What Caused the Tucson Shooting? Don’t Forget Sexism

All the debate about whether the Arizona shooter was inspired by violent Tea Party rhetoric (see articles from my PolicyMic colleagues Nathan Lean and Jacob Shmukler) ignores an aspect of the shootings that knows no party lines: sexism.

In the recent New York Times profile on Jared Lee Loughner, the killer is reported to be “contemptuous of women in power” and known for “sexist” comments. Given that, is it a surprise that his target was Gabrielle Giffords, a local female leader?

This shooting is yet another example of male violence against women. Around the world, one in every three women will face abuse in her lifetime. Particularly horrific examples include the thousands of women raped by men in the Congo, young women forced into prostitution in Mexico, and “honor killings” of women who have extramarital sex, whether by choice or by force. In the U.S. alone, one in six women has been the victim of an attempted or completed rape. The list continues.

Of course, sexism alone did not cause the shootings. Another factor is our country’s ineffective mental health system, which failed to catch or treat Loughner’s mental illness. A second is loose gun control policies, which allowed an unstable man to legally purchase deadly firearms. A third factor is the violent imagery on television and in national debate - on both sides of the political spectrum - that has normalized the use of violence.

The three issues above are being discussed; gender is not. Even the New York Times article only addresses Loughner’s sexism as a sub-plot to the larger storyline about a deranged man. Why aren’t we discussing gender?

Jackson Katz, an activist who works with men to prevent gender violence, argues in his movie "Tough Guise" that the media often hides male violence against women. When men perpetrate violent acts, the media headlines often say “student” or “shooter,” taking emphasis off the gender of the perpetrator.

When a female starts shooting, the media takes note: Katz points to fevered discussions about female violence after the release of "Thelma and Louise," a movie which shows two women who become violent criminals. This has the effect of downplaying crimes by men and highlighting those by women. And yet most of the perpetrators of violent crime are male.

Perhaps no one feels the need to point out male violence precisely because it is so common. And that is a shame, because the U.S. - and the world - must face up to its failings in order to have any hope of fixing them.

So here’s step one: Learn to recognize gender issues. Jackson Katz is a good starting point. Step two: When you see sexism, call it out for what it is. Don’t let it lurk in the background with a gun.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons