The Battle Over Whether Loughner Is A Misogynist

Illustration for article titled The Battle Over Whether Loughner Is A Misogynist

A female bank teller refused to grant a request that went against policy. Jared Lee Loughner told her "she should not have any power." Loughner also wrote creepy postings about rape and shot a congresswoman in the head. Blame misogyny?


The debate about what Loughner's violence has to do with women has, if smaller in scale, paralleled the one about how we should read Tucson in the context of left and right politics. There are essentially two tacks here: Analyzing Loughner's own life and choices, and seeing him as existing within a society where certain messages, some of them recent and some of them longstanding, were being pushed.

The first, of course, is difficult when news reports are sewing together a coherent story out of tidbits, when the gunman isn't cooperating, and when Loughner's apparent mental illness is seen as the final verdict in itself. (Also, when certain right-wingers consider it a given that Mein Kampf is a left-wing text.)

The second turns out to hinge on how you see the world. If you see a connection between women's place in society and violence against women, it is not terribly shocking that someone who wrote, "Die, Bitch," and "Being alone for a very long time will inevitably lead you to rape," would then seek to kill one of the few women in Congress. If however, you prefer to see Loughner in a vacuum, you take this analysis rather personally, as Amanda Marcotte observed some commentators doing after she connected Loughner to overall societal misogyny:

I'm not sure what causes the knee-jerk reaction, since it seems that either you feel a defensiveness towards a man who killed six people, or a defensiveness of misogyny. I'm going to give said jerker of the knee the benefit of the doubt and assume that it's just a defensiveness of misogyny, and a desire to protect misogyny from accusations that it might play a role in violence against women.

We can argue about Loughner's intentions and motivations forever, but it may be more productive to realize that the actual argument here is that connection between promulgated hatred and actual violence — in this case, against women. as Frank Rich wrote this weekend,

Since Obama's ascension, we've seen repeated incidents of political violence. Just a short list would include the 2009 killing of three Pittsburgh police officers by a neo-Nazi Obama-hater; last year's murder-suicide kamikaze attack on an I.R.S. office in Austin, Tex.; and the California police shootout with an assailant plotting to attack an obscure liberal foundation obsessively vilified by Beck.

That Loughner was likely insane, with no coherent ideological agenda, does not mean that a climate of antigovernment hysteria has no effect on him or other crazed loners out there. Nor does Loughner's insanity mitigate the surge in unhinged political zealots acting out over the last two years. That's why so many - on both the finger-pointing left and the hyper-defensive right - automatically assumed he must be another of them.


You likely can't draw the same lines between attacks on female political officials — in any case, the sample size is so small. But if you think that the overwhelming statistics on violence against women in general — intimate partner violence, sexual violence, take your pick — have to do with broader messages and values that are pushed in our society, well, let's do some substitution here. "That Loughner was likely insane, with no coherent ideological agenda, does not mean that a climate of" anger against women's progress "has no effect on him or other crazed loners out there." But maybe rapists and wife-abusers are just acting out of their own individual motives. And lots of individuals just happen to choose women as their targets! Okay, case closed.

Looking Behind The Mugshot Grin [NYT]
No One Listened To Gabrielle Giffords [NYT]
Environment Has A Role [Pandagon]
Feminist Left Blames Masculinity, Misogyny, Christine O'Donnell For AZ Shooting [Newsrealblog]
Earlier: Jared Loughner's Scary Online Postings Discuss Rape, Rejection



Repeat after me, kids: Mental illness does not exist in a vacuum. Violent behaviour is not a necessary 'symptom'. Mental illness often expresses itself in culturally-specific forms, and therefore it is legitimate to situate the actions of a mentally ill person within the context of his or her culture.

If Loughner really did suffer from schitzophrenia, that is not an explanation for *anything* that he did. Someone suffering from the same illness in 10th century France might have become a religious fanatic, convinced that the apocalypse was coming and devoting his life to god. In 17th century Boston he might have decided that his elderly neighbour was a witch—or maybe feared that he himself was a witch. And yet, when we look at the Salem witch trials as historians, sure we blame individuals, but more importantly we rightly blame the culture that facilitated it. We do that even with historical events that didn't feature people known to be mentally ill. I don't know why so many commenters, here and elsewhere, are so willing to put their hands over their faces and pretend that's not the case.