Thursday, October 05, 2006

On six girls

Okay, so there's been plenty of coverage lately (up until Dennis Hastert's job started looking endangered, anyway) of the recent school shootings in Colorado and Pennsylvania. Discussions of school safety dominate the conversation, the news media ponder what causes a person to snap, comparisons to Columbine are made (the father of one of the Columbine victims was even invited to speak during CBS News's nightly "Free Speech" segment, during which he blamed the recent shootings on abortion and evolution), and as is so frequently the case, patterns are completely ignored.

The shooter in Colorado, a homeless man named Duane Morrison, singled out the girls and molested several before killing one of them and then committing suicide; he had approached a student at the school on the day of the attack and asked about the identities of some of the female students. In Pennsylvania, a milk truck driver again released the boys and adults and tied the girls up in front of the blackboard before shooting them and then killing himself; in a note he left for his wife, he said that he had dreamed of reenacting a molestation he had committed twenty years before, and items he brought to the schoolhouse indicated that he might have been planning to do just that.

These shootings weren't Columbine. The shooters weren't teenage outcasts in trench coats taking out their frustrations on the classmates that they blamed for their misery. And they didn't line up adults at the blackboard, or molest male students. The killers were grown men, and whatever psychosis or personal issues they were dealing with, they took them out on girls. They gathered weapons and restraints, entered a school, released the boys and adults, and then did horrible, awful things to girls.

If anything, these shootings seem to follow more closely the 1989 massacre at the École Polytechnique in Montreal. Marc Lepine, a 25-year-old man, was denied admission to the engineering school at the École and blamed his rejection on feminists. His suicide note mentioned "the feminists who have ruined my life"; in revenge, he took the lives of 14 women and injured nine more, along with four men.

On the surface, it's easy to understand why girls, specifically, would be victimized. Traditionally, girls have been considered weaker, more delicate, and less likely to fight back, and a killer hoping to make a point or draw a lot of attention by attacking these archetypically innocent victims. But that's not the only, or at least not the entire, explanation. In Montreal, Lepine blamed felt that he'd been wronged all his life - but rather than focusing his anger on those who he believed had wronged him, he took his revenge on women as a gender, whatever women he could get his hands on. In Pennsylvania, Charles Carl Roberts apparently recalled a molestation he'd committed when he was 12 (an incident which neither of his purported victims remembers) and chose a schoolfull of young Amish girls to relive the memory.

I've mentioned in the past about how women don't always have the luxury of a sense of unique personhood. So frequently, the actions of a woman as an individual are criticized for their potential effects on women as a gender and on the cause of feminism, and debates about "choice feminism" and "bowing to the patriarchy" rage. Past weeks and years have underscored that as individual women bear not just the weight of their own actions, but now the burden of every perceived sin that a woman has ever committed against a man.

In the Pennsylvania shootings, we're assured repeatedly that the killer had nothing against the Amish. In the Colorado shootings, we're assured that the killer had no connection to the high school. In both cases, the killers segregated and victimized girls, and it's never addressed beyond a passing mention. We can talk about school safety, about gun control, about a culture of violence and Godlessness and disrespect for life. But when the most blatant misogyny imaginable stares us in the face in the form of six dead girls, it barely warrants mention.

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