The One Behind The Gun Lives Forever: White Masculinity’s Memorialization of Mass Shooters

By Lindumuzi Ndlovu

When is the March For Our Lives march on Washington? Mark ...

Since Columbine in 1999, mass shootings have become a lived everyday risk for students and civilians alike across America. With many of these attacks happening in schools, children of the 90s have been dubbed the “mass shooting generation,” growing up having had to partake in “code red” drills from as young as elementary school. The purpose of these drills is that in case there is an active shooter, the kids are best equipped to protect themselves. Due to America’s preoccupation with freedom and its nuances, the issue of gun control often emerges as the subject of discussion when confronting the epidemic of mass shootings. In tandem with gun control arguments, discussions of the shooters often revolve around mental health, harassment from peers, and detachment, ensuring that mass shooters are seen as anomalies in society. The construction of mass shooters as abnormalities operates with the same invisibility cloak that white masculinity has enjoyed for years. On Wednesday 21st of February, Nikolas Cruz, a former student of Marjory Stoneman Douglas high school, opened fire on his former classmates, claiming the lives of 17 people. This essay will purposely avoid attempting to understand the motives for a mass shooting, to not further saturate the discursive sphere with convoluted arguments about mental health and gun control. Rather, it will look at the varying constructions of mass shooters, and ask: what do these media constructions render invisible about white masculinity in America? What narratives of victimhood are privileged and constructed? In this paper, I use theoretical frameworks from the work of Bell hooks, Michael Kimmel, and Sally Robinson to interrogate white masculinity, the culture of manhood in America, and their relation to mass shootings. I focus particularly on the community that Nikolas Cruz inhabited, taking accounts from his former classmates, the family he was staying with, and major national media coverage of the shooting to trace the discursive construction of a mass shooter.

It is no mere coincidence that all the mass shootings that have occurred in America since 1999 were committed by white men. In a post-911 society where state surveillance to counteract potential acts of terror is more pervasive than ever, what allows the state to hold such an attitude of benevolence towards white mass shooters? Arguably, at the very basis of the state’s benevolence is the construction of each mass shooter as an individual, different from others before. In the case of Nikolas Cruz, his peers always described him as a “loner” and being “obsessed with hunting, guns, and knives.” In and of themselves these do not represent precursors for a mass shooter, however similar descriptions have been applied to many other mass shooters. It is within the privilege of white men to be disconnected from these trends, allowing for each mass shooter to be narrativized as a unique societal anomaly. As Robinson theorized, “what is invisible escapes surveillance and regulation, and perhaps less obviously also evades the cultural marking that distances the subject from the universalizing constructions of identity and narratives of experience” (1). It is the very un-marking of whiteness and its intimate connection with mass shootings that fails the formulation of mass shooter narratives. Within three articles from The New York Times, Vanity Fair and USA Today, there is no mention of the shooter’s name, let alone his ethnicity and cultural disposition, markers that are often the first to be presented when racialized bodies commit crimes. White maleness has seeped so deeply into mass shooting discourse that it now benefits from the privilege of being invisible, uncomfortably universalizing mass shooters (Robinson 4).

Mass shootings and the contemporary discourse surrounding them have shifted dramatically in an age of neoliberalism. Part of the work of this essay is to side-step the convoluted dominant discourse of gun control rights, safety measures in schools and mental health, to instead privilege the narratives of community members who had intimate relationships with Nikolas Cruz to illuminate the normalizing rhetoric that allows masculinity to brood and relish in its destruction. Unlike the usual aftermath of mass shooting, Nikolas Cruz’s shooting in Parkland Florida elicited a response from students across the nation. Tired of being spoken for, many students of the “mass shooting generation” mobilized across the nation to show their solidarity and to protest state benevolence. Carrying signs that said “It Could’ve Been Us”, “Your Silence is Killing Us” and “We Stand with Stoneman Douglas.” These are all parts of the “never again” campaign launched on Facebook (New York Times). Despite the validity of this campaign and the benefits of youthful voices entering the discourse as contributors to, rather than objects of, discussion, the rhetoric employed is one that gestures at the anxiety of reproductive futurity (Edelman 19). The figure of the child and the universal desire to protect children is seen throughout the rhetoric employed around mass shootings. The coupling of children and guns invokes a sense of impending terror. The preoccupation with saving the children and reducing the issue to one of legislative gun control does not hold white masculinity accountable for its role in mass shootings. In fact, it deflects the anxiety that it is the patriarchs of the nation that are slaughtering their own children. In another display of deflective tactics there is often a false equivalency of mass shootings to “terrorist attacks”. Not only does this invalidate the charge of a racialized term such as ‘terrorist’ but within the selective use of this term the rhetoric further distances the acts of mass shooting from white maleness and posits it in the sphere of terrorism. The anxiety of the future encapsulates the majority of the discourse around mass shooting, with the height of neoliberalism and the rise of children to speak for themselves, the objects of reproductive futurity have taken up space in discourse to ensure their own futures.

White hegemonic masculinity must be addressed in order to confront the issue of mass shooting. The desire to narrativize each shooting as particular, in order to qualm the anxiety of looming future acts, does an active disservice to the mission of counteracting mass shooting. Nikolas Cruz struggled in high school as a troubled orphan, he kept to himself and spent his time hunting, detached from his peers. In the matrix of masculinity this is not out of character. As explained by Kimmel, “some withdraw and become depressed, alienated, or despondent. Some self-medicate, few explode. As each adolescent knows ‘doing a columbine’ means exploding in a murderous rage” (244). The construction of the reasons for exploding such as mental health and gun control, and the defining of these explosions as singular is what allows the inherent hegemonic white masculinity, the real catalyst of these, to brood. In this way males who do not explode are valorized and those that do detached from masculinity so as their failure to avoid explosion does not begin to characterize all males as explosive. Although I may not agree with the totalizing nature of bell hooks’ theory that “all boys are being raised to be killers”, in the case of white maleness in The West there seems to be some validity to this statement (44). It is within the way boys are raised and socialized to believe that as long as they do not ‘explode’ they have successfully navigated masculinity and the way that mass shooters are constructed in the discursive sphere that allows the legacy of mass shooters to persist.

 

“Our Soldiers are Dying in the Battle Field, What is Your Contribution?”: “Gender Equality” in the Service of Zionism

By Eden Lumerman

Zero Motivation :: a Zeitgeist Films release

In a dusty military base, somewhere in the Negev Desert, an Administration unit composed of five Israeli women soldiers fight boredom by setting new records on Minesweeper and Solitaire on their office’s PCs. Their official positions are Postal Non-Commissioned Officer (NCO), Paper Shredding NCO, and Human Resources NCO. Other than sending letters, shredding paper, and chatting on the phone with the girls from the Logistics unit, they also serve coffee to the officers during their board meetings. These young-adult Israeli women are the stars of “Zero Motivation,” a 2014 Israeli film produced and directed by Talya Lavie. In a 2014 Haaretz interview, Lavie addressed her unconventional choice to focus on bored clerks in an army film: “The fact that the army has mandatory service for both men and women makes it look like an egalitarian and progressive institution, but within that system [there is] a huge number of women whose job is [primarily] a status symbol.” Although highly prevalent, this issue is often excluded from the Zionist (liberal) narrative of military service which commonly centers around notions of war and contribution to the community. This is exemplified in almost every scene of the film when an officer reminds the clerks that (male) soldiers are dying in the battle field while they waste their time and contribute nothing to the common good. Although it hovers over every scene, the battlefield in which the soldiers are dying is abstract: the war is distant and the enemy is unnamed. Thus, the battlefield is as symbolic as gender equality; both signify a certain narrative that renders the military institution as progressive and its actions as protective. The first part of this narrative is often constructed by a liberal feminist discourse that reveres the integration of women in the IDF as the epitome of the feminist struggle for gender equality. Furthermore, this discourse views women’s integration as a sign of “modernity,” indicating that Israeli society is on the “progress train” amongst the rest of the “modern world.” However, a closer look into the effects of this “integration” and the roots of this discourse reveals that the inclusion of women in the Israeli military serves to assert male and colonial domination, while providing it with a symbolic moral justification: gender-equality.

The liberal feminist plight for gender equality in the military stems from the historically ubiquitous status of women as inferior citizens who depend on the protection of the state and its men (Tickner 252). In militarist societies citizenship is hierarchically structured according to the “republican ethos” which defines membership in the community according to the citizen’s contribution to the “common good” (Sasson-Levy 742). Along these lines, Orna Sasson-Levy writes, “The main protagonist of the republican ethos is the male combat soldier who embodies the good citizen who is willing to sacrifice himself for the good of the country” (742). While men have been able to perform acts of sacrifice in the defense of the state, women’s participation in society has been “restricted” to “traditional feminine” roles: mothers, caring professions, teachers, and nurses, to name a few (Tickner 252). Thus, women have not had an “equal” chance to prove their commitment to their societies, and in effect their citizenship was considered inferior to that of men’s. Consequently, the liberal feminist answer to this gendered hierarchy of citizenship was demanding “to allow women access to all military roles- including combat- as an avenue to equate women’s citizenship to men’s” (Sasson-Levy 743). Indeed, since the mid twentieth century the rate of women’s participation in Western militaries has grown.

Consequently, liberal feminism has celebrated the woman soldier as a symbol of success indicative of the “progress” Western nation states have made in their “march” to gender equality, as well as their belonging to the “modern” world. Cynthia Enloe writes, “By the early twenty-first century, the woman soldier seemed to have become a globalized icon of the “modern woman:” she was breaking into a traditionally masculinized domain […] she was wielding authority and proving that she could be the protector, not simply the protected- she too could ‘die for her country’” (63). And so, the woman-soldier proved that women could perform the highest form of patriotism and be “equal participants” in society. Following a 2000 ruling in the European Court that required EU member states to recruit women to their militaries on an equal basis, the Israeli government amended its conscription law and provided women soldiers equal access to (almost) all positions in the IDF.

Since the 2000 amendment, the discourse around integration of women in the military has been a contested terrain between religious Zionism and liberal feminism. Liberal feminist responses to the religious Zionist claims explicitly draw on liberal tropes of modernity and progress. For example, in a 2017 discussion in the Israeli Security Council about the issue of combat women soldiers, parliament member Stav Shafir (Labor Party) said, “I was fortunate enough to be one of the first women to have an equal opportunity to try out for a pilot position. Today, there is a wave of people with backwards world views, and they are trying to do the impossible and freeze time. It is simply not going to happen and we [plural female] are breaking more and more glass ceilings.” Women’s ability to become fighter pilots is thus constructed as a feminist achievement. However, the victims of Israeli airstrikes, many of whom are women, are not mentioned in this framework of feminist achievement. The Israeli oppression of Palestinians is eliminated from the liberal feminist discourse of “progress.”

This liberal feminist discourse of “progress” resembles to a large extent the liberal Zionist discourse of civilizational superiority (“modernity”) which has been ubiquitously used to justify Israeli dominance over occupied Palestine. Indeed, liberal Zionist discourse has constructed Israel as a “modern” state- part of the West and Western civilization. For example, in his 2015 address to the UN the Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu was especially dependent on this discourse when he claimed, “Israel stands out as a towering beacon of enlightenment and tolerance […] Israel stands in the breach – proudly and courageously, defending freedom and progress. Israel is civilization’s front line in the battle against barbarism.” Many scholars have critiqued civilizational discourse as extremely essentialist and racist. Specifically, I find Talal Assad’s critique especially relevant, as he argues that “there is no such thing as a clash of civilizations because there are no self-contained societies to which fixed civilizational values correspond” (12). However, militarist societies that have integrated women into their militaries assigned themselves a fixed civilizational value of “modernity” (Enloe 63). Along these lines, Talal Assad writes, “All constitutional states rest on a space of violence that they call legitimate” (29). The space of violence on which the Israeli state rests, is the liberal Zionist claim to “modernity.” The liberal feminist discourse of gender equality, with its disregard to colonial violence, enhances this space of violence with another foil of moral justification.

Alternatively, a more nuanced Israeli liberal feminist discourse recognizes that the integration of women in a military system that has an inherent masculinist structure and culture actually has served to cement the patriarchal gender hierarchy of citizenship rather than dismantle it. For example, in a 2009 article in Haaretz, parliament member Merav Michaeli argued that in the IDF

it is clear who is in charge, who works for whom. Women finish their military service with that lesson understood well and internalized […] Men understand this lesson too. They know very well who makes decisions and who obeys, who has the power and who is the subordinate. This is how the military creates a patriarchal society […] A hierarchy in which the top is occupied by the praised male combat soldier, and at the bottom the woman who’s role is to provide service: fold parachutes, serve coffee and comfort, including legitimacy for sexual harassment.

As Michaeli is a prominent member of the mainstream Labor Party, this critique may appear highly transgressive. However, I argue that it is limited to the discrimination that mostly secular Jewish Israeli women face in the militarist Israeli society. In effect, the limited scope of this critique conforms to and perpetuates the erasure of the Israeli occupation of Palestine from the liberal Zionist narrative of the IDF. Further, the connection between male domination of women and Israeli colonial domination of Palestine goes unrecognized, and thus the liberal feminist critique is ironically unable to be actually transgressive.

The Israeli occupation of Palestine has everything to do with liberal feminism. The erasure of the first from the discursive space of the latter translates into a liberal feminist compliance with the systematic violence, oppression, humiliation, and discrimination experienced daily by Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza under the Israeli occupation. Thus, the only symbolism I find in the images of the woman-soldier, the female fighter-pilot, and the bored soldier clerks, is the enlistment of feminism to the defense of occupation and colonial violence.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Undocumented Teens Targeted by Trump’s Abortion Agenda

By Eden Lumerman

Trump

In September 2017, an undocumented teen immigrant from Central America who was held in a federally contracted shelter in Texas, discovered she was pregnant. She decided to get an abortion, secured a permission from a Texas judge, and raised the funds for the procedure. However, federal officials intervened and would not allow her to leave the federal “shelter” to the abortion clinic. Instead, she was sent to receive pro-life counseling. Jane Doe (her name in the legal papers) is one of many undocumented minors who have been subjected to the attempts of the Trump administration to make abortion unattainable for undocumented teens. According to VICE News, since October 2017 “four teens have accused the administration of blocking them from getting abortions while they were in the custody of the Office of Refugee Resettlement” (Sherman, 2018). In an unprecedented manner of state intervention in the lives, privacy, and bodily integrity of undocumented immigrants, the ORR has both attempted to prevent the teens from starting an abortion process within a safe time-frame, and attempted to reverse a medication abortion by delaying the pregnant teens from taking their second pill of the procedure. The ORR even suggested a new experimental method of reversing abortion: injecting the pregnant woman with the hormone Progesterone. Scott Lloyd, the director of ORR and a staunch anti-abortion activist, has described abortion as “violence that has the ultimate destruction of another human being as its goal.”

This case raises a few important questions: Since when does the US government care about the unborn children of undocumented immigrants? Why target undocumented minors? Why does the government suggest experimenting dubious medical procedures on the bodies of Brown, poor, underage pregnant women? This new policy issued by the ORR is more than Lloyd’s personal campaign against abortion. It has everything to do with the state’s systematic regard of poor Brown women as not entitled to authority over their bodies and their lives.

In “Punishing Drug Addicts Who Have Babies: Women of Color, Equality, and the Right of Privacy,” Dorothy E. Roberts argues that the “prosecutions of drug-addicted mothers infringe on… the right to individual choice in reproductive decision making… the prosecutions infringe on choice by imposing an invidious government standard for the entitlement to procreate” (172-3). Like the prosecution of drug-addicted mothers, the forceful imposition of undocumented teens to carry their pregnancies to term is a violation of their right to individual choice. Roberts continues, “Such imposition of a government standard for childbearing is one way society denies the humanity of those who are different” (173). Indeed, by preventing Jane Doe from obtaining an abortion, the state denies her humanity and claims authority over her body.

Furthermore, the intersection of race, gender, citizenship, nationality, and socio-economic status is at the core of this event. The undocumented teens were an “easy target” for the state: they are already under constant surveillance in federal custody, they are not citizens, and probably not familiar with their constitutional rights. In “An Open Letter to Pierre Schlag,” Maria Grahn-Farley writes, “Pierre talks about the violence of the law but he does not talk about those whom the violence of the law serves or those whom the violence of the law violates” (141). This case illustrates clearly the way in which (in this case state policy), commits violence that serves those in power, and violates those who are least powerful in society. Thus, the pregnant undocumented teens are the “martyrs” of the law and social order; the sacrifice of their freedom of choice and right to privacy is the price American society pays in the name of social order (Grahn-Farley,143). Since they are not citizens, this sacrifice is coherent with the legal regime that does not perceive non-citizens (especially Brown and poor people) as entitled to the same human rights as those who are citizens.

Moreover, Grahn-Farley’s discussion of the “normative language of rights” is instructive in understanding the state’s disregard of the teens’ individual choice in reproductive decision making. She writes, “To understand a right is already to have understood a lack. To connect the self to a right is also to connect the self to a lack. To understand the self as incomplete, as not yet done, as missing, is to understand one’s rights” (145-6). The right of the teens to have an abortion is thus a lack; a lack of citizenship, a lack of whiteness, a lack of social status, a lack of language, a lack of ability to have authority over their bodies without filing a class action suit with the help of the ACLU.

Jane Doe and the other three teens who accused the Trump administration of blocking them from obtaining an abortion won their case with the help of the ACLU, and eventually were able to have an abortion. However, more questions remain unanswered: how many other pregnant undocumented minors are still subjected and will be subjected to the bullying of the Trump administration? Until when will government officials continue to assert their authority and dominance in the expense of poor women of color? When will society cease to deny the humanity of those who are “different?”