I suppose I’m only one of any number of bloggers writing about the three school shootings this past week. Watching the scenes from the Amish school in Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania was heartbreaking. I felt for the families whose daughters were killed and for the community who was invaded by the international media in search of a story. For all the hundreds of cameras and reporters, I think they missed the mark.
As the morning news shows scrambled to answer the question that burned in their minds – are our kids safe at school? – they quickly drew comparisons to what happened at Columbine High School several years back. (The more cynical side of me thinks part of the reason was that was the most compelling video they could get their hands on; the Amish folks standing around and refusing to be recorded weren’t that interesting.) I’m cynical because I think our media are lazy. They go for the money shot and the easy analysis because they know we will swallow it and we have a short attention span. They can feed us tragedy, break for commercial, and then come back to fall fashions for our pets.
In two of the three shootings this week, adult males went into schools and shot young girls. They let the boys go and then shot the girls. I do have to give props to The Christian Sciencer Monitor. It had an article on its web site pointing out this trend goes back for years:
“The predominant pattern in school shootings of the past three decades is that girls are the victims,” says Katherine Newman, a Princeton University sociologist whose recent book examines the roots of “rampage” shootings in rural schools.
Dr. Newman has researched 21 school shootings since the 1970s. Though it’s impossible to know whether girls were randomly victimized in those cases, she says, “in every case in the US since the early 1970s we do note this pattern” of girls being the majority of victims.
In the other shooting, a student shot his principal. None of the three mirrored what happened at Columbine, where two very troubled and alienated boys randomly massacred their fellow students. We move too quickly to label and categorize things so we can feel as if we understand what is incomprehensible and we miss the point. The shooters were no more of one profile than those we call insurgents in Iraq are wreaking havoc for the same reasons. We talk about “terrorists” around the world as if they are all members of a cookie cutter fraternity when they are as diverse as the world’s population.
In the summer of 2002 I worked as a security guard at the South Shore Music Circus, a wonderful summertime concert venue in our area. Because of “the war on terror” the manager required we search everyone’s bag and jacket as they came in. The exercise was ludicrous. I finally said to my supervisor one day, “What are we doing? Do you really think Osama is sitting somewhere in Afghanistan thinking, ‘If we can just take down that little venue in Cohasset we can rule the world!’?”
Our fear has destroyed our capacity for nuance and, therefore, keeps us from reasonable and meaningful discussions on who we are as a society and how we should respond.
I’m deeply troubled that the two men went into schools to specifically kill girls. I know the men were different in both their situations and their motives, and I think their actions are emblematic of our culture at large. The situation calls us to do more than put up metal detectors. Why are we, as a society, taking out our rage, our fear, or whatever the feeling is, on our daughters?
There’s an ad campaign for something called Tag cologne that makes it seem as though any teenage girl who smells it on a boy will immediately disrobe. There’s something in the attitude towards the girls in those commercials that is kin to the shootings. Everything from Hooters to hip hop is telling our girls they are expendable. They are the targets caught in our cultural crosshairs.
I grew up in a denomination that tried to teach me women were not allowed by God to be in leadership positions because they were somehow inferior. I didn’t buy it. I’m a part of a denomination now that ordained a woman to the ministry eighty years before women could vote in America. A significant percentage of our clergy are women. That matters to me tonight because I know I’m a part of a group telling our girls they matter and they are loved. I know we are not the only ones. All of us need to shout it from the rooftops and make sure we are loud enough to be heard over the vapid sound bites and video clips that pass for news and strong enough to stand down the violence against them just as Jesus knelt next to the adulterous woman and wrote in the sand until her would be killers dropped their stones and walked away.
If we don’t, who will?