The shooting of Gabrielle Giffords highlights the 'man-up' culture in US politics
In a country that sees violent masculinity as the ideal, it's no wonder this rhetoric resonates
This is not the kind of history we want to be making. US Representative Gabrielle Giffords, the youngest woman to be elected to Congress, is in a medically induced coma after being shot in the head. She is believed to be the first female politician in America to be the subject of an assassination attempt. It remains unclear why 22-year-old Jared Loughner targeted Giffords, though reports of his mental instability and possible political beliefs are slowly pouring in. Without obvious answers at the ready, Americans are focusing on the culture of increasing vitriol in US politics. Even Arizona's Pima county sheriff Clarence Dupnik couldn't hold his lip at a press conference on Saturday, saying: "The anger, the hatred, the bigotry that goes on this country is getting to be outrageous. "People tend to pooh-pooh this business about all the vitriol that we hear inflaming the American people by people who make a living off doing that. That may be free speech, but it's not without consequences." What's not being discussed, however, is that a fair amount of this violent language and imagery is coming from female politicians on the right. Giffords was a "target" on a map created by Sarah Palin's political action committee – Giffords's district was marked with an image of gun cross hairs. In a March interview that would prove eerily prescient, the congresswoman criticised the image, telling MSNBC: "When people do that, they've gotta realise there's consequences to that action." In June, Nevada politician and former Republican Senate candidate Sharron Angle suggested that if Congress "keeps going the way it is", people would turn toward "second amendment remedies". (The second amendment of the US constitution outlines the right of Americans to bear arms.) And in an interview with a local Nevada paper, Angle said: "The nation is arming … If we don't win at the ballot box, what will be the next step?" Stephen Ducat, author of The Wimp Factor: Gender Gaps, Holy Wars and the Politics of Anxious Masculinity, says that masculine and violent language is often used in elections and campaigns – especially by men on the right – because of a fear of being perceived as feminine. In a sexist society, what could be worse than being called a girl? So it doesn't seem unlikely that conservative female politicians feel the need to peddle their ideas in gendered and violent language in order to fit in with the masculinised right. After all, the phrase – and sentiment – "man up" was one of the most popular in the 2010 elections. In the Colorado Senate primary, Republican Jane Norton accused her opponent of not being "man enough"; in the Delaware Senate primary, Republican Christine O'Donnell said that her opponent was "unmanly"; Angle told Harry Reid to "man up"; and Palin praised Republican Arizona Governor Jan Brewer as having "the cojones that our president does not have" to enforce immigration laws. In a country that sees masculinity – especially violent masculinity – as the ideal, it's no wonder that this type of language resonates. But it's a sad state of affairs when women in politics have to resort to using the same gendered stereotypes that kept all women out of public service for so long. Palin staffers now say that their target list wasn't an allusion to guns. Spokesperson Rebecca Mansour told a radio host that they were meant to be "cross hairs that you would see on a map" and that there was "nothing irresponsible about our graphic". Yet the same day that Palin posted the image to her Facebook page she tweeted: "Commonsense Conservatives and lovers of America: "Don't Retreat, Instead – RELOAD!" Pls see my Facebook page." The target map was the only image posted to her account that day. Nine-year-old Christina Taylor Green was one of the six people killed in Saturday's shooting. The young girl – born on 9/11 – was at the "Congress on your Corner" event because she had just been elected to the student council and a neighbour thought she would enjoy seeing politics in action. Christina's uncle told the Arizona Republic that she loved activities "from ballet to baseball". This is not the kind of history we want to be making.