a fun pop tune that lets young women envision themselves as powerful, sexual beings. All concertgoers whose nights ended in panic or tragedy on Monday will suffer some degree of post-traumatic consequences in the coming months and years. But the teens and children in the audience, who are still in the middle of developing their conceptions of themselves and the world, may find those notions irrevocably altered.

Cowards love to target populations whose strength and dignity make them feel threatened — minorities, gay people, girls and women. Across the world right now, girls are gathering on playgrounds and in classrooms, trying to make sense of things that make no sense. Trying to reassure and comfort one another. Trying to not feel beaten and down and afraid. Like they do for one another most days. They are so, so strong, these girls — yes, these girls with their goofy Snapchat streaks and their mermaid hair and their willingness to love things unironically. Their courage and their grace would knock you out. And if you want to know what ferocious resilience looks like, take a look sometime at a young girl and her bestie, sharing a set of earbuds and dancing, in spite of it all.

Many will point out that this was a terrorist attack, and terrorist attacks target everyone, regardless of gender, or age, or iTunes playlists. There were plenty of men at the concert, too, including a 64-year-old grandfather who was struck in the face by broken glass as he waited to collect his granddaughter. And until more information is released about the attacker, we can only speculate about his motives, although ISIS has been swift to claim responsibility. But the venue he chose to target speaks volumes. The impulse to hate and fear women who are celebrating their freedom—their freedom to love, their freedom to show off their bodies, their freedom to feel joy, together—is older than ISIS, older than pop concerts, older than music itself.

Misogyny keeps women down in every country, every ideology, every religion. Shame and protectionism make women afraid to come forward about sexual assault, afraid of learning enough about our own bodies to have great sex, afraid of living our lives to the fullest, or even unable to imagine what that life might look like. 
And when we ignore violence against women, we put everyone at risk. Time and again, men who engage in mass killings turn out to have also been accused of domestic or sexual violence in the past. Women are the canaries in the coal mine for male violence, including terrorism, and too often those warning signs are ignored.

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