The vicious attack in Manchester, England, is one more added to an ever-growing list that works to dull our senses. But then I started to think about it, and I got angry — more angry than I have been about an attack in a while, which says a lot about how humans adapt to stress that becomes the “new normal.”
I was angry that, once again, girls were a target, just as they have been in various school shootings, both mass and individual, in which a boy uses a gun to deal with a perceived slight or just the word “no.” Because this was an attack on girls. Girls who dared to go out at night, to dress like kids do and have fun, to clap and sing along. Girls who dared to look up to a beautiful young woman who stood on a stage with no fear and performed for them. Girls who dared to do what some people — some men, regardless of what religion they claim — believe that girls and women shouldn’t be doing: owning their own bodies and their own experiences.
This man decided to blow himself up along with as many people as he could because girls dared to dance in public with no shame.
I was angry that, regardless of whether you believe it, we are surrounded by “rape culture.” We live in a culture of misogyny in which a girl is told by strangers to smile for them; is asked “What do you expect?” when catcalled; is taught ways to avoid sexual assault while her male peers aren’t taught not to assault; and is blamed for an assault because “she was asking for it.” It’s an insidious thing, like smoke that seeps in under your door.
If you’ve ever heard the news of a girl being sexually assaulted and your first thought was “What was she wearing?” or “Was she drunk?” you are only a step or two away from what the bomber was thinking — that girls and women don’t belong to themselves, that they must be punished for daring to be female in his world and not belonging to him.
I was angry about the hypocrisy. People fear the bomber’s religion and scream that he and “his kind” want to inflict a set of foreign and restrictive rules upon the rest of society that among other things govern how women and girls may behave, all the while not seeing shades of the same treatment happen under their own noses when a girl is reprimanded for a slipping bra-strap but a rapist is given a light sentence, or none, because it might “ruin his future.”
If you hear about these sorts of tragedies and urge others to have empathy by arguing, “What if she were your daughter, sister, etc.,” you have equated a girl’s worth to her relationship with others rather than giving her the ownership and autonomy that she deserves.
And that’s why I’m so angry — angry that these girls can’t put this in a context of social mores and history and culture because they don’t have the benefit of age and perspective that will show them that that attack in Manchester is just another extreme instance of all the little injustices that they will discover as they grow up. And I am angry that they will have to fight— not against terrorism per se but against the smoke that they breathe every day, against the underlying belief of so many cultures: that they aren’t allowed because they are girls.
Tiffani Angus is a writer and university lecturer in Cambridge, United Kingdom, and a former Dayton resident.