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Recent Shooting in California Gives Glimpse Into Example of Societal Issues

Cheryl Duckworth, Ph.D.

FORT LAUDERDALE-DAVIE, Fla. – It’s easy to look at the recent tragic shooting at Isla Vista California as just another isolated incident of violence.  But there’s something that separates this incident from the others: the suspect clearly exhibited something that is all too often prevalent in society – “male privilege.”

Male privilege means a man believes he’s entitled to something simply because he’s a man. In this case, it seems the suspect believed women were his birthright.

Having experienced this first-hand, I can tell you it is real. It can be subtle, or it can be brash and violent. I’ve experienced both.

When I was 22 I was a first year English teacher seeking guidance from a colleague. He “playfully” stuffed a tissue down my top.  Only months later could I allow myself to call it harassment. A year later I was a Peace Corps Volunteer on a bus ride out to a school in Masembura, Zimbabwe.  A local man begins flirting with me.  I ignore him. He stood up, shouting, then proposing marriage, then shouting again.  He began to explain the specific nature of the beating and raping he would inflict on me if I didn’t respond.  I know what would have happened next if another local man on the bus had not intervened.  Yet I was in my thirties before I considered myself a woman who had experienced male violence.  I simply pushed it out of my mind and went on.

There are many more incidents I can cite, but you get the picture.

Any act of violence is rooted in a belief system which has worked to justify it. The suspect in the Isla Vista case is the latest horrifying example of violent rage directed against women explicitly because he felt he was denied his entitlement as an man:  beautiful women.  Because society is organized around catering to the desires of men, he was at loss to understand a world in which he was denied something he was raised to view as a birthright.

And make no mistake:  he was raised by our culture to believe so.

When I say ‘raised,’ I am not referring to his parents but rather societal norms. One doesn’t have to look further than a popular TV show or the latest blockbuster action movie to see this attitude portrayed as something normal and accepted. That’s a hard look in the nation’s mirror, but there we are.

Every time a rape case is tossed out of court because of what the victim was wearing, we’re taught men are entitled.  Whenever the police don’t investigate a rape accusation because the suspect may be a high profile athlete or because the victim’s actions come into question, we teach male privilege. Whenever a professor is sanctioned by a university, as recently occurred in Minnesota, for teaching structural racism and sexism because the young white men in her class are “uncomfortable”, we teach male privilege.

Add that to the related lesson that war and violence are ways to demonstrate masculinity, and you have the toxic cultural brew. It will happen again until we successfully name the problem, have the courage to talk about it, and realize equal political, legal and economic power between men and women.

Enough is enough.

Cheryl Duckworth, Ph.D.

About the Author: Cheryl Duckworth, Ph.D., is an assistant professor of Conflict Resolution at Nova Southeastern University. A peace-building program leader and conflict resolution policy analyst, she has served such organizations as the Institute for Multi-Track Diplomacy and the Center for International Education. She has lived in Zimbabwe and Paraguay, and published and presented globally on her two passions, peace education and peace economics, exploring ways to transform the economic, political, social and psychological root causes of war and violence. Duckworth has trained hundreds of students, teachers and community leaders in peace education and conflict resolution both in the US and internationally. Currently she serves as the faculty advisor of NSU’s Peace Education Working Group and on the Advisory Board of the Hope Development Organization, a women’s rights and peace building organization in Pakistan, and Women’s Promise, which advocates for and empowers women’s leadership for peace globally.