What kind of violence is this again?

A Walmart and Sam's Club sign, under which are memorials to individuals murdered in the 3rd Aug 2019 massacre, consisting of their names, hearts, flowers and other materials. A woman holding red heart-shaped balloons has her hand on one of the memorials.
Memorials to victims of the El Paso massacre

Every time there is a prominent mass shooting in the US (or elsewhere, but it’s usually the USA), you can bet that there will soon appear a white feminist with access to the mainstream media who pops up and attributes the killing to masculinity, male power or male violence, and last weekend’s massacre in El Paso, Texas, is no exception: in Tuesday’s Guardian, there was a piece by Suzanne Moore which, although it acknowledges that racism and America’s gun laws have something to do with it, brings it back to these feminist concerns:

The substitute for difficult and intersectional discussion is that everyone has to agree that being a man today is a very difficult and confusing state.

Spare me. The “crisis of masculinity” that we regularly address is an alibi. Masculinity is crisis. But it is also in power, something the middle-class men who complain they are unable to express themselves take for granted. …

Male violence – for this is the issue – is everywhere. In the US it is armed to the teeth. Sure, change the gun laws. That may be easier than changing a culture in which men express their feelings nonstop, most notably through death and destruction.

There are two things we must be clear about. One of these is that regular mass shootings happen in the USA because civilians can get ready access to automatic weapons. Almost no other country allows this; some allow the keeping of single-shot firearms, and in most cases they have to be kept secure, the owners have to have a legitimate purpose, and they have to have background checks to make sure they have no criminal record and are of sound mind. Because of this, a single incident like El Paso can claim as many victims in a few minutes as an entire city’s gun crime toll in the UK, Europe or Australia in several months. Second, a number of these massacres are clearly motivated by white supremacist ideology and the attackers have left manifestos making this clear. Very often they claim that their country, or western civilisation, is under attack from migrants (sometimes Muslims, in other times Mexicans as in this case) and nobody is doing anything about it. Some have a history of domestic violence (the Dayton attacker killed a member of his family and their friend before his other victims), but not all.

Of course, many mass shootings are perpetrated by lone men who have an axe to grind and want to be infamous because they do not have the talent to be famous, but we must distinguish the ones perpetrated by people with a declared ideological motive from these incidents. Often they draw ideological inspiration from mainstream political figures, often those who get regular exposure in the media (the Norwegian mass shooter cited Melanie Phillips, for example, among many others including fringe figures from the right-wing blogosphere of the Iraq war years). Many have a history of violence towards women; others have no prior record of violence at all but have radicalised themselves through a mixture of mainstream and online fringe media and chat forums. The perpetrator of the Dayton massacre last weekend was a known misogynist who was part of a ‘grindcore’ music scene that featured overtly misogynistic band titles and lyrics, but no such thing is known about either the Christchurch or El Paso attackers.

When such things happen, people of colour (and people in the ethnic or religious groups targeted by the attacker) will notice the whiteness and white supremacist ideology of the shooter; white women always seem to notice the maleness. I am not saying there is no place or time to debate the role of masculinity in such attacks, but just after a white man has killed 20 Mexicans in El Paso or 51 Muslims in mosques in Christchurch (or six in a mosque in Quebec) really is not it: white supremacism is a spectrum that runs from policies that reinforce white norms and demand ‘integration’ at the expense of an immigrant culture or a minority’s religion, to massacres such as these and even genocide, and different strands of white supremacism have plenty of female adherents and women promoting them in the media and in various parliaments. When the dead are of both sexes, to brand a racist or white supremacist terrorist attack as an act of “male violence” is a slur on the victims: it is to say that any of them could have done this sort of thing, that they have more in common with their murderer than with you, and it reminds readers of whatever problems of relations between men and women exist in their community, or stereotypes about such problems. It takes the focus off this situation and the victims and puts it onto the writer’s supposedly more deserving cause, and those affected by it.

So, let’s have no more ramblings about “male violence” by white women in the aftermath of racially-motivated massacres. It’s distasteful, it’s disrespectful, it’s victim blaming. Feminists usually don’t like victim blaming when the victims are women; do not do it, by linking them to their murderer, when the victims are men of a different race or religion to you and murdered because of it.

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