Gender, ownership, and the law

It’s striking to me the degree to which the right has induced a plurality (if not the majority) of Americans to accept the erosion of women’s rights at the same time it has insisted on a radical assertion of men’s rights.  I’m speaking here of the incredible discrepancy between access to contraception and abortion on the one hand, and access to military-style assault weapons and deadly ammunition on the other.  (I’ve written since the start of this blog about the gendered aspects of gun ownership and gun violence, so I think it’s fair to see the guns primarily, if not exclusively, as a men’s rights issue.  Commenter Mary Catherine and I had an exchange about this the other day, too.)

It’s interesting how men’s rights are presumed to be human rights, whereas women’s rights are understood to be only women’s rights, and therefore somehow not protected in the same absolute way by the U.S. Constitution.  It’s also interesting to reflect on the way that the tradition of male ownership and control of girls and women as natural and human resources is reflected in our jurisprudence.  Spousal consent laws have been ruled unconstitutional in anti-abortion laws, but parental consent laws are still OK.  But it’s interesting to think about why the notion of consent is even an issue with someone else’s body.  Waiting periods for women seeking abortion services are de rigeur now.

What would the world look like if we presumed the same ownership and control of men by women that women have historically suffered at the hands of men?  Just imagine:

Because nearly all perpetrators of mass murders are men, most of them are young men, and most of them are emotionally or personally troubled people, I think it would be a terrific idea to make a law declaring that a young man under the age of 30 or so must get written consent from his mother and/or any woman to whom he is or was married before he can purchase a gun. Men who are not married would have to pay for a private investigator to talk to all of the women he works with and all of his friends and social contacts to get their opinion as to whether or not he should have a gun.  If there are any women at all in young men’s lives, these women are probably better judges of the men’s character and fitness for gun ownership than any criminal background check.  If there are no women at all in these young men’s lives–well, then, that would seem to weed out most of the accused mass murderers we’ve seen in the past fifteen years or so.

Women–mothers in particular–get blamed for these killings, so it only seems fair to let them decide  whether or not their sons should have guns.  (Women–or rather, the women who aren’t f^<king them, also get blamed for shooting rampages, often by the killers themselves.)

I also think a waiting period is a perfectly reasonable thing to impose on would-be gun owners.  After all, in my alternative fantasy world in which women historically controlled men’s bodies and were entitled to the fruits of their labor as mothers and wives, it would be rational to presume that men probably don’t really know what they want, and that they might live to regret their gun purchase one day.  They might be haunted by the animals and people they hurt or killed, so it would just be better for women to make this decision for men–for their own good, of course, but also for public safety reasons too.


41 thoughts on “Gender, ownership, and the law

  1. “It’s striking to me the degree to which the right has induced a plurality (if not the majority) of Americans to accept the erosion of women’s rights…”

    I don’t think the right induced anything. The Hyde amendment got extended to private insurance under the ACA with zero Republican votes plus an executive order from a nominally Democratic president. Democratic leaders are grown-ups, and they have deliberately decided to abandon women’s reproductive health in favor of insurance companies’ financial health, among other things.

    This whole weak-helpless-Democrat-terrorized-by-the-right meme has got to stop. Give the Democrats some credit. The Republicans are lurching rightward because the Democrats are hot on their heels, taking over the Republicans’ former turf. It’s a feature of the Democratic strategy, not a bug.


  2. albrt, you’re right, but depending on how old you are, it’s a matter of rather vivid memory that the right wing did start it. The fact that the Dems are now such ready participants just means we desperately need to get beyond our stupid one-party system.

    I’m still chuckling about your alternate reality. The irony, of course, is that women controlling men that way really would save lives. Whereas the current reality of men controlling women “for their own good” kills women.


  3. Not, I hurry to add and speaking seriously, that it’s any kind of a good idea to treat anyone as less than human, whether it’s supposedly to save lives or not.


  4. Several election cycles back, the left-leaning, female state representative in my “Deer Hunter” district– married to an old time longhaired hippie math prof–sent out a campaign postcard with the bizness end of a firearm obscured by a curling wreath of smoke, and on the back it said S—- L—– will take a back seat to nobody when it comes to defending the rights of hunters. I was so startled I literally fumbled the card. It backfired bigtime: It drove town total votes by the progressive demographic, while the real gun nuts in the district fell over laughing and voted as they voted just the way they already would have. I’m not sure who induced what. In a country where a majority of nine supreme court justices can’t read or interpret the plain language of the most intentionally-explicit amendment that there is (read: “well-regulated militia…”) most people are too effing stupid to trust with fishhooks in their hands, much less firearms.

    I’d second Historiann’s call for the permissions-and- consent regime, for a ten year trial period, and then revisit and see whether to continue it. It can’t get any worse than it is now. It would be gratifying to see the wailing and gnashing of teeth as the news went out.


  5. Republicans are not chased into deepens right by their everincreasing fanatism.

    The extreme right is male extreme. It doesn’t have tones shades or nuances. It is violent. Women were always subjects to male violence. They still are. Way too many males are violent. Chances to change that are minor.

    The right to bear arms is not in the constition. It is an invention right the same way citizen united is.


  6. Can I sign up for the alternate reality? And propose another angle? To eliminate the ‘problem’ of unwanted pregnancy, let’s just vasectomize all males early. It’s easy, simple and out-patient – and reversible. Reversing it would require the written assent of spouse. That would eliminate the need for many abortions. Teen pregnancy rates would plummet. Of course, there might be a burgeoning of back-alley doctors offering illegal reversals…

    And for every attempt to limit women’s health care decisions, let us put a similar restriction on men’s. For example, if insurance companies don’t have to cover contraceptives or abortions, they can’t cover ‘performance enhancers’ such as Viagra, Cialis, etc.. If women need waiting periods for any procedure, men need waiting periods for sexual intercourse. After all, we can’t have hormones making decisions, right?


  7. If you go to any of the mainstream press articles about the Aurora shooting and look at the comments, there are huge numbers of d00ds all like “If *I* was there with a concealed handgun, I would have totally taken out the shooter and saved tons of lives”. And these delusional dickeless imbeciles describe detailed fantasies of exactly how this was going to transpire.


  8. Thank you for the great commentary. It really refocuses the debate and to be honest, I had not thought of the gun issue as man’s issue. But duh, it makes complete sense. So I wonder then if the size of the gun signals…oh, well nevermind.


  9. as a man (and i’ve discussed this with several other men), none of us see the aurora issue as a political issue. and none of us other thought to blame this kid’s mother. i was completely oblivious to the notion until i read it here.

    people have been going on murderous rampages for centuries (granted, mostly men). it just happens. there is a certain percentage of people who are crazy in this world. as the population rises, so will the number of crazies. as we start living in more urban, population-dense environments, the quantity of people who are vulnerable goes up (per incident).

    according to wikipedia, the number of gun deaths right now is around 10k-12k. the number of traffic deaths is around 35k, with around half of those being drunk driving accidents. around 430k people die from smoking each year. according to the cdc, around 79k people die from alcohol each year (that number does overlap with the traffic number above). in fact, around 1.8k of people in this country die just from alcohol-related falls, alcohol poisoning, or alcohol-and-fire related deaths every year. that’s almost 20% of gun related deaths.

    do we have a waiting limit for alcohol? a waiting limit to buy a vehicle?

    this is a non political issue. it’s not a gun issue. people go crazy. we can’t safeguard ourselves against everything.

    we have to chalk this up to the fact that some people in the world are crazy, and it’s really sad when they hurt other people. it’s awful to think that normal citizens have to die when someone snaps. but it’s also part of life, and has been forever. we will never grow out of that, and will never be protected from it, no mater what the tool is being used to commit the crime. i feel bad for women if they think they carry most of the weight for their kids’ actions when it comes to incidents like this. i don’t blame moms. no one else i’ve talked about it has brought up the guy’s parents. granted, i haven’t watched any news broadcasts or talking heads about this stuff. but i consider anyone who gets their news from them as a complete tool anyway.

    it’s sad. that’s really it. just really sad. we need to support the families in this time, and provide them support. that’s it.


  10. Except that mass murders are not a default behaviour of particular mental illnesses (if this young man is indeed mentally ill; that presumably will be decided later). Histories of ‘madness’ actually suggest that the way mentally ill people behave is culturally normative – that is people ‘act out’ in ways created and informed by the cultures in which they live. Therefore, it’s not just because other countries (or other times) don’t have access to guns (such effective guns) that they are less likely to have this sort of incident; rather it is because present day America has created a particular culture around gun ownership and particular forms of masculinity (individualism?) and violence that people perpetrate crimes in this manner.

    Moreover, this is one of the reasons why the number of women committing such crimes is lower. It’s not because women are less likely to be mentally ill or because they are innately less violent, but rather the dominant models of femininity don’t encourage the sort of psychologies in women that lead to this behaviour.

    So, yes, people can become mentally ill, but how they behave when ill is a cultural problem, not (just) an individual one.


  11. jas writes, “as a man (and i’ve discussed this with several other men), none of us see the aurora issue as a political issue.”

    Well then, I’m glad all of you men have it all worked out amongst yourselves, and we can just move along without considering why mass murderers are all boys and men, most of them between the ages of 13 and 30, and nearly all of them white.

    Find another blog to bother. You’re gone.


  12. I really enjoyed this post because it really points up the level of control that anti-abortion and anti-contraception crowd already exert over women’s bodies. The idea that women are blamed for murders in general, I think, comes from the idea that personalities are created in childhood. Raising children is considered the sole purview of mothers (and the only thing that gives women’s lives meaning, according to some). It would be nice if Freud did not still have such a cultural grip and we could rethink what the true causes of these problems are. Perhaps it’s a perceived loss of power in relation to women and people of color?


  13. Thanks Michelle, and everyone.

    I wanted to go back to the first comment by albrt, which takes me to task for blaming the right wing instead of spreading the blame to the Democrats. Although the right wing is responsible for the initial mobilization against women’s rights and in favor of men’s rights, the Democrats have done little if anything either to resist or to turn back the tide.

    As I predicted, no pol of any party is taking up the issue of rational gun control except Michael Bloomberg. Yesterday, the Governor of Colorado, John Hickenlooper, pre-assured the gun lobby that he wouldn’t be in favor of any revisions to our current gun laws. And I’m sure no other state pol will stick her or his neck out on this, either, since Hick has just given them cover to duck the issue all they like.

    No Dems, or anyone, at the national level will take this up, either. Conveniently, this is an election year, and Colorado is a swing state. This mass murder gives President Obama a chance to return to Colorado as only a sitting president can, to hug the survivors and the families of the dead, and to give a nice speech referencing biblical language and themes. He can play the mourner-in-chief, insisting that his visit isn’t political and therefore resisting the challenge that Bloomberg has issued, all the while getting in another visit to Colorado and a chance to look presidential here. And the best part of it all from his campaign’s perspective is that any comparable visit from Romney will look like a crass politicization of the issue!

    Unless there is a massive uprising from the grass roots, nothing will change. The gun lobby and cowardly pols are counting on everyone to lose interest after the last victim is buried, until the next sensational national news story makes headlines, until we all succumb to grief fatigue.


  14. Now, due to Hickenlooper’s, yes, *cowardice*, I’m angry, again — I seethe at the right to politicize this issue by everyone save the people who want to stop, at least, semi-automatic weapons from killing other people.

    And, of course, members of the American Islamic community, who get renditioned if someone’s cough overheard on a cellphone sounds like “Glock”, have a cogent commentary regarding the way we treat (white, male) domestic terrorists vs. those dangerous foreign kind:

    “The contrast between the rapid response and monitoring of Zazi and the lack of citizen interest in Holmes is not lost on some in Colorado’s Islamic community.

    “This guy literally arms himself to the teeth by mail order without anyone pointing a finger and saying, ‘What’s going on?’ ” asked Imam Ibrahim Kazerooni, a little incredulous. “If my name is Ibrahim or Mohammed and I order a gun or that much ammunition on the Internet, I think within a few hours of the delivery, the FBI and CIA is at my house.””

    I think what you’re saying is STAY ANGRY, right, Dr. H?


  15. And, um, what about *fathers*? Even if divorced, or just baby daddies, they have a choice to stay involved in the lives of their sons, as well as pass on the thoughtful message, “son, don’t buy guns and kill people, just ’cause, ‘kay?”

    And it would be nice if all the bullies, authority figures and mentors also passed that message down, along with the old “don’t rape” one….


  16. And, yes I’m playing the race card, for jas:

    If we just “need to support the families in this time, and provide them support. that’s it” during the near-century of lynching Negroes suffered under Jim Crow, I’d still be susceptible to the hanging tree for waiting for the RTD bus in the wrong side of town, after Negro curfew.

    Dear God in Heaven, are we supposed to fight for nothing, not even our own right to be un-shot? Preventing violence against women, children and the men not shooting them is a civil rights issue.

    If it is not, then these “family supporters only” must want a day when only manly, armed men go to theatres at night, with the proper Kevlar accoutrements, which now, as our latest shooter has demonstrated, goes to neckguards and leggings. A burka would be more comfortable, but since only the menfolk will wear them, in this libertarian ideal of the commons, let them sweat it out, and die of heatstroke before they can fire.


  17. Cheers to the paragraph beginning “No Dems, or anyone…” and including “resisting the challenge Bloomberg has issued…” which paragraph very nicely encapsulates the core of the whole issue. I’m not much of a Bloomberg fan, but he has ridden this issue hard over the years. Unlike the President. How many times in a term of office can someone swoop in on a place with platitudes and offers to help people “heal,” when it’s not healing that’s needed, but rather annealing? I’m not advocating this, but predicting it to a certitude: if the state is, in fact, politically paralyzed in terms of being able to–as Bloomberg says–*do* something about gun terrorism, we *will* see a “John Brown at Potawatamie” moment on this issue: non-pacifist anti-gun factions riding forth to ensure that *every*body has to play dee-fense with respect to militarized mayhem, on comparable technological terms. It will happen, and it’s what in fact does happen, when the state fails.


  18. Unfortunately, not drawing a line in the sand regarding domestic terrorism will give carte blanche to cells not previously existing or traceable by law enforcement — and the cycle begun with OKC will go on the upstroke.

    With the state and federal negligence regarding assault weapons bans, is it a Fast and Furious covert op blown wide — flood the country with assault guns, to flush out militia cells? If so, they’re doing it on our backs, with more collateral damage done than militia members caught. And, as for Obama, all it will take is one more mass murder before election day before Romney can peg him as weak on crime — but, because he’s already capitulated to the NRA, there’s nothing he can do but go even further right. Domestic explosive-sniffing drones, anyone?


  19. cgeye–I’m glad you brought up the article by Chuck Murphy at the Post this a.m. I thought it was revealing the contrast he drew between the accused killer in this case and Najibullah Zazi. Clearly, guys with English names don’t get the scrutiny that guys named Ibrahim, or Abdulla, or Najibullah get.

    And, yes. Stay angry. (But don’t bother with jas. He’s gone.)


  20. I think that law (or a similar one) is already on the books in Canada, where current and previous domestic partners are notified of applications for a firearm permit in case they have concerns. Of course, Canada also does crazy things like requiring firearm training and not granting permits to people with mental illness or a history of domestic violence. And, somehow, Canadians still manage to go hunting.


  21. @cgeye: “Dear God in Heaven, are we supposed to fight for nothing, not even our own right to be un-shot?” Thank you.

    And Feminist Avatar, thank you, too.

    I can’t make cogent remarks today, about any of this, and especially about gun legislation, it’s personal, I can’t talk about it. But thank you.


  22. Returning to the masculinity thread, apparently former Arizona state senator Russell Pearce (sponsor of the nasty anti-immigrant law) posted a statement asking why men specifically didn’t shoot back: “Where were the men of Flight 93???” [see the fifth item down. Sorry I haven’t mastered embedding links yet. And — be prepared for scantily clad men on the site.] I think there’s a clear link between masculinity, class, a sense that privileges are slipping away, and guns as the remedy for that. A fantasy of being in control is enormously comforting when your reality is different. Unfortunately this fantasy has lethal consequences.


  23. “It’s interesting how men’s rights are presumed to be human rights, whereas women’s rights are understood to be only women’s rights”

    Men’s rights = universal human rights. Women’s rights = a kind of ladies’ auxiliary to the Universal Rights of Man.

    Agree with you on the gendered dimensions of the gun issue, h’ann. But in terms of a massive uprising from the grass roots, I’m afraid gender is not going to do it. It would have to be about children/youth/young people, I think. Although even on that score, I’m not optimistic. Apparently so many school shooting deaths per capita are just the price some kids must pay for somebody’s freedom to play at “soldier of fortune” while never having to wait for his new toys, no, not even for a couple of weeks or so.

    “Yesterday, the Governor of Colorado, John Hickenlooper, pre-assured the gun lobby that he wouldn’t be in favor of any revisions to our current gun laws.”

    “Pre-assured.” So apt, so almost comical if it weren’t so depressing.

    Hickenlooper: “This person, if there were no assault weapons available, if there were no this or no that, this guy’s going to find something, right?” I wish someone would query the governor on his “no this or no that.” Nuclear weaponry? Biological warfare? I mean, why stop at assault rifles, when you stop and think about it? If ‘the right to bear arms’ as an individual (and not merely as a member of a late-18th-century style militia) is absolute, and subject to no qualifications or limitations whatsoever, then why shouldn’t every citizen have the right to carry a can of mustard gas or a vial of ricin on his (or her, but probably his: see above) person? Aren’t those “arms,” after all? And who is the government, or a bunch of nanny-naysayers, to deny the right of anyone to carry and deploy the newest in biological warfare armament?


  24. Testosterone poisoning, or wishful thinking?

    ‘But gun enthusiasts caution against over-reacting to the massacre. Brown, of Rocky Mountain Gun Owners, said he thinks citizen’s access to weaponry has made the United States “a stronger country.” And he doesn’t see anything unusual about many of Holmes’ alleged purchases.

    “If I only had 6,000 rounds for my AR-15s, I’d literally feel naked,” Brown said. Then he totaled up Holmes’ firearms purchases: “Two handguns, a shotgun and a rifle. That’s the average male in Colorado.”‘


  25. P.S. In my haste to take you to task, I forgot to mention that I liked the rest of the post. I am not particularly hopeful, though.

    Although, I wonder what would happen if it suddenly occurred to the NRA that President Obama is targeting people in Pakistan, Yemen and elsewhere for CARRYING GUNS?

    Come to think of it, I wonder what would have happened if Anwar al-Awlaki had thought to assert his masculine second amendment rights before he got blown up instead of relying on those weak sisters, the first amendment and due process?


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  27. As for gender and guns, I would just like to point out the ridiculousness of the attitude that if only women carried guns they wouldn’t get abused or raped. Most rapists and abusers are men women know and trust, not boogeymen who leap out of bushes; could you kill your own spouse, even in self-defense? And if she did shoot him, chances are she’d be convicted of murder, as any look at such cases can prove.


  28. Sorry, hit Submit too soon: I was puzzled by one word.

    If there are no women at all in young men’s lives, these women are probably better judges of the men’s character and fitness for gun ownership than any criminal background check. If there are no women at all in these young men’s lives–well, then, that would seem to weed out most of the accused mass murderers we’ve seen in the past fifteen years or so.

    Should the first “no” be “any”?


  29. Let’s not forget about race. I think we should really look deeper into the white pathology that leads to mass killing. Perhaps it does start in the white family, historically conditioned to get whatever it wants. It may not be politically correct to say so, but we have a big problem with white serial killers and mass murders in this country, and, if we reject biological determinism, we must look at the tangle of pathology that is white male culture.

    One place I think would be very fruitful is the idea of “friendzoning” ( Men (usually white) view their female friends as a prize, and often lash out when they feel they can’t have this prize. Did Mr. Holmes perceive himself to be “friendzoned” recently? Did he listen to metal music? All of these things contribute to White male pathology, and we should probably be talking about them!


  30. LadyProf: yes, exactly. Thanks for your sharp editorial suggestion! I’ve changed the original post to reflect your suggested wording.

    Jonathon: I agree. I like that term “friendzone”–never heard it before but once you read it it makes perfect sense. On the racial angle, however, I would point out that there have been some nonwhite mass-murderers, esp. in recent university shootings, for example the VTech massacre and the one out in the Bay Area recently.

    I think one reason the Aurora shooting is inspiring so much shock and outrage is that no murderer has gone on a rampage in a movie theater, whereas I think we became accustomed to murderous rampages in high schools and universities.


  31. After trying for days to glean some understanding of the world my USian friends live in, I have gained the most from this post and discussion. I should have known.
    Since someone mentioned my country, Canada, I have something to add. We experience relatively low levels of gun violence here, but that is changing. Most handguns used by gang members, who are increasingly asserting their presence, are smuggled in from the US. But of more concern is the gun-friendliness of our current federal government. For years we had a gun registry in this country which simply required owners of long guns (hunting rifles) to register the fact of their ownership and made this information available to police. Despite the fact that police reported finding the registry useful, particularly in cases of potential domestic violence, the Conservative government decided to abolish the registry this year and destroy the data collected. The USian NRA and other USian gun enthusiasts supported this initiative and spent huge amounts of money on advertising and supporting Canadian gun enthusiasts. The Registry is now gone. And I’m sure that other gun control measures are as doomed here, for now, as they are in the US. This despite the fact that deaths by long-gun, including suicides, fell during the period the Registry was in use. And by the way, the Registry was set up as a result of the activism of the mothers of women murdered in what is known as the “Montreal Massacre”.
    US culture is a communicable disease.


  32. Perfect illustration of the points in this brilliant post: last Tuesday, Wall Street Journal columnist James Taranto tweeted the following:

    “I hope the girls whose boyfriends died to save them were worthy of the sacrifice.”


  33. Wow, I guess great minds think alike. Although my “when I’m queen” fantasy world has a more radical version of your proposal re gun ownership. Licensing age would simply be 18 for women and 30 for men, barring any record of violent offenses prior to those ages. For men, the justification that personal firearms are needed to protect family and home will be valid right around the age when they have something to protect (and have fully-developed brains, and have passed the typical age of onset for schizophrenia). The younger age for women is, of course, necessary for *personal* protection from violent actors who are physically stronger (men).


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