The Violence of Silence in Richmond, KY

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On the morning of October 5th, 2015 Eastern Kentucky University police issued the second public safety alert of terroristic graffiti threatening campus in less than a year. The message “KILL ALL BY 10/8/15 THIS BU OOP” was scrawled across the men’s bathroom wall of the Powell Building on main campus. Some people rolled their eyes at this message as it was conveniently discovered at the beginning of midterms week. Others proceeded with precaution, nervously attending on-campus events, classes, and meetings. Some physically trembled at the thought of setting foot on EKU grounds in the face of such a threat. The message was discovered within days of the Oregon school shooting at Umpqua Community College (New York Times, 2015). The shooting left nine dead, and the rest of the country shaken by tragedy and battling over gun regulations. At Eastern, the President of the college sent an e-mail to faculty, staff, and students,

Let me be absolutely clear: threats such as this will not be tolerated and the person or persons responsible will be held accountable and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. To make such a threat is a felony and we will make every attempt to find those at fault and ensure that this does not happen again.”

President Benson has been diligently updating faculty and students regarding new sources of potential police information. He has also been clear through his statements that the school prohibits threats against the student body and takes such messages very seriously. However, despite commendable e-mail communication, there is a critical piece of the puzzle that hasn’t been addressed: the meaning behind the graffitied letters “BU,” which stand for “Beta Uprising”. “Beta Uprising” has become prevalent in the news within the past few weeks. “Beta Uprising” refers to an ideology that argues the sexual revolution led to the end of sex for men who weren’t the chiseled image of perfection. ‘Betas’ believe that the sexual revolution created picky feminists who, consequentially, were only attracted to the supposed “alpha” males, leaving ‘beta’ males, who were anything but the epitome of perfect masculinity, in the dust, blue-balled and victimized. The “Uprising” portion of this theory anticipates that all the ‘beta’ males of America will eventually band together and restore the natural order so that there is one male per every female. The ‘beta’ outlook sees females as existing for purposes of male sexual fulfillment and believe that women owe that sex to them.

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‘Beta Uprising’ was connected to the Oregon shooter’s online history on 4chan. In July, a white conservative man in his late fifties opened fire on a movie theater audience, killing two women and wounding several others during a screening of Trainwreck. Though never officially documented as cause for motive, internet forums and feminist organizations theorize that these killings were acts of intentional rage towards women. Trainwreck is somewhat of a feminist rom-com, written and starred in by comedian Amy Schumer. Schumer plays a character that has a successful professional life and a personal life uninhibited by monogamy-a staple feature desired and typically expected of women in society. In May, a twenty-two year old self-described “involuntarily virginal male” killed six people in Santa Barbara, California. After the massacre, a YouTube video he had uploaded was discovered in which he envisioned a world where “women fear YOU” and where he would be “the true Alpha male.” These cases do not point to the ‘Beta Uprising’ as cause for the killings. They do, however, present a mindset of the people who commit such killings. EKU has not made a statement confirming nor denying the meaning of last week’s message, but there is widespread speculation that this anti-woman sentiment is what possessed someone to write “BU” in the threat posed to campus.

It is unknown how many other males in this country commiserate with the plight of the betas. However, the Southern Poverty Law Center keeps tally of the number of beta-like websites and forums that exist online. This “manosphere” is a realm of hundreds of websites, blogs, and forums dedicated to slandering women on the internet (SPLC, 2012). The report, Misogyny: The Sites lists twelve online platforms for men who identify as victims of feminism, guides for raping women, and blogging about “unpopular” ideas such as opinions that argue racist, sexist, and homophobic language enables the ability for critical thinking. Additionally, there has been a rise in the movement of “meninists”-embodied by men and women disheartened by the progressive social and legal reforms towards equality in the United States. Meninists believe that feminism has only served to further divide the sexes, and they seek to abolish the existence of feminism in our society. Though originally a simple Twitter hashtag, #Meninist has taken off and now has a website with official clothing and gear as a means for people to express the anxieties and troubles that come along with being a man in the modern world.

The surge of gender-based shootings, anti-women blogs, and the movement of Meninists signify a growing discontent, if not outright panic in US culture. Stanley Cohen identified the theory of ‘moral panic’ as “a condition, episode, person or groups of persons that emerges to become defined as a threat to societal values and interests” (Cohen, 2004: 1). This panic is present in more than just a handful of “lone wolfs” or “psychopaths.” The slow yet significant strides towards gender equality have created considerable unrest between the sexes and a panic among men who do not feel ready for this cultural shift. We are now facing a serious backlash by these people and it has begun to take on several dangerous forms, some simply offensive, but others deadly.

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Garland (2008) points to some of the deepest causes of societal panics, including threats to existing hierarchies, status competition, and the impact of social change upon established ways of life (14). All of these features are evident in the present panic over gender equality. For example, this past summer the two women made history by being the first ever to graduate from U.S. Army Ranger school after completing a grueling 62-day military fitness test and obstacle course (Yan, Starr, & Scott, 2015). This triumph for women soldiers has now opened a larger discussion about American women and their roles in combat, roles that have been traditionally held by men only. This turning point has not received a wide welcome from everyone. There has been a headstrong resistance to allowing American women to enter armed conflict zones. In August, NPR invited people to call into the show to voice their opinion about this topic. The opposing arguments ranged from biological barriers to psychological barriers, and, most significantly, the potential for female soldiers to be raped as prisoners of war. Retired army Lieutenant Colonel and author Robert Maginnis published a book, Deadly Consequences: How Cowards are Pushing Women into Combat about his personal opposition to the role of women in combat. In an interview with Time Magazine, he describes two of his greatest concerns about women becoming part of combat units: the disproportionate physical and psychological damage that they will suffer and that American women will be at an even greater risk to sexual assault than they already are (Thompson, 2013).

Maginnis’ concern about protecting women from sexual violence in combat is an argument that has been voiced by a number of military and political figures. Yet a fear of rape for American women by strangers overseas does not match the social realities of American life, considering that women are much more likely to encounter violence from known perpetrators (Bumiller, 2008: 18). Statistics consistently reveal that violence and sexual violence against women is most likely to occur on the domestic level and be perpetrated by a male relative, acquaintance, or fellow soldier (Vagianos, 2014).

Sparling (2012) questions popular conceptions of protection and illustrates how the politics of protection have influenced women’s involvement in conflict. She contends, “Protection is a powerful instrument that, while capable of good, maintains unequal power structures and has the underlying potential for abuse and destruction; it grants the protector the ability to elect who is protected, what protection will be provided, and in what form” (Sparling, 2012: 35). There was never so much concern about sexual violence against women in the military until we began to face the potential for American women to be raped by foreign, brown men.

We can infer from the silence that EKU is not concerned about the local community boys or a ‘Beta Uprising’. Neither is the local news. The Richmond Register completely omitted concerns about gender-based violence in their creatively vacant interpretation of a ‘beta uprising’, defining it as, “a term referencing a violent revolution against those who deny a happy life to someone who feels a victim of society” (Ballard, 2015).

‘Beta Uprising’ may conjure images of lonely, sun-deprived, and socially inept males with faces glowing from the glare of their computers. But what is most important about this image is that the ‘beta’ male has a white face. In the case of the threat to EKU’s students, it is clear whom the school has chosen to protect. To be clear, there has been no substantiated evidence that the “BU” in the graffitied threat was referring to a ‘Beta Uprising’. In fact, there has yet to be any proof that the graffiti was anything more than a prank to get a few students out of their mid term exams. However, despite speculation about a ‘Beta Uprising’, investigative leads about threatening messages being slipped beneath the doors of female students’ dorm rooms (Lex18 News, 2015), and threats on social media (Svriuga, 2015), there has yet to be a formal statement condemning violence against women at Eastern Kentucky University. This past Friday, President Benson sent an e-mail to the student body.

“Nothing-absolutely nothing is more important than the safety and well-being of all members of our campus community…that said, as we begin to regain a sense of normalcy in the coming days, we will also be looking at ways to further reduce the likelihood of such threats in order to avoid such major disruptions to our routine” (Benson, 2015).

Yet it is the routine that is the problem. It is not enough to condemn the threat of violence against the campus as a whole. When we address threats against the female student body with individualistic and gender-neutral language, it does little to empower students to address and respond to sexual violence against women on campus-whether speculative or established.

Molly Dunn
Graduate Student, School of Justice Studies
Eastern Kentucky University

References

Altman, J. (2015) Eastern Kentucky U. closed due to threatening graffiti. http://college.usatoday.com/2015/10/08/threatening-graffiti-at-eastern-kentucky-u-prompts-school-closures/ Retrieved October 11, 2015.

Ballard, M. (2015). EKU Cancels Classes after Escalation in Threat; Events Moved or Postponed. http://www.richmondregister.com/news/eku-cancels-classes-after-escalation-in-threat-events-moved-or/article_64febe7e-6d47-11e5-98e8-a371f0c2fe46.html. Retrieved October 11, 2015.

Bumiller, K. (2008). In an Abusive State: How Neoliberalism Appropriated the Feminist Movement Against Sexual Violence. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Cohen, S. (2004). Folk Devils and Moral Panics (3rd edn). London: Routledge.

EKU Cancels Classes Following Threat. (n.d.). Retrieved October 11, 2015. http://www.lex18.com/story/30206185/eku-cancels-classes-following-threat

Garland, D. (2008). On the Concept of Moral Panic. Crime Media Culture, 4(1): 9-30. Sage Publications.

Horsley, M. (2015) EKU cancels classes in wake of terrorist threat. http://kykernel.com/2015/10/08/eku-cancels-classes-in-wake-of-terrorist-threat/Retrieved October 11, 2015.

Southern Poverty Law Center (2012). Misogyny: The Sites. Hatewatch. https://www.splcenter.org/fighting-hate/intelligence-report/2012/misogyny-sites

Sparling, L. (2012). Creating Second-Class Citizens at Home and Targets Abroad: A Feminist Analysis of Protection in the Use of Force. In Conflict-related sexual violence: International law, local responses (1st ed., pp. 33-50). Sterling, Va.: Kumarian Press.

Svriuga, S. (2015). Eastern Kentucky University shuts down over written threat to ‘KILL ALL’ https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/grade-point/wp/2015/10/07/eastern-kentucky-university-shuts-down-over-written-threat-to-kill-all/ Retrieved October 11, 2015.

Thompson, M. (2013). http://nation.time.com/2013/07/25/the-cowardly-push-to-get-women-into-combat/. Retrieved October 11, 2015.

Vagianos, A. (2014) 30 Shocking Domestic Violence Statistics that Remind Us It’s an Epidemic. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/10/23/domestic-violence-statistics_n_5959776.html Retrieved October 11th, 2015.

Yann, H., Starr, B., & Scott, E. (2015) 2 women to graduate from Army Ranger course- CNNPolitics.com. Retrieved October 11, 2015. http://www.cnn.com/2015/08/18/politics/women-graduate-army-ranger-course/

4 Comments

  1. It was irresponsible of you to make the statement you did in reference to the article with the Richmond Register by M. Ballard. Ms. Ballard exhibited responsible journalism based on the facts and data unlike what you just did with this article. Next time, present evidence of your speculations.

  2. What a wonderfully written and well researched article, Ms. Dunn. Thank you for taking a stand and being brave enough to publicize this issue with your name attached. You make me proud to call EKU my alma mater, and I know with people like you we can hopefully work to change our society’s treatment of women.

  3. With all due respect there has been more than sufficient evidence covered by everyone from The Guardian, to the New York Times, to the Washington Post, to the Philadelphia Inquirer. Similar threats at been seen in almost the same language at schools all over the country. A simple Google search turns up the same information over and over: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-intersect/wp/2015/10/07/incels-4chan-and-the-beta-uprising-making-sense-of-one-of-the-internets-most-reviled-subcultures/ or http://www.salon.com/2015/10/05/the_beta_rebellion_has_begun_4chan_warnings_about_more_school_shootings_arent_satire_theyre_sick/.
    Organizations with considerable investigatory resources and experience have been calling this to our attention for the past several years: https://www.splcenter.org/fighting-hate/intelligence-report/2014/war-women or https://www.splcenter.org/hatewatch/2012/09/24/misogyny-web-%E2%80%98how-smack-bitch%E2%80%99 or http://thesocietypages.org/feminist/2015/07/23/masculinity-and-mass-shootings/. It’s a little hard to know what else is required

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