As I watched MSNBC for coverage about the Manchester bombing, which left 22 dead after an attack at an Ariana Grande concert, one correspondent mentioned how ISIS will “turn away recruits” because of their targeted attack on young girls and women. Another reporter expressed confusion over how ISIS could possibly achieve “the heart of their crusade” by attacking at an Ariana Grande concert. It is clear by their statements how little they understand the world’s demonization of young girls and women, and specifically the often-gendered aspects of terrorism.
— Zoey Masters (@Zoeymasters) May 23, 2017
The Manchester bombing could have easily happened at another venue, another concert, another night. But instead the attackers picked Ariana Grande “Dangerous Woman” show—for the purpose of punishing girls for admiring someone who they view as a strong female role model.
It is not divisive to say so, but necessary to combat societal violence on women.
Yet when outlets like Bust attempted to discuss the gendered aspects of the attack, they received criticism. Commenters condemned Bust for “pushing their agenda” after the tragedy. “This isn’t a gender-biased crime,” said one. “It’s an atrocity against humanity crime.” It seemed that folks like that commenter don’t see the significance of Grande’s event being chosen as the backdrop for this atrocity. And besides implying that violence against women isn’t enough to be categorized as a crime against humanity, the user also did not take Grande’s primary demographic—including a wide age range of women and girls—into consideration.
ISIS’s gender-specific violence has been well-documented, from executions to forcing girls and women to become slaves who endure rape and have their identities, ethnicities and homes erased. While terrorist recruits each have their own specific motivations for joining ISIS and similar organizations, ISIS’s stance on women is made clear, and all who join have agreed with that stance. Of course, violent attacks on women are not an ISIS-original concept.
The 1989 École Polytechnique massacre in Montreal, for example, resulted in the murder of 14 women by Marc Lépine. Lépine claimed he was “fighting feminism” after specifically separating male and female students before killing the women. He left behind a suicide note claiming that feminists had ruined his life. While this example more blatantly expresses a hatred of expressing pride in femininity, it is important to understand Lépine’s own hatred is a fatal symptom of a world that degrades anyone and anything feminine in nature.
But violence toward women isn’t just the product of random terrorism. It is, unfortunately, a part of the fabric of our lives. RAINN reports that every 98 seconds, someone in America alone is sexually assaulted, particularly those under the age of 30. 1 out of 6 women have experienced an attempted or completed rape—with over 80 percent being girls and 90 percent adult women.
Grande herself has been the target of sexism—and has spoken out against it. In late 2016, Grande fired back at a male fan that approached Grande and her boyfriend Mac Miller to congratulate him on “scoring” her. “Ariana is sexy as hell man,” he said, “I see you, I see you hitting that!!!” In response, Grande wrote a note declaring that she was “not a piece of meat that a man gets to utilize for his pleasure” but rather “an adult human being in a relationship with a man who treats me with love and respect.” She fumed about how she dresses does not invite degrading commentary towards women. Overwhelming feedback from social media criticized Grande for using her sexuality as a part of her act and then having the audacity to assert that she is a human being. The fact that Grande’s sexuality is considered a threat on any scale is, at best, absurd, and it is also a clear indicator of systemic oppression.
Ignoring the overwhelming evidence of the Manchester Arena bombing as gender-based prevents progress from continuous oppression against women and girls alongside other marginalized groups. If you can recognize that the Pulse shooting was a hateful attack on the LGBTQ+ community and that the Charlie Hebdo attack was a threat to free speech and journalism, then you can easily understand how the horrific bombing on Manchester was very much purposefully an attack against women and girls.