Virginia Tech/I need to be wild

April 17, 2007

from Women’s Space

I have been horrified since the news broke yesterday about the slaughter at Virginia Tech. The initial reports of an armed man, targeted killings in classrooms in an engineering building, reopened the wound that is still Montreal, 6 December 1989 – when 14 women engineering students were murdered by a gunman shouting “I hate feminists” – and the very real terror I felt going in to teach my women’s studies section the next morning in a rural Minnesota classroom with only one door in and out.

So of course I’ve been watching all the coverage, and of course there is no discussion of gender and violence, as gender analysis is a foreign tongue for which the media can find no translator. I’m trying to imagine how many more people might be alive today if the first killing in the dorm was not treated as only a “domestic situation.” Tragic, frequent, logical flaw: when a man kills a woman he knows, or in theory loves, the rest of us need not be concerned about him or his violence because, after all, it’s been domesticated. Or is that, once again, women are being killed by this abstract noun “domestic” and not by the men they know?

And in the silence about gender, every headline screams “largest mass murder in U.S. history” and proceeds into breathless details about the number of clips he carried and how many shots could be fired (25 rounds in 11 seconds, Hey Ho for technology). But of course this is a lie, a racist lie, in fact, so common in our country. The largest mass murder done in the U.S., also made possible by automatic weapons, was the massacre at Wounded Knee on December 29, 1890, when 300 Lakota people, the vast majority women and children, were forced into a valley beside Wounded Knee creek and killed within a matter of hours using the newest technology of the time, four Hotchkiss canons placed in advance on the surrounding hilltops, each capable of firing two pound explosive shells at a rate of fifty per minute.

So as I hear and read the news, a ticker tape of other shootings runs across my internal screen, with a soundtrack chant of “Wounded Knee, Wounded Knee.” So I have to write this, and share it. Because the truth matters. Because the silence around the history of racist and sexist violence in the U.S. matters. Because, if violence is domestic, I need to be wild to survive and challenge it, and I want all of you to be wild, too.

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