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The Connection Between Violent Extremism and Sexism Must Be Addressed

The new possibility of returning to in-person learning is positive on many fronts. However, it also brings to life a fear of school shootings that many students haven’t had to worry about for the past year. Women’s History Month offers a chance to explore the impact women, as well as women’s inequality, have had on history, as well as honor the struggle that women face due to sexism. One often overlooked connection is the relationship between violent extremism — such as school shootings — and violence against women. 

Sexism in our society, in the form of objectification, unhealthy gender norms, power inequity, and male privilege has validated, warranted, and even sexualized violence against women. In fact, oftentimes the violence men perpetrate against women in an intimate relationship is a result of them feeling like they should be more powerful than their partners. When men feel as if they don’t hold enough power, they may attempt to use violence to obtain it. It’s important that we change how our society views women and increase equity so that this violence can be reduced. Berkeley High School (BHS) and the Berkeley community can do this by teaching healthy gender norms, decreasing isolation, and promoting equality for all genders.

A surprising amount of mass murderers have commited violence against women in their past. For example, in May of 2014, a man murdered six people and wounded 14 more in a shooting at University of California, Santa Barbara. In the days following the violence, it was discovered that not only was he a part of several ‘men’s rights’ groups, but his reasons for the murders was due to the fact that he had experienced rejection by women. 

In another example, a 19-year-old shot and killed 17 students attending Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. He had been expelled from the school for fighting with the new boyfriend of his ex-girlfriend. 

In fact, this connection of many mass shooters having histories of domestic violence has become so common that Futures Without Violence, a non-profit organization aiming to end domestic violence, calls this pattern “Day 3,” due to the fact that the press will discover a link between the perpetrator and violence against women in the following three days after the shooting. In addition, multiple studies have shown that romantic rejection, jealousy, and other issues surrounding women are the drive for most school shootings.

This research, and the connection between gender-based violence and violent extremism, is one of the many reasons that schools around the world should make healthy gender norms and the equality of all genders a top priority in their curriculum. This means implementing activities that will teach respect, such as Coaching Boys Into Men, a program that teaches boys on sports teams to respect women and deters them from harassment. 

In addition, it’s the school’s responsibility to decrease isolation so that students do not feel so alone that they may resort to violence. While that is especially difficult in the pandemic, it is also incredibly important. Educating students on the connection between extremism and sexism is also a step towards a violence-free future, because many are unaware. Schools should find a way to inform students, whether that comes from teaching about it one or two days before a lockdown drill, or as a part of anti-sexism training.

If we teach people from a young age that relationships should have equal power balances, and we ensure that men know women do not owe them anything — sex, acceptance of romantic advances, etc. — then we could create an environment where toxic masculinity withers, respect flourishes, and violence is not a tactic used to gain power. 

These connections, while disturbing in nature, may bring us closer to a way of preventing mass murder. If our society teaches us to respect people of all genders, we can move on to a future with less violence. By promoting equality for women and non-binary people, as well as creating healthy gender norms, we can lower the risk of violent extremism.