The past few weeks have been quite troublesome.
The murder of University of North Carolina student Eve Carson -- found lying in a pool of blood, riddled with bullets -- was chilling. Eighteen-year-old Auburn University freshman Lauren Burk was shot and left to die on the side of the highway. Twenty-one-year-old North Carolina Central University student Latrese Curtis was found stabbed to death on highway I-540.
These three young women had their lives snuffed out for no reason. Burk was beginning to make her way in the world while Carson had proven invaluable to a community that benefited greatly from her presence. Curtis, a senior business management major, was a young wife who worked and went to school to provide a stable life for herself. The senseless nature of the murders brought to mind last year's murder of North Carolina Central University graduate student Denita Smith, another remarkable young woman whose life was taken away at the hands of a predator.
The suspects in these crimes include a pastor, a war veteran, a teenager and a 911 dispatcher. All except one were men and all were African-American.
As I cringed at seeing these suspects in front of cameras, shaking my head at the fulfillment of another racial stereotype, I realized that my focus was completely wrong. I should be more concerned with the reality of the situation, not the representation of it. The victims of these violent crimes were all young women, which is a statistic that is constant, whereas the race of the perpetrator is something that shifts. Unfortunately, during Women's History Month, which is a time for celebration, we are made painfully aware of a part of our history that needs to be eradicated -- violence against women.
Violence against women is something with which many of us have become far too comfortable. National and local headlines constantly report on women as victims of crime, in addition to the many films, TV shows and various forms of music that offer up violent images and words. Violence against women is in heavy rotation in our popular culture. The words "ripped from a popular film or television program" could be used to describe the circumstances surrounding the deaths of many young women.
How many episodes of shows from the CSI and Law and Order franchises begin with the murder of a co-ed? How many rap or rock songs have lyrics that promote violent behavior towards women? It's amazing how at ease we are with these images in our popular culture, but rail against them when it happens in real life. The line between fantasy and reality becomes a blur, but the one constant is that violence against women happens on a continuum.
Sexism is related to violence against women, which is related to power, which is related to ideology, which is related to pop cultural images, which is related to social outcomes.
In social scientific research, it's difficult to argue for direct links between media imagery and behavioral outcomes because it is damned-near impossible to control for all of the other factors -- like socialization, peer and religious influences and parental involvement or lack thereof -- that contribute to violence against women. Nonetheless, it is quite clear that violence against women is a mainstay and we have become desensitized to this social malady.
I don't want to be comfortable with the statistics that are harrowing. There are so many different types of violent crimes against women that it would take a book to rattle them off. The point of this article, however, is to state what is obvious to some and less-obvious to others: When we devalue a group of people, bad things happen to those people.
Women are devalued in the world in multiple ways. Every time we reduce each other to our reproductive organs or promote ideology that values one gender over another, we sow the seeds of hate. What grows out of hate? Evil and violence, which tend to reproduce exponentially. Imagine how much hate you must have in your heart to shoot or stab a college student (or anyone for that matter) point blank? How little does one value a woman, from whom all of us are born, that it is alright to leave her dying in her own blood on the side of a road? Does the fact that this could be your mother, sister, cousin or aunt ever kick in? The previously mentioned killers obviously targeted these victims, whom we have heard described countless times as "the weaker sex."
There are real consequences to minimizing a woman's worth in society. The more we promote gender essentialism and devalue the invaluable contributions that women make to every part of society, the more negative attitudes and behaviors will prevail.
During Women's History Month, it is important to recognize the wonderful contributions of women, but it is equally important to remember the work that still needs to be done in order to end violence against women and to save the lives of future generations.