WOMEN

When Toxic Masculinity Meets Anti-Abortion Panic

The Planned Parenthood shooting was terrifying, but not surprising.

On Friday, just one day after millions of Americans sat down for Thanksgiving dinner, a man began an hours-long assault at a Planned Parenthood in Colorado Springs which left a police officer and two civilians dead.

The Washington Post and Newsweek have since reported that the alleged shooter, Robert Lewis Dear Jr., used the phrase "no more baby parts" when talking to police afterwards. (The comment likely references the heavily-edited videos an anti-abortion group made about Planned Parenthood, which featured discussion of the -- completely legal! -- practice of fetal tissue donation.) Dear was also once arrested on "Peeping Tom" charges, and faced an allegation of domestic violence.

Sadly, the news of a mass shooting is no longer surprising. Neither is the fact that this shooting took place at a Planned Parenthood clinic or that the alleged gunman has a history of being accused of violence against women. The whole tragic incident feels depressingly, quintessentially American.

Can we really be surprised that year after year we see the bullets of male rage and toxic masculinity littered across our country?

 

Acts of violence against abortion providers do not exist in a vacuum. There is a long, storied history of attacks on clinics -- this year alone there have been four arson attacks on Planned Parenthood clinics. There's a reason that the staff at the Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood had completed drills and trainings for emergencies such as an "armed attack."

And there is a long, storied history of vicious anti-abortion rhetoric in this country, much of which aims to intimidate those who provide abortions and the women who get them. After Friday's shooting, many men and women tweeted their support for the gunman, with comments like, "planned parenthood kills a million babies and no one bats an eye. but 1 brave hero tries to put a stop to that, everyone loses their minds" and "Active Shooter Colorado Planned Parenthood. I would think this brave HERO is saving innocent Baby lives!"

Terrifyingly, the tweets don't sound all that different from the language used by Republican presidential candidates. Both Ben Carson and Mike Huckabee have compared abortion to slavery, and Carly Fiorina described gruesome footage from an anti-Planned Parenthood video which she said showed "a fully formed fetus on the table, its heart beating, its legs kicking, while someone says we have to keep it alive to harvest its brain." The only catch? The footage never existed

The Guardian's Jessica Valenti summed up the terrifying power of such rhetoric in two sentences: "We know why this [shooting] happened... Because of hate, because of lies, and because words matter." 

Not only do words matter, but representation and education matter, too. It is no accident that we see so few women getting abortions without horrific consequences on television -- in 2015, the normalized abortion storylines on both "Jessica Jones" and "Scandal" still felt revolutionary. And the state of sexual education in this country is deplorable. Often students are taught to fear sex but not how to have it safely; they're taught to condemn abortion but not how to avoid unplanned pregnancy.

We live in a culture that breeds people who are terrified of women who exercise bodily autonomy -- especially when that autonomy involves decision-making around sex and family planning. When you combine that fear with a society that tells men they are entitled to women's bodies, time, attention and affection in the ways they deem fit, and generally does not teach men how to express their emotions in a productive fashion, can we really be surprised that year after year we see the bullets of male rage and toxic masculinity littered across our country? 

The whole tragic incident feels depressingly, quintessentially American.

 

It is always impossible to pinpoint the exact combination of factors that drive someone to shoot up a public space, whether it's a church or a movie theater or a clinic. Mental illness may have played a part in the Colorado Springs attack. But it certainly doesn't explain why a man targeted a Planned Parenthood and used lies perpetuated by anti-abortion activists to justify his actions.

Reminder: Misogyny is not a mental illness.

It is exhausting to read -- and write -- about shooting after shooting after shooting. Exhausting to see white male shooters consistently labelled "mentally ill lone wolves."

It's exhausting to witness a political climate that tacitly condones women being bullied and terrorized for accessing legal health care. Exhausting to live in a country where people are willing to openly condone a senseless attack that left three dead and nine wounded. 

Because, ultimately, when an organization that primarily serves women is under attack, all women are under attack. 

A photo posted by Emma Gray (@emmaladyrose) on

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