It is infuriating to write what feels like the same piece. Multiple times, in way too rapid succession. But here we go again…a shooting, a white male perpetrator, a rejection, and victim-blaming.
Dimitrios Pagourtzis shot and killed 10 people and wounded more than a dozen at Santa Fe High School in Santa Fe, Texas on May 18, 2018. Although there were, according to school officials, no “red flags,” there actually were, to the knowledgeable eye. I do not mean that to throw anyone under the bus but rather to illustrate that we have far to go before, as a society, we actually address what is known about school shooters and create appropriate prevention programs. Almost always, the shooters are white males who have issues with females, be it rejections or overtly abusive relationships. The red flag, then, was his persistent and increasingly angry pursuit of a young lady despite her lack of interest.
One of Pagourtzis’s targets was Shana Fisher, who, according to news reports, over four months repeatedly rejected his advances. Allegedly, she finally stood up to him in class, which was an embarrassment, supposedly, and some reports say, the final straw. That he targeted a girl who he was interested in, is, sadly and horrifically, normal in the U.S. Virtually all of the school shooters in modern times have targeted a dating partner or someone who spurned their advances. Nickolas Kruz, the Parkland, Florida school shooter, had abused both his mother and his former girlfriend. In March, Austin Wyatt Rollins shot a girl he had dated and another boy in a Baltimore school. In April, Alek Minassian drove a van into a crowd, murdering 10 people in Toronto. Minassian claims to be part of the “incel,” or involuntarily celibate culture, which aims to punish women for denying men like him sex, and was inspired by Elliot Rodgers’ attack May 2014 attack that killed six and wounded 14. Rodgers had recorded a video on YouTube in which he explained that he intended to punish women for rejecting him. These men imagine themselves to be the victims, and media plays along.
As is typical, mainstream media, when it covers this part of this part of the story at all, has reinforced the notion that somehow it was her fault for rejecting him. “Spurned advances provoke Texas shooting,” read one ridiculous headline. Similarly, Pagourtzis was described as a “sweet, nice boy.” Even trying to explain away these atrocities is problematic, as it presumes that something must have prompted these good guys to turn to the dark side. This “himpathy,” as Kate Manne has called it, is nowhere more clear than in the six-month prison sentence of Stanford rapist Brock Turner. Because of course his reputation matters. Hers, not so much. She should sacrifice. She should give in. She should protect his precious feelings.
Some sources outside the mainstream media, like Salon, have done way better, noting that we live in a culture in which women are to accept and even appreciate a man’s attention, even if it is unwanted. Mary Elizabeth Williams wrote in Salonthat this is about “getting called a bitch when you ignore a harasser on the street. About being passed over in your industry because your boss finds you too bangable or not bangable enough. This is about policing the attire of schoolgirls because they’re a ‘distraction,’ rather than teaching boys about maturity and respect in a world that contains females.”
Despite the clear linkage between hegemonic masculinity and lethal violence, school officials continue to disregard this warning sign. They look for “creepy” behavior, and fail to interpret incessant and aggressive pursuit of an uninterested girl as such. So, once again, I offer this advice. Please, please, please, can we include teaching about healthy and unhealthy relationships as a mandatory part of our school curricula? Can we please implore media to research or at least talk to experts on abuse and assault? And can we, as parents, vow to talk to our kids, especially our boys, about how to handle rejection?