It’s amazing, the ability of the Christian Right to create a problem, claim that the mainstream media is refusing to face the problem, and then blame the left for the problem.
The Federalist has put out a very predictable article pointing out that the conscious motivation for the Atlanta killings wasn’t racism, but hatred of women who the killer blamed for his own sexual desires and behaviours. Apparently the left is very loathe to acknowledge violent misogyny because it somehow violates the narrative that everything must always be about race. As we all know, the left is deeply unconcerned about male violence against women and is constantly trying to keep issues like domestic violence, sexual assault, marital rape, and workplace harassment out of the public eye.
Others have written the very necessary articles about how it doesn’t have to be racism or sexism because, you know, it’s quite possible for an angry young man to be racist and sexist both at the exact same time. Suffice it to say that if a man is attacking sex workers of a specific race because these are the sex workers that he has chosen to frequent, there is a reasonable likelihood that on some level, conscious or unconscious, he is more inclined to target women of that race for both sexual exploitation and for the violence that so often goes with it.
More to the point, the Federalist tries to claim that the problem is the liberal media’s unwillingness to confront the realities of sex addiction, a problem which (the writer alleges) is fostered by contemporary attitudes about sex. “Maybe, just maybe, all of these prevailing attitudes about sex come with some pretty serious societal pathologies and some pretty heavy human costs.”
Okay, but here’s the thing: this young man did not kill these women because of a sexual pathology caused by being comfortable with his sexuality and feeling free to express it with consenting partners. He killed them because he felt like he had a serious problem, and these women were exacerbating that problem, and it was ruining his life.
Why did he feel this way? Well, let’s start with the fact that his parents had kicked him out of the house because of his sexual behaviours. We know that his father was a youth pastor and that both dad and the shooter had been involved with the Southern Baptist church. We also know that the shooter saw his own problem as having to do with “sex addiction” (a problem which is demonized in religious circles) and that he killed his victims in order to eliminate his “temptation.” The Federalist article itself puts it in these exact terms.
Trying to frame this young man’s sexual pathologies as the result of liberal sexual ethics is the most disingenuous form of deflection that I can even conceive of.
Sexually liberated young men are not going around shooting sex-workers in order to eliminate their temptations and deal with their sex addictions. They don’t feel like women are lust-traps luring them towards the fires of hell. They have not been thought to think of women as “objects of concupiscence,” or to believe that their sexual desires are evil, or to think that women are responsible for that evil.
Young Christian men, on the other hand, often display a troubling hatred towards “sluts” “harlots” “strumpets” — words that often refer to sex-workers, but that can also applied with little discrimination to any woman who is sexually active outside of marriage or who wears reasonably normal modern clothing. They have been taught to believe that woman have a positive obligation to act as “gatekeepers” and “custodians of their brothers’ eyes.” They have also been taught that they might suffer eternal torture for masturbating or having sex outside of marriage.
This volatile combination teaches young men that it is worse to lead a man into temptation than it is to murder someone (that millstone verse sometimes gets evoked, and even when it doesn’t the sentiment follows logically from the premises.) After all, which is worse: dying here on earth, or burning for eternity? Clearly the latter. And if a sex worker is a woman who lures men into the everlasting fires every day as her profession, that seems pretty evil.
The anger that entitled boys often feel when they are denied access to the bodies of hot, consenting women is thus wed to rage about their own inability to live up to a standard of sexual self-control that is required if you want to live forever with Jesus, but that almost nobody achieves. When this combination is combined with narcissism and an inability to empathize with women as people, it produces an intense, often violent, misogyny.
It is this vile concoction of sexual repression, excessive guilt, fear of hell, male entitlement and seeing women not merely as sex objects, but as sex objects who cause you to sin and who are responsible for your faults, that produced the rage that was unleashed on those women in Atlanta. This does not lie at the feet of liberal sexual ethics. It is not the product of the mainstream media refusing to reproduce the harmful sexual repressions of the religious Right. And it is frankly gross for conservative outlets to yet again use male violence against women as an opportunity to attack the elements of society that are actually trying to do something about that violence instead of ignoring it, justifying it, pretending there’s nothing to be done, and talking about it mostly when it’s an opportunity to insist that women need sexual repression in order to be free.