Feminist Writing. Fourth Wave. For Women.

Is Misogyny Not Enough Of A Hate Crime?

Sex, race, and how the mainstream media portrayed the motives of the Atlanta shooter

Is Misogyny Not Enough Of A Hate Crime?

The victims of Tuesday's mass shooting in Atlanta were: Xiaojie Tan, 49 (pictured, left); Daoyou Feng, 44; Hyun Jung Grant, 51 (pictured with her sons, right); Suncha Kim, 69; Soon Chung Park, 74; Yong Ae Yue, 63; Delaina Ashley Yaun Gonzalez, 33; Paul Andre Michels, 54; and Elcias Hernandez-Ortiz, 30, who is still fighting for his life at the time of publishing.

"Misogyny (noun): hatred of, aversion to, or prejudice against women"

The mass shooting that took place in Atlanta on Tuesday has sparked discussions about the recent rise in anti-Asian violence. Activists have been calling for the murders to be charged as a hate crime, all while denying or belittling the suspect's stated motive of misogyny – the hatred of women.

The demands of activists, and the subsequent framing in the media, demonstrate not only the flawed nature of prosecuting intent but the way that society, and the liberal mainstream in particular, devalue the lives of women and ignore male violence.

Hate crimes and the criminalization of intent

The concept of a “hate crime” has always been a complicated one mired in racial politics. Speaking to the New York Times on Thursday, law enforcement reporter Nicole Hong stated that hate crime laws exist, “to send a message to some marginalized community that you belong here, that when a hate crime happens it terrorizes an entire community in a way that is very unique and in a way that we don’t see for other types of crimes.”

But convicting someone based on their thoughts is a challenge, not just for law enforcement and targeted communities, but also for civil liberties. The criminalization of intent and the refusal to acknowledge misogyny as hate in any meaningful way in the wake of acts of horrible violence, such as the mass shooting in Atlanta which killed eight people on Tuesday, reveal cracks in the mainstream liberal (“woke”) discourse on power, privilege, and oppression.

According to the FBI, a hate crime is a “criminal offense against a person or property motivated in whole or in part by an offender’s bias against a race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, ethnicity, gender, or gender identity.” They are careful to clarify, though, “Hate itself is not a crime—and the FBI is mindful of protecting freedom of speech and other civil liberties.”

In the case of a hate crime, the reason behind the crime is the crime itself. The same crime will be met with harsher penalties if the government can prove that certain thoughts were behind it. In other words, it’s the intent of the offender that matters.

But anti-racist advocates have been arguing the opposite for years. According to the National Educational Association’s EdJustice training program, prioritizing intent over impact “devalues the humanity of the people and communities of color.”

"In the case of a hate crime, the reason behind the crime is the crime itself."

Following the Atlanta shooting, in which the suspect targeted Asian massage parlors and killed six women of Asian descent as well as a white woman and white man, the focus of the media and social justice advocates alike has been nearly entirely on finding a racist intent in the shooter’s motive.

The suspect, however, has been clear in the intent behind his rampage. According to reporting in the Times, Robert Aaron Long was a religious fanatic with a pornography and sex addiction. Officials stated that Long viewed the victims as “temptation,” and that he saw them as a “a problem that needed to be eliminated.” Long spent time at a religious addiction treatment facility near the first spa he targeted, where, according to his former roommate who spoke to the Washington Post, Long struggled with what he considered “living in sin.”

A culture of misogyny, including the widespread use of violent porn, has been linked to the rise of mass murders. In 2019, the New York Times, the same paper that today struggles to name the Atlanta shootings as rooted in misogyny, reported:

“The motivations of men who commit mass shootings are often muddled, complex or unknown. But one common thread that connects many of them — other than access to powerful firearms — is a history of hating women, assaulting wives, girlfriends and female family members, or sharing misogynistic views online.”

In fact, as we previously reported, mass shootings are overwhelmingly a male violence problem. Out of 32 mass shootings that took place between January and August in the United States in 2019, for example, 30 were committed by men and over half of them (57 percent) were instances of domestic violence.

Libby Emmons summarized the situation perfectly in the Post Millennial:

“Yes, even in 2021, men still kill women, men still believe that women are the cause of their problems, desires, and temptations. Men kill women they are attracted to, it happens all the time, every day around the world, in every culture, in every country.”

Yet while this shooting was a clear incident of misogyny, rooted in the sexual objectification of women and fueled by porn, religious extremism, and access to vulnerable women, this aspect of the crime is largely not considered “hate.”

Misogyny is just a distraction from “real hate”

“How are the Atlanta spa shootings NOT a hate crime?” asks one opinion piece on CNN. It’s a good question. The shooter was obviously motivated by misogyny, the hatred of women. But this, of course, is not what the author is referring to:

“This is how it goes. People want proof a hate crime has been committed. You provide proof. They say your proof is "anecdotal." You ask how many racial bias incidents it would take for them to be embarrassed by the word "anecdotal." They shift the subject: The shooter doesn't hate Asians; he hates women. No, he doesn't hate women, exactly, he hates how they make him feel. Are you saying sex addiction isn't a real malady? What about Bill Clinton?”

The idea that the shooter’s hatred of women is a “distraction” from the real hate crime, racism, is repeated over and over again in the media. On Thursday, NPR stated that focusing on the suspect’s stated motive of a “sex addition” versus race was “frustrating.” The fact that the shootings could easily be classified as hate on the grounds of misogyny, if not race, has been promoted by some officials as a “gotcha.” State representative Chuck Efstration, a Republican who sponsored the new hate crime laws in Georgia last year after the shooting of Ahmaud Arbery, stated, “The great thing about the bill that we passed last year — it provides both sex and gender as protected classes in addition to race and other protected groups.”

The fact that this shooting was motivated by misogyny, the hatred of women, is treated as nothing but a convenient crutch when failing to prove hatred on the grounds of race. While hate crime laws technically include “gender” as a protected class, crimes motivated by bias, hatred, or prejudice towards women are hardly ever considered hate crimes on their own. Instances of domestic violence and sexual assault, for example, the most classic crimes of misogyny, are hardly ever processed as hate crimes — despite the fact that male violence terrorizes women the world over.

"The fact that this shooting was motivated by misogyny, the hatred of women, is treated as nothing but a convenient crutch when failing to prove hatred on the grounds of race."

In the case of the Atlanta spa shootings, even the ways in which race does intersect with the violence perpetrated against these victims is often glossed over in favor of more convenient or timely narratives. For example, multiple reports have linked the shootings to the rise in anti-Asian violence following racist rhetoric spouted by the Trump administration about Covid-19. These instances of racist violence against the Asian community are real, such as the case of Bawi Cung and his two children who were viciously and violently attacked in a Texas Sam’s Club by a man who “believed the Myanmar man and his children were Chinese and spreading the virus,” according to reports.

The reality of this violence, though, does not mean that Long was motivated by racist myths about the coronavirus in his own violence. Asian women face a specific set of circumstances that led to them being the victims in this mass murder. It is the truest example of “intersectionality,” the term coined by Kimberlé Crenshaw to describe the unique form of oppression that lies at the intersection of race and sex. Sex can not be removed from this equation any more than race can.

Asian women’s history at the violent intersection of race and sex

There is a long history in the United States of white men sexualizing and objectifying Asian women. While many have linked the Atlanta shooting to this history, the story tends to begin with the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 — a federal law which banned immigration of Chinese laborers into the United States. Not one of these reports mentions the law the Chinese Exclusion Act was building upon, perfectly exemplifying how the role of sex in violence and discrimination against Asian women is largely erased.

The Page Act of 1875, passed seven years prior to the Chinese Exclusion Act, specifically prohibited the immigration of Chinese women into the United States. A sponsor of the bill stated that the goal of the bill was to end the danger of “immoral Chinese women.” Sexual violence against Asian women, specifically through prostitution, has been an integral part of their history in the United States for 150 years. This violence was not just at the hands of white men. Immigrant Chinese laborers were often in debt to brokers who sponsored their trip to California during the gold rush. Forced to pay back the debt, the men lacked the money to send for their wives and turned to Chinese women for prostitution. Male sexual entitlement transcends race, and women of all races are victimized by men both of their own race and others. The reputation Chinese women gained during this period (because of the sexual violence inflicted on them initially by Chinese men) birthed the stereotypes of Asian women as “temptresses” that still shapes the violence they experience today.

"Sexual violence against Asian women, specifically through prostitution, has been an integral part of their history in the United States for 150 years."

While it’s still unclear if the specific massage parlors targeted in the Atlanta shooting were engaging in illicit sex trade behind the scenes, the suspect does appear to have been a customer of the spas he targeted. The victims also fit the profile of Asian women who tend to be victimized in underground massage parlor prostitution rings. Most women “working” in these establishments are middle-aged or older, immigrants, and often face the risk of deportation.

Hyun Jung Grant, 51, was an immigrant from South Korea and a single mother. According to the Times, she often lied about her job — telling people she worked in a makeup store.

Xiaojie Tan, 49, was an immigrant from China, and the owner of Young’s Asian Massage — the first of the three parlors targeted. She provided for her family, and day dreamed of travel.

These women, along with the other six victims and those still recovering, were targeted because of misogyny. They became the specific outlet for a man’s murderous misogyny because of the unique racist stereotypes applied to Asian women in the United States over the past century and a half.

Hate doesn’t count if it’s just against women

If the liberal media wanted to fit this tragedy into their “woke” narrative, the way these victims' lives and deaths demonstrate true intersectionality would have been a compelling story. But instead, mainstream media have opted to not just ignore the misogyny of the crime, but write it off as an excuse covering up the true intent of racism. The push to classify the murderous spree as a hate crime on the basis of race, despite a much more obvious legal path for hate crime conviction related to “gender” bias, shows that killing women because they are women is itself not “hateful” enough for society to consider meaningful.

"Killing women because they are women is itself not 'hateful' enough for society to consider meaningful."

If the intent behind hate crime laws is to demonstrate support to targeted communities, where is the support for women, who are targeted and terrorized constantly by men? When will hatred on the basis of sex matter to liberals, who only rally to #StopHate when race can be attached?

If Long wanted to target Asians because of Trump’s racist rhetoric on the Covid and his motive had nothing to do with his claimed sex and porn addition, why did he target massage parlors rather than Asian-owned restaurants, beauty stores, or laundromats?

If the victims’ race is all that matters, why weren’t any Asian men killed in the massage parlors? Why were all the murdered workers in the establishments women?

Hate crime laws, with their goal of inflicting harsher penalties on the basis of thoughts, are flawed to begin with. But if anything is a hate crime, why isn’t misogyny?

4W provides paid writing work for over 50 women in countries spanning the globe. This work is made possible thanks to our paid monthly subscribers. Join today to support our work!

Enter your email below to sign in or become a 4W member and join the conversation.
(Already did this? Try refreshing the page!)