Charlottesville: Where Were The Women?


Where Were The Women?

Many questions were raised following this past weekend’s “Unite The Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia: Who is behind this? How is this happening in 2017? What are the next calls to action? When will this end? Will similar acts happen again?

These were the obvious responses to such a stunning revolt, yet, there was seemingly another obvious question staring the media in the face: Amidst the shields, sirens, batons and blood, where were the women?

“I’d bet that if asked, most people would still associate the words terrorist, insurgent, rebel, and extremist with a man or a group of men, but that’s likely attributable to age-old stereotypes relegating war and violence to men and peacekeeping to women,” says Dr. Jennifer R. Wolkin, licensed psychologist and clinical neuropsychologist.

Although a majority of the “Unite The Right” rally footage predominantly reveals a sea of men, there were still white women in attendance. This involvement stems back to the 1920s when the KKK opened a branch to include women, the WKKK, of which half a million women joined, as young as age 16.

“Though they have often perpetrated violence, women will also be involved in behind the scenes logistics, like propaganda, or group recruitment,” says Dr. Wolkin. “Since stereotypes are so strong, women might even help elicit the idea that since they are part of a group, it is less extremist and more natural.”

Stereotypes have played a role throughout history across all aspects of society and politics, particularly in race and gender roles, something that Dr. Alondra Nelson, Dean of Social Science and professor of sociology at Columbia University attributes to the ideology of nationalism.

Nationalism is a political ideology that has, as its cornerstone, a kind of deeply entrenched social conservatism and this extends to a desire for very traditional and, indeed, retrograde gender roles,” she says.

Dr. Matthew W. Hughey, Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of Connecticut goes onto explain that the causality is sociological, where, “What we often mistake as “natural” is the historical consequence of social forces, norms, institutions, interactions, and identities that have been reified in particular contexts.”

Charlottesville . Photo courtesy of Wired

So, although, the KKK is factually and historically a misogynistic organization–and also historically, violence and riots surround the masculine image and identity–Dr. Hughey ties this to the burden that white men carry around; something that women have not necessarily recognized as a chip on their shoulder. “Many white men believe they have been cheated out of a kind of ontological birthright; an inheritance of domination qua social greatness stolen by people of color,” says Dr. Hughey.

“These worldviews manifest in the retention of workplace slurs and epithets, disdain for policies like affirmative action, and the belief that any gains by people of color and women exist in zero-sum relation to white male comfort and security.”

To relate how women are portrayed in comparison, Dr. Nelson refers back to nationalism and the gender stereotype that says, “The role of women is not to be in the streets in a combative way but in the homestead. This is true to nationalism generally–whether white or Ukrainian.”

Thus, probing more questions: Was the reason less women were represented in footage from the rally a result of these nationalism ideals and time-old stereotypes? Because they are not meant to be combative but rather passive?

In sourcing headlines and content from the rally, the woman who received the most airtime was Heather Heyer, who was killed when a car crashed into her group of counter protesters. Heyer was portrayed by headlines as “strong” and “fighting for what she believed in.”

Yet, as this coverage persisted, it seemed to divert from the underlying reality of the violence and perpetrated the gap of gender relations. “This is not a gender issue,” reminds Dr. Wolkin. “This isn’t men versus women. This is about the existence of specific fundamental ideologies of hate and bigotry.”

She explains how the image of a woman white supremacist is “extraordinarily uncomfortable” to most of society, as genders have adopted certain roles that we are subconsciously exposed to daily. So, in order to start making progress in combating extreme violence, it’s a viewpoint society needs to begin consciously moving away from.

“The fact that women engage too, is crucial to our understanding of terrorism, and extremism, and bigotry, and hate, and should be part of the discussion,” says Dr. Wolkin. “Casting one gender as the fighter gender, and the other, as the peacemaking gender, can only widen gaps, and keep us further from using our distinct brains to help keep a balance of perspectives.”

And as time continues to pass, this idea of perspective is something to keep in mind–a spotlight only reveals a small portion in a dark matter, just like a camera can only capture a small rectangle of the bigger picture. So, as much as the rally revolved around misogynistic viewpoints, regardless of the equal ratio of women represented at the rallies, it is not solely a male retaliation rooted in hate and bigotry, but one built into the societal practices of the last 100 years that continues to be fed by stereotypes and ideologies.

Jillian Dara

Jillian grew up an island girl but converted to city style after living in Boston, London, Santiago, and now, NYC. She is a writer, editor and content creator with a desire to share stories in the lifestyle genre. With a particular focus on travel and profiles, she prides herself on sharing the most authentic story for those who aren’t able to share their own.

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