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.