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Breaking Women: Gender, Race, and the New Politics of Imprisonment by Dr. Jill A McCorkel

By Cynthia R. Nielsen

April 14, 2013
Below is a brief description of my colleague, Dr. Jill A. McCorkel’s new book, Breaking Women: Gender, Race, and the New Politics of Imprisonment.Breaking Women
Since the 1980s, when the War on Drugs kicked into high gear and prison populations soared, the increase in women’s rate of incarceration has steadily outpaced that of men. In Breaking Women, Jill A. McCorkel draws upon four years of on-the-ground research in a major US women’s prison to uncover why tougher drug policies have so greatly affected those incarcerated there, and how the very nature of punishment in women’s detention centers has been deeply altered as a result.
Through compelling interviews with prisoners and state personnel, McCorkel reveals that popular so-called “habilitation” drug treatment programs force women to accept a view of themselves as inherently damaged, aberrant addicts in order to secure an earlier release. These programs work to enforce stereotypes of deviancy that ultimately humiliate and degrade the women. The prisoners are left feeling lost and alienated in the end, and many never truly address their addiction as the programs’ organizers may have hoped. A fascinating and yet sobering study, Breaking Women foregrounds the gendered and racialized assumptions behind tough-on-crime policies while offering a vivid account of how the contemporary penal system impacts individual lives.
 The paperback version is now available for pre-order. If anyone who has done work in this area (or related areas) is interested in writing a 500 word review of the book for my blog, please send me your CV and we can discuss the details regarding a potential guest post.

Fanon on the Irreciprocity and Fixed Difference of Colonized Space

By Cynthia R. Nielsen

February 24, 2013

Both philosophers of race and sociologists have explained how the racialization of phenotypic differences and negative socio-political narratives of race such as equating blackness with criminality detrimentally affects economically disadvantaged African Americans, especially young, black males. However the stigmatization of places such as ghettos and particular urban areas also reinforces an us/them divide and negatively impacts the life chances of its residents. Along these lines, Ato Sekyi-Otu, in his work, Fanon’s Dialectic of Experience, analyzes how the colonized suffer violence in fixed, segregated space, or as Frantz Fanon might put it, “Manichean” regions of (non)being and mere subsistence. As Sekyi-Otu argues, spatiality takes center stage in Fanon’s descriptions of colonized existence, where separate quarters and fixed social (im)mobility constantly confront the colonized person.[1] This is not to suggest that temporality has no place in Fanon’s theorizing. Fanon, for example, speaks of the colonized existing in “dead time” and makes multiple references to the fact that the black person’s past and future, because already negatively scripted by dominant white narratives, constantly threatens his or her present.[2] It is, however, to claim that Fanon’s thematizing metaphors of spatiality and the primacy, analytically speaking, that he gives them, is part of a larger critique of classical Marxism (and certain currents in existentialism.)[3] Rather than explicate inequality in terms of  “social relations of production” and time or unfree, alienated labor, which involves a qualitative loss and distortion of our experience of time, Fanon unmasks the “logic of social hierarchy which ‘parcels out the world’ by virtue of a politics of space founded on race.”[4]  In other words, for Fanon, that spatiality, like temporality functions as a primordial or basic component of human experience is granted and uncontroversial. However, the controversy instigating Fanon’s protests arises when spatiality is transformed “into an extraordinary state of coercion.”[5] Thus, to accurately portray the character of the colonial experience, Fanon thematizes or, as Sekyi-Otu puts it, dramatizes “the ursurpation and coercive structuring of space as the defining reality of social domination, indeed of social being.”[6] With Fanon’s insights concerning the connection between race and the “politics of space” in mind, let us examine select passages from his book, The Wretched of the Earth.

Fanon’s analyses focus on the “compartmentalized world” of the colonized and the ways in which the colonized experience psychological harm and collective injury as a result of being forced to live as a dishonored group in a sequestered and “fixed” physical and social region. For example, Fanon describes the colonized world as “a world divided in two. The dividing line, the border, is represented by the barracks and the police stations.” [7] The divide is of course drawn along racial lines where the “white folks’ sector” (colonists) and the colonized constitute a Manichean space whose darker regions are “kept under close scrutiny, and contained by rifle butts” and other explicitly violent measures.[8]  Fanon goes on to highlight the stark differences—politically, economically, and sociologically—between the colonized and the European sectors.

The colonist’s sector is a sector built to last, all stone and steel. It’s a sector of lights and paved roads […] the streets are clean and smooth, without a pothole, without a stone. The colonist’s sector is sated, […] its belly is permanently full of good things.[9]

In contrast, the colonized live in dilapidated structures signaling transience, stagnation, subjugation, and dishonor. “It’s a world with no space, people are piled one on top of the other.”[10] From the architectural structures to the lack of human goods to the constant police surveillance and threat of violence, the colonized are engulfed in a geopolitically carved nether-region that constantly communicates their alleged inferiority and status as social refuse. The “native” sector signifies “a disreputable place inhabited by disreputable people.”[11] Living in such confined, stigmatized, and coercively instituted spaces adversely impacts a group’s self-perception. Given the economic, political, and legal differential between the colonized and the colonists, it is unsurprising that the “colonized’s sector is a sector that crouches and cowers, a sector on its knees, a sector that is prostrate.”[12]

            In addition to his emphasis on the politics of space to describe the structure of domination in the colonial world, Fanon also examines the colonists’ racialized discourses, highlighting their role in vilifying and dehumanizing the colonized.  Similar to the contemporary racist narratives prevalent in the U. S. that equate black males with criminals and deviants, Fanon observes that the Manichean world of the colonists backed by its “agents of law and order” is not satisfied with enacting physical, spatial constraints to restrict and keep the colonized under its surveilling gaze. To these already violent and coercive measures, its public discourses transmute “the colonized into a kind of quintessence of evil.”[13] According to this narrative, it is not that the colonized possess weak values or lack certain values, rather, as Fanon explains:

The “native” is declared impervious to ethics, representing not only the absence of values but also the negation of values. He is, dare we say it, the enemy of values. In other words, the absolute evil. A corrosive element, destroying everything which involves aesthetics or morals, an agent of malevolent powers, an unconscious and incurable element of blind forces.[14]

Here the “native” is judged not only a social reject but also a dangerous “corrosive element,” which thus must be coercively sequestered so as not to harm or contaminate the alleged moral, aesthetic, and intellectual superiority of the European colonizers.

Although I do not develop this connection here—but I am presently working on a chapter for a book project where I discuss this link extensively—Loic Wacquant’s work on America’s northern ghettos (1915–68), the subsequent post-1968 hyperghetto, and the hyperghetto-carceral continuum similarly serve to forcibly contain, restrain, and stigmatize dishonored populations. As time warrants, I hope to post more on these and other Wacquant-Fanon areas of overlap.


[1] Michel Foucault also thematizes spatiality in his analyses of the prison and disciplinary power. However, as Lizbet Simmons observes Foucault’s account fails to attend to the role of race (and gender) in disciplinary institutions such as the prison and the school. See, Lizbet Simmons, “The Docile Body in School Space,” in Schools Under Surveillance. Cultures of Control in Public Education, eds. Torin Monahan and Rodolfo D. Torres. (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2010), pp. 55–70.

[2] See, for example, Frantz Fanon. Black Skin, White Masks, revised edition. Trans. Richard Philcox (New York: Grove Press, 2008).

[3] Both Fanon and key figures of the Negritude movement such as Aimé Césaire offer stringent critiques of Marxism for its failure to take the “race” issue seriously, subordinating it to and subsuming it within the class issue. See, for example, Aimé Césaire. Discourse on Colonialism. Trans. Joan Pinkham (New York: Monthly Review Press, 2000).

[4]  Ato Sekyi-Otu. Fanon’s Dialectic of Experience. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1996), p. 77 (italics in original). As Sekyi-Otu explains, in Marx’s depiction of “totalitarian egalitarianism, time as labor-time, as the common measure of work and objects, becomes a collusive agent in the expulsion of quality from the human world. Here labor-time and the laborer himself are commodified and thus quantifiable. In this sense, we have a fall from free-flowing heterogeneous time to fixed homogenous time; time is frozen and morphs into space (ibid., 74).

[5] Ibid., 77 (italics in original).

[6] Ibid., 76.

[7] Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth, p. 3.

[8] Ibid., p. 4.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Ibid. Fanon, of course, goes on to describe the anger and resentment that the colonized experience and their desire to see the colonial world dismantled and destroyed.

[13] Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth, p. 6.

[14] Ibid.

John Dominic Crossan on “The Challenge of Christmas” or God’s Kingdom is a Kingdom of Peace, Not Violence

By Cynthia R. Nielsen

December 22, 2012

Below is an apropos, thought-provoking (and lengthy) excerpt from a Christmas reflection by John Dominic Crossan, Professor Emeritus of Religious Studies at DePaul University.  You may access the article in its entirety here. I also highly recommend, “More Parables for Our Times: Not Your Grandmother’s Prince of Peace,” by Rev. James Martin, S.J.

Artwork by Fr. Gabriel Chavez de la Mora, O.S.B., of Tepeyac Abbey, MexicoArtwork by Fr. Gabriel Chavez de la Mora, O.S.B., of Tepeyac Abbey, Mexico

Artwork by Fr. Gabriel Chavez de la Mora, O.S.B., of Tepeyac Abbey, Mexico

“When Jesus is born in Bethlehem–ancestral city of David, the once and future king of Israel–an angel tells shepherds that, ‘I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord’ (2:11-12).

Angels direct, as it were the narrative traffic of both [Luke and Matthew] those infancy stories but there is one very special case of angelic intervention found only in Luke. This involves not just a single angel but the entire heavenly choir who descend to earth and chant in the reversed parallelism of typical biblical poetry: ‘Glory to God / in the highest heaven / and on earth peace /among those of [God's] favor’ (2:14). But, since this is poetic parallelism, divine glory in heaven is human peace on earth. Not either, but both, or neither.

A lovely couplet of hymnic hope, to be sure, but where is the challenge of that first Christmas vision? To find it watch the titles already given to Jesus and to Caesar. Jesus was proclaimed as ‘Son of God,’ ‘Savior of the World,’ and ‘Messiah/Christ (1:32; 2:11). In between those titles appears the name of ‘Caesar Augustus’ (2:1). But, before Jesus the Christ was ever conceived, Caesar the Augustus had been already proclaimed by Roman imperial theology as ‘Son of God,’ ‘Savior of the World’ and ‘Imperator/Autocrator.’ Also, the vaunted Pax Romana was already incarnated and embodied in Caesar himself by the consecration of a magnificent Ara Pacis Augustae, the Altar–not just of Roman–but of Augustan Peace at Rome.

Granted Luke’s Roman matrix for this Jewish child, what precisely was the difference between those identical titles and identical proclamations of ‘Peace on Earth’? If the Roman Augustus had already established peace on earth, what was left for the Jewish Jesus to accomplish? How was the presence of Roman imperial peace different from that promise of Jewish messianic peace–on this one and only earth?

The difference was not in the that of peace but in its how, not in the purpose and intention of peace but in the mode and method of its accomplishment. For Rome, as you can see clearly on the beautiful bas-reliefs of that above-mentioned Altar of Augustan Peace, the mode and method was: religion, war, victory, peace. Rome believed, as did every empire from the Assyrian to the American, that the future of civilization demanded peace through victory. But the messianic vision of the Jewish Jesus proclaimed a different program: religion, non-violence, justice, peace. Its mantra was peace through justice. Or, as Jesus told Pilate in John’s powerful parable: God’s Kingdom, as distinct from Rome’s Kingdom, precludes violence–not even to liberate himself from imperial power (18:36).

Victory’s violence establishes not peace but lull–until the next and always more violent round of war. The Christian challenge of Christmas is this: justice is what happens when all receive a fair share of God’s world and only such distributive justice can establish peace on earth. But how can we ever agree on what is fair for all? Hint: ask what is fair–in first or 21st century–of the 99 percent of earth’s people and not of the 1 percent.”

Our Rachels Are Weeping, Our School Children and Teachers Are Slain, and “They” Say It’s Not the Time to Talk About Guns

By Cynthia R. Nielsen

December 15, 2012

Gun Control and Message from the GraveThis post is dedicated to the memory of the twenty precious children at Sandy Hook Elementary whose lives tragically, unexpectedly, and senselessly were taken from them—as well as from their families and friends—and the six brave women who selflessly gave their lives to save as many children as possible.

Charlotte Bacon, female (6 years old)
Daniel Barden, male (7 years old)
Rachel Davino, female (29 years old)
Olivia Engel, female (6 years old)
Josephine Gay, female (7 years old)
Ana M. Marquez-Greene, female (6 years old)
Dylan Hockley, male (6 years old)
Dawn Hocksprung, female (47 years old)
Madeleine F. Hsu, female (6 years old)
Catherine V. Hubbard, female (6 years old)
Chase Kowalski, male (7 years old)
Jesse Lewis, male (6 years old)
James Mattioli, male (6 years old)
Grace McDonnell female (7 years old)
Anne Marie Murphy, female (52 years old)
Emilie Parker, female (6 years old)
Jack Pinto, male (6 years old)
Noah Pozner, male (6 years old)
Caroline Previdi, female (6 years old)
Jessica Rekos, female (6 years old)
Avielle Richman, female (6 years old)
Lauren Russeau, female (30 years old)
Mary Sherlach, female (56 years old)
Victoria Soto, female (27 years old)
Benjamin Wheeler, male (6 years old)
Allison N. Wyatt, female (6 years old)[1]

I won’t repeat the details of Friday morning’s massacre, as you are likely quite familiar with the news by now. Nor will I present arguments for stricter gun laws (which I in fact support). Rather, I ask you to try to put yourself in the place of those who have lost loved ones.  Imagine what it must have been like for the parents of those twenty children—those six to seven year olds—who were shot Friday morning, reports say, at close range and multiple times.  It began like any other morning. I’m sure that many were rushing around trying to get their children dressed, fed, and in the car in order to make it school on time. All of us who are parents know how hectic it can be in the morning before school. Perhaps there was an argument over what could or could not be worn that day. Or even if things went relatively smoothly, the opportunity to say all those things that a parent wants to say, that a parent feels every day and multiple times a day when thinking of his or her child—those opportunities are gone, forever gone in a matter of hours. Imagine too hearing the news that a shooting has occurred at your child’s school. You hear the report; you drop everything, rush out of your house, get into your car and drive as fast as you can to the school, hoping that your child has somehow been survived.  You wait. You see police officers, neighbors, and other parents, crying, screaming, anxious, numb. Some fortunate parents have been reunited with their children, but you are still waiting. You begin to doubt as the hours go by and your child hasn’t come out. Then finally along with twenty other parents, you are told that your child didn’t make it.

As a parent, I simply cannot imagine the pain, the loss, the anger, the despair that these parents are experiencing and will experience in the days, months, and years to come.

Public officials, such as Jay Carney, claim that now is not the time to talk about gun control. No, Mr. Carney, I disagree. Would it be time to talk if one of the victims had been your child, your mother, your wife? As Alex Koppleman at the New Yorker writes, “Carney’s response was a predictable one. This is the way that we deal with such incidents in the U.S.—we acknowledge them; we are briefly shocked by them; then we term it impolite to discuss their implications, and to argue about them. At some point, we will have to stop putting it off, stop pretending that doing so is the proper, respectful thing. It’s not either. It’s cowardice.” Where are the public officials who are willing to take the hit, put the platitudes and promises aside and follow through with new, more restrictive legislation?

As a Christian, I am praying and will continue to pray for the families who have lost loved ones. But I will also act in other ways (even if they seem infinitely small), and I encourage you to do so as well. The time to talk about gun control and our culture of violence is now. Now is the time to act. Now is the time to call your elected officials, congresspersons, representatives. Now is the time to protest, to petition (or here), to speak out against our lax gun laws, policies, and protocols that make it so easy to obtain weapons completely unnecessary for civilian life. How many more lives must be lost before we enact change? How many children must perish? How many parents must pick up the pieces of their shattered lives after having lost their children? What will it take to change our hearts and minds about the needless, rampant gun violence in our country? Will it taking losing your children or mine? Are not these children and these children and these children our children, our brothers, our sisters? Awaken us, Lord, to Rachel’s weeping; take away our deafness and make us hear her wailing. Then move us to action so that concrete steps might be taken and legislation passed to end or at least drastically reduce this violence.

“Rachel is weeping for her children; she refuses to be comforted for her children, because they are no more”
(Jeremiah 31.15)




[1] This list was taken from a post, which can be accessed here. The gunman’s mother is also said to have been among the victims. However, at present I do not have her information.

Foucauldian Strategies for the “Non-Purist” Contemporary Augustinian with Feminist and Social Justice Sensibilities or Deploying Foucauldian Insights to Problematize Alleged “Naturals”

By Cynthia R. Nielsen

November 20, 2012

I recently finished an essay on Augustine and Foucault that brings both thinkers into critical dialogue.  Although in the essay itself I highlight strengths and weaknesses of both Foucault and Augustine, the excerpt below (taken from my concluding section) focuses primarily on how a contemporary Augustinian of a particular sort might benefit from a dialogue with Foucault.[1]

What might a dissatisfied, contemporary Augustinian gain from a conversation with Foucault? First, Foucault’s conception of power relations are immensely valuable to Augustinians with feminist sensibilities and interests in peace and conflict studies as well as, those who desire to expand and develop Augustinian trajectories that might speak to contemporary social justice issues. Embedded in Foucault’s conception of power relations and resistance possibilities is his insight that freedom must be expressed bodily. As many critics of Augustine have pointed out, his position is wrought with dualistic tendencies,[2] which are then appealed to in order to defend a status quo position. For example, Augustine encourages slaves to submit to their masters and women to submit to their husbands even when both master and husband violently abuse them (see, e.g. City of God 19.16.) Such exhortations and calls to obedience are based, among other things, upon commitments to various dualisms. For example, spiritual freedom is touted as superior to bodily freedom just as the spiritual is superior to the material. In addition, the call to accept violent relations (such as slavery and spousal abuse) is often undergirded with an appeal to a future other-worldly justice where all wrongs will be set right.  If the Augustinian were to appropriate Foucault’s insight that freedom in this life must be expressed bodily, she could avoid some of the problematic dualisms that surface in Augustine and at the same time highlight the in-breaking of God’s transformative grace in this life.  That is, just as the redemptive power of the Christ-event irrupted into Augustine’s life, removing his bonds and re-integrating his life, so too can divine grace work through Christians and all people of good will to change unjust social structures and thus to bring healing to exploitative and violent human relationships. Of course, the Augustinian need not adopt false utopian hopes for a perfect society; Foucault had no such pseudo-hope.

Most Augustinians today readily acknowledge that relations of violence such as slavery and domestic violence hinder human flourishing and are incompatible with the Christian call to love and to promote human dignity for all. In light of these contemporary commitments, adopting some variant of Foucault’s critical philosophy of ongoing critique would be a helpful “tool” in reassessing gender relations, stereotypes, and other concepts that we have been conditioned to see as universal and necessary but which are in fact particular, historical, and contingent.

In other words, the Augustinian might engage in a type of “theologico-philosophical interrogation” that problematizes our current understanding of gender relations (or other dominating relations), re-tracing how its own tradition has come to its present position and how its past views were historically conditioned and shaped. Here the tradition asks itself:  How have we—for example, through formulating our own erroneous views (of women or slaves), adopting false views from other traditions, or misapplying our own principles—created a trajectory in the tradition that has diminished biblical emancipatory insights or worse has offered spiritualized interpretations of relations of violence that encourage their continuance rather than challenge their existence? For example, given our present understanding of slavery as intrinsically unjust and our rejection of women as rationally or morally inferior to men, what might a re-reading of St. Paul’s—“There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus”[3] and Genesis 1:26 look like? A Foucauldian-inspired genealogical study of power relations and relations of violence between husbands and wives and masters and slaves yield significant analytical and socio-political insights. Employing Foucault’s critical philosophy, what we find, for example, are alleged universal, “natural,” and necessary concepts of women and what it is to be a woman or a wife (e.g., receptive, passive, docile, submissive, morally or intellectually inferior—interestingly, these are more or less the same concepts regularly used to describe the “essence” of a slave) are in fact particular, contingent, and socially constructed concepts.

As I have mentioned elsewhere, for Foucault, there is no outside to power relations; however, given his understanding of the correlativity of power and resistance, neither is there an outside to resistance. In other words, resistance possibilities always exist so long as genuine power relations obtain. Given the contingent, historical character of power configurations and the ever-present possibility of resistance, change over time is possible.  Thus, there is room for hope and a cautious, but in no way naïve, optimism. Rather, as Foucault himself explains, “[t]here’s an optimism that consists in saying that things couldn’t be better. My optimism would consist rather in saying that so many things can be changed, fragile as they are, bound up more with circumstances than necessities.”[4]

Analogous to Foucault’s claim regarding the ubiquity of power, for Augustine there is no outside to sin. But as Augustine’s own story testifies, God’s grace is also operative in this world. Just as divine grace transformed Augustine, healing him and bringing him into intimate union with God, so too can God’s grace transform individuals and groups today, working through and with them to change institutional structures, legislation, cultural practices, and political and religious narratives so that they might better respect human dignity and foster human flourishing. Eschatological perfection is not the goal for this world; however, a communal striving with all people of goodwill to bring into being proleptic glimpses of the world to come is completely consonant with Christian hope.


[1] The arguments for my conclusions are given in the full essay; however, the complete essay is far too long for a blog post.

[2] Augustine does, of course, proclaim the goodness of creation, employing both philosophical (e.g. goodness and being are coextensive) and theological arguments (e.g., creation comes from God and thus must be good). Nonetheless, dualistic tendencies remain.

[3] Gal 3:28; New Revised Standard Version.  Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1989.

[4] Foucault, “Practicing Criticism,” 156.

The Days of Guns and (Funeral) Roses: Cultural Narratives, Habits, and Violent Realities

By Cynthia R. Nielsen

July 22, 2012

Pontius Pilate famously asked Jesus Christ, “What is truth?” Perhaps given the recent, senseless bloodbath at Aurora, we Americans need to ask ourselves, “What is freedom?” That is, does freedom mean that we should have as few constraints as possible on our wants and desires? Pro-gun activists and those in support of the “freedom” to view, for example, pornography might answer in the affirmative. Or does freedom involve more than a lack of impositions or constraints on my personal desires? In other words, does it have something to do with the kind of people—both collective and individual—we are conditioning and actively shaping ourselves to be?

The tragedy of the Aurora massacre has now been before our eyes for a few days, piercing our hearts and unsettling our minds as we attempt to comprehend how and why this horrible event occurred. George Zornick and others have tackled (and rightly so) the issue from the perspective of the ease with which Americans can obtain assault rifles, handguns, and other high-powered weapons—not to mention explosives readily available through the mail. As Jack Healy and Serge F. Kovaleski reported in their July 21, 2012, New York Times article, having dropped out of his doctoral program in neuroscience at the University of Colorado, Mr. Holmes had been stockpiling weapons for the past two months—handguns, an assault rifle, and “6,000 rounds of ammunition,” which the police have indicated were purchased online and delivered to his home and his university.  According to several news reports, not only did Mr. Holmes enter the theater with an assault weapon, but also he is said to have been decked out in full body armor.

Although what follows is merely a working hypothesis, it is nonetheless worth considering given the horrific violence recurring day after day and year after year in the land of the free and home of the brave. (Recall the not-too-distant publicized instances of innocent blood shed and lives lost at the hands of armed men: Dylan Klebold’s and Eric Harris’s open fire on students at Columbine High School, Seung-Hui Cho’s shooting spree at Virgina Tech, Jared Lee Loughner’s gunfire unleashed upon an unsuspecting crowd in Tuscon, and George Zimmerman’s bullet snuffing out young Trayvon Martin’s life.) Sociologists, cultural theorists, and feminist scholars have written tirelessly of how our culture has become a culture of violence—not only violence but glorified and celebrated violence fed to our children and young people via video games, television, film, and various cultural narratives and gender stereotypes.

Aristotle, an ancient Greek philosopher, taught that cultivating proper habits is crucial to one’s moral and intellectual development. According to this theory, a virtuous person is, among other things, one who has made intentional choices and who has engaged in purposed activities that enable him or her to both grasp (1) what it is to be courageous, generous, temperate, and the like, and (2) to actually live courageous, generous, and temperate lives. Do we really believe that young people who spend six or more hours per day playing video games in which they sexually assault and physically mutilate other characters will not be negatively affected by such activities on at least some level? Certainly not all or even most will become rapists or mass murders, but how is one’s view of women, for example, shaped when one acts out sexual or other violence against her repeatedly in some virtual reality? Robert Jensen, in his introduction to an excellent scholarly work entitled, Pornography: The Production and Consumption of Inequality, provides a succinct summary of how pornography is not simply an isolated personal expression of “free” choice affecting only oneself, but rather mediates social values and solidifies harmful social, cultural, and gender narratives. As Jenson, explains certain feminist critiques of pornography highlight how “the sexual ideology of patriarchy eroticizes domination and submission and that pornography is one of the key sites in which these values are mediated and normalized in contemporary culture” (ibid., 2).  In a similar vein, to be “masculine” is scripted in American culture—whether in fundamentalist religious narratives or via popular media venues—as somehow to be “by nature” aggressive, physical, forceful, conquering, and the like. Males who reject such stereotypes are often labeled nerds, effeminate, “queers,” and are often the recipients of ridicule and, you guessed it, physical violence. What if we as a culture valued the cultivation of human virtues, intellectual, moral, and spiritual, rather than promoting essentialized views of masculinity and femininity that advance impoverished views both of males as brutes controlled by mere instinctual drives and females as inherently inferior rational creatures or mere objects existing for male sexual pleasure? Humans are far too complex for these oversimplified, facile, generalizations, whose supposed universal and “natural” properties are all-too-often the particular and constructed script imposed by those possessing the economic, political, and cultural “capital.”

So where do we go from here? Perhaps we should at least begin by asking the following questions: “What is freedom? How do our cultural, political, social, and “personal” habits shape us, and what kind of people are these structures, narratives, and personal choices shaping us to be?” Debate regarding the current gun laws is, no doubt, needed and tragedies like Aurora highlight why such dialogue must take place. However, we also need to interrogate the cultural narratives and socially acceptable forms of “entertainment” shaping the hearts and minds of Americans both young and old, as we engage in our mundane, so-called “normal” activities.