I’m sure you all heard yesterday or this morning that the Tucson gunman who intended to assassinate U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ) and who murdered 6 of her constituents and injured 13 others in January was found incompetent to stand trial for his crimes. Instead, Jared Loughner “will receive treatment in a secure federal mental health facility for up to four months before doctors evaluate him again. . . . If doctors can restore his mental health, the judge may find him competent to stand trial. If not, prosecutors can seek to have Loughner committed to a mental health facility indefinitely.”
This is almost surely the right decision, given the severe nature of his illness. But, I’m still frustrated by the fact that no one ever talks about gender in the violent expression of mental illness. Overwhelmingly, the people who commit mass murder fueled by mental illness and access to high-powered weaponry are men. They’re stark, raving mad–but they’re in touch with reality enough to pick up and absorb cultural cues and messages that gun violence is a masculine prerogative. There are of course seriously mentally ill women who suffer from similar paranoid delusions and fixate on individuals the way the Tucson gunman did. For example, a story in this week’s The New Yorker by Rachel Aviv (sorry–subscription wall) offers a nuanced, tragic description of the progress of mental illness in a woman whose disease sounds quite similar to Loughner’s. Yet, she didn’t pick up guns and kill a crowd of people. Instead, she retreated into a New Hampshire farmhouse and slowly starved to death.
Yet, we as a culture never talk about the fact that mentally ill women usually turn inward and destroy themselves and only rarely hurt or kill others. We’re also never permitted to notice or analyze the fact that mass shootings are overwhelmingly committed by men. (This is similar to the fact that even feminist blogs aren’t ever permitted to talk about the fact that 99% of all rapists are men–no, we must always and repeatedly acknowledge the 1% of women rapists who “prove” that rape isn’t a gendered crime somehow.)
I was talking with a young friend the other day about safety issues and “what would you do if you got separated from your parents?”-type questions, and in strategizing how to go from being lost to being found in an airport (for example), ze suggested looking for people who wear uniforms and had name badges. I said that was a great idea, but I also suggested to hir to look for women with uniforms and badges to help hir, and to try to get the attention of more than one adult at the same time. Sadly, this advice to avoid seeking the help of male strangers made perfect sense to this child, who has never witnessed anything but loving behavior from the men in hir life. And yet, ze knows.