Guns, Sex, and Social Stories

There’s always time for a quick revelation.

Like when after reading way too many takes and post-takes and post-post-takes on the Aziz Ansari incident (I won’t even bother linking), you finally read one that reminds of you of something totally not related and yet totally exactly the same that you’re like, holy shit, this is a sociological pattern if there ever was one.

I’ll quote directly, because that’s how I roll. I will also add the caveat that I actually have not read the entire article because this connection is too obvious to let a commentary go even five minutes stewed.

The Aziz Ansari case hit a nerve because, as I’ve long feared, we’re only comfortable with movements like #MeToo so long as the men in question are absolute monsters we can easily separate from the pack. Once we move past the “few bad apples” argument and start to suspect that this is more a trend than a blip, our instinct is to normalize. To insist that this is is just how men are, and how sex is. (Lili Loofbourow in The Week)

Let me repeat for effect: “… so long as the men in question are absolute monsters we can easily separate from the pack … [once we] suspect that this is more a trend than a blip, our instinct is to normalize.”

What does this pattern — the pattern of separating monsters but normalizing systemic violence — remind you of?



Okay, I’ll tell you.

Gun violence.

Gun violence!

It reminds me of a series of arguments that I read and quite agree with, and which I’m sure will re-surface after we’ve had sufficiently more school/mall/theater/anywhere mass shootings (so like, in five days approximately, based on this year’s current rate of mass shootings). Summarized and explained as follows:

The predominant issue in gun violence, the issue that makes gun violence a leading cause of death in the U.S., is not mental instability. (This is probably not a non-issue e.g. as in Aurora, but it’s hardly useful as a starting point for conversations about gun control writ large.)

Regulating gun sales to individuals who suffer from mental illness will not solve our gun problem. All it serves to do is further stigmatize mental illness in our culture and reinforce the idea that guns in the hands of “good” “people” (and I use this term very generously) are somehow, by the power of unicorns and fairy dust, not weapons at all but protectors of the downtrodden. So long, of course, as the downtrodden are people the gun-toters like. This, then, is the “normalization” part. When “bad guys” have guns, it’s bad. When the rest of us have guns, it’s kind of okay because we’ll only use them for good!

(We all know most gun crimes are committed by men with history of domestic violence. And/or white supremacists. Hey, wait. This sounds a lot like something else. Like, maybe, sexual assault?)

The predominant issue in rape culture, the issue that makes it so pervasive that women are raised to ignore discomfort/appease men/fear for their lives literally every day, is not the man with the gun in the alley nor is it that kid at Stanford whose prep school name doesn’t deserve to be remembered. (These are both terrible, terrible men/boys who should be punished to or beyond the fullest extent of the law. Probably beyond, since the law definitely cares more about men who rape women than it does about women.)

Punishing the Harveys and the shitty fucking “doctors” and the over-privileged college athletes is imperative. But (willfully) not understanding Grace*’s feelings of (at minimum) being taken advantage of and (more-maximally) being assaulted and, most critically, why she stayed in that shitty situation for so long as I know we all have done, will only trap us in this same oblivion on this same merry-go-round. Responses to the Aziz incident so clearly show the psychological normalization that we all force ourselves through in order to empathize with Aziz, not with Grace*, even though she is, in fact, the victim. (Please go read the original story and then the effing millions of response think-pieces and internet comments.) He didn’t do anything wrong, per se, so he can’t possibly be part of the problem.

I have a gun but I haven’t shot anyone, so I can’t possibly be part of the problem. (I don’t have a gun, by the by.)

The Harveys and the Stanford boys and the Azizes and the passive gun owners are symptomatic of a bigger, more intractable problem. Without understanding how each of these men are products of the same society, and how the women they interact with are also products of that same society, we will never be able to fully recognize that their actions are simply rungs on a continuous ladder, not discrete planes of oblivious existence. The Aziz incident is just another incarnation of this fabulous description of reality that I only recently stumbled on to because apparently I am a Freshman internetter.

These guys, they’re the surface mold. The real problem goes way deep, down to the bottom of the jam jar. Just like with gun control.

The narrative is the same. The pattern is the same. The violence is the same.

Control guns, they say, so long as they are wielded by individuals whose motives we can attribute to “insanity”. Guys who write journals detailing their delusional, bloody, murderous ramblings. Guys who make hit lists on white supremacist message boards. But guns in the houses of our neighbors? That must be okay, because our neighbors wouldn’t do that. Guns don’t shoot people, right?

Punish men, they say, who violate women, so long as their violation is big, and loud, and bloody, and violates a certain and arbitrary number of social norms, and they’ve scored low enough on the moral compass-o-meter that even the apologists won’t touch them. But hey, what harm is done if a man talks to a woman he doesn’t know at a bar? What harm is done if a man demands a smile from a woman? What harm is done if a man touches a woman he barely knows? What harm is done if a man, interacting with a woman, demands to retain her attention, yet she no longer wants to give her attention? What harm is done if a man, being intimate with a woman, demands to retain her affection, yet she no longer wants to give her affection? What harm is done?

It is not, in fact, our God- or anyone-else-given right to own a gun. (It is not our God-given right to drive a car, either, but there’s not a National Car Association insisting that it is. Lobbying is weird.) It is not, in fact, our God-given right to speak to, interact with, or touch any other human. (It is also not our God-given right to go around shooting people because they don’t want to be our friends. This is not Lord of the Flies.)

Until we can get these two fairly simple facts straight in our heads (and internalize the utterly baffling connection between violence against women and violence   ), men will continue shooting children and raping women. NB for the “not all men” men: sorry not sorry.

Gun violence will not be fixed by controlling access for a certain segment of society, just like sexual assault and rape won’t stop because a few despicable festering trash heaps are relatively-cleanly sacrificed on the altar of social righteousness. We should be working towards inverting a society that tells women to fear men and tells men they are entitled to women (or jobs or guns or whatever) — fixing the root of the problem, not the symptom. We should be working towards dismantling systemic violence of. all. kinds. We should be working towards a society in which we are able to recognize violence in all of its forms, without spinning around and around the internet bullwheel. We should be making it harder to commit violence — through some serious introspection and behavior modification and common sense (aka comprehensive) gun control.

We should not be wasting our time passing legislation that stigmatizes the already-suffering. We should not focus on the low-hanging fruit while we idly damn another generation and another generation of women to suffer this same ass bullshit. Banishing the monsters will not reverse the trend. So stop touching us. Stop shooting us. Just leave us the fuck alone.



I have now read the whole piece that I quoted at the beginning and yes, do read it. Especially relevant: “Because we live in a culture that sees female pain as normal and male pleasure as a right.”