Marisa Wright: Connecting misogyny and mass shooters

Thursday, September 5, 2019 - 5:18pm

Three mass shootings received major media attention at the end of July and the beginning of August. On July 28, in Gilroy, Calif., a terrorist killed three people and injured 13 others. On August 3, in El Paso, Texas, another terrorist killed 22 people and injured 24 others. On August 4, in Dayton, Ohio, a gunman killed nine people and injured 27 others. Though the first two terrorists were also motivated by racist ideology, the connection between these mass shooters, and an overwhelming number of mass shooters in general, is misogyny. 

While sexism involves sex discrimination in individual cases, misogyny is systemic sex discrimination wherein societal structures of power are built to inflict harm on women due to sexist beliefs and vice versa – sexist beliefs form to justify systemic injustice. 

The shooter in Dayton was described as “hateful to women because they didn’t want to date him” and created a kill and rape list for women who rejected him. The El Paso terrorist often posted white supremacist content on the website 8chan, where many men are radicalized. And the Gilroy terrorist posted a recommendation for a neo-Nazi manifesto — which is filled with misogynistic and racist ideology — on Instagram the day of the shooting. 

It doesn’t stop there. 

In 2017, a man killed 26 people in Sutherland Springs, Texas. He had been convicted of domestic violence and repeatedly beat and threatened his first wife. The shooter at Orlando’s Pulse nightclub in 2016 beat his wife while she was pregnant. The man who killed 17 students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School threatened, abused and stalked multiple women. The shooter at a yoga studio in Tallahassee, Fla., was a self-described misogynist and was arrested multiple times for assaulting young women. A man who shot his ex-fiancée and two others at a hospital in Chicago was repeatedly reported to authorities for multiple instances of domestic violence. To add to the ever-growing list, one of the shooters of Columbine High School wrote about resenting women, blaming them for his romantic alienation. 

More than just an anecdote, this phenomenon was confirmed in an analysis by Everytown for Gun Safety, which found that “the majority of mass shootings” between 2009 and 2017 were “related to domestic or family violence.” 

According to experts studying control and fear, domestic violence is “often a way for male abusers to impose their view of the ‘traditional’ gender roles … such ‘traditions’ in the United States were rooted in the idea of men having control over women.”

Shannon Watts, the founder of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, said, “Most mass shootings are rooted in domestic violence.”

Gun regulation is needed to end gun violence, and it is essential for gun regulation to include provisions that bar people who exhibit misogynistic tendencies — such as domestic violence or assault — from gaining access to guns. 

While it is true that federal law prohibits people convicted of certain cases of domestic violence from buying or owning guns, there are many loopholes that enable domestic abusers and virulent misogynists to obtain guns, including assault weapons. Also, federal law does not actually remove guns from such abusers because it does not lay out a removal procedure, so abusers who already have guns continue to own them. 

Notably, when the reauthorization for the Violence Against Women Act passed in the U.S. House of Representatives in April, the N.R.A. opposed it in the U.S. Senate because the VAWA has red-flag provisions that increase protections for victims of domestic violence and abuse. 

Obviously, the United States is not the only country with rampant misogyny and a patriarchy. Easy access to guns allows mass shooters and terrorists to carry out their plans, but misogyny, often paired with racism, anti-Semitism, Islamaphobia and xenophobia, is what radicalizes these men in the first place.

In the long history of mass shootings, a professed hatred of women is extremely prevalent. With the rise of the internet, recent mass shooters have identified as “incels,”or “involuntary celibates.” Incels form an online subculture on sites like Reddit and 4chan. These men declare generalized hatred toward all women for denying them sex and blame them for their own lack of romantic relationships. Incels also frequently fantasize about violence towards women in order to punish them for rejecting them and celebrate mass shooters with similar ideology.

The men who call themselves incels revere Elliot Rodger as the original incel-killer. One of Rodger’s followers called for an “Incel Rebellion” on Facebook before killing 10 and wounding 14 in Toronto. Rodger himself posted disturbing messages on Youtube before killing six people in 2014 because he blamed female students at the University of California, Santa Barbara for his isolation. He wrote, “I've been forced to endure an existence of loneliness, rejection and unfulfilled desires, all because girls have never been attracted to me. … I will have my revenge against humanity. I will punish all of you for it.” 

Like Rodger, men who identify as incels feel entitled to women, their attention and their bodies. They do not view women as human beings who have autonomy over their decisions and bodies independent from men. Instead, they believe women exist to serve their needs, to quench their self-inflicted loneliness with sex, concern and love. And when these men, with their resentment and hatred of women, have access to guns, it is no wonder there is mass shooting after mass shooting. 

Marisa Wright can be reached at marisadw@umich.edu.