When tragedy strikes, I stay up all night reading the news. The only way I know how to process incomprehensible events like the Dark Night Rises shooting in Aurora is by absorbing all the details, the more heart-wrenching and/or disturbing, the better. So far, the story that's stuck with me the most isn't the one about the killer's "Will you visit me in prison?" Adult Friend Finder profile, nor the one about the aspiring sportscaster who blogged about nearly being a part of another mass shooting last month. Instead, I can't stop thinking about the three men who died taking bullets for their girlfriends.
As a writer for Jezebel, I can't help viewing most events through feminist-colored glasses, often to the chagrin of my friends. ("Why can't you just appreciate Aaron Sorkin's banter?" etc.) So I'm unsettled by how comforted I am by the stories of Jon Blunk, Matt McQuinn and Alex Teves. "Three survivors of the Colorado movie-theater massacre escaped with minor wounds, but were left with broken hearts because their heroic boyfriends died saving them," the New York Daily News reports. Words and phrases used to describe the men by their lovers and families include "gentlemen," "the kind of guy you want your daughter to be with," and multiple variations on the word "hero."
"He always wanted to be a superhero, he's wanting to save someone or do something greater," said the mother of Blunk's kids. "He was 6-feet-2, in incredible shape, which is why he was able to push her down under the seats of the theater," said his girlfriend's mother. "He pushed her down on the floor and laid down on top of her and he died there."
Another man who survived the shooting told CBS that his first thought was protecting his pregnant wife. "Just save my family and do anything I could to save my unborn child; and I wish I could have done more because there were two families that had brought their kids in car seats."
Would it be any less heartwarming if the martyrs that night hadn't been men fulfilling the traditional roles that, according to their family members, they'd been preparing for all their lives? Of course not. But it's pointless to analyze whether there were any gender stereotypes at play in the theater that night, or to ask why so many men died protecting their girlfriends — that's just what happened. It's been 100 years since the Titanic, but women and children still go first.
Right now, I'm angry about our country's incapability to engage in mature discourse about gun laws and mental illness reform. I'm frustrated that toy guns are no longer allowed in AMC theaters but it's still totally cool to have a loaded firearm secretly nestled under your belt as you munch on your popcorn. But, mostly, I find myself thinking about the heroes who died for their loved ones like something straight out of a tearjerker movie.
I feel weird about how much better it makes me feel about the world that so many men instinctively pushed their girlfriends out of harm's way, because I know it's not just about general human kindness — but maybe it's less about heteronormativity and more about the need to feel protected by someone you love, or by someone who loves you. That goes beyond gender.
(Image of Alex Teves and Amanda Lindgren via Facebook.)