Feminist Perspectives on the Orlando Shooting (from the Third-World)

At Least 50 Dead In Mass Shooting At Gay Nightclub In Orlando
Brenda Chirino, one of hundreds that gathered at the Metro Wellness Center in Ybor City, attends a candlelight vigil to honor the victims of the nightclub shooting in Orlando, Fla., Sunday, June 12, 2016. Tampa Police momentarily shut down a portion of 7th avenue to accommodate the large crowd. (Luis Santana/Tampa Bay Times via AP)

What do cases like the Stanford rape and the mass-shooting at the gay nightclub Pulse, in Orlando, Florida have in common?  Do not be fooled: the victims in both cases may seem easily distinguishable – one was a young, working woman, the others up to 50 people celebrating Pride week at a famous Orlando club; the woman heterosexual and white, the women and men who died or were injured at the club were mostly queer and coloured – but it is in the perpetrators and their crimes, and the systems which produced both, and deal with both, that we see the similarities. Once again, on the surface, the perpetrators in both cases – Brock Turner, the Stanford Swimmer turned Stanford Rapist, and the shooter in the Orlando violence – may seem very different. But underneath the surface, we are faced with the deep-seated issue which underlies many social problems: we are faced, quite simply, with patriarchy.

Just because the victims in the Orlando shooting were not all women, do not imagine for a moment that it not a problem of patriarchy; that it too was not a crime driven by ‘male’ violence and misogyny. The kind of ‘toxic masculinity’ which is produced through a patriarchal culture and a patriarchal worldview, is invariably going to dangerously suppress things inside us, things which ultimately find their expression in harm. This masculinity urges men to be aggressive, unresponsive to their own emotions, power-obsessed, homophobic and deeply fearful of anything feminine and/or queer. This masculinity drives sectarianism, nationalism and fundamentalism, because it drives men to believe it is their duty to be the protectors (bearing arms!) of their families, communities, and even nations. It teaches domination – it breeds imperialism and colonialism, ideologically and in practice. This masculinity drives militarism and war – it produces fragile egos in men, then pits men against each other as competitors for power, and convinces them that violence is the only ‘manly’ response. It teaches them to love weapons that can kill. It teaches men to be threatened – easily – by anything unlike them or anything which challenges the power structures as they know it: it breeds sexism, but it also breeds homophobia and feeds other kinds of hatred like racism. Women can be racist too, but when men are racist, it becomes layered with all the other problematic things produced by patriarchy in masculinity. This masculinity vilifies sensitivity; it rejects emotional truthfulness, and encourages men to be defensive, irrational and hateful. For men and women, it can teach us everything we know about what power is, and where we fit inside that domain of power. It forces heteronormativity, because it needs to keep the model of the ‘family’ alive; because it is within this model that men and women can both play their roles as taught by the doctrine of patriarchy. It forces men to reach for power through domination and aggression, over women and other men; it forces women to submit. It forces men who are different to hide, to cower, to sometimes, also submit. Ultimately, toxic masculinity fails us all.

Feminists have said for a long time that patriarchy is bad for us all. Patriarchy and misogyny produce all kinds of insidious violence which, at first glance, may not seem like problems of patriarchy and misogyny. Us not noticing it, is only a sign of how deep and effective patriarchy truly is, structurally – how every cultural, social, political and emotional element of our world is attached to this one thing, right at its core. Patriarchal power structures manifest other power structures from it, in its own image, and so every part of our world behaves like it. Importantly, it is the thing that produces this problematic version of religion we have – all mainstream practice of every major world religion is produced from a patriarchal context and this explains many issues within these religions, as they are today and have been for several centuries. In a time before, the earlier versions of many of our major spiritual traditions encouraged the equality of the sexes, celebrated sexuality, worshipped the feminine, preached only peace, urged one to develop a multi-dimensional relationship with oneself and with nature, and encouraged human beings, women and men, to be whole in being true to both the masculinity and the femininity within each one. Patriarchy is why religions suppress sexuality and demonize sex; why religions insidiously or obviously teach the subjugation of women, through teaching the fear and hatred of women and femininity; why religions deliberately intersect themselves with the rhetoric posturing of nationalism and sectarianism.

From here is born the violent male response to the constant suppression of emotion and the deeper self: emotion which cannot be expressed, must not be expressed, for what it is. Emotion which patriarchy does not teach you to identify, understand and express healthily. Confused, fearful, unhealthy attitudes towards sex, sexual freedom and sexual identity are one of the key concoctions produced by patriarchy and they are the root causes for a variety of problems, only a few of which are rape, child abuse and homophobia. The victims may not always only be women – we are all victims, past, present and future, in some sense.

News reports now say that the Orlando shooter was abusive to his ex-wife; reports also say he might have been a regular at the popular gay nightclub he attacked, as well as on a gay dating app. These are not surprises; in fact, they are the most predictable part of the story. Closeted queerness, a secret sexual identity, signs of violent misogyny, and a burgeoning hatred of those who can be free, who have chosen to be free. Add to that America’s gun culture (also patriarchal), and you have a mass-shooting. The Stanford Rapist, in his own admission, was unable to see the great harm in what he had done; he was unable to see the basic abnormality of trying to have sex with an unconscious woman. The insecurities of the men, their own fears, their own desires, manifesting as hatred and violence towards others, a need to dominate, a need to express: they are all part of the same problem.

Let’s not be fooled or distracted; let’s not forget that stories like the Stanford rape and the Orlando shooting, like all violence against women, sexual violence and homophobic violence are all connected. They are born of the same hatred, the same wilful aggression. These violences are inflicted on us through twisted, confused, toxic masculinity; by cultures which teach male aggression and dominance; by cultures which advocate violence; cultures which insist: violence is always the answer. These cultures are everywhere and we live inside them; they are universal, as well as specific.

Though both incidents happened in the United States, this is relevant to us all; patriarchy persists in all our countries, in all our societies, though it sometimes manifests itself in utterly different ways, it also sometimes manifests itself in exactly the same ways. We are victims of patriarchy, yes, but we are also, many of us, its perpetrators, its implementers. Patriarchy isn’t like a God – it isn’t an unseen universal superpower over which we have no control. Human beings built it, and today, human beings perpetuate it. Sometimes deliberately, sometimes unconsciously – but the more discourse there is about what patriarchy looks like, in all its forms, we make it harder and harder for us to keep doing it. For those of us who are doing it unconsciously, building awareness and knowledge is key. For those of us who are doing it deliberately, the increasing awareness around us is bad news. Today’s alternative international media coverage is discussing the ‘male-violence’ and ‘toxic masculinity’ components of gun-violence. We are getting better at recognizing it right away.

There are two important kinds of solidarities we need to form. First, our counterparts in the first-world need to stand by us as we stand by them. When LGBTQ people are killed in Orlando, we all bleed. When secularist, LGBTQ activists are killed in Bangladesh, we all bleed just the same. We need first-world LGBTQ movements to stand by third-world LGBTQ movements. When women of colour are imprisoned, raped or attacked in the first-world, third-world feminists stand by them; first-world women of colour and feminists need to show us the same solidarity.

The second bond which needs to be strengthened urgently is that between the feminist movement and the LGBTQ movement; we have much to give each other. The queer movement and the women’s movement must continue to strongly stand together, and must, more than ever, ideologically and proactively intersect. It is vital that all queer politics strive to be rigorously feminist, and that all feminist politics strongly hold queer rights at the core of its mandate, always. Feminism has always urged us to open our eyes to the brutality of patriarchy and the war it wages on women, men and children – perhaps even animals – everywhere; the war it wages on the queer, the coloured, the indigenous, everyone who refuses to conform and subscribe to its narrow definitions of identity – it is time we listened, together.




2 responses to “Feminist Perspectives on the Orlando Shooting (from the Third-World)”

  1. Some points:

    Your article is titled, “Feminist Perspectives on the Orlando Shooting (from the Third-World)”. This is a definitive statement; it is also a generalization. Are you suggesting that you represent every feminist in every developing country in the world? I would hope not. “One feminist’s perspective” would be the accurate title.

    Second, your use of “third world” is ,problematic. The original term was used to describe the rest of the world that did not fall into either of the two (West and East) blocs during the Cold War. Is it in this sense that you are using it? Or are you using it from the perspective of comparative poverty and lack of economic and infrastructural development? If this is the case, currently the more acceptable descriptor is “developing” country.

    Next, your use of the phrase “the suspected shooter in the Orlando violence.” Typically, the use of “suspected” in such expresses doubt or uncertainty of the guilt of an individual who purportedly commits a crime. It can also mean someone whose identity has not yet been ascertained. Neither of these conditions hold true in the case of Orlando, where the police made a positive identification of the shooter in a press release from June 12th, and I quote, “The suspect-later identified as 29-year-old Omar Mir Seddique Mateen of Fort Pierce, Florida.” The identity has been clearly established. If you are employing “suspected” in the verbal sense to doubt the truth of this conclusion, at this time there has been no new evidence to suggest that anyone other the individual named is responsible for the crime.

    I am calling your phrasing into question because you had no hesitation in naming the Stanford rapist-a white male-yet you refuse to name the perpetrator in Orlando-a Muslim male. Why is that? Just coincidence? Or is there a none-too-subtle bias at work, which in turn colors your entire dialogue on this issue? I am not going to speculate on your motives for your bias. Before you try and claim that you are naming Brock Turner because he was legally convicted of the crime and Omar Mateen has not been, let me remind you of two pertinent facts. The first ,is there will be no trial because he is dead, so that standard is inapplicable. The second is that in virtually all U.S. mass shootings that have ended in the deaths of the perpetrators, identifucation of said individuals has been established within 48-72 hours of the event. That was the case here, and until any new evidence emerges that points to an alternate individual-which hasn’t, then the identity of the Orlando shooter-Omar Mateem-has been proved.

    “Add to that American gun culture and you have a mass shooting”. A flawed assumption at best. Even superficial research on the internet will reveal that countries with much higher firearm possession rates (Switzerland, Israel) per capita have far fewer deaths from firearms. More interestingly are countries with a LOWER per capita ownership rate than the U.S. that have a HIGHER per capita murder firearm murder rate. Is that “cuz gun culture”? You really need to divest your argument from this point, because it weakens it further than it already is. And even if guns were controlled, a really determined individual will find a way to inflict mass casualties without them. Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building ring a bell?

    What I am interested in is your contention that “major spiritual traditions” were inherently more egalitarian and feminist. Which traditions are you referring to? Greek? Roman? Egyptian? Mesopotamian? LB, MB, or LB? Proto-Literate? Neolithic? Plan on trotting out Gimbutas to buttress your case?

    1. Hello, thank you for your comment. I prefer not to engage at length here typically — especially when I get the sense that a response is only going to lead to a longer argument. I.e the comment is antagonistic in tone; does not seem to be a sincere attempt to engage etc. I try not to spend too much time on online arguments! But thank you nonetheless for reading and writing, it is valuable and I appreciate it.

      I have, upon reading your note, edited out the word ‘suspected’ as an affix to the ‘Orlando shooter’ — which I had used on two occasions. Thanks for flagging that; you are quite right, no need to imply any uncertainty there. And no, certainly nothing to do with race/ethnic identity as you suggest.

      I’ll make a few points though: generalizations need to be made in all writing; if I couldn’t make a few generalizations, writing anything readable would be impossible. I try my best to be careful, conscious and specific with the words and language I use; beyond that, I trust my readers to know what I mean and trust they are intelligent enough to be able to discern the figurative meaning of any generalizations I make. The title is a title — it is what it is by choice, I am comfortable with that; again, I trust my readers to know that this is my blog, and this is an opinion piece, and to read posts here as such. On the point of which spiritual traditions I speak of — oh, many, several. Very early Christianity treated the topic of women and femininity very differently than the later Church did, post-Nicaea and other councils which defined the trajectory for Christianity as we now know it. These facts are now widely known; also quite a lot of evidence to show that women played an important role in the early Church. Many older eastern traditions were quite radical on the topics of women, sexual liberation, masculinity/femininity etc. — the early Vedic traditions and beliefs (pre-Hindu Hinduism, so to speak), even extending to many strains of Buddhism — also the alternative subcultures such as the Bhakti movement, Sufism etc. Not to mention all the pre-institutional religion spiritual traditions which were stamped out by colonization and patriarchal institutional religion — many branches of paganism, including of course the traditions of witchcraft, witches and their covens, which were women-led and deeply feminine.

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