In the wake of Elliot Rodger’s unfathomable, yet familiar rampage, I’ve been reading and reading- as I imagine so many of us have been doing. I’ve watched multiple videos- this Democracy Now one currently at the top of my list to recommend:
I am bothered by the scream of male violence. I recognize and acknowledge the truth: we live in a patriarchy and violence against women is a global epidemic. Yes, I’m a feminist belonging to multiple definitions and sects of whatever that word means. However, that is only one part and perspective of what I find devastating about the continued and escalating violence.
Male identified folks are almost always the people who kill women, and male identified folks are killing each other, as well. Yes, we live in a patriarchy. Yes, we live in a rape culture. And, even more importantly, and simply, we live in a violent culture.
In 1985, when I was twelve-years-old, I had a nightmare. It took place in Chicago, on Southside, where I’m from. The walls of buildings buckled into each other like dominoes. The streets V’d into divots that grew into bottomless quarries that everything—first, on the sidewalks, then storefronts, houses, and buildings, were funneled into oblivion by the suction of inexplicable despair and confusion. There was screaming; the people that that I’d considered liars were the first to fall. Televisions and police cars and baby carriages and animals rolled and scrambled under an ominous Gotham City-like dinge and cloud filled sky, billowed with pollution. I imagine it was a common apocalyptic dream that many people were having amidst the confluence of the Reagan era, exceedingly heightened media coverage, and The Cold War. When I woke up, I remember thinking; it’s not going to be a bomb or gangs or crack or guns. It’s going to be us. We’re going to implode from the hatred and cruelty from how much we lie to each other and ourselves. Telling the truth is the only thing that can save us!
Last year I taught a class called “We are so much more than this; the deconstruction of the media and the resurrection of the self.” It was, in part, about the exploration of how to assert one’s unique artistic perspective in a saturated world through intentional and rigorous critical thinking. The route to answers was to examine the ways in which the media has perpetuated and cemented all forms of oppression- inducing devastating levels of disassociation from one’s feelings and realities; a general state of apathy that is ever-growing.
Since its inception, “the media,” now a monopoly owned by a select few, continues to define dominant culture-whether one is agreeing or disagreeing- reacting or ignoring- everyone is in relationship to its messages.
It’s dangerous to look at contemporary violence through the lens of the binary gender system because it continues to perpetuate it simultaneously. Everyone is dying. Everyone is suffering. Everyone has a violated, mangled, minimized and disoriented emotional life within these systems. The continuation of the dichotomization of communities is using the same severing and attacking methodology that built this violence.
To recognize that the violent actions of male-identified people are a product of dominant culture’s ongoing and media re-enforced absence of permission and support for a complex emotional life, (which is being perpetuated by all genders), is approaching systemic and pervasive societal violence from a place of empathy.
When an “innocent baby” dies, its innocence is defined by not yet having to anguish the conscious navigation of the typhoon of messages and definitions. Yes- there are certainly assumptions, implications, and statistical probabilities if the baby is relegated to a specific gender, however, since we were all babies at one point, the manifestations of these issues—the violence of being defined and silenced by someone or something other than ourselves— are the same across the board. We are all suffering from the definitions and rules of dominant culture.
Gun laws, yes—I agree that they must be examined and discussed and revised. Perhaps those revisions might give us all room to move from desperate swirling, dodging, and hovering above our feelings, and allow us to actually experience them. Recognizing how violence in the US compared to other places—I agree that there is information about the depth and texture and extent of the malaise in those numbers. We have to continue the inquiry, though. Yes, money, greed, racism, sexism, capitalism, desperateness, disparities; all of these factors are part of the conversation. And, what is beneath that?
Two weeks after 9-11, I apprehensively sat down next a former in-law at the dinner table. He immediately continued the battle that we’d been having in the living room minutes, and hours, prior.
“It’s bullshit. We need to go in and kill them all.”
“What does that even mean? Who is all?” I asked.
“All of those fucking terrorists. They can do this to my country! They can’t just kill people like that.”
“We do it all the time,” I replied. “We do it in other places, and we do it here, in this country; our country was founded on terrorism. Patriotism is about arbitrary lines and borders and murderous victories!”
“Well those lines are there for a reason! I stand by those lines!”
“Those lines are bullshit! This entire country of ‘terrorists’ you want to kill are actual people with families and dreams and beating hearts!”
He said, “Well I don’t fucking care. They aren’t US allies, and that’s all that matters.”
“The US can’t even be allies to its own citizens! Do you stand by the lines at the unemployment offices? Or the lines of people starving? Or the lines of people who are dying in the street because they don’t have access to healthcare or protection?”
“They should get a job and then they could eat and get insurance. It’s laziness. It’s not my problem.”
He slammed back what I counted as his seventh double shot of something. He was sweaty and agitated. His distaste for my tattoos and artsiness and radical politics felt similar to the adrenaline rush and terror before a violent act.
Desperate, I asked, “Are you saying that if the two of us were sitting right next to each other at this table and the government had declared a line between us, and you had a mountain of food and I had nothing, and I said ‘Please, I’m starving. May I please have something to eat?’ you would look me the eye and say ‘NO?’”
“That is exactly what I’m saying!”
I gave up. I ate my shitty Midwestern pizza and the mealy iceberg and tomato salad from the styrofoam container it was delivered in; the perfect compliment to my outrage, resignation, incomprehension, invisibility, heartbreak and hopelessness. I also felt hatred. The fuck you. The fuck him; he became a thing and I became right and he became bad.
The answer to the pervasive violence in the world is in the brazen truth—in the shifting of dominant culture’s paradigm from vehement denial and control to compassionate permission, acknowledgement and valuing complex emotional, physical, and psychological realities. This is not gender specific. This is any living thing specific.
The potential for healing is in the invitation to tell the brazen truth. The potential for healing is in the invitation to deconstruct the atrocities that have been implanted in our psyches and hearts and soil. The potential for healing is in the recognition that we will all—at some point—be brought to our knees by the utter despair of the loss of someone or something that we love. There is no other way to find our way back to empathy but to experience it- first for ourselves, and then, for each other. The potential for healing is in the acknowledgement of, and reparations for colonization, false borders, fake foods, fake bodies, the bludgeoning of emotional health, and the emphatic commitment to the idea of “perfection” and constant happiness VS failure. I walk on land that was, and continues to be stolen. I battle the terror of failure, defined not by me but by the voices and ideologies that slip into my psyche because I cannot constantly monitor them and sleep and work and be a mother at the same time. I have taught myself, and continue to learn, how to defend my body and heart and survive woman-related violence. I do all of this simultaneously. We all do in our ways.
In a world layered in violence, every act of violence is a stray bullet ricocheting off of circus mirror realities. The truth is buried beneath pain and guilt and denial and fear. It is buried under the weight of choosing our battles and making the best of things and the lesser of two evils. It is buried under the stages of grieving and terror of dying, and perhaps the reality that in the end we will all die alone.
Perpetuating divisiveness is not the answer to ending the patriarchy, rape culture, or rampant media and politically supported oppression, genocide and colonization. Hard conversations, empathy, and compassion are.