‘This is not the kind of history we want to be making’ writes Jessica Valenti, in response to the shooting of Democrat Congress Member Gabrielle Giffords on Saturday, in the incident which left her critically ill, andsix others dead.
According to her article, the main culprit in this violent outburst, is not necessarily the gunman, who is not even mentioned, but the ‘culture of increasing vitriol in US politics’.
And this culture, as Valenti presents it, is one of machismo. She cites that hateful phrase, popular in America, ‘man-up’, and the ‘Politics of Anxious Masculinity’ that has led to politicians using increasingly violent language in campaigns, especially right wing men politicians, because there is nothing worse than ‘being called a girl’ to them.
Valenti also points to women politicians on the right, such as Sarah Palin, who posted that now notorious image of the map of America with ‘crosshair’ targets over the places where Democrat supporters of Obama’s health reforms, including Gifford, reside.
‘In a country that sees masculinity-especially violent masculinity-as the ideal, it’s no wonder that this type of language resonates’ says Valenti.
Now I understand that machismo, and how it underpins militarism and the ‘right’ to bear arms, is a massive problem in America. But to put this shooting down to the problem of increasingly ‘violent masculinity’ seems unfair and inaccurate to me. There have been assassination attempts and shooting sprees in America throught its history. This latest one does not seem any different to any other that I have heard of. It is the first time a woman congress member has been shot like this. But that can’t be called a trend.
The main problem I have with Valenti’s argument is that she is turning it into a question of ‘left and right’ and ‘right and wrong’ by suggesting it is right wing politicians, men and women,who are using traditional gendered stereotypes and celebrating traditional ‘violent’ masculinity in their language and imagery.
But I think feminists, including ones who write for The Guardian, rely just as much on stereotypes of ‘traditional masculinity’ in their polemic, and also can resort to equally violent language.
Remember this gem from Bidisha last year?
‘Much as I like and applaud it, I want to see the three-dimensional foldout version of the Pyramid of Egregiousness. I want a 3D glow-in-the-dark dodecahedron, a planet-sized Matrix of Misogyny, a Trillion-Faceted Dynamo of Jet Black Turbo Hate. Then I’d heave it aloft and hurl it into the sun, where it would set off a massive chain reaction and shoot out sky-scraping beams of feminist rage which kill anyone, male or female, who’s ever used those words, wiping out (I’d say) 90% of human society, but leaving the non-woman-haters behind. Then we could all relax and be happy.’
I believe that violent, macho masculinity is as much a product of feminists’ imaginations as it is the product of right wing Americans’. Sarah Palin and Bidisha may well have more in common than either of them would like to admit.